Tuesday, 28 February 2012

"I wrote this song for you..." (Ten on Tuesday)

Ten on Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is: Top Ten Books I'd Give A Theme Song To.

This took me quite a long time, mostly because I love too many books and too many songs and yet none of them seemed to want to fit together... Eventually, though, I came up with ten choices, and wasn't even forced into using Cher's Turn Back Time to represent The Prisoner of Azkaban, which struck me as something of a small victory.

Here is my list:

1. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour (Morgan Matson) - You & Me Song, The Wannadies

Joyous, fun, all-we-need-is-each-other pop gem. 

2. High Fidelity (Nick Hornby) - I Want You, Mugison

I want you / And guess what / I've shaved off my beard / Why go? / And I need you here / Listen / I could be that boy / That you...

3. Anna and the French Kiss (Stephanie Perkins) - Can't Get You Out of My Thoughts, Dum Dums

4. Harriet The Spy (Louise Fitzhugh) - Shoe Box, Barenaked Ladies

Was it something I said / Or was it something you read / That's making me think that I should never have come here / I can offer you lies / I can tell you goodbye / I can tell you I'm sorry / But I can't tell the truth / And what if I could / Would it do any good / You'll still never get to see the contents of my shoebox

5. The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides) - Most of The Time, Bob Dylan

I don't even think about her / Most of the time ... Most of the time / She ain't even on my mind / I wouldn't know her if I saw her / She's that far behind / Most of the time / I can't even be sure / If she was ever with me / Or if I was ever with her / Most of the time

6. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (J. K. Rowling) - Little Miss Can't Be Wrong, Spin Doctors

Mostly just for the scene where we meet Hermione, and she tells Ron he has dirt on his nose.

7. Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli) - I Will Dance (When I Walk Away), Katzenjammer

Maybe my favourite song of the moment.

8. A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) - Not A Pretty Girl, Ani DiFranco

For my new favourite pint-sized kick-ass heroine, Arya Stark, who will rescue herself, thank you very much.

9. Looking For Alaska (John Green) - I'll Find You, Hundred Reasons

This one just seemed to fit.

10. Naive. Super (Erlend Loe) - Indifference, Pearl Jam

It is best just not to get me started talking about Pearl Jam. But: I will scream my lungs out / 'Til it fills this room / How much difference / Does it make?

Bonus points for getting The Beautiful South into the title of this post? No? ... Okay.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Review: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Knopf, 2006

This is the cover of the copy I read. I have an irrational dislike of film covers on books.

Nick's just seen the girl who dumped him walk in with a new guy. What else can he do but ask the strange girl next to him to be his new girlfriend for the next five minutes?

Norah would do anything to avoid conversation with the not not-friend girl who dumped Nick... and to get over the Evil Ex whom Norah never really totally dumped. What else can she do but answer Nick's question by making out with him?

With one electric, unexpected kiss, the five-minute couple of Nick and Norah set off on an uncharted adventure called the "first date" that will turn into an infinite night of falling in and out (and in and out, and maybe in and maybe out) of love. Theirs is a first date of music, laughter, heartache, confusion, passion, taxi driver wisdom, and a jacket named Salvatore. And of course a killer soundtrack.

As Nick and Norah wander through the middle-of-the-night mystic maze of Manhattan, they share the kind of night you want to never end, where every minute counts and every moment flickers between love and disaster.

I read Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist during the course of a 3 hour train journey this weekend. It suits being read all in one go - the timeline of the book spans less than 24 hours in the lives of the two protagonists, and as such is a whirlwind ride through New York in the middle of the night, complete with drag queen Playboy bunnies, sweaty mosh pits, some pretty dubious teenage flirting, friendships made and friendships broken. In the middle of it all, Nick and Norah are on a first date of sorts, after rescuing each other, in turn, from exes they aren't quite over.

Nick & Norah is told in alternating first person chapters, so we get both viewpoints. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the book is written by two authors, I had a hard time distinguishing in any meaningful way between Nick and Norah's narrative voice. This might be because both think and speak in a typically overwrought teenage way, in which the tiniest thing means everything, and things are either wonderful or devastating and nothing in between. Assuming this was the intention of the authors, all it made me feel was old. This may well be my age, given that I am presumably 10-12 years older than the target audience, but nevertheless it did impinge on my enjoyment somewhat.

