Saturday, 28 July 2012

Monster bookmarks!

A couple of weeks ago, EvilEva at Nancy Drew Is My Homegirl posted in her Fangirl Five Friday series about this monster bookmark craft project, from Tally's Treasury:

Monster bookmarks: courtesy of Tally's Treasury
I am notoriously bad at anything arts and crafts. If there is paint to be spilled, I will spill it. If there are lines to colour outside of, chances are I have already done it. But when I read the instructions for this, I thought maybe I would have a go and see how it went.

Now I have lots of little monsters of my own!

There were a couple more originally, but I have given them to friends. The duck one was a prototype, to see if I could make it work, which is why it's not exactly monster-shaped. :) I didn't use cardstock, so they're not quite as robust as they could be, but I'm still quite excited by them. (They are mostly made out of pages of Amnesty International magazine, New Internationalist, a restaurant catalogue we got through the door, and some stickers I found.) Bonus: they're very relaxing to make!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Review: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

M.C. Beaton

Constable and Robinson, 2005 (1994)

After six gruelling months back in London, Agatha Raisin returns to her beloved Cotswold village of Carsely - and to the charms of her neighbour, James Lacey. True, James is less than thrilled to see her, but Agatha is soon distracted by a sensational murder.

The victim, found in a lonely field, is hiker Jessica Tartinck, who spent her life enraging wealthy landowners by insisting on her walking club's right to hike over their properties. Now she has been found in a cornfield, battered over the head. Agatha lures the reluctant James into helping her with her informal investigation, and there are many leads to follow, for Jessica's fellow walkers all seem more than able, even eager, to commit murder. And of course there are the enraged landowners...

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley is the fourth instalment in the Agatha Raisin series. In it, Agatha has just returned for a six month stint in London, where she briefly resumed her PR career as a favour to a friend. Relishing the thought of being back in Carsely, where she can potter about in sensible clothes and see to her cats, it isn’t long before Agatha finds herself embroiled in yet another murder mystery. The inhabitants of cosy Cotswold villages are never safe for long once Agatha is on the scene.

After a rambler is murdered, Agatha and her neighbour James (who Agatha is a little bit in love with) pose as a married couple in order to infiltrate the rambling group and get to the bottom of the mystery. Haring around the countryside interviewing suspects and gathering clues, Agatha juggles her feelings for James with the need to solve the murder before they have any more victims on their hands.

The appeal of these books, for me, is in their ease. They're easy to read, but they're also easy to get sucked into. They aren’t taxing, but rather like visiting an old (if somewhat cantankerous)  friend. The image of the Cotswolds that Beaton creates makes for an enjoyable setting - rural village life is undercut by gossip, poverty, scandal, and quite a lot of murder. 

What I enjoy most is Beaton’s characterisation of Agatha – at times, she is unlikable and rude, and as a protagonist she isn’t always sympathetic. Yet for all her unflattering points, as a reader you gradually warm to Agatha, and appreciate the less-than-perfect image of village life that shines out of the cracks. The way a lot of the characters are described remind me of how my grandmother might describe someone to me: broadly and somewhat stereotypically, so the thin, pale "shopgirl" is as meek as you might expect, and the gay couple are described as being "effeminate", but there are sparks of cleverness in the conversation, and while the secondary characters often seem to adhere to easily recognisable "types", they are reasonably well-observed within their limits.

The Walkers of Dembley ambles along nicely enough, and rather than try and decipher all the clues, it’s nice just to go along for the ride, waiting for Agatha inevitably to unravel the whole thing, probably whilst getting a few people’s backs up along the way… Perfect as a weekend distraction!

Overall rating: 7/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Is that an owl I see before me? Top ten most vivid worlds

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books.


To join the inevitable horde...

#1 will have to be the world created for the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling.

My favourite part of this world is the elision between the wizarding world and the Muggle world. The cover ups and obfuscations when things go a little bit awry. The awareness that wizards and witches have of Muggles, but the obliviousness that Muggles express towards anything wizarding, even if it's, you know, a flying car or garishly coloured robes.

As a reader, reading these books for the first time,  I kind of wanted to jump inside.

