Saturday, May 31, 2008

So last night we went to see Derren Brown doing his stage show. I don't know how famous is outside of the UK, but he basically manipulates the mind. In some places he would be called a magician, a hypnotist, a psychic. a medium, an NLP expert and in essence he is all of these and yet none. Probably the best thing to do is check out his official website here. He claims to have no psychic powers and be highly skeptical and freely admits that everything you see at his shows and on television are tricks, but I am damned if I can figure out how he does any of it! He did a mixture of techniques where he got people to pick numbers that he had previously "predicted" and written down in locked boxes or on a badge that he wore. He also quicker than you could blink changed into a gorilla costume and came out from the opposite side you were expecting! The most compelling part of the show was his take on the Victorian "Oracle Act" where he wrapped his face ina bandage and recieved "sendings" from the audience which enabled him to hear a question you had sent mentally, guess the question, the senders first name, their starsign and day of the week they were born on as well as give an answer to their question. Fascinating stuff.

I highly recommend watching him on YouTube if you his shows don't play where you are or going to see him live if he tours near you.

Rating : 3.5/5
Number of Pages : 192
Series : Special Topics in Tarot
Reason for Reading : Non-Fiction Five Challenge, to get back into learning more about the tarot

A series of tips on reading the tarot based on questions and answers from an e-letter set up by the authors in 1998. They have since also opened a tarot school in American where they offer lessons and a correspoendence course. It doesn't cover thebasic card meanings and assumes a little knowledge is needed before reading this. It is more focused on how to handle the cards, how to read them and other options and ideas for using the tarot.

The book is split into the following sections: Decks, Card & Card Handling; Interpreting & Meaning; Reading Techniques; Spreads; Other Things you can do with the Tarot and Ethics with an extended Recommended Books section at the end as well as useful websites. It is laid out in small steps and tips that work well and don't overload the reader. There is something for most levels of tarot readers and I definitely took away some interesting ideas to explore further. In places I did find it a little superficial, but it was designed to be a short, affordable book so I suppose this is to be expected.

I would recommend this to someone who has done a little bit of studying and is unsure of how to put everything together. Also I would recommend it to someone who needs a refresher or a push to restart their reading.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What is Reading, Fundamentally?

Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub
What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.
(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

For me reading is all of the above. Novels definitely. I have been reading graphic novels for a few years now but have got more into it over the last two years. Manga is another genre I started reading for the most part this year and I am enjoying a couple of great series (Death Note and Bizenghast) currently plus whatever else takes my fancy. I haven't yet listened to an audibook so it is hard to say if it is reading, but I don't see why not. You are still absorbing the book as it was written so why not. It does annoy me when people look down on media such as graphic novels, comics and manga as not being reading. It isn't classic fiction, but there are some great series out there that really make you think. My husband still insists that Watchmen by Alan Moore is one of the best books he has ever read and that is a graphic novel.

My stance is if you read it then it's reading! Also if it is read to you that counts as reading too. When you are young you get a bedtime story, often read from a book, and if that counts then surely audibooks do too.

The photo above is a bit dark but it is Alex (my husband) sleeping on the sofa with Morgaine sleeping on his belly. You can make out her white paw and find the rest of her from there!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 176
Reason for Reading : Irressitible Review Challenge - Recommended by Nymeth Things Mean a Lot and Kim Bold Blue Adventure as wlel as on Chris Stuff as Dreams are Made On's wishlist

The beautifully sad tale of three sisters told as a visual novel, a story told in pictures. The youngest sister Bettine is blond and thought of as the prettiest, the eldest sister Ophile has blue hair and is the smartest, Clothilde is the middle sister with red hair and is the talented sister of the three. They live in a house by the sea away from the town, near the lighthouse. Each sisters life is changed in different ways when one night there is a storm and the lighthouse keeper is struck by lightening.

Sibling rivallry, mistaken identity, love, magic and a blue boy who can fly. Stunning pictures tell the tale with very few words. I think Clothilde was my favourite of the sisters as a lot of the pictures of her caught my imaginiation and attention. There are some of her with a headache, her communicating with an unborn baby, naming things in the world and practising her levitation that stood out in particular. It took the author (she also wrote The Time Travellers Wife) 13 years to create the pictures using aquatints after the project began as an artbook. I am sp glad she took the time and I was fascinated reading the afterwood.

I don't want to say much more here as I think the story speaks for itself. It is a short read and is well worth it. Definitely something I hope to revisit soon. I will leave you with two pictures from the story.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 320
Reason for Reading : Once Upon a Time II Challenge and I love her anthologies with Ellen Datlow

Maggis Black is a poet at heart but has spent most of her writing career in journalism working to support her then husband Nigel. He is now remarried but they keep in close contact and pride themselves on their "friendly divorce". Six months earlier her friend and mentor, fellow poet Davis Cooper was found dead in mysterious circumstances and Maggie finds out he left his house, his partner Anna Naverra's paintings and his papers to her despite never having met her in person. She leaves to stay in his house in Tuscon in the desert in Arizona where life is very different. She is used to travelling light and not putting down roots, to not forming lasting attachments with men and not falling in love with anyone or anything.

In Tuscon she learns about the land and it's animals whilst on a trial of Cooper's papers with the intention of writing a biography on him. She also finds a group of people she instantly gets along with and forms lasting friendships with Johnny Foxxe (Fox) and Dora in particular. The more she reads of Cooper's papers and latest poems that he hid fro mthe world, the more she looks closer at the land around her. She discovers the spirits of the desert which he wrote about in his Wood Wife collection and that Anna had painted before her also sudden death. These include shapeshifters and mages, a strange man named Crow and a rabbit girl Maggie names Thumper. The more she discovers, the less inclinded she is to publish a biography of her late friend and the more she feels truely at home living there.