The book itself is fun enough. I found Nick and Norah likeable characters, and their middle-of-the-night adventure wasn't without charm or amusement. The book captures a feeling of being young and carefree and feeling like you could take over the world - while it was tempting to read it as "jaded" (ha) twenty-something, I imagine fifteen-year-old me would have loved it and read it to death.

Overall rating: 6/10

Book source: Borrowed from the local library.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, Morgan Matson

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Morgan Matson

Simon & Schuster, 2011 (2010)

Amy Curry's year sucks. And it's not getting any better. Her mother has decided to move, so somehow Amy has to get their car from California to the East Coast. There's just one problem: since her father's death Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel of a car. Enter Roger, the son of a family friend, who turns out to be funny, nice... and unexpectedly cute.

But Roger's plans involve a more "scenic" route that just driving from A to B, so suddenly Amy finds herself on the road trip of a lifetime. And, as she grows closer to Roger, Amy starts to realise that sometimes you have to get lost to find your way home...

I'll get it out of the way right at the start: I loved this book.

It popped up in my Goodreads recommendations a few weeks ago, and I added it without much thought. When my library copy arrived, I flipped to the first page and saw that it was a copy of a school report card.

Ever since I was young, I have always loved books with extra things thrown in. Maps at the beginning of books are a sure-fire way to draw me in. As a kid, my favourite parts of the Babysitters' Club books were the "handwritten" diary entries. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour has all this and more: maps, receipts, photos, emails, postcards and notes. My inner twelve year old was very happy.

Of course, none of this means anything if the book isn't up to much, but happily it was. I liked Amy instantly: battered by her father's death, she is hiding out from the world, a shadow of her former outgoing self. Her relationships with her mother and brother are fractious and fragile, and for the month before the book opens, she's been rattling around their family home, dreading the move to Connecticut that her mother has engineered.

Enter Roger, and enter road trip. Road trips are another of my favourite devices in books, and this one didn't disappoint. Roger, although erring at times on the side of so-nice-its-unreal, was fleshed out enough that I didn't feel like he was just the generic crush in the driver's seat. In fact, the way Amy and Roger's friendship develops was one of my favourite parts of the book. Although the timeline of the book is short, they were neither instant best friends nor (thankfully) instant enemies. Instead, Matson portrays them as both hurting in their own way, and both in need of a friend.

The romance element is reasonably subdued, which I actually enjoyed. There were some rather predictable moments (oh-no-there's-only-one-bed being perhaps the worst), but the story and the writing were compelling enough that it actually didn't bother me. This book is really about Amy dealing with the death of her father, and it was genuinely, heart-breakingly sad in some parts. (The postcard was the final straw for me, tears-wise.) But it was also a glorious, headlong adventure, and although I was desperate for it not to end so I could see how it all turned out, it probably ended at exactly the right moment.

Overall rating: 9/10

Book source: Borrowed from the local library.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Review: Pretties (Uglies #2), Scott Westerfeld

Pretties (Uglies #2)

Scott Westerfeld

Simon & Schuster, 2006 (2005)*

Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are cool, her boyfriend is totally gorgeous, and she's completely popular. It's everything she's ever wanted.

But beneath all the fun - the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom - is a nagging sense that something is very wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally's ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what's wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold.

Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life...

It might seem rather ominous to begin a review of Pretties by saying that I really enjoyed Uglies. But I did. So I was pleased to have borrowed Pretties from the library at the same time, so I could dive straight into the next instalment of the story. Pretties picks up pretty much where Uglies left off, with Tally now a Pretty, living it up in New Pretty Town with her new (and some old) friends. Except before long, Tally's Ugly past collides with her new Pretty life, and once again escape is on the cards.

Perhaps it's because this is the second book in the trilogy, and there's a balancing act to be performed in setting everything up for the third book, but I felt like something was lacking distinctly the whole way through. What it was, I can't quite put my finger on, but there was a lot of back-and-forth, who-knows-what, who-remembers-what stuff going on, and it all got reasonably confusing, or perhaps I just didn't care enough.

