Friday, 30 March 2012

Fangirl Five Friday (#1)

Fangirl Five Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Evil Eva at Nancy Drew Is My Homegirl, in which bloggers list the five things they're fangirling over this week.

I first discovered this via YA Crush, and finally decided to take part! So, in no particular order, here is my list:

1. (Almost) new Game of Thrones!
I am a massive SOAIF/GoT fan. The first HBO series is how I discovered the books in the first place. In the space between series, I have worked my way through the first three books, and am incredibly excited to see the second book come to life. (Sadly, SPOILER ALERT after the trailer...

...minus Sean Bean, who when I was a kid I thought was the most famous man on earth, given that he and I are from the same neck of the woods, and he was always on our local news programmes.) This primer from The Guardian is a handy little guide if you're struggling to remember how it went the first time around...

2. Bob's Burgers returns!
Okay, I promise not all these will be to do with television (despite the fact that I just discovered I can watch Wallander online through my Lovefilm subscription - the Swedish version starring Krister Henriksson). But the boy and I caught up with the first two new episodes of Bob's Burgers last weekend, and I am back to coveting that pink rabbit ears hat again. H. Jon Benjamin is one of my favourites. (Archer is my other current favourite.)

3. Sunshine
Being in Brighton last weekend, I got to enjoy the unexpected sun right by the sea. The sun is never my best friend, because I burn in the time it takes most people to put on their shoes. But that doesn't stop me being excited to be able to sit outside and write, or walk miles without pulling out the winter coat, or jump in the pool knowing that it's lovely and warm outside for once!

Sunset on Brighton beach (via me)

4. Soundgarden tickets!
Last week I managed to book tickets to see Eddie Vedder in London. (You have no idea how exciting this is to me. The boy and I are already seeing Pearl Jam for the fourth time this summer, but this was a delicious little bonus.) Yesterday, said boy booked tickets for... Soundgarden. As Pam might say in Archer: Holy shitsticks. Our grunge quadrology (erm...) will be complete come the summer (Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden). Long live flannel.

Looking good, guys. Eddie Vedder & Chris Cornell, via Grunge Report

5. Baking cookies
My friends and I had dinner together this week, which we do periodically. We all bring different parts of the meal, and this time it was my turn to bring the dessert. As we were having American-themed food, I brought cookies. I baked them for the first time ever, and they were (modesty alert) AMAZING. I am now convinced of the necessity to bake homemade cookies every week. (This article states that PhD baking is not uncommon, given its built-in study breaks and focus on completely different parts of the brain. I did copy edit an article in between cookie rounds, so maybe it really is the future of study...)

Honourable mention to The Hunger Games film, which I talked about earlier this week. No fangirling, but definitely a renewed appreciation for the book after being pleasantly surprised by the film.

And finally: I have been largely AWOL this last week. Blame a mixture of complete computer failure, a trip to the beach to see the boy, and general PhD/journal madness commitments. I am now back from the beach, and possess a new shiny computer. Given that I am still buried in the third year of my thesis and still the editor of a journal, expect the madness to continue on that front.

Also, has anyone else noticed that Blogger has gone all country-specific? My URL now reads "", as does anyone else's Blogger blog that I visit, regardless of their location...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

On The Hunger Games

I went to see The Hunger Games last Sunday evening. This was after vowing, in no uncertain terms, that I would not go and see The Hunger Games at the cinema.

This was mostly due to the incessant fan-girling (fan-boying?) and hype that has surrounded its release, the fact that after reading Catching Fire I was very disappointed, and the 2h20m screening time that sends me running for cover however much I want to see a film. (Film studies bias, maybe. I have to watch a lot of films. If you haven't said it in 100 minutes, I start to lose the will.)

In the end, though, I enjoyed the film. I liked that it was still Katniss' story, and it didn't bow to any kind of overt Team Boy #1 / Team Boy #2 ridiculousness. (This is what almost put me off reading THG in the first place: a couple of years ago, I attended my local Nanowrimo meet ups and ended up sitting with a bunch of young teenage girls, who were massive and passionate THG fans, and who had managed to reduce the entire series into one big Peeta-vs.-Gale monstrosity.) I always enjoy seeing Donald Sutherland on screen, and I thought Lenny Kravitz and Jennifer Lawrence were both good, too. I liked seeing the build up in the Capitol, and would have probably liked more of the behind-the-scenes stuff if I'm honest, although in an already-long film that would have been pushing it. Although I'd argue that she isn't always particularly likable, Katniss as a character is compelling, and I thought this translated well to the screen.