This book is so many things. A wonderful look at poetry, a love story with the land and with another, a rich yet desolate fantasy, a study of animal behaviour, a look at art and women struggling for independence in a still male orientated world. Taken from a series of novels based on paintings by Brian Froud it embraces the world of faerie (or angels depending on your religious background).

Simply put, I adored it. I have enjoyed the anthologies that I have read that Windling has put together with Ellen Datlow, but this is the first time I have read any of her own work. A sequel would be wonderful but it is unlikely and I hope to read more by her in the future. Fantasy at it's best.

Other reviews:
Carl V Stainless Steel Droppings
A Fondness for Reading
Dark Orpheus
Deslily Here, There & Everywhere
Chris Stuff as Dreams are Made On

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 212
Reason for Reading : Non-Fiction Five Challenge, I loved Juno (she wrote the screenplay) and was curious about her memoirs

Diablo's memoir is subtitled "A year in the life of an unlikely stripper". She had a relatively regular upbringing and at 24 meets her future husband Jonny on the interset. She moves to Minneapolis and gets a job in an office but feels something is missing from her life. Walking home one day she decides to enter into an ameateur night at a strip club. She doesn't win but decides to pursue stripping part time outside of her more acceptable job.

She finds it unbelivably easy to walk in off the street looking very inlike your traditional idea of a stripper and gain work. She works in a variety of strip clubs in the area doing a reasonable, but not outstanding, trade. She has paritcular problems with the pole at first. She discovers in time that her full time job is causing her stress and is very unfulfilling and decides to strip full time. She works in a peep show where she is seperated by the customer by a plate of clear plastic. She she masturbates for the customer with a variety of toys while the customer gets off. After she leaves that job she spends some time as a phone sex girl but is depressed by the number of callers wanting "Stephenie", her barely legal persona. She gets a great lap dance with her husband and decides to go back to stripping in clubs. Her time away has given her a fresh perspective and she is able to make a lot more money the second time around before eventually retiring and presumably becoming a screen writer.

Not for those who dislike bad language or explicit sexual scenes, but I have to say I loved it! I did a pole dancing course to try and get in shape (which I loved and I still need to figure out where to put a pole in our flat) and I did go to a couple of strip clubs to see it done professionally rather than to get fit. It is funny the differences between the different types and I even paid for my own private fully nude lap dance (very cool). I have considered trying out as a stripper but my husband isn't comfortable with it and I respect that, plus I am not sure if I could actually do it.

The tale is told with her witty humour and a lot of laugh out loud places. She makes no excuses, gives no explanations or justifications which I found very refreshing. To get a feel of her writing style this is one of my favourite quotes about the first time she started at a new club:

"The main stage was ringed by a tip rail that could accommodate at least twenty. Above the stage was a glass-floored second stage, which allowed customers to look up watch another girl dancing overhead. This multidimensional display of poontang reminded me of the 3-D chessboard on StarTrek, which is turn reminded me that I was a huge nerd."

Also reviewed at : Bold Blue Adventure

Books vs Movies
Suggested by: Superfastreader:
Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?

I love both books and movies. Books are great as they let your imagination run wild. You picture the cahracters, scenes and environment described in the book. You have free reign, it becomes your story. A film is different as it is more of a visual experience and treat. The costumes and characters are real, moving about in front of you. Movies are great to relax to, to just sit back and enjoy the show being performed for you. A book is a different kind of escapism, more solitary than watching a film.

The cat above is not Morgaine or Merlin this week, it is my sisters cat Sergi (yes a Russian male name for an English female cat, go figure). I got to see her on the way back from Wales and she insisted on sitting on me when I went to bed, dribbling and shaking her head in my face. Lovely...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 263
Number in Series : #2 Nightmares and Fairy Tales
Reason for Reading : Graphic Novel Challenge, Once Upon a Time II Challenge

Ragdoll Annabelle is back for another installment of stories tinged with horror and fairy tale elements in the second graphic novel in the series. She is still with Gwen who seems to be the first girl to actually be able to hear her and they spend their nights telling each other stories about her previous female owners. The first is about the first owner Annabelle can remember from the modern world. Paige is a lovely 1920's flapper who keeps seeing a strange man named August. She gets frustrated when other people don't seem to be able to see him and it turns out he is a ghost. They find a way to be together that is perhaps not the most desirable. The second story is a reworking Little Red Riding Hood with Luna trying to stop her father from killing wolves. Her mother sends her to live with her grandmother after a wolf kills her father and she befriends one of the local young men on the way. A mixture of fairy tale and werewolf mythology. The third tale concerns Gwen herself as she makes a new friend at school. She isn't quite what she seems and it takes the fairies help to save Gwen from being trapped forever in a mirror in a haunted house.

Next is a different take on Beauty and the Beast. Belle is in love with Rose, but her father finds out and bannishes Rose chaining his daughter Belle in a room alone. One day he travels from home and meets the Beast, offering Belle's life instead of his own. She goes to live with the Beast and finds much more than she bargained for. The final tale is in two parts about Catherine. She is a nurse to a particularly delusional and poisonous woman Vivianne who is convinced Catherine is having an affair with her husband. She passes on this view to their daughter after her death and Catherine is haunted by the ghost of Vivanne after she does end up marrying her widowed husband. She is taken to the brink of insanity and left alone in an assylum stuck with her visions and nightmares.

Beautifully drawn again, I preferred this one over the first installment. I think the tales were a little bit better crafted and I enjoyed the subjects and personalities more. I look forward to reading more in the series and learning about where Annabelle came from and seeing what else happens to the lovely little Gwen.

