Thursday, 28 June 2012

Letter to my 16-year-old self

A little while back there was a book published which was a collection of letters from various people, written to their 16-year-old selves. It's a lovely little idea and I've written a couple myself, each time I do it I feel like I'm learning something new about myself because of little changes in the way I view the past and the present.

This time I'm writing my letter in list format because I'm lazy and I'm pretty sure that my 16-year-old self was fairly busy with exams and the like, so this should save her time.

Click, circa age 18
Hey 16-year-old me,

Hope everything is going well for you, keep revising for those Standard Grades and you'll get a pleasant surprise at the end of the summer. By the way, I'm you in ten years time, I know you think that's freaky now but pretty soon you'll get into Doctor Who and this will seem like the coolest thing ever!

So here are some little tips and pointers I want to give you (us?):

1. Be yourself. You're a pretty awesome person and in a couple of years you're going to realise that things like fitting in aren't so very important. You can be yourself without trying to be something you're not.

2. You will slowly learn to like alcohol, it will still make you feel sleepy. Cocktails are pretty good; you will love peach schnapps and lemonade!

3. Learn to talk to people about things. If something is bothering you or has happened that you don't like; tell someone. Bottling things up is not good for you.

4. See the doctor about some painkillers and help for that thing that bothers you. Turns our it's not meant to be that painful and it's going to cause problems in about eight years time, but if you see the doctor now you might be able to save 26-year-old me quite a bit of money.

5. Fight tooth, nail and claw against your final placement school at university (by the way, you get into Uni, well done). In fact, explore other universities, don't just go with the first one that offers you a place. You might quite enjoy living further away (in which case point five may be null and void).

6. Enjoy every minute with your family and friends. Remember the good times when things are bad.

7. Don't worry when things don't go to plan, sometimes things need to go wrong to let better things you never imagined happen. Go with the flow, things usually work themselves our.

8. Don't look for a boyfriend, trust me, the minute you stop looking the perfect man will come along. And you know how you always end up fancying older guys than all your friends, that's perfectly okay.

9. Carry on doing the things you love. Read, write, listen to whatever music makes you feel happy. Ten years on you're still a bookworm, you still love to write and you'll listen to almost anything. Oh, and you read Lord of the Rings every year, I hope you're impressed!

10. Over the next ten years there are going to be some fantastic highs and some terrible lows. Just keep on keeping on. I promise you, even when things are at their worst and you think there's no way out, they'll pick up, just struggle through until they do.

From
You, aged 26.

It's always an interesting exercise because it makes you wonder how your life would have been different if you'd somehow known what was coming. How much of your current life would you be willing to change?

If 16-year-old me took my advice on point five, I could find my current life totally different... Unless life is all kind of predetermined like in The Time Machine so no matter what she did, past me would still end up on the path that led me to where I am today.

All the same, even with the very wise advice from 26-year-old me, I think 16-year-old me did a pretty good job. Now if only I could get a letter from 36-year-old me to give me some pointers on the next ten years...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

There's an app for that...

Now that we've got a smartphone for internet access at home I've been able to blog a little more frequently, which is nice. In the past there have been things I've wanted to write blog posts about but by the time I've actually had an internet connection the moment has passed.

On my computer I use Windows Live Writer which lets me write my posts without an internet connection (and then cheerfully screws up my formatting when I upload them). It's good for writing book review posts though just a bit of a hassle if you're wanting to write a short entry. Plus there's the hassle of writing everything a week in advance so you can upload and schedule things.

For a while I used the Blogger free app, which was good. Though it was a little disappointing that you could only add one photo (and only at the very end of the post at that). The more I used it, the more little things started to niggle at me; like the fact that you couldn't schedule posts and they would automatically be posted on the day that they were started even if you'd posted dozens of posts since then, so it'd be buried amongst the others.

So I started looking around at apps. With my old iPhone I did have an app which I know I used a couple of times for blogging, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Then I found Blogpress and it seemed to tick all the boxes. And for the sake of £2.99 I decided to give it a go.


And here it is. It's letting me insert pictures where I want them, schedule posts and even change aspects of the font. Exactly what I wanted.

And so far, so good.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Another reason why I love living here...

Part of the reason why I love living here is the wildlife. I'm just back from a walk in the rain with Tara while Mr Click rustles us up a yummy meal for tea. While we were out I very nearly stood on a teeny tiny frog that was pretending to be a bit of mud on the road.

This morning we also met this little fellow:

He was a little but shy and curled into a ball as soon as we got close. Getting a picture was tough because Tara was very keen to say hello.

When we'd walked off a little way he uncurled, looked around for a moment, then waddled back the way he came. I watched the grass rustling where he was walking for a while before we carried on.

We also met a deer and a hare who were a little too speedy to photograph.

It's fantastic being able to get so close to nature. I truly can't imagine being anywhere else.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Five Things That Make Me Happy (Right Now)

Would you believe I've actually run out of book review posts to upload right now, that's not to say that I've read nothing since Mockingjay. I've still got to write up the post for the ebook I read after that, but then the next book book I read was a book tree one (and I'm saving those to avoid spoiling any friends who are involved with the book tree and might accidentally see something they wanted to avoid).

Thankfully I've got a whole host of 'list' posts I can upload, which should do to keep me going until I can get my act together and get the book reviews written (and read some more books that I can write about)!

So today it's Five Things That Make Me Happy (Right Now), I say 'right now' because I think it'll be interesting to revisit this later on and how things change.

1. My Husband
He's always there for me, makes me laugh and is just generally lovely. Plus he's the boss of the kitchen in our house (seriously, I've not done anything more complicated than putting ingredients in the bread machine for over a year now) and does helpful things like letting me lie in bed and read while he does the washing up.

2. My pets
I've always been a dog person and having Tara definitely makes me happy. Since getting her we've both started walking at least five miles a day. Sure, I had to get up at some ridiculous times of day, but she's great company and has a high entertainment value.

And then there's the girls. Our girls are over six months old now and are proper grown up lady rats. Not that this actually means anything to them of course, they're still utterly insane. They are quite interested in Tara, in fact Holly has made a game of posting paper shreddings out the cage for the dog to eat.

3. My work
The fact that I have a job makes me happy, the fact that I'm quite good at it makes me happier. Compared to my last job I feel as though I've got a bit more control over the way I work and what I do. I feel like I'm valued there and I like the people I work with too.

4. My friends
Both online and offline I have some great friends. In fact, mainly through work I've made quite a few new friends which is good. It's great to have people I can chat to or moan at or who I know will just listen to me (or tell me to shut up) when I need to.

5. My home
I posted the other day how much I love my home, and it's true. If definitely makes me happy (at least, until I realise that I still haven't gotten around to organising the spare bedroom yet). It's so nice to have a place of our own at last that some days I still can't believe it. It's so cosy and it's great being able to spend half the day vegging on the sofa in our pyjamas without feeling (too) guilty about it.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Project 365+1: Days 169 - 175

I started out this week taking advantage of the fact that I'm able to take photos on my camera, so I can take pictures for the blog post I'm writing, and whack them straight into the post, rather than having to hold on until the end of the week when I do my 365+1 post. So, you may have already seen some of these photos.

Day 169: Curly Kale Tree
We took Tara for a walk on Sunday night and passed by this tree. It's right next to the gate that I've photographed previously on this walk. The leaves are this spectacular red colour and there's a mini version across the road from it as well. This prompted a discussion of how the leaves looked like seaweed and/or curly kale. Took this photo on my phone and fiddled with it a little and then vowed that I would take more photos with my proper camera this week.

A resolution which clearly failed...

Day 170: Odd Socks
This one was taken on Monday morning, purely for use in my '20 Facts' blog post. I have taken many photos this year of my socks, but this is actually the first that has made it onto the internet for my photo project (which I suppose means that most of the time I do actually find something more interesting than my feet to photograph). It is a true fact though, most of my socks don't match.

The two pictured above are actually almost knee-high and have Disney's Winnie the Pooh characters on them, Tigger I think. Mr. Click got them for me for Christmas and I have to admit, the grey and purple stripey ones are probably my favourites.

