Thursday, 26 February 2009

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Well, I'd usually start with a plot synopsis, but there wasn't really a plot to this. It's the story of Jason Taylor, a 13 year old boy living in a small suburban town in the UK in the early 1980's. Well, Jason is the narrator of the story anyway. Each chapter of the book covers one month of Jason's life and goes into great detail about the things that worry him whether they be seemingly trivial or important on a global scale.

Jason at first seems to live in a seemingly idyllic family life, in the best estate in Black Swan Green with his Mum, Dad and older sister, who he doesn't get on with and calls him 'thing' quite frequently. There is a moment at the start when a mysterious phone call in his Dad's study is answered by Jason, and ominously, the phone is put down without anybody speaking. Never a good sign, in a book or in reality! And it becomes clear very early on that Jason has a stutter, so struggles with certain words. He personifies this as 'hangman', and it crops up throughout the book.
"Apart from the Russians starting a nuclear war, my biggest fear is if hangman gets interested in 'j' words cause then I wont even be able to say my own name"
This stutter is such a big deal to Jason because he is desperately trying to stay normal at school and is aware how difficult his life would be if he stuttered when he spoke. He would become a laughing stock and relegated to what he would all 'the leper kids'. Jason would love to be popular but is most afraid of being at the bottom of the playground hierarchy.
This is where the brilliance of this book comes into its own for me. Its the detail of a thirteen year old's life. Who doesn't remember the hell of having to wear the right clothes, use the right words, associate with the right people and just generally be seen to be the same as everyone else. Different was not really an option! And fitting yourself into the playground hierarchy was a tangle of do's and don'ts in itself.
"Kids who are really popular get called by their first names, so Nick Yew's just 'Nick'. Kids who are a bit popular like Gilbert Swinyard have sort of respectful nicknames like 'Yardy'. Next down are kids like me who call each other by our surnames. Below us are kids with piss-take nicknames like Moran Moron or Nicholas Briar who's Knickerless Bra. Its all ranks being a boy, like the army. If I called Gilbert Swinyard just 'Swinyard' he'd kick my face in. Or if I called Moron 'Dean' in front of everyone it would damage my own standing."
Each chapter deals with a different event in Jason's life. There's the visits to the speech therapist about his stutter, a visit from his more well off cousins, his attempts to join a popular gang and the reasons this fails, first crushes, first kisses and other such stuff that is so important to thirteen year old boys.
Interspersed with this are bigger issues, such as the devastating effects of war on the families whose children don't return (this story is set during the Falklands war), the attitude of the suburban middle class town to an influx of gypsies and how Jason comes to see them from a different perspective, and running through this is the constant shadow of marriage breakdown and divorce which comes to a head at the conclusion of the novel.
I actually grew up not far from the Malvern Hills, where this is supposed to be set, and although I'm about five years younger than Jason (I would have been Eight in 1982) I can recognise all the cultural references and teenage slang. Words such as epic, ace, spaz, and the game British Bulldogs. There's even a reference to schools banning it, which was the case all over. Two many broken bones! There are many more references I could list, most of which provoked a nostalgic smile, but that could get slightly boring.
All in all, it was a fascinating read, even though not much happened. I was gripped all the way through. Part of the enjoyment for me though was the nostalgia and I'd be interested in how this book comes across to a foreign reader, or a much younger reader.

Booking Through Thursday

Hardcover? Or paperback?
Illustrations? Or just text?
First editions? Or you don’t care?
Signed by the author? Or not?
This is easy. A book is a book! Its the words that matter, and the words that I will buy it for. To prize a book because it's a first edition, or signed by the author is to put a quality on a book that goes above the actual original purpose of the book. You can tell here I'm not precious about books at all! I like to keep them in the state I acquired them, but never pristine! Books are for reading, and a book that looks loved and well read is more attractive than a first edition or signed copy that is mollycoddled and kept on a shelf to preserve its 'perfect' status. Hmmm, I think I'm starting to rant a bit now so I will just say that is obviously my opinion and I accept that a lot of people feel differently.
Generally I'll buy paperbacks, I just find them easier to read and easier to store. I'll only buy a hardback if it's a book I really want to read as it's published, rather than wait for the paperback version to be released. And even then, only if I can't get it from the library.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Monday Musing-The Library