My main criticism of Uglies (a book I enjoyed a lot) was that the background to the world being built by Westerfeld was left largely unexplained at times, which I suspected would be rectified in this book. I said this in my review of Uglies - I'm not a fan of the info dump, but I like to know the whys and the hows. Yet there were niggly bits in this that irritated me, such as the continued references to Pretties not getting diseases, or illnesses, only injuries. And then in the hovercar later on, Tally notices an emergency lever, to be pulled by the "littlies" in case the driver has a heart attack. For some reason that seemed contradictory. A small thing, but in a rather unsatisfying book, it stood out.

There were other things that bugged me: the Pretty-slang (which worked, as far as characterising the Pretties, it was just grating to read), and Tally's inability to make a good decision, in particular. Crucially, I never warmed to Zane much, which might explain a lot, and it was a shame (although understandable) that the only female friendship in the book was pretty much torn apart.

I enjoyed the first part of the book, where Tally begins to see the cracks in her new life appearing, and the ending was sufficiently intriguing and exciting enough to make me tempted to pick up the third book, to see how it "ends" (although I am aware that there is a fourth instalment, too). It was just the middle that sagged too much for me, but I might return to this series at a later date.

Overall rating: 5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the public library.

*UK edition. See my reviews page for more information.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review: The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides

4th Estate, 2011

It's the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different suitors, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead - charismatic loner and college Darwinist - turns up in a seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged relationship with him. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus - who's been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange - resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his wife. Over the next year, as the members of the triangle graduate from college and enter the real world, they will be forced to re-evaluate everything.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, pre-nups, and divorce?

The Marriage Plot made it onto my to-read list as soon as I knew of its publication, mostly because I am a big fan of Eugenides previous two novels (The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex). My enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the less-than-complimentary reviews I glimpsed from some quarters, but when I received this book as a Christmas gift, I dove straight in.

Well, almost. I read the first few pages, in which I was hooked by the descriptions of Madeleine's bookshelves and her inner turmoil on the morning before her graduation. Then I got distracted by Christmas and Alan Partridge's autobiography (I, Partridge), and it took me a few weeks to come back round to The Marriage Plot.

I was pulled into Madeleine's story immediately, until I was pushed away again by the lengthy and seemingly unnecessary descriptions of semiotics and all the look-at-me-aren't-I-clever college students spouting their look-at-me-aren't-I-clever thoughts about religion and discourse. Once this has passed, however, the book became much more enjoyable again.

For some reason, I am obviously drawn towards New England college based novels (Prep and The Secret History springing to mind as two of my favourites). In this one, the three main characters have just graduated from Brown University. It's 1982, and they're all faced with growing up and finding themselves in a world that doesn't particular seem to want them (the parallels between the recession of then and now was interesting). Mitchell chooses escape - travel and religious experimentation. Madeleine, meanwhile, chooses to follow Leonard, who is attempting to manage manic depression.

As a result, the book alternates between Madeleine and Leonard's story, and Mitchell's travels around the world, their link being Mitchell's enduring love for Madeleine. The final third of the book was probably my favourite, in which everyone has returned "home" to find that they still haven't figured it all out. More importantly, it was here, finally, that Madeleine appears to discover what she wants, and makes a decision based on this, rather than on anyone else.

I will always enjoy Eugenides' writing - it pulls me in without me ever really knowing why, and what is a relatively simple story (underneath it all) was sufficiently rich to keep me hooked up until the end.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Book source: My own shelf; received as a gift.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

In My Mailbox #1

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Although I have read lots of In My Mailbox posts in the past, this is my first time participating. So, here goes!

From the library:

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

(I requested this book a couple of weeks ago, and when I picked it up this weekend I was quite excited to see that I am the first borrower! Small things.)


Twin Spirit (Domino Galaxy #1) by Matthew Thompson

(I am excited to read this book in particular, because I know the author, and read an early draft of the book a couple of years ago.)


A Storm of Swords Part 2: Blood and Gold by George R. R. Martin

(I borrowed this book from my brother, who warns me - once again - to not get too attached to anyone. I made that mistake with the first book...)

These books have joined the others in my to read / currently reading pile. I am also dipping in and out of Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge. It is raining this weekend, and I plan to spend most of it with my head stuck in a book!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The never-ending TBR pile

When I discovered Goodreads, I was incredibly excited, not least because I like anything that involves lists and progress and keeping things in neat piles. It's great not only for keeping track of the books that I'm reading and have read, but also throws quite a lot of recommendations my way, either through friends or through its own recommendation tool.