#2 A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin.

There are MAPS! My favourite thing in books. The world is vast and intricate, with just enough references to the real world to make it seem plausible and acceptable (particularly in the first book), and just enough extra to make it such a compelling fantasy series. I always finish a book wanting to know more about the world and its inhabitants, the landscape, the customs, and all those places on the map that we have yet to visit...

#3 Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

While I struggled with this book, the world in it - a futuristic nightmare of credit poles and see-through trousers, where everything is fit to be broadcast and shared - was vivid and a little bit frightening in its garishness.

#4 The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Childless women over the age of 50 are sent to a facility where their every whim is catered for - the only catch is, they might be called upon to participate in medical tests at any moment. Some of these tests are harmless; others can be fatal. Usefulness to society is valued over all. A brilliant book that sticks with you.

#5 The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy

My A-level English teacher would be proud. I read this when I was 16 and at college, and I can't say that any of us were particularly enamoured with it. It was, however, one of my first experiences of a book in which the landscape 'counted' as a character, and I can still remember the events that took place over a year and a day on Egdon Heath. Score one for school.

#6 Malory Towers series, by Enid Blyton

I imagine I filled in a lot of the details for myself as a kid, because these books weren't big on intricate description as I remember. But much like the Harry Potter books, I wanted on occasion to be a student at Malory Towers, and the school, with its four towers, the pool, the lacrosse pitch, and the offices for older students, all seemed gloriously exotic at the time.

#7 The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth

I love Philip Roth's books, and have done ever since I was introduced to Portnoy's Complaint at university by my Jewish-American Lit lecturer (my absolute favourite teacher, ever). This, like a lot of other Roth books, is set in Newark, NJ, and is brought to life wonderfully. TPAA is an alternate history, but Newark remains real. One of my all-time favourite books.

#8 The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

A too-hot, too-humid Southern town bakes in the summer while Harriet attempts to solve, along with her friend, the mystery of her younger brother's death. This book really came to life for me when I was reading it, and the landscape envelopes you completely.

#9 Alone in Berlin, by Hans Fallada

A bleak Berlin under Nazi occupation. Deception, suspicion, and the gradual, horrible loss of hope, all along the grey, uncompromising streets of wartime Berlin.

#10 The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

This sleepy Michigan neighbourhood is far from being other-worldly, yet it is rendered in such a dreamlike, half-remembered way that I think it qualifies. Vivid and blurry at the same time, you feel like you're there when the heat gets unbearable and the air is full of flies and cut down trees.

And that's all before you go through the wardrobe to Narnia, or visit Armistead Maupin's San Francisco, or the Ystad of Kurt Wallander, or attempt to take on Big Brother...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Showcase Sunday: The Last Minute Library edition

As ever, this Sunday I am linking up with Books, Biscuits and Tea's Showcase Sunday!

This week I took a couple of books back the library, only to discover that my local branch of the city library is closing for six weeks to have its roof fixed. [For some reason I typed "six years" earlier... oops!] Although there is a library branch in most sections of the city, including one near the university, I couldn't leave empty-handed! I have had a hankering for some crime fiction all week, so I picked up these three:

That's a lot of Agatha.
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, by M. C. Beaton (goodreads)
Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham, by M. C. Beaton (goodreads)
Death in the Clouds, by Agatha Christie (goodreads)

The Agatha Raisin books aren't particularly challenging, but they are easy to lose yourself in. I think I have read Death in the Clouds before, a long time ago, but I don't remember the plot and I enjoy seeing Poirot at work!

Reviews posted this week:

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (5/10)
Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie (5/10)

Hope everyone has had a good week, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Bookshelf tour, or how to build a fort out of books

About a month ago, Vicky posted a "bookshelf tour" on Books, Biscuits and Tea, and I thought it seemed like a fun idea. I am endlessly nosy when it comes to other people's bookshelves! Where I live currently, I don't have a lot of shelf space (I share a house with two other people and I have the smaller room), hence the precarious piles of books everywhere.