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the library…

How often do you visit the library? Do you have a scheduled library day/time, or do you go whenever? Do you go alone, or take people with you?
I'm not organised enough to have a specific time in my week to visit the library. My local library is very small, although the County library network is brilliant and has most of the books I want to read. Consequently most of my books come in as requests from the county network. I tend to just collect these as they come in. In fact, I'm very likely to collect a book as soon as I receive the text message telling me that a book has arrived. So as well as not being organised,I'm not very patient either! Lol. My son is just the same. When I tell him one of his requests has come in, he's got his shoes on and the door open before I've even got his library card out for him!
To be fair though, I don't have to go out of my way to get to my library at all. In fact I have to walk past it twice every day on my way to fetch my daughter to and from school. If I had to travel at all, then I suppose I would have to be more organised!
I do make slightly longer visits to the library when I take my daughter to change her books. Again though, this doesn't have a scheduled time of the week, it just happens when she needs to change her books. We usually go on the way home from school, since we have to walk past anyway. This is the time I do have a chance to browse the shelves in the library, because once we've chosen her books she likes to start reading them in the library. This is when I'm likely to come out with more books than I can possibly read!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson

My son brought this home from the library and it since I love Jeanette Winterson's adult fiction, I couldn't not read this! And I'm glad I did. It's Young Adult fantasy but absoloutely brilliantly written.
The heroine is Silver, an orphan girl who lives in a crumbling old mansion, Tanglewreck, with her cruel and uncaring aunt, Mrs Rockabye. Mrs Rockabye takes Silver to London to meet with a man named Abel Darkwater who wants a mysterious clock called the Timekeeper, which he believes Silver to have, or at least that she has knowledge of where it is.
The story is set in the present day UK, but in a world where the fabric of time is coming apart, causing Time Tornadoes and Time Slips. Time Tornadoes are like hurricanes that whip up anything and anybody in their path but instead of depositing them in another part of this world, it deposits them in another time altogether. This works both ways, leading to the appearence of a wooly mammoth on the banks of the Thames! It soon becomes clear that Abel Darkwater is interested in the Timekeeper for his own unpleasant purposes, and that Silver needs to find it for herself to save the day, and the world!
Ok, so as I said, pretty formulaic stuff so far. But being about the disintegration of time the story has a very wide ranging scope, stretching from the Bedlam Hospital in Eighteenth century London, to a mysterious place called the Einstein Line, with three suns and its own collection of Popes, in the Twenty-Fourth century. It seems to be able to combine current concerns with complicated scientificic ideas easily, and tie them all together with a degree of coherence.
The idea that we are all moving too quickly and that everything happns too fast in todays world is suggested as one of the possible causes of the time disturbances that are occurring in the world.
"'I think its our own fault', said the cabbie. 'We're all going so fast that we're taking time with us. Nobody's got any time nowadays, rush, rush, rush. Well here we are and theres no time left. I reckon time's running out like everything else on the planet-like oil and water and all that'"
I also really like the reference to actual people, the two I can recall being Einstein and Stephen Hawking. The book actually makes use of Hawkings oft quoted belief that if time travel were possible in the future then we would know about it because we would have visitors from the future time travelling into our present. And then having made this point, the book goes on to give a really simple reason as to why this argument is flawed!
Silver's adventure takes her through time and space, fighting two adversaries in a bid to stop them finding the Timekeeper and thus gaining complete control over time. Along the way it explores ideas about time and reality, the main one of these being that time is not static. It is always subject to change so just bcause something has happened in a particular time, doesn't mean it will always happen in that time! This leads to the idea that all possibilities exist at the same time! Silver's friend enters a Twenty-Fourth century hospital through the Eighteenth century Bedlam because that is the state he chooses to tune into.
"'Remember Silver, that you, me, everything in the universe came from a single explosion so the atoms in our bodies are linked with every atom in space and time. The universe is not local and isolated. It is a cosmic web'"
I really enjoyed this book. It was a fantastic story with some big ideas about space and time. I have read reviews that compare it to Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy, butsince I haven't read this, I can't make this comparison myself. I also really likes the fact that although the ending is good, the author resists the temptation to give it a saccharine sweet ending, which she could so easily have done.
Just a couple of additions.
I have no idea whether the science in this book is accurate. The explanations of the theoretical implications of Quantum Mechanics sound plausible to me, but I'm no scientist. I don't think it actually matters because the story holds up well whether the science is accurate or not.
And this is the book I mentioned at the start of yesterdays Weekly Geeks post that inspired me to interview Tess Durbeyfield in an alternate reality.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Weekly Geeks-Character Interview

This week we are going to continue with the theme started last week and go even further exploring our favorite book characters.Many of us have had an opportunity to interview an author, mostly through email, but perhaps even on the phone or in person. In fact, many of you have become experts at author interviews.

