Sunday, November 30, 2008

Series II Challenge

Details here hosted by Crazy Cosy Murders. Challenge ran from 1/6/08 to 30/11/08. I love reading series so was happy to sign up for the second round of this challenge. The books i picked and read were:

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. nce 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)

I think my favourites were River Secrets and Tangled Webs. I love the Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale and I look forward to the fourth in the series coming out soon. I also love Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series and again am looking forward to the next in the series. My least favourite was easily The Novice by Trudi Canavan. It was such a filler book. It was very long and unnecessary.

Read the following books larger than 450 pages between 7/1/08 - 20/12/08. There is a review site here. Below are the books I picked and read:

1. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
2. Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
3. High Lord - Trudi Canavan (substituted for The Brothers Karamazov)
4. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Of my chunkster reads I loved The Blind Assassin and Middlesex most of all. I haven't yet read an Atwood book I haven't fallen in love with and Middlesex was a great introduction to Eugenides who I hope to read more of in the future.

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 647
Series : #3 Black Magician Trilogy
Reason for Reading : Series II Challenge, Chunkster Challenge

The conclusion to the Black Magician Trilogy is so much better than the first two in the series. Sonea is still an apprentice to the High Lord who is a Black Magician, something forbidden by the Guild he represents. He does his best to explain to Sonea why he has learnt this forbidden magic and shows her the truth. It is then up to Sonea whether she helps him and how best to do so. There is the option of giving her strength and power to the High Lord, or to learn Bacl Magic herself knowing that punnishment will be either execution or bannishment from the Guild forever.

In the background Dannyl must bring to light a sect of people whoa re not part of the Guild that are trying to learn magic. Another crime that is punnishable by execution. He must trick them into accepting him so he can expose them. To do so he must let them believe he is gay, which is in fact the truth. As the truth comes out and the threat to the city and the Guild is acknolledged, it seems all of their lives will be changed forever. Sonea and the High Lord must try and stop an invasion of the worst kind, powerful Black Magician's with a grudge against the High Lord and the Guild.

As I said, much better than the first two in the series. Lots of action, Canavan takes no prisoners during the battle. Much more action and adventure, suspense and intrigue. It ends in a way that Canavan could continue the series at a later date which I would be interested in reading. It's just such a shame about book two as many people may give up on the series and miss a great conclusion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Me and Nymeth at Things Mean a Lot had our own mini reading challenge in 2008. We had noticed that we shared similar taste in reading so we each picked 5 of our favourite books for the other to read throughout the year. The 5 that Nymeth put forward for me with links to my reviews were:

1. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
2. Eleanor Rigby - Douglas Coupland
3. Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones
4. Big Fish - Daniel Wallace
5. Death: The High Cost of Living - Neil Gaiman

I really enjoyed all of the books Nymeth suggested and I can't wait to do it again next year. I really loved Middlesex and Eleanor Rigby which I think were my favourite two, and I hope to read more by all five authors in the future.

The 5 I put forward with links to Nymeth's reviews were:

The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
Waifs and Strays by Charles de Lint
The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 249
Reason for Reading : Challenge with Nymeth

Named after the title of a Beatles song by Lennon and McCartney which inspired it, Eleanor Rigby is a tale about loneliness. Liz Dunn has never really felt like she fit in. She is 36 and has no friends, has never had a relationship, works in a job she doesn't really enjoy with people she doesn't like. The only people she really sees are her beautiful cosmetically enhanced older sister, brother (and his children, but rarely his wife who she doesn't get on with) and her mother who is barely present. One day a comet Hale-Bopp appears in he sky, signifying change and Liz's world is turned upside down when she has a call from the hospital telling her they have her grown son.

From here the story alternates between her childhood and teenage years, the present and seven years earlier when the comet was spotted and she first learnt about her son. We learn more about her family and liz herself. She is self deprecating but honest at the same time. There are lots of mini stories within the novel and I love the way Liz is able to see into others hidden agendas. My edition also has an interview with Coupland at the end which was fascinating.