Day 171: Train Station
On Tuesday we had my hospital appointment in Glasgow, something I will probably blog about in the future. We left early so that we could go dress shopping for the perfect outfit for my Thursday night out, but not so early that we were snarled up in all the busy morning traffic on the trains.

This is our nearest train station, that is, the one which the ferry takes you to. I love the architecture there and decided that with the blue skies outside I had to take a photo of the ceiling. I used to pass through here twice a day on the way to and from university so I'm very familiar with this place, but I still think it's lovely.

Day 172: Now For Some Cute
And then I remembered I had a big fancy expensive camera that I could be using instead of the one in my phone!

This is Tara at bedtime, notice that her ears are a little bit wet. This is because we take her for her last walk around seven/eight o'clock in the evening and then have showers to freshen up. The daft dog likes to cool down by lying right next to the bath so the shower splashes her or we drip on her when we get out. She loves it though, sometimes she'll lean over the side of the bath licking at the spray from the shower. She'll also happily lick your feet if she thinks you're taking too long to dry them. Kind of gross, but really cute!

Day 173: Welcome To Your Hotel Room
And this was my room for the night on Thursday. Seriously, as soon as I got in through the door (after I'd investigated the bathroom) I went straight to taking a photo. Just to the right of this picture is a desk with an iMac on it and the comfiest computer/desk chair I've ever sat in.

The bed was ridiculously high, practically up to my hip; I had to sort of boost myself up there (which, let me tell you, is no mean feat after dancing half the night in high heels). I tossed two of the pillows onto the chair come bedtime, settled in and then decided I wanted them back and made a sort of nest up there. It was so comfy, I just took over the whole of the middle of the bed until eight in the morning, but probably could have slept on until about... oh, I don't know, lunchtime!

Day 174: Aftermath
This is basically what the bed looked like after I upended my bag onto it. Seen in the middle there is the flag from my table... I'm not entirely sure we were supposed to take them, but we'd already procured a Canadian and Greek flag so I figured we might as well go for the full set. My New Zealand flag is now propped up in the bedroom window. All the other stuff has more or less found its way home now, luckily unpacking did not take as long as packing to go!

Day 175: Lightweight
And this is me getting ready for bed on Saturday night, note the time. I don't think I'm fully recovered from Thursday night/Friday morning yet. Considering the fact that on Thursday I was up at just before five and didn't go to sleep until two the following morning, I think I'm a little bit justified at going to bed ridiculously early.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The morning after...

Had a fantastic time at the awards ceremony, it was all so fancy! Definitely motivated me to do my best at work in the hopes that I could be in with a chance for next year's awards.
There were nine of us in total and once we got off the ferry there was a mini bus waiting to take us to the hotel. On the way one of the women suggested we phone ahead to a cafe across the road from the ferry terminal to get some lunch ordered. After a bit of uhmming and ahhing we all decided to get something, only to discover that the place was closed for refurbishment. Cue 90% of the day's jokes at her expense.
Luckily we had an accommodating driver who took us to the hotel via McDonalds, the first I've had in years. There was much merriment on the bus, attempts at a singalong didn't really work but I've not laughed so hard for a long time.
The hotel room was fantastic. I can't remember the last time I had a hotel room all to myself. I didn't know what to do, hehe. Once I'd explored everything (located the hairdrier and found all the little cubby holes) I showered an began the preparations for the evening.

I always pride myself on the fact that I'm better than most women, I don't take too long to get ready to go out. Well, I started by showering at 3:15 an I was just about ready to go by 5:45!

We were ferried to the venue by taxi and then were assigned our tables. As there was an Olympic theme each table was named after a country; ours were New Zealand, Greece and Canada. I was sitting at New Zealand which was nice because I've always wanted to go there.

First there were cocktails. I tried a bit of almost every one on offer. My favourite was this mint flavoured one, green coloured with gin and pineapple juice. It was lovely. The amaretto one which was orange and pink was nice too.

We chatted upstairs for a bit until some cheerleaders with an Olympic torch came to let us all know that it was time to go down to our tables. This proved a little tricky for me because I'd been wearing my shoes for several hours by this point and my feet were killing me. It was a real relief to sit down at the table.

The MC started the evening off and there was a little display from the cheerleaders and... Umm... Some others joined in too, hehe. Then it was time for the meal.

It was great to watch the meals being served. The waiters and waitresses would come out in a line, circle the table and then at a nod from their leader would deposit the plates in front of the people seated there. Perfectly synchronised! It was like something out of Doctor Who!

Once we'd all eaten it was time for the actual award presentation. Everyone who was there had been nominated at their site and then had won at their site for one of the quarters of the year. We were then put forward for one of the six categories and from there it was short listed down to just four; from which one winner would be picked.

My category was Best Agent and I was actually short listed! At rough count there were at least twenty people put forward for the Best Agent category so to make it to one of the final four was great. A couple of others from our site were also short listed so it was a very good night all round.

Once the ceremony and speeches were over, the cheerleaders came back out again and then a band set up. At this point Greece and New Zealand invaded Canada (and pinched wine from at least one of the neighbouring countries). I was reluctantly dragged up onto the dance floor where I soon got comfortable and went on to get down voluntarily throughout the night.

There were some great photos taken, though not on my camera, and I'm hoping to get some copies of them later on because I looked quite good. I'm really not very confident when it comes to things like this but I felt great! (and I'm sure it wasn't just because of the cocktails).

My outfit was lovely, in fact everyone looked really good. It's the first time I've had an excuse to get dressed up for a while and I liked it. As the evening wore on, I felt less and less self-conscious as well, though my feet hurt more and more.

We wound things up at 12:30am and caught taxis back to the hotel. After a little bit of chat and planning in the hotel lobby I crawled upstairs (after having to get someone to help me take my shoes off because I couldn't work the buckle).

The sensible thing to do would have been to go to bed but I showered and then sat reading until 2am, not the best thing to do as the alarm went off six hours later so we could meet for breakfast at nine. Which we did, an before long we were back in a minibus and on the way home.

We were certainly quieter on the way back, nobody having much energy for anything. It was good fun though and I'm really hoping that I get a chance to go to another one with a similar crowd. Everyone was really good about looking out for each other and making sure we all knew what the plans were.

I'm very glad I decided to take the rest of Friday off as holiday, part of the prize for getting the site award was an extra day's holiday so I though that was a good way to spend it. Hopefully I'll be fully recovered by Monday because I can't wait to tell everyone all about it.

Friday, 22 June 2012

20 facts about me

Ever on the hunt for inspiration I decided to check out some prompt ideas for when I wanted to post but didn't know what to write about. And as I'm pretty much caught up with my book reviews I figured now was a good time for twenty facts about me.

1. I rarely wear matching socks. Usually if my socks do match it's complete chance because I've just happened to grab two matching one out my drawer.

2. Despite living in Scotland for almost half of my life, my accent remains stubbornly West Country English. This makes me a little bit sad.

3. When I was twelve I went to America to stay with family for Christmas and New Year. I travelled over there by myself and thought being a unaccompanied minor was the coolest thing in the world.

4. You may not have noticed, but I quite like reading. For the last couple of years I've kept a record of the books I read, either in a spreadsheet or a book journal. Last year I read 145 books; the most I read in one month was 33. I try to read fewer books now.

5. I don't really have a favourite band or singer, I listen to loads of different types of music but favourites are the songs that tell some sort of story.

6. I once managed to drive four and a half inches of wood into my leg while teaching a maths lesson. For a long time I had an exclamation mark scar on my leg from where it was removed but it's faded away a lot now.

7. I've not had my hair cut since a few days before I got married, it's seriously in need of a trim now.

8. I have no problem talking online, by text or email, but I'm not a huge fan of talking on the phone. Ironically most of my job involves doing this and I actually quite enjoy it.

9. I visited Russia when I was 18 and stayed with a family there as part of a school exchange trip. I loved it and would love to go back again some day.