So this week, let's pretend that we can get in contact with one of our favorite characters and interview them. What would you ask Mr. Darcy if you could send him an email. What would his answers be like? What would you say if you could just call up Liesel or Rudy from The Book Thief and ask them anything? How would they answer your questions? What if you could invite Jo March or Anne Shirley to lunch, what would the conversation be like?

I'm currently reading a children's book that explores the idea that all eventualities are possible and that events in time are not fixed. With this in mind I managed to secure an interview with Tess Durbeyfield, age 62, immediately after the death of her husband of over 40 years, Angel Clare! And as a word of warning if you haven't read this and intend to at any point,this does kind of give the plot away!

So Tess, before we start I'd just like to offer my condolences on your loss.

Thank you. But we had a good marriage and many happy times together. I am just grateful for the time we had. It could have been so different.

What makes you say that? If it's not too personal to ask?

No, it's not personal at all. I did promise to be very open and frank with you. I kept a secret from Angel my whole life because I was frightened to tell him in case it changed the way he felt about me. That secret was that I had a baby resulting from a rape when I was seventeen.

That's a big secret to keep. Why did you feel that he wouldn't understand, or that his feelings would change?

I wasn't sure and there were numerous times I would like to have told him but I lost the courage. I did write him a letter just before we were married but he never received it. He was quite an enlightened man so I think he would have been ok with it, but I couldn't risk losing him.

Apart from when you wrote the letter, when did you come closest to confessing your secret to him?

I think it would have been on our honeymoon. He had just confessed a similar indiscretion to me and since I felt it was the same I felt it would be ok to tell him. But I was so happy at that time, and I felt I should tell him, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I almost wish I had, but I don't know what I would have done if he'd decided he couldn't live with me anymore.

OK, hypothetically speaking, what was the worst that could have happened if you had told him?

He could have left me. And then where would I have been? I wouldn't have been able to go home, at least not for long because of the shame I would bring on my family. They were already seen as a dubious family due to my illegitimate child, so I would have had to find whatever work I could, which at that time of year wouldn't have been pleasant work. I may never have seen him again, and I loved him so much I would have never been happy again.

You talk about being happy. When were you most happy in your life?

That's an easy one. I was happy when Angel and myself were courting at Talbothays. At this point I never considered that I could have married him, I just enjoyed the attention and his company. I was happy during my marriage but I always felt like it wasn't quite real because I was holding something back from him.

Why do you not think you could have married him?

I had promised myself that I would never be anyone's wife. It truly felt like it wouldn't have been fair on any man because I was not a pure woman. When I told my mother I was going to marry Angel, she told me in very emphatic terms not to tell him of my past. She always said it would do no good.

So, do you ever see the man whose child you had?

No, I have never seen him since the day I left his house. I have heard that he has since taken up religion and is a preacher now. That disgusts me really because he was a despicable, self-serving man. It cannot be that he truly believes, it must be for his own purpose somehow. I am glad I have never had to see him.

Did he know about the child?

No, I never told him. There was, and is, no need for him to know. The child died in infancy so he has no responsibility there. He was a devious and manipulative man and he would have used the child to win me back to him, perhaps even bestowing gifts on my family in an attempt to make me feel obligated towards him. He has no scruples, that man.

Do you not feel that he would just have been doing what he thought was right, under the circumstances?

No! I repeat I am glad I have never seen him again. I do have a recurring dream though that I told Angel about my past and that he rejected me and left. In this dream Alec does exactly what I have described above and eventually wins me back to him by offering my family a place to live, security and work. I return to him, although as a meek and obliging shell of my former self. This is the point at which my beloved Angel finally returns to me. I hate that dream. It seems so prophetic somehow.

Is that where the dream ends?

Yes that is where it ends. I always wake up at that point. I don't like to think about what would happen next. I think I would kill Alec. I don't think I could control myself. I can just imagine how Alec would react to the return of Angel. It is such a horrible thought I think I wake myself up purposely. It would be so disastrous to the lives of everyone I care about.

Well, at least that's only a dream. Are you glad you kept your secret?