It is a very sad book, but never falls into depressing. It is humorous and witty and I loved it. I couldn't put it down and was very interested to see how it would all turn out. I won't give it away, but it's enough to tell you I was more than satisfied with it. I will defintely be reading more by Coupland in the future (thanks Nymeth!).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 579
Series : #2 Bartimaeus
Reason for Reading : Mythopoeic Challenge

Nathaniel is back after the first in the series, The Amulet of Samarkand. He has been promoted to being part of the ministry of internal affairs and has been put in charge of capturing and destroying the Resistance. He has n't been doing so well in his assignment, especially when a mysterious entity turns up and destroys much of Piccadilly and the British Museum. Nathaniel turns to his final ally, djinni Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is back as witty and argumentative as usual. The chapters alternate between the two and Kitty who is part of the Resistance (we are introduced to her in the first book briefly). We learn Kitty's back story and why she is fighting the magician's. We also meet others of the Resistance and learn of their plans and motivations. It is interesting that they are not so different from the magicians they are fighting.

After the first one hundred pages, it got much more fun and interesting. Nathaniel is a rubbish character, but Kitty and Bartimaeus are great. Lots of twists and turns along the way, I am definitely looking forward to reading the final installment, but I think I worked out early on in this novel who the master villian is (I am happy to be proved wrong). One final thing I enjoy about this series is that they are not fluffy and filled with happily ever afters. There are always some casulties along the way which makes the fantasy more real somehow.

Other Reviews:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rating : 3.0/5
Developer : Mistealker and Artoon
Genre: RPG
Console : XBox 360

The story follows Shu, Kluke and Jiro who live in a villiage terrorised by a landshark which appears when the sky is filled with violet clouds. They come up with a plan to destroy the land shark and save the villiage which sparks their adventure to ulimtaltely destroy Nene. Along the way they meet Marumaro (one of the Devee tribe) and Lady Zola who helps King Jibral fight the monsters from the surrounding land.

These five are able to take on Nene because they are different. They possess magic and have giant blue shadows to aid them in battle. Shu has a dragon, Kluke a phoenix, Jiro a minatour, Marumaro a tiger and Zola a bat. They travel the land saving different villages from Nene's terrors (including a villiage he has turned to ice, a villiage held hostage by a forest and evil tree and many others being besiged by monsters). Ultimately they need to locate Nene and destroy him and his servants once and for all. Nene is the only surviving member of the ancients who had magic and built machines and mechants to do their bidding. He wants to use his magic to be King of the world and rule over all.

I had a few issues with this game. It is too like final fantasy and felt like a direct rip off. The story was based on a design by Hironobu Sakaguchi was is the Final Fantasy series creator. He supervised development and wrote the plot which evidently shows. The class system was very similar and the plot was very linear until near the end. The battle system was pretty standard and I found them all very easy until one particular psycho tree on the final disk (there are 3 disks in total). I was able to defeat the final boss in one go sadly. Marumaro is also very irritating and Shu has an annoying habbit of constantly saying "I will not give up". On the plus side I do love the graphics. I like my RPGs to look like a fantasy game without realistic human graphics. My characters have magical giant blue animal shadows for goodness sakes!

I leave you with some screen shots that give you a feel for the game. Probably more suited to slightly younger players and a little less RPG experience.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rating : 2.0/5
Number of Pages : 261
Reason for Reading : Library Book Discussion Group, Book Awards Challenge II

The 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize. The story is mostly set in Ireland (Dublin) with some of the tale in Brighton and South England. Veronica Hegary is one of the nine surviving children in her family and at the start of the novel her brother Liam has just died. She dwells on the past, their life growing up and what it was like for her grandparents. It is only about half way through we learn how Liam died and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Veronica does not really love her husband any more although she cares deeply for their two daughters. She suspects he is having an affair as they are no longer sleeping together. She Spends time rewritting the past and imaging the life her grandmother Ada had with her husband Charlie and his friend Lamb Nuggent. Slowly she remembers the past and what really happened. The events she remembers help piece together the truth behind Liam's death.