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 263
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Reading Challenge

Subtitled "The story of a murderer" you know you are in for something not particularly pleasant. It tells the story of a man (Jean-Baptiste Grenouille) who is born amid a rubbish dump and whose mother then abandon's him in France. He lets out a mighty cry and his body is discovered and his mother found and hanged for her crime. As a result he is moved around different wet-nurses, each of which gets rid of him again as he is so greedy and they are unsettled by his lack of smell. He is finally sent to a boarding house where the owner has no sense of smell and is not put off her new charge, treating him as fairly as she treats the other children. It is not a pleasant time, but Grenouille sets his mind to getting on with life and is never heard complaining. His fellow students try to kill him a couple of times, they too are mistrustful of his lack of personal odour and it turns out that Grenouille has an uncanny sense of smell.

Eventually he is sent to work in a tanners yard doing all the most hazardous and disgusting jobs as he is the most expendable. He survives anthrax poisoning and gains some extra status before leaving and working for master perfumer, Giuseppe Baldini. There he can use his incredible sense of small to mix up new and exotic perfumes Baldinin then sells as his own. On walking through the town one day he smells an exquisite smell which he follows. It turns out to be a young red-haired girl on the cusp of puberty. To keep the smell with him he commits his first murder, but has no way of physically preserving her smell. He sets out on a series of failed experiments to bottle human and animal smells.

Again surviving a deadly illness he sets out in search of new ways of distilling scents outside the scope of the usual plants. He spends a number of years living in a cave before rejoining human society and succeeding in his goal. He has found another girl with a similar irresitible smell and has two years to perfect his technique. He practices on other young girls, killing them and removing their clothes and hair. He also spends tim emaking a series of personal perfumes to give himself different smells, one to render him invisible one to make others take notice and respect him and yet another to get people to avoid him.

It is a chilling, fatastical tale. Definiltely worth reading for it is beautifully crafted and the language flows wonderfully. Describing the smells of simple everyday things like money, different kinds of wood, breast milk etc was very sensual and I liked the idea of him making his different personal smells that people would inhale but not realise they were being manipulated by their noses. It reminded me of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov in some ways. It was a difficult subject matter about a man with no remorse (in this he has no concept of morals and right and wrong as we sense it), but the way the tale is told makes it a classic.

Rating : 3.0/5
Number of Pages : 200
Number in Series : #1 Vampire Doll
Reason for Reading : I needed a V book for the A~Z Challenge!

The first in a manga series following vampire Guilt-na-Zan. He was imprisoned by an exorcist into a cross 100 years ago. One of the original exorcists decendents (Kyoji) decides to unleash him again upon the world and releases him from his prison. There is one catch, he doesn't release him into his origianl male, vampire body. instead Guilt-na-Za is released into the body of a pretty girl doll and is now referred to as Guilt-na. The worst of it is he/she was only resurrected as Kyoji needed a maid to clean up after him!

As the plot progresses it turns out he is able to get his origianl body with all it's powers and strengths back for short periods of time by drinking the blood of Kyoji's sister, Tonae. He needs to do this a couple of times as Kyoji's idiot twin brother Kyoichi is trying to steal Guilt-na so he can have his/her power. Another cross is found containing Vincent who turns out to be a long lost friend of Guilt-na-Zan. As well as being foreced to be a maid, Guilt-na-Zan is also sent to take on a demon at the local school who is absorbing wickedness from the pupils and making the boys fall in love with each other.

Good fun but it got very confusing when the demon at the school appeared which let it down. There were some strange references to Kyoji liking pretty young girls and not women, but that might just be a cultural or translational difficulty. There were some extra comics strips at the back with some funny notes in the margins by the author which I enjoyed. Seems she is a big fan of deserts as well as manga!

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 320
Number in Series : #1 Tiffany Aching Series
Reason for Reading : Young Adult Challenge, First in a Series Challenge, Once Upon a Time II Challenge

In this the first book in the Tiffany Aching series, we are introduced to nine year old Tiffany who wants to be a witch. It is set on the Discworld. Witches have been outlawed in the Chalk where she lives since her grandmother, Granny Aching died and the Baron's son went missing. An elderly lady was blamed for having killed him by pushing her into her oven which Tiffany is highly doubtful of considering it is tiny (yes she measured it). She was very close to Granny Aching who was a shepherd with two sheep dogs, Thunder and Lightening. She died in her own home and it was Tiffany who discovered her body.

Not too long after her death Tiffany is down by the river with her sticky and whiney younger brother Wentworth. She hears voices and two strange tiny blue creatures sail past warning her about something in the water. A monster appears and Tiffany manages to save her brother. She ponders the events of the day and uses her brother as bait so she can beat the monster (Jennie Green-Teeth) with a frying pan. This seems to confirm to the creatures that she is "the hag" and they set about doing odd jobs for her.

The creatures turn out to be the Nac Mac Feegle (the Wee Free Men), notorious drunks, thieves and liars who claim no master. When the Queen of the Fairies kidnaps her brother she joins forces with the Feegles to go into fairy land and rescue him. Cue a journey into something quite different to the usual tales of the fairies, where lots of adventures are had. Tiffany recieves guidance from a witch (Miss Tick) and her toad familiar and at the end some of the other witches from the Discworld make a welcome appearence.

I am a little hit and miss with the adult Discworld books and I was pleasantly surprised when I really enjoyed this from the outset. Tiffany made for a great central character and I love the headology/witchcraft lessons she learns along her journey. The Nac Mac Feegle were a lot of fun and I look forward to reading the next in the series and seeing what else will befall Tiffany as she learns the ropes of being a witch.

Other Reviews: Miss Erin

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Addicted? Me?

OK so I am completely giving up on pretending I am not going to sign up for any more challenges. I doubt I will get everything read, but you never know it will certainly be fun trying!