10. I have helped out on a farm during lambing season in the past. I learnt how to deliver lambs and even got to the stage where I was able to do it by myself. I also was given the responsibility for feeding orphaned lambs, looking after over a dozen in total!

11. One day I'd really like to visit New Zealand. My husband has family there so one day I think we should offer our services as babysitters.

12. I'm more of a quiet night in person than a big night out one. I like snuggling up with a good book or film and my family far more than going out partying.

13. I'm really not particularly confident. I'm quite a shy sort of person. I enjoy watching other people having a good time but have to kind of psych myself up to actually joining in.

14. I hate wearing shoes and if I could get away with it would happily go around barefoot all the time.

15. I'm not really into fashion but have a thing for bags, hats and shoes which is kind of silly because I stick with one bag until it falls apart, don't suit most hats and live in trainers when I have to wear shoes.

16. I am incapable of napping. Even when I'm feeling totally exhausted I struggle to take a nap. In the last year I've managed to lie on the bed in a state of semi-doze once, I usually end up feeling more tired afterwards and then not able to sleep at night, so I normally don't bother anyway now.

17. I've recently become a bit of a news junkie. I'll happily sit and watch all the news channels and almost every day I'll try and read all the latest articles on the BBC news site. Plus I have the Sky and BBC apps on my phone. I'm not sure how much I actually take in though!

18. I'm a bit of a morning person. I like the peace and quiet first thing in the morning when you can have some time to yourself. I like late nights too for the same reason; unfortunately the two together are not really compatible!

19. I used to collect butterflies. I still hunt out jewellery & clothes with butterflies on. When I started I thought they were just pretty, now I feel like they represent change and the ability to turn yourself into something new (and wonderful).

20. It's taken me a week to come up with twenty facts about myself! I've been writing this post in my breaks and at other odd moments and I found it really hard. I also think I've spoken about my feet too much, don't read too much into that guys.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bones

I’ve been reviewed the Kathy Reichs series of books featuring Temperance Brennan over the last few months but we’ve also been watching the current season of the TV series that started me reading them. It was way back in (I think 2005) that Bones first aired on Sky1, it was the sort of thing that my family liked to watch and, having been a fan of CSI, I watched too, thinking it would be right up my street.
I wasn’t overly keen on the very first episode. I watched the first two episodes before everyone else in the house and wasn’t sure what to make of it, but watching them again with other people, it started to grow on me. Suffice to say I was hooked. When I got some money for my birthday I decided to investigate the books that the series was based on and read the first three in about four days.

Of course, the Temperance Brennan in the books is totally different to the Temperance Brennan in the TV series. Book!Brennan is in her forties, estranged from her husband with a daughter in college and commutes between North Carolina and Montreal plying her trade; TV!Brennan is in her late twenties (when the series starts), has very poor social skills, knows a lot about marginal cultures but very little about aspects of the one she inhabits, and has a relationship FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth which is (in the earlier series at least) fuelled by Unresolved Sexual Tension.

In the course of the last seven series, Tempe has discovered that her parents were criminals on the run, buried her mother and been reunited with her father (who thinks nothing of offing people if they pose a threat to his family), been kidnapped and held hostage by a selection of murderers and serial killers, found that a member of her team was working with a serial killer, identified that her partner (the aforementioned Agent Booth) has a brain tumour, witnessed the shooting and death of one of her interns in her lab, and hooked up with Booth and had a child with him.

At times it’s not particularly believable. But it’s a show about horrible murders with a real sense of humour and I can overlook the scientific inaccuracies because it’s really good entertainment (and David Boreanaz isn’t bad to look at either). It’s the only TV show that we actually watch on TV, thanks to my in-laws’ Sky+. So far I only have the first two series on DVD and I considered not bothering to watch it as it aired, rather just buying up all the DVDs and then getting the seventh series when that came out too, but after the cliffhanger of a season finale last year (Brennan announcing that she was pregnant with Booth’s baby) we kind of had to just go ahead and watch the next series without waiting.

I’m glad we did. My in-laws’ have been very good about letting us take over the TV on a Sunday afternoon after lunch, despite the fact that within the first ten minutes of any episode there will be a bloody corpse, decomposed body or some other bizarre remains, which isn’t really what you want to be looking at right after a big Sunday dinner! I think my father-in-law has actually become quite interested in the programme too, he rarely sits through a whole episode but likes to be filled in on what happened and who did it at the end.

What with OU revision and End of Module Assessments to be worked on during the last month, we’d not really been watching them as religiously as usual so we ended up with the last three episodes to watch during this last week. I’ve really loved this series, it’s had some really funny bits, plus Brennan and Booth have finally gotten together which has been a long time coming.

When Emily Deschanel got pregnant, it was written into the show, with her staying with Booth following Vincent Nigel Murray’s death in the lab. Staying with Booth that night evidently turned into something more because in the series finale she announced that she was pregnant. So after Angela and Hogkin’s son, Michael, was born last year, baby Christine was born midway through this series. It’s nice to see Booth and Brennan being a family together, especially because they can be such polar opposites (like on the issue of whether or not to get Christine baptised). It’s a shame that it’s all been a bit rushed to take Emily’s pregnancy into account, though honestly I much prefer this route to spending best part of the series hiding her behind desks and folders, or pretending that she’s suddenly put a lot of weight on; it would have been nice to see the relationship develop between Booth and Brennan a little more slowly considering how long it took to get to the actual sleeping together stage.

As we watched this series, especially as we fell behind and had more and more episodes building up on the Sky+ box still to be watched, I did find myself rethinking the whole watching-it-as-it-airs thing and debating whether we might be better getting the next series on DVD after it’s been on TV. Then we watched the last episode where some crazy psycho killer has set Brennan up for a murder and her father convinces her to take Christine and go on the run, and all plans for waiting have gone out the window. Bones has been renewed for series eight so as long as my in-laws’ done mind us hi-jacking the TV once a week for the duration of the next one, I think we’ll just watch that as it’s on as well.

Welcome to your hotel room

So, I've kind of been nominated for an award at work and the actual awards are tonight...

I arrived about an hour ago and I'm all checked into the hotel, showered, hair washed (and almost dried) and now I'm just starting to think about getting myself ready to get dressed ready to meet the others at 6pm. There's make up and tights to organise plus the actual putting on of the dress (which is very short and therefore quite an ordeal for me).

Still, looks set to be a good night.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Book 53 of 2012: Mockingjay

I have been looking forward to the third instalment of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy pretty much since finishing Catching Fire. When I realised that I’d forgotten to read Dubliners I very nearly put it off so I could go straight on to reading Mockingjay (but I was good and resisted, though it was tough ;-D). Whereas with the previous two books I kind of had an idea about certain things happening because I’d been accidentally spoiled online, with Mockingjay I was totally spoiler free. I had even avoided the TV Tropes articles which mentioned it (normally when I read a book I go onto TV Tropes to read up on it, there and Wikipedia to find out extra bits and pieces about it) but after going on to read about Inkheart and discovering that there were mentions of the entire Inkworld trilogy, I wasn’t planning on making the same mistake with these books.
If you’ve not read the Hunger Games trilogy, are planning to but don’t want to be spoiled, might I suggest you admire this picture of the book and then move on to something else. I’m totally going to give away the ending in this review!

In Mockingjay, the story continues on from where it left off in Catching Fire. Katniss has been rescued from the Quarter Quell Hunger Games arena, Peeta has been captured and Gale has now joined the rebel forces in District 13. In fact, District 13 (which is mostly underground to allow the Capitol to keep up the pretence that the district was destroyed) is playing host to a number of refugees from District 12 which has been totally wiped out. Katniss has become the symbol of the revolution and President Coin, the leader of District 13 and, by association, leader of the rebels, needs Katniss to help her overthrow President Snow.