Yes and No. I will never know what angel would have done, but also I've never had to deal with the consequences of him possibly reacting badly to it. I sometimes wonder about the mayday dance though. I wonder whether my life would have been different if he had danced with me then. I may have had no secret to keep. But I've had a good life with Angel and that's what I'm going to focus on now.

I think that's a good idea. I hope you manage to deal with your grief and enjoy the rest of your life. And thank you for your honesty.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Booking Through Thursday-Storage

This week’s question is suggested by Kat:
I recently got new bookshelves for my room, and I’m just loving them. Spent the afternoon putting up my books and sharing it on my blog . One of my friends asked a question and I thought it would be a great BTT question. So from Tina & myself, we’d like to know
“How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?”
I realise that this may make some people gasp in horror but I don't really have a system for organising books! I have two large bookcases in the alcoves either side of my fireplace, which is where the majority of my books live. I do try and put books by the same author together but other than that they just go where there is a space! Other than that I've got a pile by my bed of books I intend to read in the near future, and a shelf in the hall with three piles of library books on it, one each for me, Dylan and Chrissie (my children). Library books are kept separate so I know where they are and in the hall in the hope that seeing them will jog my memory if any need returning! Lol.
Dylan on the other hand has perfectly organised bookshelves! Its all in alphabetical order, with series in their right order. Any of his larger books that won't fit upright in his shelves are neatly piled in top in size order, and woe betide anybody that dares to put one back in the wrong place! I don't know where he gets it from, it's certainly not from me! Lol.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I don't think there's many people who haven't read this, or read numerous reviews so I'll keep this brief. I'm also not sure what I really thought about this little book. The Queen stumbles on a mobile library that she didn't know existed and borrows a book, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. This leads to an obsession with reading that affects her royal duties, relationships and her whole life.

The book is full of humorous moments, I chuckled a fair few times in the short time it took me to read this book. The concept of a quiz team with The Queen an her self-selected reading advisor is just one of these moments.

"'The pub quiz. One has been everywhere, seen everything and though one might have difficulty with the pop music and some sport, when it comes to the capital of Zimbabwe, say, or the principal exports of New South Wales, I have all that at my fingertips'

'And I could do the pop' said Nigel

'Yes' said the queen 'we would make a good team'"

The book is really an exploration of how reading can change lives. The queen feels it has changed hers and becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her own commitments as they distract from her reading time. It also works well as a gentle satire of all the bureaucracy, planning and prompting that goes into the supposedly smooth running life of the British Monarch.

However, there are times this book just seemed to moral, and almost dictatorial to me. Yes, the queen should be allowed to read, and the attempts of her advisers to curtail this are wrong, The queen also seems to assume that because she enjoys reading, everyone else should too. When she starts asking her subjects on her walkabouts what they are reading, rather than generic, 'have you travelled far' type questions, she is making assumption about peoples leisure time, simply because this is how she fills her spare time.

"'I feel Ma'am, that while not exactly elitist, it sens the wrong message. It tends to exclude.'

'Exclude!' 'Surely most people can read'

'They can Ma'am, but I'm not sure that they do'

'Then, Sir Kevin, I am setting a good example'

Maybe this is supposed to be satire, or comedy but it just didn't come across that way to me. Having said that though, apart from this issue, I enjoyed this book, it made me laugh and the surprise ending was a shock, and definitely food for thought.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Weekly Geeks-Character Names

For this week's edition of Weekly Geeks, we're going to take a closer look at character names. What are some of your favorite character names?

Go to Google or a baby name site like this one or this one, and look up a favorite character's name. What does their name mean? Do you think the meaning fits the character? Why or why not?

If you'd like, look up your own name as well and share the meaning.

When it came to thinking of favourite character names I drew a complete blank, so I thought I'd pick a selection of characters from a favourite series. So here are some character names from The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. I actually didn't finish this series, I lost interest slightly after Memnoch the Devil, but I may get to the rest one day!

LESTAT I couldn't find this name on any name sites but I did find this on Wikipedia from Anne Rice.

"Lestat was inspired by Stan, and then I became Lestat."[3] The name 'Lestat' was a misspelling of "Lestan," which Rice believed to be an old French name"

Stan Rice obviously being her husband. This doesn't tell us a lot about the character, but does imply that she felt a personal connection with Lestat.