This morning, I read this blog post at Body of a Geek Goddess, which sums up a lot of the things that bugged me about the film. Not enough to make me dislike it in any way, but I do think a lot of the more nuanced elements of the book were lost. Perhaps this was inevitable, but in the end it made me appreciate the book more than I did on my original reading. When I first read THG, I enjoyed it as a good, solid, exciting book that was sadly diluted by my reading of Catching Fire, which I felt was distinctly lacking. Having seen the film, I'm tempted by a re-read (and maybe even a library reservation for Mockingjay...)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review: The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer #1), Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer #1)

Jenny Han

Puffin, 2010 (2009)

Every year Isabel spends a perfect summer at her family friends' house.

There's the swimming pool at night, the private stretch of beach - and the two boys.

Conrad: unavailable, aloof - who she's been in love with forever.

Jeremiah: friendly, relaxed - the only one who's ever really paid her any attention.

But this year something is different. They seem to have noticed her for the first time. It's going to be an amazing summer... and one she'll never forget.

From the moment everyone seems to suddenly "notice" Belly because *gasp!* she got contacts, I had a horrible feeling this was going to be one of those Sweet Dreams-style makeover affairs, where the girl takes off her glasses and her scruffy trainers and the boys all realised she's the girl of their dreams. Fortunately, that did not actually happen here.

I read this book in the space of two or three hours. The fifteen year old that secretly lives inside me wished this book had existed when the outside me was also fifteen, and could read endless books about ordinary girls who just need a bit of confidence in themselves. Twenty six year old me (who still has yet to swap the glasses for contacts) felt more melancholy, particularly as the book approaches its end. The book is about new beginnings, but more than that it seemed to me to be about endings - the end of summer, the end of being a kid, and the fact that some of that stuff can't be taken back.

For the most part, though, it's a lighthearted and fun book. Belly is at the beach for the summer with her brother, her mum, her mum's best friend Susannah and Susannah's two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly is desperate for Conrad to notice her, but there are other boys noticing Belly, and plenty of mixed signals and whatnot floating around. I will own up now to being disappointed by the coupling at the end, though!

Belly is a little bit whiny and a little bit self-centred, and while that's kind of annoying, it also seemed to be a pretty accurate depiction of a fifteen year old, particularly one who feels so left out of the boys' games. The relationships she had with her brother and her mother were also well-drawn - not horrible, not perfect, but somewhere in between. There is nothing earth-shattering about the plot of TSITP; rather, it's a gentle and realistic coming of age tale that made for an enjoyable afternoon read.

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

I have to say, I much prefer the US (?) cover of the book to this one, which is the UK paperback edition.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Review: The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck #4), Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo

The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck #4)

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

Harper Perennial, 2007 (1968; trans. 1970)

Translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair

On a cold and rainy Stockholm night, nine bus riders are gunned down by an unknown assassin. The press, anxious for an explanation for the seemingly random crime, quickly dubs the killer a madman. But Detective Inspector Martin Beck suspects otherwise: this apparently motiveless murderer has managed to target one of Beck's best detectives, found dead in his seat with his service revolver in his hand. Surely he would not have been riding that lethal bus without a reason...

This is the first Sjöwall and Wahlöö book I have read, and it turned out to be a solid, gripping, good old fashioned police procedural. It's 1968 in Stockholm, and Beck and his team are chasing a multiple murderer against a backdrop of Vietnam protests and a changing Swedish society (heightened consumerism and police distrust, but also more benign details like a switch to right hand traffic to fall into line with neighbouring countries). These little background details set the scene and made the book more interesting.

Before Wallander driving around Ystad in his Volvo and drinking too much in his own company, there was evidently Martin Beck, sleeping on the sofa and failing to connect properly with his kids. Beck is likeable, though, and I liked his friendship with fellow detective Kollberg. The characterisations are subtle, but they do differentiate the different policeman and inject some personality into the proceedings.