First is the Non-Fiction Five Challenge hosted by Joy origianlly posted here which I have been meaning to join for a bit now. Annoyingly I just read 2 non-fiction books but nevermind. It runs between May and September 2008 and you simply pick 5 non-fiction books to read in that time. You must pick at least one book that is a different genre from the rest eg one self help and four biographies. My list is:

1. Candy Girl - Diablo Cody
2. Tarot for Self Discovery - Nina Lee Braden
3. Tarot Tips - Ruth Ann Amberstone
4. Understanding the Tarot Court - Mary K Greer
5. Piece by Piece - Tori Amos

Alternative : Ogham - Paul Rhys Mountfort

Next is The End of the World Challenge hosted at Becky's Books with the details here and the aim is to read 3 books about the end of the world essentially between May and September 15th 2008. This includes both apocalyptic fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction as well as dystopian. My list is:

1. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
2. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
3. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Alternative: Do Anderoids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K Dick

Next is Darla's Irresistible Review Challenge posted about here. It runs between May and September 1st 2008 and the guidelines are below.

1. Read 8 books between now and Labor Day (September 1st) that you were inspired to read after reading a fellow book-blogger's review. Ideally the books will be ones you'd never heard of or would probably not have considered reading had it not been for the review. If you expanded your horizons or went beyond your usual reading comfort zone because of the review, all the better!
2. Write a review of the book on your blog.
3. (The most important step) Make sure you link to the review that inspired you to read the book in the first place!
4. Books read for other challenges count.
5. There is no need to make a list ahead of time - for this type of challenge, it's probably best to remain open to serendipity in the bookblogosphere!

I have a tentative list but I need to check where I first saw reviews. I am trying not to buy more books so have picked books I previosuly bought after reading reviews. If you have reviewed any of these please let me know!

  • Sleeping with the Fishes - MaryJanice Davidson (Marg at Reading Adventures I think)
  • The Percy Jackson Series - Rick Riordan (Becky's Book Reviews possibly)
  • Zel - Donna Jo Napoli (people from the Twisted Fairy Tales Challenge)
  • The Three Incestuous Sisters - Audrey Niffenegger (I think Nymeth Things Mean a Lot, Chris Stuff as Dreams are Made On)
  • Click - Various (I know Nymeth Things Mean a Lot reviewed this and there was someone else recently who I will track down)
  • I Was a Rat/Clockwork - Philip Pullman (Nymeth Things Mean a Lot and Chris Stuff as Dreams are Made On)
  • The Book of Ballads - Charles Vess (Chris Stuff as Dreams are Made On)

Hmm interesting, I now know who to send my credit card bills to Nymeth and Chris...

Lastly I have decided to join the Classics Challenge even though I said I wasn't going to... Details are at the blog here and I will do the Classics Meme soon I promise, I just have so much to catch up on blog wise at the moment... The aim is to read 5 classics between July and December 2008. There is also the option of picking a 6th book you think should be a classic which I will give some though. My tentative list is:

1. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
2. The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
3. Middlemarch - George Elliot
4. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories - Leo Tolstoy

Annoyingly I missed last weeks Weekly Geeks which was about childhood books as I was away so I thought I would get involved again this week. Copying straight from The Hidden Side of a Leaf this weeks theme: Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.

My theme is self harm ie cutting, burning, deliberately causing physical harm to the body (I am not focusing on eating disorders here although they are linked). It is a theme that speaks to me personally. I started self harming at the age of 15 using a compass at the back of class one day and moved on to using a razor blade. It is something I relied upon for the years to come as my way of exerting control, proving that I was real and bled like any other and trying to dispel the numbness that consumed me. I suffered from depression as well as a mixture of anorexia and bulimia, but cutting was my main outlet. It is hard to explain but many people confuse it with sucicide attempts which it never was for me. It was more a way to show myself that I was alive and without it I am not sure I would be here today. Now I am 28 and have been self harm free I think since I got married 2 years ago. My husband knows I will never make a promise I won't do it again as I think it will always be a part of me and something that surfaces again. I still get tempted when I feel my life is spiralling out of control and I do still have periods of depression, but things have mostly been positive in the last couple of years.

I don't believe I have addressed the issues that made me start harming, things have just settled down somewhat. I had a few years where it got really bad and I had to go to casulty for stitches and my arms are very scarred. I used to be very careful about always wearing long sleves, but now I don't really bother so much (obviosuly I do at work and around my mother, father and grandmother). I get comments from strangers but fob them off just saying it was from when I was younger and elaborating. Why should I, I don't know them! It isn't something I really talk about as I feel it makes others uncomfortable, but it is not something I am ashamed of any more. My scars are like my tiger stripes and they are a reminder of what I went through to become the awesome person I am today! I see them as marks of survival rather than something to hide and deny.

There was an interesting quote in The Scar by China Mieville which was not about self harm but which struck me as applying in my case: "Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing after injury, a scar is what makes you whole." And on that note, on to the books I have picked for this topic.

The Luckiest Girl in the World - Steven Levenkron

"She told herself it wasn't happening. Even as her heart began to pound and she had to work fro breath, she told herself it couldn't happen now.. Soon she'd feel as if she were disintegrating into hundreds of pieces, and she'd have no way to stop it...she pushed back the wrist-length sleeve of her skating dress and looked a the underside of her forearm, which was criss-crossed with dozens of small white and red scars."

This is one I have at home but haven't yet read. A fictional account of self harm based on his psychiatric work with harmers.

Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel

A book that really reached out to me and that I hope to read again. About depression, self harm and drugs written as an autobiography. It was the first time I found someone else who could put into words what I was feeling.

The Bell Jar - Slyvia Plath

Similar the Prozac Nation, a mostly autobiographical account of Plath's struggle with depression and harming herself. A very important book to me as well and one I hope to revisit.