I so very nearly read this book in one day. I just didn’t want to put it down. Luckily I’d taken the 12th and 13th of June off work because of Mr Click’s exam so by carefully timing my reading material (read: staying up far too late to get to the end of Fire & Ice) I was able to start reading Mockingjay on my day off. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t want to stay up too late reading that night, I would have finished it on the first day, I reluctantly put it down at 10pm with less than a hundred pages to go and then polished it off the following night. It’s just as gripping as the earlier books, if anything more gripping than Catching Fire because the second book is largely repeating the premise of the first, this one has a new setting so although it’s kind of another Hunger Games, it’s on a totally different scale than before.

And here is where I give away the ending, so if you’re really serious about not wanting to know the ending but weren’t sure about it til now, go away!

I wanted to cry towards the end when Prim is killed. It was very unexpected and the way that she is revealed means that as Katniss becomes aware of her, so do you, at which point you know that this is it for her. Despite being devastating, it’s a really clever way to bookend the series. If it wasn’t for Prim being drawn for the Hunger Games in the first book, none of what follows would have happened. Katniss volunteers to take her place to prevent her death, thus setting off this chain reaction which leads to her being the face of the revolution, in turn causing Prim to arrive with the medics at a crucial moment in the battle and so Katniss witnesses her death.

I think I always knew that there could never be a happy ending to this series of books but I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see Katniss’s trial following her shooting President Coin. I realise that the story had to be told through Katniss’s eyes so she would’ve had to be there, rather than in solitary confinement for that to be possible, but it felt a little like Collins’ had written the execution and then realised that a trial could potentially mean a fourth book so glossed over it to get to the end. A little bit of me hopes that in the film they can explain that bit in a little more detail.

I can’t say that I was overly concerned one way or the other whether Katniss got together with Gale or Peeta. For much of the series I thought it would be Gale, considering they had grown up together and had so much in common (until the Hunger Games) which I guess is kind of the reason why they then couldn’t get together later. I had a funny feeling once Gale started working with Beetee on weapons that it spelled the end of his relationship with Katniss because having witnessed what she had in the arena, that was never going to sit well with her.

Then again, when Peeta was hijacked, I began to doubt that Katniss would end up with him either. I suppose I was expecting her to end up alone, perhaps a bit like Haymitch though without the alcohol. I think that by the end they were probably better suited to each other than Katniss and Gale were, what had started out as a fake relationship had kind of turned into something more. I’m glad that nothing was made of the romance element in this book until the end, there just wasn’t really the time or place for it during this section of the story. The epilogue worked well to sum things up and, just as J.R. Rowling did with the end of the Harry Potter books, it leaves an element of speculation open for the fans.

I’m a little bit sad that it’s all over now, that I’ve read all three of the books. In a way I’m glad that I was able to read them more or less all in one go, rather than having to wait a year in between each book. I’m yet to see the first of the films as well, so I’m quite looking forward to that, I did win a £5 voucher the other day so I’m wondering if perhaps I should put it towards getting the first film on blu-ray. I’m also going to keep my eyes open for anything else by Suzanne Collins' because I loved the way the Hunger Games trilogy was written and I’m curious to see what she’ll come up with next.
My mockingjay pin now lives with Cinna’s outfit, but there’s the gold locket and the silver parachute with the spile and Peeta’s pearl. I knot the pearl into the corner of the parachute, bury it deep in the recesses of the bag, as if it’s Peeta’s life and no one can take it away as long as I guard it.
Page 171

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Songs With Stories: Cat's In The Cradle

I have a whole playlist on my mp3 player called ‘Songs With Stories’, for as long as I can remember I’ve collected songs which I think tell some sort of story. Sometimes it’s really obvious either from the title or you can tell straight away from the words; others you have to listen to a little closer, sometimes I know there’s a story there but I’m not entirely sure what it is.
My Songs With Stories playlist originally started when I was looking for music to write to for NaNoWriMo, I’d started off with a bunch of gentle instrumental pieces or easy listening stuff like Enya and Hayley Westenra but found I was putting more and more songs in which told some sort of story so decided they needed a playlist of their own. It’s great for listening to when you want to write something but don’t know exactly what you want to write about (in fact, one of the stories I’ve been researching for the last six or seven years in the hope that one day I’ll know enough about the topic to actually write a story).
Walking Tara the other morning, Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin came on my mp3 player. I’ve got it on the Shrek the Third soundtrack but I can’t say it’s one I’ve listened to a massive number of times (since I reset my Zen, all of my track plays have been reset as well so I can only hazard a guess and say I’ve probably listened to it about a handful of times). During my first year of Uni I only had a handful of CDs in my room; two Enya, a Disney songs three CD set and the first two Shrek soundtracks. Whenever I listen to the first Shrek soundtracks or an Enya CD I can picture sitting in my room with my little CD player that even if you selected random, didn’t really play randomly just played the same supposedly random order each time.
But I’ve not played the Shrek the Third soundtrack as much, so I’m still discovering the songs on it. Which is how I came to discover Cat’s in the Cradle during our walk. It’s actually the second time I’ve heard it, the first being on a day when my Zen screen wasn’t working, so I’m glad that it’s come around to play again so quickly so I could find out exactly what the song was!
The song is peppered with references to children’s games and nursery rhymes and that was what I found myself listening to first, picking out the references to cat’s cradle and little boy blue among others. But the main story in the song is of a man and his son; beginning with his son’s birth and early years but the father is always away for his significant milestones. Next is his son’s tenth birthday, when he gives his son a ball, but doesn’t have the time to play with it, so his son plays without him and tells his father that he wants to be just like him. Later when his son is older, the father asks to spend time with him when he’s visiting from college, but the kid has other plans and just wants to borrow the car. It ends with the father calling his son, who now has a family of his own, wanting to arrange time together, but the son is too busy and the father realises that he’s turned out just like him.
As with most ‘Songs With Stories’ there’s a story behind the story in the song. Harry Chapin actually wrote the song using a poem his wife wrote about her previous husband and his relationship with his father. According to Wikipedia, Chapin was quoted as saying that the song was also about his relationship with his own son and that it ‘scared him to death’. It’s a sad thought really when you realise that Chapin died of a heart attack/car crash at the age of just 45.
It’s a really beautiful song though, one which I’m going to have to add on to the Songs With Stories playlist.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Book 52 of 2012: Fire & Ice

Having finished Dubliners I had a bit of a debate about which ebook I would follow it up with. I’ve got several review copies on the virtual ‘To Read’ pile but as the last two ebooks I’ve read have been disappointing and depressing, respectively. So after a bit of consideration I decided to go with Patty Jansen’s Fire & Ice, the first book in the Icefire trilogy. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my choice is because I was craving fantasy. Mr Click’s promised me the first few books in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series and the title of this was close enough to satisfy me temporarily.

Fire & Ice is a fantasy novel set which follows Tandor, an ‘Imperfect’ young man who was banished from his country due to his royal blood as he tries to recruit other Imperfects for a mission which will allow them to regain control of the City of Glass. At the centre of the city is the Heart, which gives out icefire, a type of magic in the region which creates Imperfects and which they are able to manipulate. Although there still remains a young Queen on the throne, the City is largely ruled by the Eagle Knights and Imperfects are abandoned at birth to prevent them making use of the icefire and possibly attempting to seize power. Tandor has been rescuing them and sending them away to live with families far from the city as part of his plan but the Knights have taken them away with some plan of their own.

As well as following Tandor, Fire & Ice also follows the young Queen, Jevaithi, who has a secret of her own and also Isandor, one of the children Tandor rescued who, despite being Imperfect, has made it into the Eagle Knights with only his friend Carro knows his secret.

I really enjoyed this book. It made me think of Game of Thrones at times, I think mainly because the action takes place in a frozen wasteland. There were also elements of the story that made me think of The Golden Compass and I think there’s a dash of Star Wars in there too. Ironically, after reading so many fantasy books last year, and attempting to stay away from reading too many again this year, I can’t help but find myself really craving them, so this book came along at just the right time for me, in between all the classics and crime books.

The way that things were explained in this book was quite good. Certain things, like the icefire or Imperfects would be mentioned at first and then gradually expanded upon which gave you time to figure it out. Some fantasy books have great chunks of exposition explaining how things work in this particular world, which can get a little boring, especially if it’s coming in the middle of some action.