In the end, there are two crimes to solve in The Laughing Policeman, and they both come together in the last few pages. Given that the original murders take place right at the beginning, the in-between is mostly police slog, interviewing witnesses and following up sparse clues. Essentially, the layers are revealed gradually, and I found it compelling rather than boring as the police went about their investigations. There are no great leaps of faith or convenient clairvoyancy going on here, which was, in the end, refreshing. I will definitely be returning for more Sjöwall and Wahlöö in the future.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review: Queen Camilla, Sue Townsend

Queen Camilla

Sue Townsend

Penguin, 2007 (2006)

The UK has come over all republican. The royal family exiled to an exclusion zone with the other villains and spongers. And to cap it all, the Queen has threatened to abdicate.

Yet Prince Charles is more interested in root vegetables than reigning... unless his wife Camilla can be queen in a newly restored monarchy. And when a scoundrel who claims to be the couple's secret love child offers to take the crown off their hands, the stage is set for a right royal showdown.

But the question for Camilla (and the rest of the country) must be: queen of the vegetable patch or queen of England?

Queen Camilla is, loosely, a sequel to The Queen & I. I say loosely, because as a huge fan of The Queen & I,   this seemed to be part sequel, part rewriting, and part shadow of its former self. I am a big Sue Townsend fan, and the humour and the writing was spot on as always, but the plot of Queen Camilla, and its execution, left a lot to be desired. At the end I found myself wishing I'd just re-read The Queen & I for the millionth time, instead.

The royal family are still living in Hell Close, but this time around, the street is part of the Flowers Exclusion Zone, and Big Brother is in full force, spying on the residents and making their lives a misery. The republican government are in danger of losing the election to their 'New Conservative' rivals, who wish to reinstate the monarchy. Neither the Queen nor Prince Charles (who is more interested in his chickens and his organic vegetable garden) want to be monarch, but the arrival on the scene of an unexpected family member threatens to upend all these plans.

The book also features a plethora of talking dogs, who communicate with each other, unbeknownst to their owners. I actually didn't mind this device, although it was reasonably odd. What did bug me more was the characterisation. In The Queen & I the characters were rather more nuanced, whereas here they relied more on caricature and broad sweeps of the brush. Numerous characters were downright unlikeable.

As a fan of the first book, the little inconsistencies between the two were annoying (supporting characters changed first names, or which house they lived in, for example). Not a whole lot seemed to happen, in the end, and although Townsend's writing remained enjoyable, the book itself just fell short.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

In My Mailbox #3

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, where bloggers can share the books they've received this week.

From the library:

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

This has been on my TBR list for a while, so I'm hoping for a good read!

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I haven't read anything of Forman's before, and I didn't realise until I got this from the library that it follows from If I Stay, but I'm hopeful that it won't matter too much.


Apologies for the slight blurriness!
Borkmann's Point by Håkan Nesser

A Swedish crime novel, #2 in the Inspector Van Veeteren series. Again, I haven't read the first, but this was being promoted in my local Waterstones. (For some reason, they have created a makeshift section called "Scandi" for such Scandinavian crime novels.)

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Finally out in paperback, and again on promotion. I used up the rest of my book token on this, which I've been dying to read for ages!

Have you read any of these books? What's in your mailbox this week?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Review: A Storm of Swords: Blood & Gold, George R. R. Martin

A Storm of Swords (Song of Ice & Fire #3): Part 2: Blood and Gold

George R. R. Martin

Harper Voyager 2011 (2000)

The Starks are scattered. Robb Stark may be King in the North, but he must bend to the will of the old tyrant Walder Frey if he is to hold his crown. And while his youngest sister, Arya, has escaped the clutches of the depraved Cersei Lannister and her son, the capricious boy-king Joffrey, Sansa Stark remains their captive, trapped in marriage with Joffrey's deformed uncle, the embittered dwarf Tyrion. Meanwhile, across the ocean, Daenerys Stormborn, the last heir of the Dragon king, delivers death to the slave-trading cities of Astapor and Yunkai as she approaches Westeros with vengeance in her heart.

If Part 1: Steel and Snow was lacking somewhat, this more than made up for it. It's difficult to know where to start with a book so full of twists and turns, but so far in the series this has been my favourite. I felt like some things finally started to come together and make sense - things that have been hinted at previously, or obscured, came out into the open. After Steel and Snow, I was almost reluctant to pick up the next volume so soon, knowing how dense they are, but I'm extremely glad I did.