Cutting by Steven Levenkron

A non-fiction account of cutting, understanding it as well as some help to overcome it. Quite useful for those who have a family member self harming and are unsure what to say or do.

"Cutting takes the reader through the psychological experience of the person who seeks relief from mental anguish in self-inflicted physical pain. Written for self-mutilators, parents, friends, and therapists, this book explains why the disorder manifests in self-harming behaviors and, most of all, describes how self-mutilators can be helped."

Cut - Patricia McCormick

One I haven't read but saw a review of at the weekend. Aimed at teen readers and is billed as a sensitive treatment of self harm in a fictional setting. The heroine of the tale is a self harmer and is admitted to an institution and is about her battle to want to get better. Definitely one I will be adding to my list soon.

This is a photo of me and Alex taken the week we got engaged and we used it on our posters for our first DJ night. Sadly I have put on a bit of weight since then grr but it does show what part of my arm is like with it's scars. Don't worry if you are squeamish, there is nothing gruesome shown.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 666
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Reading Challenge

An autobiographical account of Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother living in China. Her grandmother was one of the last generations to have her feet bound, a particularly painful procedure described in detail as tiny feet were seen as beautiful in China. She is given to a Warlord as a concubine by her ambitious father and doesn't know happiness until she gives birth to a daughter and is able to run away when her "husband" dies. She later remarries Dr Xia whose family do not approve of her previous marriage and connections. A family berevement forces them to move out by themselves (people mostly lived in family groups) with her daughter who is raised by Xia.

Japan's rule has been overthrown by the Chinese, but civil war between the Kuomintang and Communist party led by Mao throws the country into confusion. Jung's mother and father are staunch communists which is how they meet and both become officials. Her father in particular lives for the party and always puts it ahead of his wife to the extent that she suffers a miscarriage and almost dies because she is forced to march in harsh conditions and he refuses to let her ride in the car as she is a lower rank than him and he believes in setting an example. SHe nearly leaves him countless times, but comes to understand and love him over their years together. They have 5 children in total (2 girls and 3 boys) before the party turns on the officials and increases the torture of it's own people. Jung's parents fall foul of allegations and are taken in to custody and tortured from which her father never really recovers.

Jung herself is subjected to the brainwashing campaign of Chairman Mao who they are taught is ever closer than her parents. He sets himself up as almost an Emperor of old, a dictator who decrees that even plants and grass are uncommunist and must be pulled up. He causes widespread famine and later sends the children out to live with peasants to try and educate them and get cheap labour. He is very against intellectuals and so closes the universities and works against the educated. After his death, she is able to go to university and later travel to England to study further. By the end of the book things are slowly changing although she is not allowed back into China.

This was a very intersesting book and I hope to read the biography of Mao she has written with her English husband. I have never been to China and didn't know much of it's history so this was quite eye opening. The Chinese are portratyed as having immense national pride although being more brutal than the culture I am used to. The narrative is slightly detached in places, but I think to relive her life would have been a traumatic experience for her and so it makes sense. She also put off writing her account of her life for many years after moving permanently to England. A very personal account that educated me a little more which shows her parents to be innocent of all charges made against them and then punnished for their loyalty.

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 155
Series : Canongate Myth Series
Reason for Reading : Once Upon a Time II Challenge

"The Myth of Samson" begins with with chapters 13-16 from the Book of Judges from the Authorised King James edition of The Bible. After this follows a commentary and discussion of the passage in detail looking at the language, the background of the time and culturual references.

Samson is often portrayed as a hero, a strong man destined to "deliver Isreal out of the hand of the Philistines". From birth he seems different from the other people and this leads to him being quite isolated. There is question mark over his paternity. There is a possibility that his father was not the husband of his mother, it is suggested he could have been an angel or even a Philistine which would explain his later draw towards their women. As an adult he seems drawn to choosing destructive relationships with woman and Delilah is not the first.

Potentially the first suicide-killer who kills everyone, including himself, by collapsing a temple after being famously betrayed by Delilah to the Philistines after she learns the secret of his strength. The commentary looks at his child-like nature and expressions of poetry in his speech which ofset his often violent and sexual tendencies.

An interesting look at a well-known story. I was brought up as a Christian but decided in my teens that it wasn't the path for me so this was an interesting walk down memory lane to Sunday School and Bible Study groups. It is a difficult one looking at the language as of course it depends on the translation so it can be a little confusing and is not the best indication. I did enjoy it though, it raised some interesting points and put a different slant on a tale I thought I knew.

Other reviews: Things Mean a Lot and Reading Adventures

I'm Back!

Wow what a great holiday. I can't put up pictures yet as I *still* haven't found my camera lead to upload them. The memory card has our Wales, Egypt, Prague and Berlin photos on it so I really should get it sorted. Some of the things we did were :

  • Harlech Castle and Beach (plus sunburn ouch)
  • Llecawedd Slate Caverns and Victorian Villiage (the steepest passenger railway in the UK) - other things that happened that day was the car exhaust falling off and having to get the AA out and go to a garage, we were able to hang out in a local pub while it was fixed
  • Mount Snowdon (sore and more sunburn but definitely worth it)
  • Castle Dolbedarn
  • Caernarfon walled town and Cricceth Castle
  • Rabbit Farm with lots of rabbits, beautiful puppies, sheep, goats, cattle and ponies
  • Portmadog and Portmetion
  • The Farm I used to go to every year as a child growing up
  • Conway
  • Liverpool where my mum and gran live where we went to the cinema to see Iron Man

The weather was amazing (hence the sunburn) and we had some great meals out in various pubs. I was also able to get quite a bit of reading done. I am now behind on reviews and will try and catch up over the next few days. While I was away I finished:

  • Lion's Honey - David Grossman
  • Wild Swans - Jung Chang
  • The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett
  • Vampire Doll v1 - Erika Kari
  • Perfume - Patrick Suskind

I will also try and get around all of your blogs and see what you have been up to over the last 10 days or so. Annoyingly there look to be some great new challenges out there which I will try and resist, but as you can see I am a bit of a challenge addict...