Louis Louis apparently means 'Famous warrior'. Again this is really the antithesis of Louis as he is one of the more peaceful vampires in the series. It was however a very regal name, used by sixteen kings of France, and Louis sometimes has to have an air of regality and aloofness about him.

Claudia Depending on which site used, Claudia either means 'lame or 'disabled'. Although she is portrayed as a beautiful child, she is disabled by Lestat and Louis as they turn her into a five year old vampire, doomed to never mature physically, although she does emotionally. She is also disabled in a more physical sense, as she is eternally five, so can never live alone. She will always need to be dependent on someone to provide her a home.

Armand This one simply means 'soldier'. I don't think this really fits that well with the character, but it is a beautiful name, for a character portrayed throughout the series as beautiful.

I could go on for ever simply listing characters but I think I'll leave it that! I did look up mine and my children's names though, just because I couldn't resist whilst I was looking up names!

Joanne This is derived from the female form of John, and literally means 'Grace of God'. Hmmm!

Dylan This is Welsh, meaning 'man of the sea'. I knew it was welsh because that's the reason we chose it. His dad is Welsh and wanted a Welsh name, and I thought I could always say he was named after Dylan Thomas! Lol. He does love being in water though!

Christina This simply means 'follower of Christ'. Again, Hmmm! She was actually named after her Dad's first employer who took on a substitute father role when it was needed most, and is her Godfather. Thats the Chris part, and the Tina comes from my childhood babysitter, who I was close to and who died very young. Bit of an amalgamation but we thought it was a pretty name.

I really enjoyed doing this and I think it will make me think a bit more about character names in the books I read.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Not The End of The World by Geraldine McCaughrean

Basic plot summary for this one is easy! Everyone knows it anyway. God decides his word is corrupt and sends word to Noah that he is going to destroy it with a huge flood. Noah is the chosen one and need to build a boat big enough to keep him, his family and two of every living animal safe for forty days and nights. After his the flood will subside, the earth will be cleansed and it will be a devout holy place once again.

Well, I think that was the version I learnt as a child anyway. In Not The End Of The World, Geraldine McCaughrean has explored the details of what it might be like to have been cooped up on the Ark for that amount of time, as well as questioning the validity of a God who would destroy all of humanity, and drawing a picture of Noah as a fanatical religious patriarch with no empathy or compassion.

When I think about this biblical story, I never stopped to think that it might not have been a pleasant place to be. Life is portrayed as very basic, with it being cold, wet and smelly because of the animal manure, which at one point they use to keep warm. neither humans nor animals have enough food, so they all go hungry, which leads to disastrous events as the predatory animals on board only do what comes naturally to them.

One of the mos disturbing incidents in this book is when Ham and Shem are pushing drowning people off the Ark because they were not chosen to be saved. Whilst pushing them off with a staff, Ham shouts

"Get off! Get off! Leave Go! Its too late, I told you! It's your own fault!"

And whilst this is going on, Noah is

"Sat looking into the distance, his lips moving in prayerful devotion, completely given over to thanksgiving"

Noah seems to have total belief in Gods plan and total acceptance that they are superior to everyone else and that God will look after them. When the various calamities that befall them are solved god has intervened, it is never due to the efforts of his family.

This fatalistic attitude is balanced by Timna, Noah's teenage daughter. It is Timna that questions why God would do this to his creation, why he would want all these people to drown. She cannot question her father as she is brought up to believe her fathers word is final, so she struggles with all these doubts herself. She rescues a small boy and a baby from the flood and hides them in the animal hold, away from her father.

Timna also raises important questions about the validity of Gods plan. How can one family be expected to repopulate the earth alone? Where the male members of the family have total belief that God will destroy anyone who manages to survive on the flood waters, Timna believes others must survive, otherwise the continuation of the human race will not be possible. As Timna eventually discusses this with her mother towards the end of the book,

"And if survival is down to merit there must be better than us. Seeing the way we behaved to our fellow men. You were quite right Timna, there must be others. There are too many flaws in God's plan unless there are"

So, Noah as dutifully obeying God's commands to save the human race or fanatical, deluded cult leader. Interesting idea, and its worth reading just for a different perspective.

Monday, 9 February 2009


I just read an article about spelling basically suggesting that both British and American spelling systems should be simplified to a more phonetic system, as part of our problems with spelling are due to the irregular spelling and pronunciation variants in English.