I didn't really enjoy this novel. It was just too bleak and I don't think I was really in the mood to read it. The ending was slightly more uplifting with some light at the end of the tunnel which helped a little. It was well written, I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

999 Challenge

Ok ok I know I said I would cut down on challenges for 2009, but I can't resist this one as I can use it to read lots of books I have been meaning to get around to for ages! Hosted on Librarything here and the rules are below:

1. Pick 9 categories
2. Read 9 books in each of those categories
3. Complete them in 2009.
4. To make it easier ---The 888 challenge allowed an overlap of 8 books which would fit into more than one category. So for this challenge, you could overlap 9 books, but that's up to you. I didn't overlap any books.
5. To make it harder ---Complete all your books by 9/9/09.

There may or may not be prizes but who cares, it looks fun! It does mean committing to 81 books in 2009, but I should be able to manage it. My categories are:

1. 9 Graphic Novels
2. 9 Manga
3. 9 Urban Fantasy
4. 9 Anthologies
5. 9 Fairy Tales
6. 9 Teenage Fiction
7. 9 TBR
8. 9 Mythology/Folk Tale
9. 9 by one author or in one series eg. 9 by JRR Tolkien or 9 Daughters of the Moon books

I will probably set a couple of books and then just fill them in as I go along throughout 2009 to keep things flexible if I spot something new along the way (apart from the TBR section which needs to be books I already have at home).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Hosted be Dewey at The Hidden Side of a Leaf, the aim was to read at least 6 books that have either won the Man Booker prize or have been short or longlisted for it between 1/1/08 - 31/12/08. My list with links to the reviews was:

1. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
2. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
3. Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha - Roddy Doyle
4. Midnights Children - Salman Rushdie
5. On Beauty - Zadie Smith
6. The Testament of Gideon Mack - James Robertson
7. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
8. Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

This was a wonderful challenge, but I am not sure I am "man" enough to do the Complete Booker challenge, we shall see in the future. I enjoyed most of the books on the list with my least favourite being The God of Small Things. I am really glad I read Midnight's Children for the challenge, as it has been awarded the Booker of Bookers prize.

Rating : 3.5/5
Number of Pages : 387
Reason for Reading : Man Booker Challenge

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, this was a fascinating novel. Written as it the incident really happened, Gideon Mack was a minister without any faith. One day he fell into the Black Jaws (a gorge in Scotland) trying to rescue a friend's dog and is pulled out by someone he claimes to be the Devil. The Devil nurses him back to health and sends him back into the wide world where he tells his story. He is summarily denounced, his friends stop speaking to him and he is facing a libel suit as well as being dismissed as a minister. All this ends when he goes mising and months later is found dead.

The novel begins with a prologue by the "publisher" of Gideon's manuscript which gives an outline of the facts of the case reported by the press as well as two witnesses who claim to have seen Gideon after he was supposed to have been killed. Gideon's narrative then begins in ernest starting with his bleak childhood growing up as the son of a minister who never seems to have loved his wife (Gideon's mother). Gideon finds freedom, his best friend, his future wife and future mistress at university before following in his fathers footsteps, despite having lost his faith many years ago (if he ever really had it to begin with). Things tick along in Gideon's life (with the exception of one major tragedy), until one day he finds a mysterious standing stone in a clearing that wasn't there before and that no one else seems able to see. It sets off a series of events which lead to his eventual mysterious death.