This is both AWESOME and VERY BAD.

Awesome, because it means I have a long list of books that I want to read.

Very bad, because, well. You get the idea.

At the moment there are 39 books on my TBR list. Maybe that isn't a huge amount to some people, but I seem to add to it more than I take away. At the moment, I have three books stacked up waiting to be read once I finish the ones I'm currently reading: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, both loans from the library, and A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold, the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, lent to me by my brother.

Okay, so, three isn't so bad. Except I have a list of reservations with my local library trickling in all the time, and a wishlist set up with the same library detailing other books I want just as soon as they get them in their system. (This is mostly new books that haven't long been released, or books by American authors that haven't quite made it onto the radar yet.) Friends throw me Terry-Pratchett-shaped curve balls just as I'm getting it all under control, or my mum (who works in a library) tells me about a new Swedish thriller writer, and there I go, adding stuff to the TBR list while frantically reading my book anywhere I get chance - waiting for my friend in the swimming pool changing rooms, while my tea is cooking, while I'm waiting for the shower to warm up. While I should be sleeping.

I'm hoping to work my way through some of these 39 TBR books, some of which have been on the list for a couple of years now. As a kid, I would happily read the same book over and over and over again (I'm looking at you, Babysitters Club). If I'd have known there were so many other books to be read, I might have thought twice...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Heartbreaking Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where a new top ten list is posted every week. This week, the theme is: Top Ten Books That Broke Your Heart A Little.

1. Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

This is one of my all-time favourite books. (It is also one of my favourite films, and favourite film soundtracks.) Because it's a true story, it was incredibly affecting; I so desperately wanted Chris/Alexander to survive, but I knew how it ended before I even started. The relationship with his sister is probably what set me off the most. In the song Guaranteed, from the film, Eddie Vedder sings the line, "If ever there was someone to keep me at home, it would be you", which I read in an interview that he wrote with the sister in mind.

2. Man & Boy by Tony Parsons

I remember crying a lot at this book.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I imagine this will be on quite a lot of lists... The scene between Harry and Dumbledore was the bit that finally broke me.

4. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Not heartbreaking in the usual way, but I cried at parts of this book. It may have been my mental state at the time - I haven't read this book for a good few years - but for some reason I found it incredibly moving.

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I cried on a train platform whilst reading the final chapters of this. VERY COOL.

6. Babycakes by Armistead Maupin

I shan't give it away, but for anyone who has read the series, you know what it is that makes this book heartbreaking. The way it is done is all the more powerful for its understatement.

7. Atonement by Ian McEwan

I actually saw the film version before I read the book, so I knew the twist, but it still creeps up on you.

8. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I am currently between Part 1 and Part 2 of Book 3, and although I am reliably assured by my brother that there is much heartache to come, the first book was pretty brutal towards the end.

9. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts

For the lost potential, and for the reaction of the residents of San Francisco after Milk's death.

10. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

It seems almost too obvious to put this on the list, but it's on here, because I carried it around in my head for weeks after reading it for the first time at the age of about 10 or 11. The diary itself didn't have an effect on me so much as the postscript (I think this is slightly different in different editions, but in my copy as a kid, it explained what happened after Anne's last entry, and I must have read that page over and over a hundred times).

Monday, 13 February 2012

Review: Uglies (Uglies #1), Scott Westerfeld

Uglies (Uglies #1)

Scott Westerfeld

Simon & Schuster, 2006 (2005)*

Tally can't wait to turn sixteen and become Pretty. Sixteen is the magic number that brings a transformation from a repellent Ugly into a stunningly attractive Pretty, and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to be Pretty. She'd rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the Pretty world - and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn Pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.**

Uglies has been on my TBR list for a while now. I'd heard a lot of good things about Scott Westerfeld, and about this series in general. The premise intrigued me: at the age of sixteen, citizens are "turned" Pretty, remodelled into almost interchangeably beautiful adults, in a bid to foster equality. The Uglies wait desperately for the day that they too can join this glittering world of glamorous parties and non-stop pleasure.