The left hand side of my shelf houses my academic books, as well as my huge Oxford English Dictionary, which I love. A lot of these are books from the university library, although some of them are mine. I am currently reviewing American Cinema of the 2000s for the journal I work on. The orange-spined book, Bringing Up Daddy, is what kicked off my thesis all those years ago.

And yes, that's a lot of Freud. Argh.

Here are some more of my academic books, plus my current TBR pile! The Agatha Christie (Death in the Clouds) and M. C. Beaton are my latest acquisitions from the library. Losing It was part of a book swap with Mandee, Twisted was an Oxfam find, and the Terry Pratchett I borrowed from a friend's dad. I received The Art of Fielding for my birthday, and I am dying to read it! And That's When It Fell Off In My Hand I found for 79p in Oxfam a while ago, and the Babysitter's Club Guide was my mystery gift from last week.

Those are my brother's Song of Ice and Fire books, which I really need to give back at some point... ;)

This last stack is mostly things I've read in the last year, apart from The Sisters Brothers, which my dad lent me and I still need to read. I brought The Virgin Suicides and American Youth from home, as well as Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola, last time I visited, with a vague idea that I might re-read them at some point! The turquoise book next to Stargirl is my friend Matt's MG/children's novel, Twin Spirit. (You can also see my wristband from Bilbao 2010 and the loose end of my Isle of Wight wristband in this photo, plus my LUAS pass and zoo ticket from Dublin.)

Thanks for inspiration Vicky!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Jennifer E. Smith

Headline, 2012

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of Hadley's life...

Her father is getting married in London to a woman she's never even met, and she's just missed her flight.

Hadley has never believed in destiny or fate before...

But, stuck at the airport in New York, today is also the day she meets Oliver. He's British. He's cute. And he's on her new flight.

Seventeen year old Hadley is on her way to her dad's wedding in London. She hasn't seen her father in a year, and she has no desire to attend the wedding. Not only has she missed her flight, making her late, but she's claustrophobic and dreads the idea of getting on the plane. In the middle of a hot, packed airport, she meets Oliver, who's booked on the same flight.

The book takes place over 24 hours: from Hadley missing her flight, to the last moments of her dad's wedding reception. Though it is billed firmly as a romance, it is equally, if not more, focused on Hadley's issues with her family.

Unfortunately, neither plotline grabbed me fully. I wanted to like this book much more than I did, but from the offset I didn't warm to Hadley's character. She's angry: angry at her mum for making her go to the wedding, angry at the man next to her for getting his newspaper in her face, angry at a woman for not watching her suitcase, and most of all, angry at her dad for leaving, for calling, for not calling, for marrying someone else, for giving her a book... ALL THE ANGER. And though it seemed almost understandable, the tone was so petulant at points, and I knew so little about Hadley other than that she was angry, that it made it difficult to sympathise with her. If anything, I wanted to shake some sense into her.

And then there's Oliver. He's British, so he's cute and says funny words. This is an entirely personal quibble when I say that British guys in YA who are cute and say funny words kind of annoy me, mostly because the funny words aren't a novelty to me. (I don't mind them being British, it just irritates me to have to read "Don't you mean elevator?" over and over.) Anyway - Oliver is sweet and ever so slightly mysterious, but I didn't feel like I ever really got to know anything about him, for all the deep and meaningful conversations he and Hadley have. Although I will say, I had a totally different theory about why he was on the plane, so I was genuinely thrown when his story was revealed.

As the story went on, there were some enjoyable moments. I liked the concept, and the moments on the plane were nice. Smith captured the feeling of being on a transatlantic flight overnight, when nearly everyone else is sleeping, well, and I wouldn't have minded that part of the book being longer. (I like a journey, I guess.)

Hadley became much more likable for me, too, as the book wore on. Her torn emotions came out well, and were believable, once the bitterness had dissipated slightly. The last few chapters, from before the wedding reception onwards, seemed much more genuine and touching to me that what came before. The focus on Hadley and her dad seemed to me much more the point of the story than the romance, and I genuinely enjoyed the last quarter of the book.

I think part of the problem was the time-scale of the book, which made the Hadley/Oliver storyline feel more rushed that I would have liked, which is probably why I didn't care too much what happened between them. It almost felt like two stories: Hadley sorting out her family and personal life, and Hadley meeting Oliver, and though they were woven together well the pace made it seem a little forced at times.