It is the characters that make the story. Elsie and Catherine Cragie in particular as well as the Devil obviously, but even down to the publisher, freelance journalist, the barber and Bill Winnyford who isn't quite what he seems. The story moves along and carries the reader with it. It is such a realistic place that you feel like you have walked the streets and run in he woods as well as met the people. I liked the idea that the Devil doesn't know where God is, he has disappeared after they both seem to have tired of humans. As the novel says, who is this time would believe a man has been trapped in a cave and conversed with the Devil for three days, but the end is open enough to allow for anything to be true. You really do wonder if Gideon was indeed mad as many of the townsfolk attest, or if it was bizzarre enough to have really been true.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The RIP II Challenge was hosted again by Carl V at Stainless Steel Droppings. It ran between 1/9/08 - 31/10/08 with a dedicated review site here. There were a number of Perils to choose from and I picked Peril the Second. My goal was to read at least 2 books from Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror or Supernatural subgenres. I ended up reading 6 books in total during the time period:

1. Nightmares and Fairy Tales v3: 1140 Rue Royale - Serena Valentino
6. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

Again this was another great challenge, I loved last years and am hoping there is an RIP IV next year... My favourites were either Tamsin or The Graveyard Book, but there were none that I read that I did not enjoy. I can definitely recommend all six to all.

Hosted by Renay, Bottle of Shine here. The idea of the Herding Cats or tl;dr Challenge was to put forward 10 books you like and then pick 3 to read from other challenge participants between 1/5/08 - 30/11/08. The three I picked to read were:

1. Beauty - Robin McKinley (Book Nut)
2. Stardust - Neil Gaiman (Becky)
3. Tamsin - Peter S Beagle (prplpen)

The list I had put forward for others to choose from was:

1. Waifs and Strays - Charles de Lint (a wonderful collection of his short stories that are a great introduction to his work)
2. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (my favourite of all of his books, a must for book and music lovers)
3. The Black Jewels Trilogy - Anne Bishop (dark fantasy at it's best, somehow particularly suited to female readers I think)
4. Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice (where The Vampire Chronicles all began)
5. The Magicians Nephew - CS Lewis (the first in the Narnia series and often sadly neglected. Perhaps my favourite in the series)
6. The Looking Glass Wars - Frank Beddor (a wonderful re-telling of Alice in Wonderland which turns the whole tale on it's head. Found in the teenage reading/young adult section but will appeal to older readers too)
7. The Goose Girl - Shannon Hale (a fairy tale re-telling I just finished reading and fell in love with. Highly recommended)
8. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (classic tale of man loves young girl, disturbing but one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read)
9. Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier (the first in the Sevenwaters Trilogy based on a fairy tale set in Celtic times)
10. The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Atwood (everyone should read this dystopian novel)

Of the three books I read I loved them all and it is impossible to pick a favourite. Robin McKinley was the only new author to me and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

October Summary

This was a great month for reading finally! I participated in the read-a-thon for the first time which I really enjoyed (completed 6 books) as well as wrapping up 5 reading challenges. I doubt next month will be as good, but I would like to wrap up another 5 reading challenges if possible.

Number of Books Read October : 18, Total 153
Number of Pages Read : 5524 Total 47,765
Young Adult Challenge : 12/12 COMPLETED
Challenge with Nymeth : 4/5
What's in a Name Challenge : 5/6
Graphic Novel Challenge : 10/10 plus 6 extras COMPLETED
TBR Challenge 2008 : 6/12 and 10/12 alternatives
First in a Series Challenge : 11/12
Man Booker Prize Challenge : 7/8
Short Story Reading Challenge : 9/10
Chunkster Challenge : 3/4
Mythopoeic Challenge : 6/7 plus 1/3 Bartimeaus Trilogy
Inklings Challenge : 4/4 COMPLETED
A~Z Challenge : Titles = 26/26, Authors = 24/26
Guardian 100 Greatest Books of All Time : 33/100 (aiming for 50)
Arthurian Reading Challenge : 2/12
tl;dr Challenge : 3/3 COMPLETED
Series Challenge II : 7/8
Classics Challenge 08 : 3/5
RIP III Challenge : 2/2 plus 4 alternatives COMPLETED