Tally is no exception. She anxiously waits for the day that she can join her best friend in New Pretty Town. When Tally meets Shay, however, she discovers that another world waits beyond the one she knows: a world where you don't get turned. When Shay runs away, Tally is forced to follow her and discover this world for herself.

Uglies begins immediately with Tally on a "trick", sneaking across the river into New Pretty Town. I liked Tally instantly. I particularly liked how her desire to turn Pretty wasn't glossed over, or played down: she really, really wants to be one of the beautiful people, and she doesn't see anything wrong with that. And even though it might seem like a pretty bizarre ambition, it needed to be there for the rest of the book to have any kind of impact.

The gradual unravelling of everything Tally believes in made the second half of this book the most enjoyable. I also thought the ending was brilliant. It wasn't what I was expecting, and I was incredibly glad that I'd borrowed Pretties, the next book in the series, at the same time, so I could dive right in!

The only thing I had a minor quibble with was the lack of background details. As a reader I gleaned quite a lot from throwaway comments - and don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of the info dump in the slightest - but I was still left wondering about the exact workings of the world Westerfeld created. Perhaps that will come out in the next book, though, so for now I will reserve judgement.

Overall rating: 7/10

*The publisher and year refers to the UK edition of the book. The year in parentheses is the year it was originally published in the US. 
**The blurb is taken from the back of the edition of the book I read.
Book source: Borrowed from the public library.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Shiny, shiny books

Well, shiny to me, anyway. (And EXTRA shiny, because I took this photo on my phone, right by the light in the bedroom. Brilliant.)

I have been wanting to read the Uglies series for ages, and finally tracked down a copy of Pretties in a different branch of the library system a couple of weeks ago. That sent me on a quest to get a copy of Uglies, so I could read them in order. I finally picked it up from the library today. At the moment I am about two-thirds of the way through The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, but Uglies is lined up for my weekend reading!

Also waiting for me were Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson. I recently read Levithan's Boy Meets Boy, which I loved. I am hoping that Nick & Norah (and Amy & Roger) will be just as enjoyable.

Of course, all of this may well be derailed when I see my brother this weekend. We are currently both making our way through George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, and he is now racing through Book 3: Part 2, while I have only just finished Book 3: Part 1. Some catching up may be in order! (Although, on the plus side, as he is nearly always ahead of me, he buys the books, and then I "borrow" them...)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Top Ten Books to Hand to Someone Who Says They Don't Like To Read

I am diving right in with this week's Ten on Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish. This week, the list is:

Top Ten Books to Hand to Someone Who Says They Don't Like To Read

I figure if someone doesn't like to read, the worst thing to do is bombard them with "classics" and things they "should" be reading. So these are books that either I have given to people who don't really read, or books that are funny enough/short enough/accessible enough to break down that initial barrier and (hopefully) get people turning the pages!

1. Naive. Super. by Erlend Loe: A short and thoughtful book, translated from the original Norwegian. Loe writes in a deceptively simple way about a twenty-something man who quits his studies and absorbs himself in science, lists and childish games as he tries to figure out his life. [I lent this book to someone who never reads at all, and they loved it.]

2. Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling: Because the world and the characters pull you in completely. And there are wizards.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon: For similar reasons to the Loe book, because it's both simple (to read) and complex at the same time.

4. Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer: This is one of my favourite books. As such, I recommend to everyone I know at every opportunity.

5. Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl: Creepy and well-written short stories.

6. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Maybe my favourite book of last year.

7. Tales of the City (series) by Armistead Maupin: My favourite book series of all time, and formerly published in serial form, which means the action is continuous and there are plenty of surprises!

8. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

9. Poirot Short Stories by Agatha Christie

10. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett: This is a tentative one to end on, as this is the only Discworld book I have read so far (I finished it last week), but I'd definitely like to read more.

Wilkommen auf der Bibliotekit!

Or, you know, hi.

Bibliotekit is my new venture. A spin-off it you like. Essentially the Frasier to my Cheers, or whatever up-to-date, down with the kids cultural reference you'd like to substitute. My regular blog is for pictures and stories and grumblings and excitement and adventures and drawings of myself and others engaged in such adventures when pictures do not suffice (or I forget my camera). Bibliotekit is where I chatter on about books. There may or may not be drawings.

I am hoping to get things up and running shortly, but for now, watch out for the scaffolding.