TSPOLAFS is a cute, quick contemporary read. A lot of my issues with it were down to my own personal preferences, rather than anything intrinsically wrong with the book (looking for a church in Paddington? No problem!). It would have been nice to learn a little more about the characters, but if you're looking for something fast and fluffy, this might hit the spot.

Overall rating: 5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Review: Girl, Missing, Sophie McKenzie

Girl, Missing

Sophie McKenzie

Simon & Schuster, 2006

Lauren has always known she was adopted but when a little research turns up the possibility that she was snatched from an American family as a baby, suddenly Lauren's life seems like a sham. How can she find her biological parents? And are her adoptive parents really responsible for kidnapping her? She manages to wangle a trip across the Atlantic where she runs away to try and find the truth. But the circumstances of her disappearance are murky and Lauren's kidnappers are still at large and willing to do anything to keep her silent…

Lauren is a typical teenager, juggling homework, an annoying little brother, and a fractious relationship with her parents. Lauren is also adopted, and desperate to find out more information about her past and where she comes from. A school project leads her to question her roots, until an image on a missing children website sparks a transatlantic adventure that threatens to go horribly wrong.

I wasn't convinced to begin with. Lauren leaps to fantastical conclusions that, while they bear out, lack the conviction I would normally want to bring me along for the ride. In order to get the story where it needs to be, there are a few improbable leaps of logic that irked me. Once I got over this, though, it was a fast-paced read with a lot of twists and turns.

Lauren goes from a reasonably mundane life in London to a whirlwind of kidnapping, breaking and entering, near-death experiences, prison, attempted murder and, you know, kissing a boy. The friendship between Lauren and Jam was sweet, and I liked that it was realistic. I dislike the improbably romantic couplings that YA sometimes throws up, but I felt like I could believe in Lauren and Jam. They were - or seemed - a little bit younger than characters I would normally read (14 and 15), but much more like the teenagers I knew at that age, rather than some of the ones I read about now.

I warmed to Lauren considerably as the book went on, and in the final few chapters it was interesting to see her in a more mature state, particularly with regard to Madison. The other characters were largely peripheral and painted rather broadly, and I would have liked to have seen more development of some of them. The book privileges fast-paced adventure and short, cliffhanger chapters over deep characterisation, which I think might appeal more to a younger audience.

Although most of the action takes place in the US, it was nice to read a young adult book by a British author, which I haven't done for a while. (Sometimes British boys are just British boys. They aren't all devastatingly handsome.) While Girl, Missing sometimes moved too fast for my liking, and there were a few of those "no, really?" coincidences I'd rather avoid, Lauren's quest to find herself, and the complications of this desire, were nicely played out by the end.

Overall rating: 5/10

Book source: Bought secondhand from (the highly recommended) Awesome Books.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Showcase Sunday: Weekly roundup, and bonus mystery!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea, and offers bloggers a way to share the books they've received this week.

Once again, I have been away this week! I went to see Faith No More play two gigs in London, and then to see Soundgarden on Friday in Hyde Park. As such, I haven't done a lot of reading for fun. I am still reading Joe Simpson's Touching The Void, which has just started to get rather harrowing... I imagine it will only get worse!

I didn't think I would have anything to share this week, but when I returned home yesterday there was a parcel waiting for me, from Thriftbooks, a company I had never heard of. Inside was this:

(The book, not the dinosaur.)

I have a reasonably good idea of who it might be from, because there are a limited number of people who a) know of my childhood love of the Babysitter's Club and b) have my address, but I am actually still quite baffled, and my no.1 suspect is out of the country, which means I can't ask her and figure it out once and for all...

There aren't even any outstanding birthday presents that I'm aware of, that it could be.

I might just have to add it to the list of Weird Things That Keep Happening, top of the list currently being coming home from the supermarket the other day to find the bath taps running. (Both my housemates were away at this point.)

Anyway, enough mysteriousness for one week. If you missed them, here are the reviews that went up on Bibliotekit while I was gone!