It's also difficult to talk about without giving much away, but there are deaths aplenty, as is to be expected if you've made it this far. I actually like this about the books, because it's nice to read an author who has the guts to kill of his characters, although having said that I do have two solid favourites that I'd be devastated to see disappear at this point!

The story loosely follows the various "kings" as they all battle for supremacy, but where S&S was all battle and optimism (of sorts), Blood & Gold is almost the aftermath, the realisation that things aren't going particularly well for any camp. As well as this, there's also the ongoing saga of Jon, beyond the wall, and the dwindling Night's Watch, as well as Dany and her army across the sea. There's a lot going on, but I found it easier to follow than I have done in the past, and it was nice to see some movement "beyond" for some of the characters, whether physically or emotionally. I am now desperate to get my hands on #4, A Feast for Crows, particularly given the devilishly intriguing epilogue...

Overall rating: 9/10

Book source: Borrowed from my brother.

The murder was committed by somebody in this room... (Top Ten Tuesday)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a different top ten list is featured. This week, the topic is: top ten books in a genre of your choice.

I toyed with a few different ideas for this, before eventually settling on crime fiction. It's a genre I dip into quite frequently, especially if I'm looking for a quick read. I like a good mystery, and I am a big fan of the Poirot-like denouement at the end!

Here are my top ten crime books:

1. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Poirot is my favourite Christie detective (for some reason, I have never got on quite so well with Miss Marple), and this is my favourite Christie book.

2. Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Not so much a mystery (!), but still a fantastic read.

3. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

A huge book that I devoured in a weekend, thanks to the overheated setting and the murky mystery, all wrapped up in the adventures of a young girl with a dead brother.

4. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Another Christie, another classic. The good old "X people stuck on a island, being murdered one by one", done to perfection.

5. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

At the time I read this, I lived close to where the book was set. Country house mysteries and people being NOT WHAT THEY SEEM. Muahahahaha... etc.

6. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Featuring one of my favourite fictional detectives, Kurt Wallander. This is the first in the Wallander series.

7. Armadillos and Old Lace by Kinky Friedman

One of my favourite crime authors, I was introduced to Kinky Friedman's books by my dad years ago. Funny, dark and a little bit addictive.

8. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

More grisly Scandinavian happenings.

9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I tried not to duplicate too many authors here, by I loved Tartt's first novel, too, about a group of college students who try and cover up a murder.

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Some classic Sherlock to finish!

Recommendations are more than welcome. What's on your list this week?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

In My Mailbox #2

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

This week I picked up three books I had on reservation from the library. It's quite a mixture of stuff, but I've been looking forward to reading all of these for a while.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This was a Goodreads recommendation, about a teenager who ends up in a psychiatric hospital.

Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend

This may be the one I am most excited about this week - The Queen And I (1992) is a huge favourite of mine, and Queen Camilla is a kind-of sequel to that, about the Royal Family living on a council estate under a Republican government. I love Sue Townsend's books, so I'm hoping this one will be just as good!

The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck #4) by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö 

I am a huge fan of Scandinavian fiction, particularly crime, and this is one of the iconic titles that I've been dying to read for a long time.

Of course, I can't start any of these books until I finish A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold, which is getting incredibly tense!

What's in your mailbox this week?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1), Marissa Meyer

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1)

Marissa Meyer

Puffin, 2012

Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined the handsome Prince Kai's she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation.

Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth's future.

Cinder was my Anna and the French Kiss of 2012: the book that everyone else had already read and already raved about. With Anna, I wish I'd have picked it up sooner. With Cinder... I liked it, but I wasn't blown away.

The concept is interesting. I like fairytale re-tellings, and this one has such an intriguing twist on it: Cinder is a cyborg mechanic, living in a post-World-War-4 world in the Eastern Commonwealth, an amalgam of (what we would recognise today as) Asian countries under one emperor. The setting, however, seemed a little wasted - for great swathes of the novel it seemed like New Beijing could have been absolutely anywhere, just another huge, built up city surviving on advanced technology.

As a character, I liked Cinder, and in particular I liked her relationship with Iko, the android. Prince Kai I could take or leave as a love interest. I found Dr. Erland, who is using Cinder as a test subject for the disease that affects her stepsister and is killing hundreds of citizens, much more interesting, and though his story starts to come out towards the end, I would hope it gets expanded on in the later books.