Friday, May 09, 2008

... Back in 10 days!

Don't go forgetting about me now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 151
Series : Canongate Myth Series
Reason for Reading : Once Upon a Time II Challenge

This is the first book I have read in the Canongate Myth Series. It looks at the story of the Greek Titan Atlas. He was punnished by the King of the Gods Zeus for his role in the war against the Olympians. His task is to hold up the Kosmos with no repreival date. ONe day Heracles approaches Atlas to help him with one of the twelve labours set him by Eurystheus. He has to get someone else to retrieve three of Hera's apples from Atlas's garden which are guarded by the snake Ladon.

The story is told mostly in the first person by Atlas who settles into his punnishment without questioning what would happen if he put the Kosmos down. The tale is as much about Heracles who is portrayed as the usual hero type. If he isn't killing something he is eating it or fucking it. Nice! He isn't known for thinking and when he starts to it is like a buzzing of a thought wasp in his head. To make it stop he takes to banging his head against walls. He takes the burden off Atlas for a time, holding up the Kosmos while Atlas retrieves the apples for him. He soon realises that his strength is in movement and not in bearing a burden like Atlas has to. He tricks Atlas into taking back the Kosmos before he is ready so that he can resume his regular hero activities and try to outwit his step mother Hera who really has it in for him.

I loved this short novel. It was wonderfully told with very different voices for Atlas and Heracles with lots of random scientific facts off all kinds thrown in for good measure. There is a section near the end with Laika (the first dog that the Russians put into space) which was a very random addition to the tale, but one I enjoyed. I will definitely be looking into other writing the author has done in the future and hope to enjoy the other books in the Myth series as much.

Other reviews : Things Mean a Lot

Manual Labor

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

To be honest I think the only book in this category that I have read is "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" by Lynne Truss which is the "Zero tolerance approach to punctuation". I read it in 2007 and reviews it on my blog. It was an interesting read, but nothing life changing. I think I have a small pocket dictionary and thesaurus, I just sorted out my books finally and can picture them in the new home. I have had them since I was about 10 but don't really use them. I am not massively fond of reading writing guides, I just read stories and write what I want to! My mum is an English teacher (and my sister is not far off qualifying too), so I can always get her to check something if it's absolutely neccessary. She was a great help during my final year at university when I did a project on science writing for non-scientists, but that was more to see if I was pitching what I was writing about at the right level. My dad has also proof read things for me more recently.

The photo above is of Morgaine (I miss my chair, it's already covered in cat hair grr). She was sleeping in the strangest position on her back so I snapped a photo on my phone. I have no idea how she managed to find this comfortable, but such is the flexibility of cats...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This challenge was held by Callapidder Days and the original details are here. The challenge rran from 20/3/08 until 19/6/08 and I finished a little early. I decided to read some of the manga I have been gathering:

1. Bizenghast v1 - M Alice LeGrow
2. Bizenghast v2 - M Alice LeGrow
3. Bizenghast v3 - M Alice LeGrow
4. Bizenghast v4 - M Alice LeGrow
5. Return to Labyrinth v1 - Jake T Forbes & Chris Lie
6. Return to Labyrinth v2 - Jake T Forbes & Chris Lie
7. Legends of the Dark Crystal v1 - Barbara Randall Kesel, Heidi Arnhold & Max Kim

It is really difficult to pick a favourite and I don't think I can because I enjoyed them all. I recommend them to all fantasy and gothic lovers out there. If you haven't tried reading manga before I can highly recommend any of these as a start.

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 157
Number in Series : #4 Bizenghast
Reason for Reading : Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Dinah, Vincent, Edaniel and Edrear continue to release the spirits in the mausoleum. One spirit turns out to have been a girl Dinah went to school with. She was bullied before killing herself. All she wants is to be loved and she is making herself into the perfect woman with parts form other girls. Now she wants Dinah's eyes to complete her transformation.

Another spirit causes them to appear on a boat at sea in the middle of a hurricane. They need to see the boat safely into the harbour to save the passengers. A random chapter has Dinah and Vincent watching Edrear deal with ghosts and a car crash incident reminds Dinah of the night her parents died and she survived. Vincent has his own quest, he is trying to find out more about the history of the town by doing research in the local library. His search leads him to be shown a secret room and uncovers more about the mysterious Addie Clark.

There seems to be following them in the shadows and this installment ends on a major cliff hanger involving Vincent. I am very much looking forward to the fifth installment due out in July. Dinah is really growing on me as a character, she is relying on herself much more to solve puzzles and is much more confident.

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 192
Number in Series : #3 Bizenghast
Reason for Reading : Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Joining Dinah, Vincent and Edaniel is the second of the four tower guards, Edrear. He is Edaniel's brother and takes a much more active role in battling the spirits. This is especaily useful as the spirits are much more deceptive than earlier encounters.

This time they face IXI who lives in a pleasure palace where everyone has two faces and everything appears in it's duality, Keeper who deliberately blinded her brother Finder as a child before herself going blind in both eyes in later life, and a ghost who lives within a maze who tricks them all into giving in to their true desires. There are are great twists and turns in trying to find the spirits and the chapter with their true desires was very revealing.

The tension mounts between Dinah and Vincent. He is jealous of Edrear who he sees as a rival for Dinah's heart. There are some great witty comments from Edaniel and a little more about Dinah;s aunt who she now refers to as her mother. There are also some more comments about the mysterious ghost of Addie Clark. Another great addition to the series.