Curtis Sittenfeld - American Wife (From the Vaults; original Goodreads rating 5/5)
Brigid Lowry - Follow the Blue (8/10)

My Top Ten Tuesday this week was all about books I like to give as gifts. (Not mysterious gifts, though. Maybe in the future...)

I think that concludes this week's roundup! Leave me your links, and while I'm meant to be working later, I'll come check out your books. ;)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

From the Vaults: Review: American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld

American Wife

Curtis Sittenfeld

Doubleday, 2009

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice Lindgren has no idea that she will one day end up in the White House, married to the president. In her small Wisconsin hometown, she learns the virtues of politeness, but a tragic accident when she is seventeen shatters her identity and changes the trajectory of her life. More than a decade later, when the charismatic son of a powerful Republican family sweeps her off her feet, she is surprised to find herself admitted into a world of privilege. And when her husband unexpectedly becomes governor and then president, she discovers that she is married to a man she both loves and fundamentally disagrees with–and that her private beliefs increasingly run against her public persona. As her husband’s presidency enters its second term, Alice must confront contradictions years in the making and face questions nearly impossible to answer.

Reviewed July 2011

A book I couldn't put down, and already a contender for my book of the year, without a doubt. This was recommended to me last year, but was always checked out of the library, and in the end I read Sittenfeld's two other novels (Prep and The Man of My Dreams) before I read this. I already clicked with Sittenfeld's writing style, which is clear but rich and involving, and this book was no exception.

It follows the life of Alice Lindgren from childhood to adult life, in which she eventually becomes the First Lady of the United States. I knew that there were parallels to be drawn with a specific first lady (although I didn't realise how obvious this would be), and the book paints a fascinating portrait. Alice's relationships with her husband and her family are the backbone of this book, rather than any one event, but the journey is a riveting one; well worth a read.

Original Goodreads rating: 5/5 stars

Book source: Bought.

From the Vaults is an attempt to resurrect those book reviews I wrote and published on Goodreads before I started Bibliotekit. They tend to be quite short, but I hope they might highlight some good books I picked up in the last couple of years!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review: Follow The Blue, Brigid Lowry

Follow The Blue

Brigid Lowry

Allen & Unwin, 2001

Who are you? Bec.

Who are you? Fifteen.

Who are you? Lovesick.

First my father had his breakdown. Then my parents went away, leaving a daggy housekeeper in their place. It was my fifteenth summer and I was tired of being good old sensible Bec. I wanted to be a wild and dancing kind of girl, so I dyed my hair, discovered magic, threw my first party... and then there was the boy thing...

Bec lives in Perth with her mum, celebrity chef Vera, and her dad, Lewis, as well as her younger brother Josh and her little sister Bing. When Lewis has a breakdown and has to spend some time in a hospital, Bec's world starts to tilt slightly. When Lewis comes home, everything is meant to go back to normal. Instead, the world just keeps tilting.

Follow The Blue is one of those read-it-in-a-day books, simultaneously about everything and nothing. "Following the blue" is how Bec frames the story, just one thread out of many tangled ones. When Vera and Lewis embark on a publicity trip for Vera's new book, first across Australia and then to the US, Bec is left at home with oh-so-serious Josh, crazy Bing, and their new housekeeper, Mrs D, who rubs Bec up the wrong way.

If that wasn't enough, Bec's friends are talking about boys and sex, while Bec wonders if she'll ever be interested in a boy at all. Her best friend has moved to New York. Bec's new friend, Jaz, is everything Bec wants in a friend, but Jaz brings her own complications: a hot older brother, Nick, as well as Nick's best friend, Steve. Add in missing guinea pigs, homework, and having nothing to wear, and Bec's head is swimming.