By the same token, the world itself was very well created. I got the impression that it was taking place somewhere like the Steppes of Russia. It was explained that proximity to icefire caused a lowering of the temperature so most of the land inhabited by this story was snowy. There was a good balance of technology as well. Chevakia, where Tandor was raised, has no icefire but they have trains and less ice and snow; the Outer City and City of Glass previously had higher levels of technology, powered by the icefire but following the overthrowing of the royal family all technology was removed and abandoned. I’ve probably done a poor job of explaining it here, but in the story I didn’t find myself questioning it at all.

One thing which bothered me a little when I was originally reading the book, but on reflection is actually quite clever, is the fact that it’s not entirely clear who the good guys or bad guys are in the tale. The Eagle Knights are hardly saints; they pretty much control Jevaithi and they’re responsible for the deaths of many Imperfect children, but apparently the old King was a very bad person who liked to create servitors, that is, removing people’s hearts so that they become immortal while their creator is alive and only visible to Imperfects. Then again, Tandor is hardly an angel himself, part of his reason for taking the children and raising them away from harm is so that he can create his own army of servitors to overthrow the Eagle Knights. I felt like just when I’d worked out who I should be disliking, the balance would swing again and I’d find myself questioning it again.

While on the one hand that’s a little frustrating; normally fantasy stories have a very clear Big Bad who you can hate, and very obvious Good Guys who you can root for, it’s a nice little twist in this story. As it’s the first in a trilogy I imagine that this is something which will be played around with in the next two books.

My only complaints would be that I didn’t really find Tandor particularly likeable, I much preferred hearing about young Isandor (I have a theory about him and I’m sorely tempted to read the next books to find out whether I’m right there). I wasn’t entirely sure what Tandor’s plan was for a fair part of the book. The very end of the book felt a little rushed to me as well, there was a lot of action taking place in a relatively short space of time and I ended up jogging to keep up (and wondering if I’d missed bits). There is some serious violence in this book as well, particularly involving Isandor’s friend, Carro; the other Apprentice Knights abuse him and he follows their example when he takes his revenge. Some readers might view this as unnecessary and it was quite unexpected in the book at that point.

That aside, I did really enjoy it and I think I would definitely read the next book in the series (and once you’ve read the second in a trilogy, you have to read the third). I also have to commend Patty Jansen on her excellent ‘Author’s Note’ at the very beginning of the book. As an Australian author I imagine that she has had some comments in the past about supposed typing errors due to the differences in British/Australian Standard English and the US variety. In it she helpfully points out that we have ‘Mums’ not ‘Moms’ and provides a very good illustration of the difference between ‘tire’ and ‘tyre’. I was looking forward to reading this book from the start, but that little note really hooked me in.
These were real Knights in the way he was not. Real Knights didn’t party, didn’t fight in melteries, didn’t try to get into a girl’s bed. Real Knights didn’t even show off their status to their families and old friends. Real Knights didn’t have old friends. They only had their jobs, and their superiors.
Location 2613

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Book 51 of 2012: Dubliners

Having finished my linguistics strand of my degree (well, almost finished, still awaiting my results) I decided to turn my attention to my next course, this time a literature one. I’ve actually been preparing for this course since last year (I was originally hoping to do the second level literature course alongside the third level linguistics one), getting hold of the necessary copies of the required reading texts and reading them in preparation for studying them.

I’ve had James Joyce’s Dubliners on my shelf for months and I’ve been meaning to get around to it for ages but I have been rather lacking in enthusiasm for it. I’m not entirely sure why, for a long time I was very wary of certain books which were required reading at school mainly because I either found them incredibly dull, or what I had enjoyed we then studied into oblivion which dampened any enthusiasm I had originally felt for them. However, I have since learnt my lesson; after avoiding To Kill A Mockingbird for a very long time, it was chosen by Josephine for a Book Tree and I just fell in love with it.

So when I started Dubliners it was a very pleasant surprise. I’d intended to read it as my next book-book after having read Thud! but then it was overlooked and I slotted it in as the next book-book after I’d read Bones to Ashes. I have to admit, my first thought was at least it’s nice and thin, before panicking when I realised just how small the print was, hehe. But almost as soon as I opened the book I found myself marking a quote with a bookmark. There’s something lovely about the way that it’s written.

One story at least was familiar to me; Eveline was used to demonstrate a particular type of linguistic analysis in E301. It’s quite nice that there’s that little link between the two courses, hopefully it’s a good sign, if I enjoy the next course half as much as the last one I’ll be happy.

Having studied three different forms of analysing a text for E301 (inherency – the creativity/literariness found in the text, cognitive – how reading it impacts on the reader, and sociocultural – the social or cultural influences which affect how the text is read or written) I found myself thinking a great deal about what we’d learnt about sociocultural analysis. Dubliners is not only dealing with a time period which, although I’m interested in I don’t actually know as much as I’d like to about, and is set in a country which I know even less about. Having read Dubliners I feel like I need to read up more about the time and the place, hopefully it’s something which will actually come up in the course.
There were only a couple of stories that I didn’t enjoy very much. Funnily enough, when I read Eveline during my last course I didn’t really think much of it. Although the stories are all standalones, putting them together in the one book kind of ties them together. While I didn’t enjoy it so much the first time I read it, the second time, seeing it in context, it made a little more sense for me.

Other stories I enjoyed were Clay, A Painful Case and A Mother. I think A Mother was a more complete story than some of the ones in this book. My one problem with the stories was that they were more snapshots than actual stories. I would just be getting into them when they would end. I liked the way that they would give you a little glimpse of life and then that was it, you could imagine the stories going on after you stopped looking at the players.

I’m quite glad that I’m becoming more open-minded about the books I’m going to be studying. At school I disliked what we called ‘textual analysis’ but having learnt about it more in my last course, I’m actually looking forward to what’s coming. I’ve already got the next book that I need on order so hopefully once it arrives I’ll get into that as much as I enjoyed this.
He had an odd biographical habit which led him to compose in his mind from time to time a short sentence about himself containing a subject in the first person and a predicate in the past tense.
Pages 73-73

Project 365+1: Days 162 - 168

I've been a bit lazy this week when it's come to taking photos. In my defence, I have had a lovely new toy to play with. As much as I love my fancy SLR camera, there's something really nice about being able to whip out my phone and snap away when I spot something cute and then share it on Twitter immediately, rather than having to get it off the camera, process it and then upload it.


Day 162: Funky Feet
This was one of the first photos I actually took with my new phone, of my husband's funky feet. I got a gift voucher for Christmas a couple of years ago for Debenhams but couldn't find anything I liked, so traded it with him for book money. One of the things he got for himself was these socks. We call them his Rubix Cube socks and I love them (Tara, the sock monster, also loves them and will happily make off with them any chance she gets!). He's also got some brand new trainers with orange laces (so they match our van)!

Day 163: Lead The Way
This is Tara's new lead. She's given us some fun in the back of the car the last couple of weeks. First there was the game of trying to climb through from the boot to the back seats which we stopped when my in-laws' gave us a dog guard. Deprived of her new game, she took it upon herself to pull up the protective floor mat in the boot and chew/tear it to pieces and was just starting on the carpet under that when my father-in-law got a big piece of wood cut to the shape of the car boot that we cover with a blanket so she can't do any more damage.

Relieved that we'd solved the problem, we relaxed. Tara didn't. Mr Click opened the car boot only to have her shoot out down the lane and across the road towards the beach, gleefully ignoring his cries to get her to stop or come back. We decided that harnessing her in the back was the best option. This worked for all of about thirty seconds before she realised that she could chew through the rope lead.

So we now have two of the above leads, one which is permanently fastened into the car and one which we use for walking her. She also has a brand new spiffy collar (when we got her she had a red one with bones on but some of the holes on it are getting a little worn out so we figured we might as well upgrade that as well); this one is black, with padding, and eyelets to helpfully keep it from wearing out too quickly.