I found the book as a whole pretty exciting, a fast read that as it got towards the end had me racing through the pages. However, the end is where my biggest problem with the book lies. The "secret" that is revealed is pretty obvious the whole way through (I won't mark out the page where I figured it out, but it was before page 50), and even assuming this is the author's intention... I felt like the clues were too obvious, and by the end I was so annoyed that none of the characters were aware of it that I was rapidly losing interest. I'm all for dramatic tension, but this just made me want to shake the characters.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of interesting elements: the interplanetary tensions, Cinder's battles with her family, the mirroring of the Cinderella story (I particularly liked the old car as "pumpkin"). I enjoyed the book more towards the end, and the final scene makes me want to read the next instalment.

(As a side note: I lost count of how many times characters "craned" their necks or their heads in this book. Odd but true.)

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the local library.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cover Me: Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is: top ten book covers.

After compiling this list, I sense a bit of a theme...!

1. The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)

... or any of these classic Penguin covers, really. I also liked the cover for The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, which was the same, only green.

2. Death and the Penguin (Andrey Kurkov)

3. Penguin Lost (Andrey Kurkov)

4. Naive. Super. (Erlend Loe)

This is the Norwegian edition, but I much prefer this cover.

5. The Statistical Improbability of Love at First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith)

6. The Sorrows of an American (Siri Hustvedt)

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon)

8. Mary Ann in Autumn (Armistead Maupin)

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

10. The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)

Well, creepy if nothing else!

I'm intrigued to see everyone else's! Happy reading!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Library love

A book I borrowed this week from the university library
As much as I enjoy picking up a brand new shiny book from the bookshop, or finding one in the post, there is something to be said for the journey that a library book goes on before it falls into your hands.

First borrower!
How often do you use your local library?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Review: Twin Spirit (Domino Galaxy #1), Matthew Thompson

Twin Spirit (Domino Galaxy #1)

Matthew Thompson

Domino Galaxy, 2011

Lily is a primitive spirit trapped on Earth, and has been from the day she was born, nine years ago and counting. She can't smell, taste, touch or be heard. Lily wants to experience such sensations. But most of all, she wants her human sister - dead.

Rose discovers her twin sibling in a forest, bathed in moonlight. She and Lily are transported to the afterlife, three billion light years away, within a galaxy called Domino.

On the planet Kiian, the twins go in search of their mother, the key to transforming Lily into a fully formed spirit. However, humans and primitives are not welcome in Domino. Fearless creatures called the Govern seek out the twins to remove them from the afterlife and, in turn, from each other.

By far, my favourite thing about Twin Spirit is the world that it takes place in. As a kid, the books I loved the most were those that made me want to crawl right inside them and experience these weird and wonderful places for myself. This book goes a long way to creating that kind of feeling. The different "sectors" that populate Kiian range from ones based on the Tuscan countryside and a past version of New York, to a sinister rainforest setting, to the Chocolate Kingdom, which was mentioned in passing and I have to say intrigued me greatly!

Against this rich world of the afterlife, twins Rose and Lily are on a mission to find their mother. If Rose is the sensible, slightly wary twin, Lily is all id, impatient and daring and getting all the best lines. As the story progresses, the twins balance each other out, utilising each other's strengths and weaknesses as their adventure becomes increasingly perilous. The supporting characters are equally well drawn: the slightly batty professor, the dangerous bounty hunter brothers, and the "bandits", who, without giving too much away, may have been my favourite of all.

The action is constant, broken up by glimpses into the "living" pasts of some of the characters, which gave some added depth to the story. The majority of the book, though, concentrates on the twins' adventures aboard a steampunk-inspired vessel, attempting to escape their pursuers. The Govern (and the other bad guys) are well-imagined (and pretty creepy), and though there are lots of near misses and skin-of-their-teeth escapes, there are some genuinely dark moments, too.

For me, the final battle felt quite short given the build up, and occasionally I wanted more information of the workings of the afterlife and the wider galaxy, but I suspect that is what comes of being an adult reader of a book aimed at children. There were a couple of instances of jarring words or spelling errors, but these are minor quibbles against a kids' book that has a lot of potential.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Bought from Amazon UK

DISCLAIMER: I know the author of Twin Spirit. However, this review was not solicited, and I bought the book myself. This did not affect my review in any way.