The book follows Bec's life during the few weeks that her parents are away. Nothing earth shattering happens, but that's what I liked about this book. Nothing earth shattering has to happen, because everything that does - the boys, the parties, the subtly changing friendships - are surely earth shattering enough as a fifteen year old. The story is actually one long flashback, and the writing fits perfectly: dreamy, almost, like the events are being remembered through a haze of summertime. There are no definite chapters, just a stream of snippets of conversations, images and colours that pull you in and take you along for the ride.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. I thought Bec's relationship with Josh and Bing was brilliantly drawn, and Lowry captured that closeness between siblings that is different from anything else. I liked how Mrs D was woven into the story, and how she turned out to be not so bad after all. I liked how everyone did their homework. What I mean by that is: you know how in films when no one locks their doors? It seems like in a lot of YA, school is just one of those things that can be dispensed with. Everyone's having an endless summer. Here, school and homework are always there in the background. These were teenagers I could believe in, all zits and bravado and secret agonising.

If you like contemporary young adult, I would definitely recommend it as a quick and enjoyable read, quietly touching without overdoing it. This isn't quite a romance, nor a home-alone adventure, nor a high school book. Follow The Blue, in the end, is just about growing up.

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Top Ten Tuesday Unwrapped: Books to give as gifts

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme was a freebie, and after a few false starts, I finally decided to make a list of books that I like to give as gifts.

AKA: Books I think are awesome.

AKA: Books I hate to lend to people, so I just buy them as gifts instead.

(I have to choose the gift-receiver carefully, because my awesome may not be their awesome. So I guess these are the books I give as gifts in an ideal world.)

(I like lending books to people, on the whole. It's fun to share, and it's even more fun when someone enjoys the book you've recommended to them. And as someone who has dropped many a book in the bath, and carried them around in my bag, I don't tend to worry that they're going to break the spine or anything like that (although I draw the line at used condoms, which my mum, who works in a library, once found sandwiched between the pages of a returned book). But there are a handful of books that I just don't like to lend out. I like to have them with me, just in case I want to re-read them. I worry that they might not find their way back to me. Irrational, yes.)

Here's my list:

1. Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer

This is one of my favourite books. I like to know it's there if I want to read it, but more than that, I feel very strongly about it, and I'd be disappointed if the person I'd lent it to didn't feel the same.

2. Tales of The City - Armistead Maupin

A recurrent feature on my TTT, and another all-time favourite. I have lent this book out on occasion, but again, I'd be disappointed if it didn't go over well. My copy is a little worn these days. :)

3. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

I'd had this book for a long time, and I have given it as a gift once or twice to preclude me having to let someone borrow it - terrible I know!

4. For Esme, With Love and Squalor - J. D. Salinger

My copy of The Catcher In The Rye has been missing for a while (I think my brother has it), but For Esme is harder to get hold of, and I like to keep it close.

5. The Plot Against America - Philip Roth

I have lent this to my friend's boyfriend, but I like to give this as a gift just because it's such an amazing book. (See, I'm not a total book-hog!)

6. Naive. Super. - Erlend Loe

Another TTT mainstay. I can't help it. I love this book. The Boy has my copy, but that's as far as it goes.

7. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

If I give you this as a gift, it's normally accompanied by "READITREADITREADIT" in a scary whisper. Just FYI.

8. The Sorrows of an American - Siri Hustvedt

My first Hustvedt novel, and one I shove into other people's hands freely. In the nicest possible way. :)

9. Fever Pitch / High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

You know, when Nick Hornby was good. I wore my copy of Fever Pitch to death as a teenager.

10. Elvis, Jesus and Coca Cola - Kinky Friedman

Or really, any Kinky Friedman mystery. I lent all the ones I own to my dad recently, who introduced me to these years ago. I like to give people copies in the hope of spreading the word. :)

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Showcase Sunday: Books and adventures!

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

[I accidentally posted this on Saturday night, sans pictures, so hopefully the version you see now is the one I meant to put up...]

Until this week, I have been largely AWOL recently. This was due to my attending the Isle of Wight Festival 2012 (where I saw Tom Petty, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom were amazing, and which I wrote about here and here and here), and being ill both during and after the festival, at which point I went home to visit my family for a few days.

As such, I am a little bit behind on my blogging, but I have a couple of things to share this week that I haven't had chance to yet!