And so far the set up is working. She goes to the car on her lead, you clip her in, unclip her lead and close the boot, then do the whole thing in reverse when you want to get her out. She doesn't particularly like gnawing on the chain and even better, she's walking better on the chain lead than she was on the 'choke' lead we had before. Now if only it had some padding on the handle for us!

Day 164: Mockingjay
There'll be a book review forthcoming, but I just had to take a photo of the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I almost read it in a whole day, luckily it was a day I'd taken off work (though I should add, not with the sole intention of reading, that was just a lucky bonus). You can see from the picture that I was just over halfway through at this point, I read another fifth before bed and then polished it off the following day.

To celebrate finishing these books, I decided to splurge on an ebook copy of The Lord of the Rings today, which was going to be the next read from that shelf on my bookcase. I figure an ebook copy will be easier to take to work. I had my copy within about a minute of paying for it and now I'm going to have to hurry up and read all my other books before I will let myself get to it.

Day 165: Big Mug
Okay, so from this point onwards this week I was pretty much just taking photos to play around with the different settings on Instagram. I can't help myself! It's quite fun, I've popped a border on this, used a filter to make it look like an older picture and blurred it with the exception of the picture on the mug. Fun times!

As Mr Click had his exam on Wednesday, that night we cracked out the REALLY big hot chocolate mugs to celebrate. This is mine (it's featured in my Project 365+1 photos several times already). It came with an Easter egg years ago and I've always called it my 'Friends Mug' because it's like one of their giant ones. It takes twice the amount of hot chocolate than a regular mug so is perfect for post-exam drinking.

Day 166: The Van
And this is our mode of transport this week while the car is in the garage; our big orange VW campervan. It was a gift from a family friend and at some point we will sell it, but in the meantime it's useful for picnics and if we ever decide we want a last minute, low-budget holiday.

Mr Click had to pick me up from work in it the other day and because I was expecting him to be in our car, I just didn't see him. I wasn't expecting to see a bright orange campervan so I just didn't seem to see it at all! This has happened several times since then as well. I've gone outside to get in the car, realised that the car isn't there and been slightly puzzled as to how we're supposed to travel, completely forgetting that we have the van.

I'm quite pleased with the effect on this picture. I wanted something that looked like it was taken during the seventies, though the van's not actually that old (one day we'll get a Type 2 with a split screen, but until then...). It's actually just a couple of years older than me. But I thought I'd try to get the picture looking like some of the photos my grandparents had of their old cars.

Day 167: One Year
This is our house, where we've now lived for exactly a year (we moved in precisely one year ago today). I can still remember happily sitting in the living room on a folding chair waiting for Mr Click to show up with the people who were moving our stuff (like actual chairs) while the boiler repair man worked out the back having taken his shoes off first when he came in (I didn't actually ask him to do it, he just did when he saw all our shoes in the front lobby).

It's a lovely little house. A bit of a TARDIS because from the front it looks like a little bungalow, but our bedroom is hidden away at the back and there's an upstairs too (with a low ceiling) and big cupboards hidden away in there too.

Just ignore the weeds out the front. I cleared the back garden the other day while Mr Click was revising and totally forgot to do the ones at the front. We keep on meaning to pull them up, but for now they're just keeping our trees company.

Day 168: Black Lab
Yesterday we walked Tara's little legs off. We took her for a walk at 6am, then went back to bed planning on having breakfast after a little snooze. I read, she needed the loo, so out we went round the garden, then I played on my phone. By about 8am I was feeling a bit sleepy too; both the dog & Mr Click were zonked out, so I just closed my eyes for a minute. And the next thing I knew it was 10:15!

We had a lovely lazy morning and then walked her to Kerrycroy in the mid-afternoon. Back home for tea, then I walked her to the front entrance of the estate and back while Mr Click vacuumed and put fresh bedding on the bed. By the time Tara and I were halfway to the gate she was lagging behind and when we got home she just flopped on the floor (which I was trying to get a picture of, but couldn't quite get one I liked).

She's so cute when she's sleepy. Just this last week she's really started mellowing out. She'll happily lie on the floor and doze; right now she's stretched out on the floor beside my father-in-law and a couple of hours ago she was lying under any table or chair we let her under. Hopefully having my new phone means I'll be able to catch more of my cute puppy dog's moments.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Book 50 of 2012: Buddy the Rat

Having kept pet rats for the last decade and a half, when I saw the option to request a review copy of a novella about a rat, I couldn’t really resist. Buddy the Rat by B.M. Hodges is the story of a rat from the pet department of a supermarket and his experiences with humans as well as with wild rats. In the last year I’ve read a couple of books of rat-literature (Mrs Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. and The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents) both of which were rereads. I was quite excited to read something rattish and new, though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book.

I can’t say that I really enjoyed this book although it was pretty well written (with the exception of a few niggling points which I’ll get to in a minute). I suspected that it wouldn’t be a happy story about a young rat and his boy; that there might be a dark element to it just as there was with the books I mentioned above. What I got was mostly dark elements.

I really felt for Buddy through this story. Nothing good seemed to happen to the poor guy which actually made for quite a depressing read. It’s bookended by Buddy being forgotten in his cage with the corpse of his cagemate, the story is largely told in flashback before coming up to the present so you were forewarned that things were going to be bad right from the start. I suppose the part of me that has grown up on Disney films was expecting something good to come around for Buddy because bad things shouldn’t happen to cute furry animals.

Buddy narrates the story, which is an interesting touch, but one that I liked. It was a little inconsistent at times; there were some human things that Buddy seemed to have relatively little knowledge of, while others he was able to talk about when you wouldn’t expect him to. As a rat owner, I often wonder what my little charges think of the world around them, how do they see us? What do they think the vacuum is the first time they see it? What was their life like before we brought them home? It’s interesting to see ideas like this explored.

Unfortunately the family that Buddy is adopted into isn’t very pleasant. His owner isn’t actually too bad, not too knowledgeable about his pet and his care but not really a bad guy. But Master, as Buddy calls him, doesn’t really have an ideal home situation; fights are the norm, his parents are separated, and his brother is a psychopath in training who, with the help of his friend, likes to torture poor Buddy. I have to admit, I found some of the descriptions of what they did, or planned to do to Buddy, a little bit upsetting.

I can watch any amount of violence in films or read books which describe the horrors that people inflict on each other, but reading about or viewing animal cruelty is really hard for me and I very nearly put this book down because of that. I realise that’s probably just me being a little oversensitive, for that reason I kept going (and made a little extra time for cuddling eat of my squishy rattie!girls that evening).

Although I said above that Buddy narrates the story, that’s not strictly true. In the middle of the story, around Chapter Eight, there’s an abrupt switch in the narrative where it suddenly moves from first-person point-of-view to third-person point-of-view. It was rather unexpected and I think it could have been handled a little better. Personally, as much as I liked the way that the story was narrated through Buddy’s own eyes, I would have been just as happy with a third-person POV all the way through. Alternatively the story could have been divided into three parts with the first and last being Buddy’s story and the middle one telling the story of the colony that Buddy went on to join. This could have been announced alongside the Chapter heading and would have made the transition a little less jarring.

I think that the section with the colony was actually my favourite bit of the whole story, in a way it reminded me of Watership Down and Mrs Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. (if the Rats of N.I.M.H. went wrong and most of the rats were totally oppressed). I would have loved to have read a story about one of the rats of the colony becoming disillusioned with the way of life there and deciding to set out to find out what else was out there, perhaps inspired by a tale from a former pet rat, only to find out that perhaps life there wasn’t so great either.

I won’t say too much about the little niggly facts about rats that bugged me. Having been an obsessive rat owner for over half my life I can forgive little comments about rats vomiting (something they struggle to do as they lack a gag reflex, which can lead to problems with choking) as well as regarding dominant and submissive behaviour (the colony is unusual so I can accept that there might be changes there). But one thing that did bother me enough to make several notes on the ebook was the constant reference to infant rats in their ‘pupae’. At first I thought it was just a peculiar metaphor but as different characters used the same term I began to wonder if I was in fact reading about some sort of hybrid insect-rat species!