Monday, May 05, 2008

This challenge was hosted by Crazy Cosy Murders running between 1/12/07 - 31/5/08, with the deatils posted here and here. The challenge was to get up to date with series you are currently reading. There was no limit as to how many books you picked and how many series you wanted to finish. My list and links to reviews is below:

1. Kelley Armstrong - Broken (Women of the Otherworld)
2. Kelley Armstrong - No Humans Involved (Woman of the Otherworld)
3. Terry Pratchett - Going Postal (Discworld)
4. Terry Pratchett - Thud! (Discworld)
5. Holly Black - Ironside (Modern Tales of Faerie)
6. Stepehnie Meyer - New Moon (Twilight)
7. Stephenie Meyer - Eclipse (Twilight)
8. Juliet Marillier - Foxmask (Children of the Light Isles)

It's quite difficult to pick a favourite book, but it would have to be either Ironside by Holly Black or Foxmask by Juliet Marillier. These are my two favourite series as well. There is a follow up, Series Challenge II, which I have signed up for and am looking forward to starting in June. A lot of the books I read tend to be part of series and I have a lot of catching up still to do...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 192
Number in Series : #2 Bizenghast
Reason for Reading : Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Following on from Volume One, Dinah and Vincent have released ten of the forty ghosts in the mausoleum and have unlocked one of the four tower guards. Edaniel is a smart talking cat with magical powers which can transform the humans as well as himself. He helps guide them, without actually getting involved, in the quest for the other thirty spirits to set free.

The next set are more difficult than the first few, they are harder to free and they are likely to hide. One was a spoilt rich girl whose ghost was drowning children before being trapped in the mausoleum. Dinah needs to find her to return her missing necklace, also putting the girl back together like a jigsaw puzzle or the witch in Return to Oz. Another is Plague who accidentally infects Vincent causing Dinah and Edaniel to fetch a Lazurus apple. Meanwhile Dinah visits a psychiatrist and her aunt shows a much more human side.

As beautifull drawn as the first manga, I really enjoyed this tale. There were some interesting ideas for further storylines which I look forward to reading about in further mangas. There is a great bonus section at the back of some of the artists dresses she has made for cosplay.

Rating : 3.5/5
Number of Pages : 438
Number in Series : #7 Women of the Otherworld
Reason for Reading : Series Challenge

Spiritualist and supernatural necromancer Jaime Vegas takes center stage in this the seventh novel in the Women of the Otherworld series. She is participating in a television show called "Death of Innocence", where she and two other human mediums are going to try to contact the spirit of Marilyn Monroe. Upon arriving at the location in Brentwood, Jaime feels the pressure of ghosts trapped between our world and the next.

After some investigating with the help of sexy Alpha werewolf and half-demon ghost Eve, Jaime discovers the spirits belong to children. Humans are doing the unthinkable, sacrificing children to gain supernatural powers. Somehow it seems to be working against all the odds. They enlist the help of half-demon Hope who can sense and is drawn to chaos and try to track down the group responsible via an S&M magical society to murderous consequences.

Jaime is a light-hearted character, but this is a far from light-hearted book. The theme of child sacrifice and strong S&M with bondage will put some readers off. One thing that does distract from the more gruesome scenes is the blossoming relationship between Jaime and Jeremy. She has had a thing for him for the last 4 years and after it seeming like unrequited love things could be different. It was good to read references to lots of other main characters from previous books and see where they are up to with their lives and it will be good to learn more about Hope in future books. Overall, whilst I do enjoy dark books, this one left a lightly bitter taste if I am honest.

Other reviews:
The Written Word
The Movieholic & Biblophile's Blog
Reading Adventures

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 192
Number in Series : #1 Bizenghast
Reason for Reading : Spring Reading Thing Challenge

Dinah is 8 when she is the only survivor of a car crash which kills both of her parents. The crash looks a little strange, but foul play is ruled out and she is sent to live with her maternal aunt who inherits substantial property in Bizenghast. The property is a series of buildings called St Lyman's School for Boys which used to be a mental hospital. Dinah's aunt is going to have it renovated into a house for them to live in.

A few years later Dinah is living with her aunt who treats her for mental illness and constantly trying to get her committed. Her only friend is local boy Vincent, and it is with him that she stumbles across an undiscovered graveyard in the woods around the town. They find an entrance into a mausoleum and upon entering a plaque. Dinah accidentally signs a contract casuing spider creature Bali-Lali to appear and fill in some of the details of the contract. Dinah now has to wake up 40 spirits that are trapped in the mausoleum by solving riddles and setting them free. If she doesn't fulfil the task or fails to return each night to the mausoleum she will die.

A gothic tale following a girl trying to overcome her fears of the unknown. She has never really settled with her aunt missing her parents fiercly. This is beautifully drawn and I really enjoyed it. There are fairy tale themes throughout the different ghosts tales. Recommended.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Weekly Geeks #2

This weeks challenge is to make a permanent change to your blog. Inspired by Darla at Books and Other Thoughts, she adds to her book reviews links to other blogs who have reviewed the same book. Does that make sense?!? What I hope to do is get people to leave a comment with a link to the review they have written of the same book. I will keep a check on my comments and add it to the end of my review. If you prefer to email me the link, my email is in my profile. Depending on how it goes I will keep it as a permanent feature.

If what I have said doesn't quite make sense please check out the much better explained post by Dewey here!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 200
Number in Series : #2 Death Note
Reason for Reading : I really loved the first one and wanted to see what happened next

This manga follows on directly form the first in the series. Light is still using the Death Note to kill criminals and being followed by Shinigami Ryuk. He uses the Death Note to trick the FBI agent following him into letting him see a file with how many FBI agents are in Japan looking into the Kira case, what they look like and what their names are. Light is then able to use the Death Note to kill them all causing the USA to withdraw it's support from the investigation. One complication he doesn't forsee is that one of the investigators had a Japanese fiance who was once part of the FBI. She spots some connections and clues that the police have missed and is close to figuring out Kira's true identity.