Hmmm, I think its more likely that it's the reliance on computer spellcheckers and predictive text messages that's to blame for this and I can't see how changing our spelling is feasible. And the article also includes a spelling test, which I did quite badly on. I only got 15/20 so maybe my spelling needs some work! Spelling was always my thing at school, so I'm just off to read a dictionary now! Lol. After I've spellchecked this of course!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones

In the 1990's the island of bougainville was in the midst of a civil war, sparked by the exploitation of their hugely profitable copper mine. This led to a blockade of the island and brutal guerrilla warfare involving Redskins(government troops) and Rambos(rebel forces from the island).

The only white man who didn't flee the island after the blockade is Mr Watts, who pulls is native wife around on a cart, sometimes wearing a red clowns nose. This re-emerges throughout the novel and an explanation is not forthcoming until the end of the book. Mr Watts decides to re-open the school, but as he says himself he is no teacher, and he only has one textbook, Great Expectations, which is what he uses.

"I will be honest with you. I have no wisdom, none at all. The truest thing I can tell you is that whatever we have between us is all we've got. Oh, and of course Mr Dickens."

Mr Watts uses Great Expectations as a way of giving the children a means of escape from the hardships they are suffering on the island. Just as pip escapes starts a new life, he wants the children to do the same, if only in their heads. Matilda is thirteen, and becomes enthralled with Pip and his story. The more she tells her mother about pip and his story, the more her mother becomes opposed to the book, and therefore Mr Watts. Mr Watts realises this and invites the adults of the village into school to share their knowledge. Matilda however, empathises more with Pip than the stories and moral messages of her mother, and builds a shrine to Pip on the beach, which sets in motion a fatal series of events when redskin Solders arrive demanding to know who Pip is. Due to a yet unknown betrayal the villagers cannot produce the book that would explain who Pip is so they end up losing their possessions and eventually their homes.

The idea of stories having the ability to change peoples lives permeates this novel. Matilda is consumed by Pip and his story, the villagers try to use their stories to try and sway the children away from the white mans novel that they are suspicious of, and Mr Watts holds the Rebel army at bay with stories. The idea that stories pervade your life and give it meaning, as well as escape from real life is made clear in Mr Watts statement to the Rebel army,

"A dream is a story that no-one else will get to hear or read"

The writing is simplistic but effective. It almost gives a dreamlike quality to the whole thing (stories again), and even the horrific events that form the climax of the novel are told in a matter of fact way. There is a sense of foreboding throughout the whole story, but the actual horrors are quickly described, and almost come from nowhere, as they would in a dream. I was left with a sense of horror that will stay with me for a long time, and I think this is exacerbated by the simplistic and matter of fact way it is told, and the pragmatic way the villagers deal with it. The fate of the pigs, for anyone who has read this!

I loved this book. It was fantastic. I don't think I can fault it at all. I think a quote from the novel sums up perfectly how it feels to read this book.

"a person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe"

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Weekly Geeks-Book Covers

This week it's all about judging books by their covers! Pick a book--any book, really--and search out multiple book cover images for that book. They could span a decade or two (or more)...Or they could span several countries. Which cover is your favorite? Which one is your least favorite? Which one best 'captures' what the book is about?

This is my first ever weekly Geeks post. I've been lurking for a while, but couldn't resist doing this one. I'm going to do ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, because it was my favourite childhood book, and apart from the two copies I own, I've never really thought about what other covers might be available.

The first is the one I've had since I was a child will probably always epitomise this book for me. The second is the one I've recently bought for my daughter. I don't actually like this one but I wanted her to have her own copy (read as I didn't want to give mine up!) and this is what was available.

There are a multitude of covers. They seem to fall into various types, probably dependent on when they were published. There are those that feature all three children, in various situations. These all tend to be the older covers. They are the ones that encapsulate the story most faithfully. My personal favourite here is the foreign one with the original drawings on the front.

Then there are the ones that feature a single ballet dancer. These are not very appealing to me at all, but I don't know whether its just an immediate reaction to the aesthetics of them, or a personal feeling that as the story is about three children, just one child on the cover doesn't seem appropriate.

The next category would be those that just have ballet shoes on the cover! Fairly obvious but effective!

And then there's the more recent covers, like this one, obviously designed to look like the many other generic books aimed at girls on the shelves today. This is a trend I'm not sure about but as I said at the start of this post it's the only type of cover I could find when I was buying for my daughter.