First of all, a huge thanks to Mands at VeganYANerds, who sent me a copy of Julia Lawrinson's Losing It. I am definitely looking forward to delving into this slice of Aussie YA! Mandee also sent me some vegan chocolate, which I am saving for one of those curled-up-on-the-sofa-reading days. :)

I also picked up The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith. I'd had this on request from the library for a while, and was surprised when I finally got an email telling me it had come in. I've heard a lot of good things about this book!

I haven't had much time for reading recently, mostly due to the ever-increasing demands of my PhD and my work on the journal. But I did manage to finish Tom Anderson's Riding The Magic Carpet (review here), as well as Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie, a British YA novel I will be reviewing soon!

am currently reading have just finished Brigid Lowry's Follow The Blue, a wonderful slice of contemporary YA lit that I would definitely recommend. I have also dug out some of my pre-Bibliotekit reviews from Goodreads, which I will be putting up sporadically in a 'From the Vaults' fashion.

Next week I have tickets to see Faith No More twice, as well as a band called Barreness, and finally Soundgarden in Hyde Park. Hopefully I can squeeze in some reading around that!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Review: Riding the Magic Carpet, Tom Anderson

Riding the Magic Carpet: A Surfer's Odyssey to Find the Perfect Wave

Tom Anderson

Summerscale, 2006

"The right-hand point at Jeffrey's Bay is one of the surfing world's most exciting finds, and from the age of twelve it had been my life's purpose to surf there." 

J-Bay, South Africa, has the fantasy, the almost mythical waves every surfer dreams of riding once in their lifetime. But Tom wouldn't go until he was ready. He would seek out surf-spots from the virgin reef-breaks of the Outer Orkneys to the temple point-breaks of Indonesia, from the beautiful beaches of France to the wilds of Sri Lanka, on his quest to ride the waves of his dreams. Get on the road, get stoked, and get in the water.

In Riding The Magic Carpet, Anderson sketches a journey that starts in South Wales, ventures to the icy reaches of the Orkney Islands, and careens through Western Europe, Indonesia and Central America, before winding up at its destination: Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa. J-Bay, as Anderson calls it, is the pinnacle of the author's quest to find--and surf--the elusive perfect wave.

As a non-surfer, I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of the book - there is a brief glossary in the back, but for the most part it wasn't needed, as there were brief explanations of key concepts as the story moved along. The book takes the form of a travelogue, whereby Anderson and various surfing pals visit ever more impressive destinations in the build up to Anderson's voyage to Jeffrey's Bay.

The first section of the book sees a group of surfers tackling the relatively virgin waters of the Orkney Islands, as well as Thurso East, one of Scotland's fabled surfing spots. Crucial to an enjoyment of the book is an understanding not so much of surfing but of the commitment to surfing that Anderson and his ilk possess, and how this fuels his quest to surf the world in pursuit of those perfect waves. The trip to the Orkneys--a freezing, little-visited destination with little in the way of guaranteed, well-documented waves--shows not only the men's love of surfing, but the importance of finding new spots in which to surf, however unlikely these spots might be.

As the book progresses, Anderson travels to France, the Basque country, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to surf, before breaking his leg in a football match and travelling to Costa Rica and Panama to visit his girlfriend, another keen surfer, whilst being unable to surf himself. All this builds up to a recovery that sees Anderson, finally, making his way to Jeffrey's Bay via Durban. As he travels, we are introduced to popular surf spots and those that are hidden away and jealously guarded. Surf etiquette plays a part in negotiating these locations, as locals and outsiders battle for space. Anderson documents how the fluke of good waves can alter the fortunes of a town or region, as in turning flood-damaged Sri Lankan towns into relatively prosperous surf destinations.

As a sport that I was largely unfamiliar with when picking up this book, surfing emerges as more complex, more competitive, and more compelling that I had previously imagined. The tone is occasionally meandering and sometimes I found the writing a little bit flat, but I wonder if some of the problem stems from attempting to write to a non-surfing audience as well as, presumably, many readers who are as invested in, and as knowledgeable about, the sport as the author himself. As an introduction to surfing, Riding the Magic Carpet is an enjoyable read, and I'd be interested to see how Anderson's other book, Chasing Dean, matches up.

Overall rating: 6/10

Book source: Received as a gift.