While Buddy the Rat wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I do have to make a mention of the preview of another book by the same author featured at the end of the story. Involving a girl and her friend in Singapore who must drive across a region suffering from a zombie epidemic in order to win a prize, it did catch my imagination and I’d be curious to hear a little more about that story.
As I gazed out at the world, I saw a calming fluidity in the way Humans cam and went, like the ebb and flow of the tide. Swells and eddies of random shopping for hours and hours until closing. Each consumer was a living narrative, an inexplicable tale with their flat-head screwdrivers, fishing poles, and white gallon containers of 2% milk.
Location 110

Friday, 15 June 2012

One Year

A year ago today we got our keys to our little dream cottage. The year that's followed has been a bit of a rollercoaster.

We've lost family, friends and pets but we've also acquired new ones. We've four mad, escape artist rats and a wonderfully daft dog. And we're hoping to get on the list for IVF soon so maybe there'll be a new family member on the cards shortly.

I've had a complete career overhaul and I couldn't be happier. I get on well with my colleagues and I actually have a social life again.

We've gone a year without having Sky TV (or any other package), getting by with DVDs, blu-rays and watching TV with friends and family. We've also been a year without Internet access purely because the longer we've gone without it, the less we've felt like we needed it!

Of course, I've got an iPhone again now which means we do have Internet access at home, even if we don't have a phone line or broadband. Hopefully this'll work and I'll actually be able to update my blog from home.

There have been plenty of ups and downs over the last year, but the ups definitely outweigh the downs. It's been a brilliant year!

Book 49 of 2012: Bones To Ashes

It’s really just as well that I was so determined to get myself ahead on my book reviews because not having OU to work on, and a bank holiday weekend suddenly mean that I had far more time than I knew what to do with. So I did what any normal person would do, I weeded the back garden, spent a whole day playing on The Sims 3, and read and read and read. Between the 1st of June (which I had off, giving me a nice l-o-o-o-n-g weekend) and the 5th I managed to read books 47 through 50 of the year.

And number 49 was Kathy Reichs’ Bones to Ashes. This one begins slightly differently, giving more of an insight into Tempe’s past and early childhood. In previous books we’ve had glimpses of her youth and her life growing up, but never quite in as much sustained detail as this. Previous books have mentioned her father’s alcoholism and her baby brother’s death, but the opening chapters of this book has Tempe tell us all about how this affected her as a child. It also introduces us to a girl she made friends with at the time, Evangeline, from Canada, who after just a few years of friendship disappeared leaving Tempe wondering exactly what happened to her.

Flash forward to the present and there’s a possible serial murder of young girls been discovered in Montreal, coupled with some bones which have been residing at a police station for a number of years which may be linked to the missing Evangeline. And Tempe’s on the case.

This one picks up shortly after the action of Break No Bones (which ended, frustratingly, with her in a sort of romantic limbo between Andrew Ryan and her ex-husband). Tempe’s back in Canada for this case; I can’t say exactly what it is about the Canadian cases, possibly the fact that they usually include a plausible reason for Ryan to be involved in the investigation, but they’re always my favourites. I was quite relieved to discover that in this book Pete announces his engagement to a woman around the same age as his daughter, suggesting that he’s well and truly over Tempe. Unfortunately, it seems so is Ryan, though that didn’t seem to stop them hooking up midway through the book, so I’m curious to see how that’s going to play out in the future books.

This is also probably a good time to mention just how dangerous it seems to be to actually befriend Tempe. I’ve mentioned before the rather formulaic structure of these books with Tempe becoming incapacitated/abducted/ill/bopped on the head/etc. somewhere around Chapter 30 (though this is a structure which hasn’t been quite so strictly adhered to in the later books). Well, in every book there is frequently a friend or family member who, usually as a result of Tempe’s activities (or if not, conveniently connected to them), is attacked or placed in some sort of deadly peril.

Right from the start of this book, as soon as Evangeline was mentioned, I knew that things were not going to go well for the poor kid. Admittedly, her troubles started long before she met young Temperance Brennan and nothing her friend did influenced what ultimately happened to her, but still it seems that she was just the first in a long line of unfortunates who have associated with Tempe; in the first book it was her best friend who was murdered but since then both her sister and her nephew have been abducted by a cult/shot, Andrew Ryan has been shot, as has her husband. Whenever a new friend is mentioned in one of these books I can’t help but wonder what disaster will befall them!

That probably makes it sound like I don’t really like these books, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I really like them. It was so good to finally get my hands on one which I’ve never read before. I think I would have sailed through it even if I hadn’t had so much free time to read, purely because once I start one of Kathy Reichs’ books, I really hate having to put it down. I’m sure that this being the first read of it made me read it quicker.

I also felt a slight sense of smugness at figuring out what condition had caused the deformities in the bones Tempe was examining. You’d think an anthropologist would have recognised leprosy. It was a little convenient how the mystery remains linked back to Evangeline, unrealistic perhaps, but not something I can really complain about. I’ve accepted that with any case Tempe investigates, it will somehow link to another of her cases/something personal she is going through at the time. In a way it works well because it gives you two stories, the foreground one and the background one, and the two can feed off one another.

My copy had the opening for the next book in the series at the back which I’m eagerly waiting to read, it feels like I’m rediscovering Kathy Reichs all over again now. That’s the problem with books like these, once you’ve read them and you know who did it you don’t get quite the same satisfaction from revisiting them. Thank goodness there’s still a handful that I’m yet to read!

Harry has lived in Texas since dropping out of high school her senior year. Long story. Short marriage. Her concept of phone etiquette goes something like this. I’m up. I want to talk. Dial.
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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Book 48 of 2012: The Fall

I was attracted to the description of The Fall by David L. Dawson because it sounded like something I would pick up and read myself anyway. Set in a post-apocalyptic future and aimed at young adults, The Fall tells the story of Ben, a young man who has just returned home after his ‘Journey’, a sort of coming-of-age ritual which signifies a youngster becoming an adult member of the community. His home is the shell of a shopping centre complex, of which his father presides over as Mayor; the outside world is dangerous, home to a hybrid breed of creatures known as ‘Felum’ (a sort of human-feline cross) but also to the cause of the world’s destruction.

Years before the story starts, Gods come to Earth, they engage with battle with each other, not caring for the homes and people who get in their way and cause untold amounts of destruction. While most people are scared of the Gods, fearing the death and destruction that they inevitably bring, there is a group called the Order of Power who worship the Gods. This would probably be okay if they kept themselves to themselves, but instead they capture non-believers and reprogramme them to make them members of the Order too. Suffice to say, the world is really not a safe place.

Ben role on returning from his journey is set to get married, settle down and start a family and learn the Mayoral ropes from his father, as the only surviving son, that’s his destiny. Unfortunately, Ben’s trying to work out exactly who he is and what it is he wants from life, having quite enjoyed the freedom his Journey gave him. That and the fact that several members of his family appear to be involved in a secret which it’s going to be Ben’s job to uncover.

I really liked the premise of this book and Dawson does a brilliant job of setting up the world. It’s set in the UK, so there are place names which are immediately recognisable as well as little nods to the past, such as the ‘Marks and Spencer’ sign that hangs above Ben’s home. You get these little glimpses of worn out world which has been forced to move on and adapt to a new way of life.

The social structure is different to our world at the moment. Once a child has returned from their Journey, they are viewed as an adult and move into their own place. They take on adult responsibilities and are expected to start considering who they will marry, all of which takes place at a much younger age than would be expected. There’s no issue with homosexuality either, two women happily discuss whether their child will be a boy or a girl; Ben’s best friend has two fathers. I liked that part of the plot involves Ben struggling with his sexuality, and then struggling with the fact that the person he likes doesn’t share his feelings. It’s a nice touch.

It reminds me in some ways of the sort of story my brother used to write, he could come up with some brilliant sci-fic or fantasy stories and something about this reminded me of what he’d let me read. I imagine it would have appealed to him a few years ago when he was in his mid-teens. It’s not a long book either, a nice quick read which I think would go down well with most teenagers.