All in all, I think the covers with the three children on are my favourites, and the ones with the single dancers on I like the least. Oh and I think the cover below is beautiful and if I want it! Its really pretty, but I think its designed more for an adult market and I prefer children's books to have children's covers. I'd still buy it if I ever saw it though!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse - a biography has made you love an author more?

I don't very often read biographies of authors, so the immediate answer to this would have to be no. I do sometimes try and find out a bit about an author if I've really liked a book, but only a brief overview from various online sources. I can't really imagine anything I would find out that would put me off their books.

One of the reasons I read is to get different opinions and viewpoints on the world, and maybe even expand my own views slightly. If I chose to only read authors with similar belief systems to myself, then this would leave me with a very narrow view of the world. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and it would be a very boring world if everybody thought the same, or only read work by authors who feel the same as them, whatever the issue.

I also think that if an author's belief system is so completely opposed to mine and they choose to preach about it in a book then it wouldn't be a book I would be interested in reading anyway. If they write good books then it doesn't actually matter what they believe.

Having said all that, I now need to qualify it slightly and say that with very extreme belief systems I would refrain from buying the book. But only if I felt that my money might be going towards a cause that may actually harm people, or infringe on their rights to hold their own opinions. I think it very unlikely I would want to read a book that would fall into this category, but I wouldn't avoid it if I did. I just wouldn't buy it.

I don't think knowing information about an author would make me love them more, but it may help me appreciate their books a little more. Most authors write from experience, so it can only enhance my appreciation of the book to know even a little bit about their life.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I struggled to review this book. Not because I didn't like it,because overall I did. I just didn't want to have to think about it any more, because it haunted me from the moment I finished it.

The basic premise of the story is that Henry is a time traveller who jumps about in time. He has an ordinary chronological life, although he is not always in it! He has no control over when this happens or where he goes to, but he always seems to go back (or forward) to his own life. This is how he meets Claire, he appears next to her in a field when he is 36 and she is 6. This continues through Claire's childhood until they eventually meet in real time when Claire is 20 and Henry is 28. Oh and he's always naked when he time travels, which quite often causes problems!

The story continues with their life together in real time, punctuated by Henry's frequent disappearances into other periods of his life. In the first half of the book, everything seems fine and as if their life can be continued with at least an appearance of normality, but as the story continues it becomes clear that something is going to go horribly wrong for Claire and Henry. Events don't seem quite right, and certain of Henry's time travelling 'adventures' appear to be very unpleasant, almost cataclysmic. The second half of the book is permeated with a accelerating sense of impending doom.

The story is told through alternating accounts from both Clare and Henry, and the author helpfully starts each section by telling us how old they both are and what year we are in! Henry is obviously coming from the future with knowledge of how his life is there which leads nicely on to the most interesting part of the story for me. The first occasion Henry meets Claire it is by chance, but from then on, Claire is in the meadow because Henry has given her a list telling her the dates that he will appear. I don't think it gives very much away to say that Claire and Henry eventually get married but does the fact that Henry knows what is going to happen in his future mean that it has to happen. Towards the end of the book it becomes perfectly clear that things will happen because they have already happened and nobody can really do anything to change it.

There is also an interesting thread running throughout the novel where Henry comes into contact with himself. Each time he time travels he creates a new version of himself, which then exists in that time period forever. And on various occasions, this alternate self helps the real time Henry in situations. The first example of this is when Henry is a small boy and travels for the first time and grown up Henry is there to help him. Obviously adult Henry has already experienced this so knows that he is there to help the child Henry and this is just a continuous circle, always repeating itself! In fact, the alternate Henry's are quite often present at crucial points in Henry and Claire's life and on a couple of occasions saves the day,as such.

Aaaah!!!!!! Did I say it was head spinning? I definitely should have done. I enjoyed the story though, and all the ideas about non-linear time. It is however an incredibly sad story, but I couldn't put it down. I really wanted to know what happened to Henry and Claire, but this isn't actually why it haunted me though. It was the end. I just wanted more from Claire at the end. What happens is incredibly sad, but she seems to spend the rest of her life waiting for Henry, just as she has spent her life waiting for him since she was 6. I just wanted her to have more about her and I can't get it out of my head. I just can't and don't want to imagine that sort of life!