The other main threat to Light/Kira is the mysterious L who has been called in Interpol to investigate the case. Killing the FBI agents forces him to come out into the open and reveal his identity to the small task force unit left on the case in Japan. The team includes Light's father who is heading it. L is getting closer to Light as well, especially when the team install a set of hidden cameras into his house to monitor the family.

A great second installment in the series. I am definitely still interested in reading more and seeing what has happened to Naomi. I like how each installment adds a little more information about the Death Note and the Shinigami causing the plot to thicken. I love that the Shinigami do not know everything about how to use the Death Note and are not compelled to tell the owner of the Death Note anything about it.

Great news, over at Crazy Cosy Murders the Series Challenge is going to have a second part running for another 6 months from 1st June until 30th November. For details go here where you can sign up as well. Basically though you can pick as many books as you like to get up-to-date with as many series as you like. I have just about completed the first part (one more book remains, No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong), and as I am doing the First in a Series Challenge I will have lots of new series I want to complete. I am going to assume that I have started the series in the First in a Series Challenge and try to finish some of them off which I hope is ok. My books for this challenge are:

1. Enna Burning - Shannon Hale (Goose Girl Series)
2. River Secrets - Shannon Hale (Goose Girl Series)
3. Tangled Webs - Anne Bishop (Black Jewels Series)
4. Wintersmith - Terry Pratchett (Tiffany Aching Series)
5. Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials)
6. Once Upon a Time in the NOrth - Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials)
7. The Novice - Trudi Canavan (Black Magician Trilogy)
8. The High Lord - Trudi Canavan (Black Magician Trilogy)

Rating : 4.5/5
Number of Pages : 398
Number in Series : #4 Black Jewels Realm
Reason for Reading : TBR Challenge 2008, Once Upon a Time II Challenge, I love The Black Jewels Trilogy

Set in the realm of The Black Jewels Trilogy but before the events of the trilogy and subsequent books. Jared is a Red-Jeweled Warlord and as such is a powerful threat to any Queen. Unfortunately for him he was tricked nine years ago into putting on the Ring of Obedience (it's a ring only men can wear and it doesn't go on any of their fingers...) forcing him to be a pleasure slave to be humiliated and debased by whoever controls him. It all became too much for him serving one particular Queen and he killed her and her brother Prince causing him to be put up for auction with the possibility of being shipped off to tormet in the mines at Pruul.

He is bought at auction by the mysterious Gray Lady, a Queen who holds out against Dorothea DaDiablo with a fierce reputation. The slaves she buys have a tendency to disappear and never be seen again. She removes his painful ring and replaces it with the Invisible Ring which Jared knows little about. Jared and a small group of hand-picked slaves are then taken and the journey back to her land of Dena Nehele begins. Dorothea suffers no competition and employs a new Master of the Guard, Lord Krelis, to track down the Gray Lady and eliminate her once and for all. During the journey Jared finds himself wanting to serve and protect this mysterious Queen, urges he thought never to feel after his treatment by the distaff gender.

At first I felt sympathy for Lord Krelis, he was in a position where he could be blamed for everything that went wrong, but as the story progressed he became crueller as his lust for power overtook his reason and honour. Jared, the Gray Lady and the others in her band were an interesting assortment of characters and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as much as the others in the series. The woman are always strong and I like the way the inner stuggle within the male characters being torn between a desire to serve and protect is dealt with. I was glad it featured Deamon and references to Lucivar and Surreal who are great characters from earlier novels. Deamon is such a fasciniating character and it is always a chilly pleasure finding out more about The Sadist and why he got his nickname.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April Summary

April turned out to be a better month for reading than I expected. The number of pages I am reading a month is still decreasing and I have been reading more manga lately which I am really enjoying. It is interesting keeping a log like this to see what my reading habits are.

Number of Books Read April : 18, Total 68
Number of Pages Read : 5520, Total 22756
Book Awards Reading Challenge : 20/23 (need to read a minimum of 12)
Series Challenge : 7/8
Themed Reading Challenge : 5/6
Young Adult Challenge : 7/12
Challenge with Nymeth : 1/5
What's in a Name Challenge : 3/6
Graphic Novel Challenge : 4/10 plus 3 extras
TBR Challenge 2008 : 2/12 and 5/12 alternatives
First in a Series Challenge : 5/12
Man Booker Prize Challenge : 6/8
Short Story Reading Challenge : 5/10
Chunkster Challenge : 2/4
Mythopoeic Challenge : 5/7
Inklings Challenge : 2/4
A~Z Challenge : Titles = 17/26, Authors = 17/26
Guardian 100 Greatest Books of All Time : 28/100 (aiming for 50)
Twisted Fairy Tales Challenge : 6/6 Completed
Once Upon a Time Challenge : 4/7 plus 11 alternatives
Spring Reading Thing Challenge : 3/7
Arthurian Reading Challenge : 0/12
tl;dr Challenge : 0/3

101 Things to do in 1001 Days : 33/101


Quick! It’s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do??
And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember….

Well that's easy, I go to the book shop at the airport and buy myself another book! At the UK airports there are always a WHSmith and Books Etc selling books plus they have new hardbacks out in paperback as they are lighter to carry on the plane. I have my wallet so should be fine to pay for one. At the very least there would be some newspapers hanging around to read. I can't sit around for any length of time without a book to read, it's some kind of strange torture for me.

The photo at the top is Merlin this week. He is always walking up to you and then falling on his back exposing his belly and looking at you to give him attention. I think he is species confused mistaking himself for a dog as unlike many cats he loves it when you reach over and play with his tummy.