Although I really enjoyed the story itself, the formatting left a lot to be desired. I’ve commented before on the fact that I like my ebooks to resemble real books, this one felt like something that would be read online. Rather than book formatting it has what I think of as ‘internet formatting’ the sort of thing you see here on this blog; double-line spaces between paragraphs and no indentation at the start of a new paragraph. Chapters also started right there in the middle of the page and only Chapter 24 was set up as a selectable chapter in my Kindle ‘Go To’ menu option, so the only way you could get to a page was to find it via location number. Occasionally you’d also get a break in the middle of a line, particularly confusing during speech because I found myself wondering if this was a new speaker and the line was missing its punctuation, or if this was a continuation of the previous speaker.

I suspect that something a bit hinky happened during the formatting process when whatever needs to be done to a text to make it an ebook was done. There was something very odd going on with the punctuation in this book. Almost every full stop was double, as in ‘. .’ At first I thought it was done for effect, the story is told from Ben’s point of view, so I assumed that these were Ben’s thoughts coming slowly. But that’s obviously not the case, occasionally you’d get one at the end of a sentence and then its twin would be away on the next line, it was very random. I found myself more or less able to tune it out as I went along but it was very distracting and I was tempted to put it down and read something else when I realised what was going on.

It could also do with a good proof-read. As I read, I made notes on the little things that were jumping out at me as being incorrect or not sounding quite right. By the end I had made twenty-one notes and partway through I’d reined myself in and only allowed myself to comment on the things that really got to me. There were lots of missing words, poorly punctuated sentences and quite a few random tense changes which you would expect to have been picked up on before distribution.

This book is the first in the God Slayer’s trilogy and there is an excerpt from the beginning of the second instalment at the end of The Fall. Honestly, if it was as badly formatted as this book, I probably wouldn’t pick it up. I got my copy of The Fall for free and I would have been disappointed if I’d paid for it. That said, I do love the idea of the story and I would be curious to see where the next books take Ben, I just hope that he meets an editor along the way.

"The banner over my own home inside the House is the only one left that is legible, it reads "Marks and Spencer" It had sold various items of clothing and other odds and ends. ."Location 378

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Book 47 of 2012: Thud!

I originally intended to read Thud! quite some time ago. I got my hands on a copy not long after reading Going Postal and being on a bit of a Pratchett-kick, thought I’d give it ago. Then something else came up… considering the time when it was published I’m fairly certain that something was the Kathy Reichs books which devoured as quickly as I could get my hands on. Thud! sat on my bedside table for a while, then was moved to a different pile of books, which was in turn moved until it surfaced when I was tidying my room and I handed it off to another family member to read.

Until now!

I honestly knew nothing about this book before starting it. I love looking at the covers of Terry Pratchett books and trying to work out what’s going to happen inside. I knew that the game Thud had been mentioned by Vetinari in Going Postal so I guessed from the title and the picture of a giant Thud board on the front that this was going to place a significant part (I’m so good at deducing things, I could probably be in the Watch!) but aside from that, I had little to go on. The blurb told me that it involved Sam Vimes, the on going feud between the dwarfs and the trolls, and a book called Where’s My Cow? all sounded good to me.

I realise I say this every time the subject of Discworld novels comes up, but I’m a) getting low on new Discworld material, and b) now reading Discworld books I’ve never read before. All of the books I have left to read (all, what? six of them) are brand new to me. I might have heard odd things about them, but I will never have read them myself before. It’s kind of thrilling. I feel as though I should be savouring them but I couldn’t help but tear through this one in three days and I suspect that this is going to be the case for the others as well (though the fact that I was using Thud! to avoid actually finishing off my EMA may also have been part of the reason).
*Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off an slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks round, the whole board couldn’t been a republic in a dozen moves.
Page 86

The Watch books are among my favourite of the series (there are quite a few of them now as well). I love how the character of Sam Vimes has developed. In the course of the books we’ve seen him go from a beaten down alcoholic, to a married man (and Duke to boot) who turns the Watch around and says pretty much what he likes to Vetinari with relatively painless results, and now who has a young son; Young Sam. I love the contrast between Vimes at work and Vimes with his son.

‘I suspect I shall feel the same when when I go out there with a megaphone and should, “Hello boys, welcome to the replay of Koom Valley! Hey, let’s hold it right here in the city!”’
‘I don’t think your should actually put it like that, sir,’ said Carrot.

Page 170

Of course, a large part of Vimes’ relationship with his son revolves around the reading of a particular picture book every evening at six o’clock. The book in question is called Where’s My Cow? and features a farmer looking for his cow but finding virtually every animal but. I do remember being in Greenock and almost buying myself a copy of Where’s My Cow? but deciding against it, now I’m regretting that decision and I think I’ll have to look up a copy from somewhere, just to complete the collection you understand.

I’ve also reworked the story of Where’s My Cow? into a version for Tara regarding our van. Tara loves travelling by car (even if she has decided that she likes eating bits of the car interior just recently) but she likes the van more, and will happily try and get into any vehicle she’s given half a chance. Whereas Where’s My Cow? goes ‘Where’s my cow? Is that my cow? It goes ‘baa’. That’s not my cow. It’s a sheep!’ my version goes along the lines of ‘Where’s my van? Is that my van? It has no roof. That’s not my van. It’s a pickup truck!’ Tara doesn’t seem to appreciate it very much, but it keeps me amused.

And back to Thud!

“‘By the way, how did it go in Turn Again Lane?’ he said, stretching and breathing deeply.
‘Oh wonnerful, sir,’ said Detritus happily. ‘Six alchemists an’ fifty pound o’ fresh Slide. In an’ out, quick an’ sweet, all banged up in the Tanty.’
‘Didn’t know what’d hit ’em, eh?’ said Vimes.
Detritus looked mildly offended at this. ‘Oh no, sir,’ he said, ‘I made sure they knew I hit ’em.’

Page 198

During my review of Cross Bones, I pointed out the connection to The Da Vinci Code (in terms of the whole did Jesus have kids? What happened to his family? thing) which I suspected what trying to cash in on the succession that Dan Brown’s book had generated. Well not even Terry Pratchett can resist joining in the fun, Discworld has it’s own mystery involving The Koom Valley Codex with a painting of the battle of Koom Valley which the painter supposedly hit a clue to the mystery in. Koom Valley, I should note, occurred hundreds of years before, involved the trolls and the dwarfs one of which ambushed the others and which is the cause of a great deal of racial tension in modern day Ankh-Morpork. The painting is by Methodia Rascal who believed that he was either turning into a chicken or being followed by one and who did in fact make a discovery which Vimes finds himself trying to unravel.

That’s what I love about Pratchett’s Discworld books, they’re so clever and convoluted and they parallel the real world so well. I love the little jokes; both the ones which are tied in to the series and the ones which link to our world, especially the latter because I like it when I get them, hehe. Despite being smelly and dangerous, I would love to visit the Disc, although then I wouldn’t get to see the footnotes.

‘Oh, shoes,’ said Cheery. ‘I can talk about shoes. Has anyone seen the new Yan Rockhammer solid copper slingbacks?’
‘Er, we don’t go to a metalworker for our footwear, dear,’ said Sally.

Page 331

What’s a little bit unusual about this copy of Thud! is that it has a preview of the first chapter of Wintersmith, the next Discworld book in the series at the end. Wintersmith is one of the young adult Discworld novels featuring Tiffany Aching (who I’ve not seen since A Hat Full of Sky) and it’s enough of a teaser to make me want to pick it up right now… I’m resisting temptation though, between Thud! and Wintersmith I’ve got Bones To Ashes, Mockingjay and three ebooks to read (and review). Better get started there quickly then…
… YOU SEE, YOU ARE HAVING A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE, WHICH INESCAPABLY MEANS THAT I MUST UNDERGO A NEAR VIMES EXPERIENCE. DON’T MIND ME. CARRY ON WITH WHATEVER YOU WERE DOING. I HAVE A BOOK.
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