I can't do this book justice in a review. I'm sure a better reviewer could, but I can't. This is not helped by the fact that I can't include any quotes to illustrate these ideas because I can't even bring myself to open the book to find them! It was a good story though, I just wanted a better ending. Not necessarily a happy one, just a better one.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Musing Monday

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about book stores…

How do you choose what do buy from your local bookstore? Do you have a list, or just browse? What is the selection in your book store like? Do you find what you're looking for? Do you feel pressured to buy the kind of books the store makes prominent?

Bookshops! Mmmmm, heaven! Lol. And its exactly this attitude that means I only go in bookshops if I've not got anything particular in mind that I want to buy. If I want a specific book, I'll buy it online where there's less chance of me being sidetracked into buying something else. Notice that this only says less chance, not no chance. Lol.

With this in mind, it follows that my local bookshop, Waterstones, is perfectly adequate for my needs. I don't need it to stock anything in particular and it has a wide ranging selection for when I do just want to browse. I will browse the display tables, and quite often buy from here, although I don't feel pressured into doing so. I do have to walk past on my way to work every morning though so I need quite a strong will not to go in every day. Because I'd just end up buying something everyday and my finances couldn't stand that! And as much I'd love to remove some of the responsibility from me and blame the shop for that, I can't. My bookshop gives me too much pleasure to heap that kind of accusation upon it!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets by Sophie Hannah

This is an entertaining and insightful collection of short stories from an author who I believe has written two novels previous to this, but I can't compare this to those as I haven't read them. This was a random library pick, chosen because it is a personal goal to read more short stories this year at it is a form I've neglected recently.

The stories all deal with obsession in its various forms and they focus on the negative aspects that obsession can have on our lives. As with any short story collection some of them were better than others, but I did find with this collection that whilst I enjoyed all the stories at the time of reading some were totally forgettable, but the good ones will stay with me for a long time.

The book starts with the story that won the author an award, the Octopuses Nest. This follows a couple's discovery that for the last ten years the same woman appears to have been stalking them, a fact that they discover because she appears in all their holiday photographs over this period. Needless to say all is not as it seems and the couple are forced to re-assess their whole lives at the end of this story. The build up of tension is superb in this story, and I was actually scared. I think my heart rate was probably raised whilst I was reading it!

Another of my favourites was 'Twelve Noon', a story about a woman who has made a promise to herself to donate £2000 to charity although the disturbing reason for this is revealed gradually throughout the story. Her obsession has obviously affected her life to the point that when she finally ventures out to do this she is totally confused by a simple parking sign.

'Maximum stay 2 hours. No return within 2 hours.'

The woman in this story cannot figure this sign out and eventually ends up deciding that she must park for exactly 2 hours. She sees this as an omen that she must do what she has promised, although it is clear from the writing that she doesn't want to. But having made the promise she needs to keep it, or something bad might happen. Just like something bad might happen if she doesn't keep to the precise rules of the parking sign. This story is littered with examples of the woman being obsessed with obeying rules, and keeping promises.

'I tried not to take this as an omen of what might happen to me if I disobeyed.'

'Here, on the pavement, what if I was too close already? Would a traffic warden that i meant no harm, I was only standing here in a sort of desperate paralysis?'

'Furious with myself for the ridiculous bargain I had made and now had to honour, I had allowed a voice in my head to say, it's not worth it. Then I feared I would be struck down'

This story will stick with me a long time, and when the reasons for this excursion are revealed, I actually shed a tear or two, which is good going for a short story.

Another favourite is 'You Are a Gongedip', which deals with an obsession with language and words and involves a protagonist who makes up his own words for things, but this secret language is used against him with devastating effects. As book lover, his fate is terrifying!

The whole collection was enjoyable, but those are the three stories I would pick out as favourites, and they are the ones I would recommend to anyone looking for individual short stories.

January Wrap Up

So thats it. The end of my first full blogging month! And I'm quite surprised at how many books I read, I've never really kept track before.

Books read in January

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Edward Trencom's Nose: A novel of History, Dark intrigue and Cheese by Giles Milton
Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K.Rowling
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
The Museum Guard by Howard Norman
Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
The fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets by Sophie Hannah (review to come)
The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenger (review to come)

Top Three

The Museum Guard by Howard Norman
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

Challenge Progress

A-Z Challenge 8/52

War Through the Generations Challenge 2/6

Support your library Challenge 5/50

Whats in a name Challenge 2/6

Chunkster Challenge 1/3

Read your own Books Challenge 2/20