101 Things to do in 1001 Days : 38/101

Rating : 1.0/5
Number of Pages : 741
Reason for Reading : Classic's Challenge, Guardian 100 Greatest Books of All Time, TBR 2008 Challenge

Often described as the greatest poem of the European Middle Ages. Dante travels through the seven levels of hell (Inferno), seven cornices of purgatory (Purgatoria) and finally finds himself in heaven (Paradiso). His guide is the poet Virgil who takes him through the lover levels and then Beatrice higher up. They see much suffering in hell of the promiscuous, gluttonous and the violent etc including Judas (the devils chew toy) and Mohamed (the false prophet).

I am sorry to say I really did not enjoy this poem at all. It was a real struggle to finish it and became my own moutain of hell. I can bearly remember any of it and had to keep re-reading passages as I couldn't remember them at all. I may pinch my husbands illustrated copy that has chapter summaries at some point, but am not particularly motivated at the moment.

Rating : 3.5/5
Number of Pages : 304
Reason for Reading : Classic's Challenge, Guardian 100 Greatest Books of All Time

My version of The Death of Ivan Ilych and other stories contained the following four novellas:

Family Happiness
The story concerns the love and marriage of a young girl, Mashechka (Masha), and the much older Sergey Mikhaylych, an old family friend. After a somewhat awkward courtship, the two are married and move to Mikhaylych's home. Mikhaylych was concerned that as Mashe was so much younger she would be more concerned with the frivolities in life and could not settle with a man such as him. Their marriage begins well with the two in love, until they join society and Mikhaylych becomes cold to his popular wife. Tolstory seems of the opinion that marriage cannot remain happy, but must fall into routine with both parties plodding along and not rocking the boat. The title is highly ironic.

The Death of Ivan Ilych
At the beginning Ivan Ilych has just died and we attend his funeral. Present are a series of work colleagues all after his job and promotion and his wife who just wants as much money from the government as possible. Looking back over Ivan's life we see how he wasted it. His focus was on material possessions and it is on hanging curtains one day that he suffers his injury that will later kill him. On his death bed he finally sees the light and undergoes a conversion of sorts after a painful last few days.

The Kreutzer Sonata
During a train ride, Pozdnyshev overhears a conversation concerning marriage, divorce and love. When a woman argues that marriage should not be arranged but based on true love, he asks "what is love?". It turns out he is famous for having murdered his wife. He began by having a string of affairs and laments on how mothers push their daughters into society to sell themselves to the highest bidder. He does settle and marry, more out of a sense of duty than anything else. He never experiences what others seem to call love and eventually becomes convinced his wife is having an affaier with her music teacher. He is later acquitted of her murder in light of her apparent adultery, and Pozdnyshev rides the trains seeking forgiveness from fellow passengers.

Master and Man
Land owner Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov takes along one of his peasants, Nikita, for a short journey to the house of the owner of a forest. He is impatient and wishes to get to the town more quickly 'for business' (purchasing the forest before other contenders can get there and undercut him). They find themselves in the middle of a blizzard, but the master wishes to press on and get the cheap land. They eventually get lost off the road and they try to camp. The master's peasant soon finds himself about to die from hypothermia and his master leaves with the horse letting him die. Nikita (he used to suffer from a drinking problem but has since given up vodka) awaits his death, but his mater has a change of heart when he attains a spiritual/moral revelation (similar to The Death of Ivan Ilych). He returns and lies on top of the Nikita to keep him warm through the cold night. He, himself is too exposed to the cold though and dies (along with the steadfast horse sadly). Nikita's life is saved.

There are themes of anti-marriage, the praise of the life of peasants over society who merely waste their money and time in vain pursuits and death allowing for spiritual conversions. An interesting collection of stories not to be overlooked by fans of Anna Karenina as it has some similar ideas.