Thursday, 31 May 2012

Book 37 of 2012: The Hunger Games

I've heard a lot about Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, all very good, but I have a tendency to avoid really popular books until some of the interest has died down. This often backfires on me (see Harry Potter which I didn't read until long after the first book had come out) so as a result of previous experience, and because I saw the books in The Book People catalogue for £4.99, I decided to give it a shot.

The Hunger Games is set in the future, in what we know now as America, where there are many Districts who each year must send 'Tributes' to a fight to the death. The survivors win status and prizes for their Districts, the losers are killed by the other teenagers. It's brutal and violent and designed to help to keep the Districts from rising up and attempting a revolution (which had happened in the past, leading to the destruction of one of the Districts).

If you're unlike me, you probably already know a fair bit about this story. Katniss's younger sister, Prim, is chosen as a Tribute but Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and Peeta Mellark are given celebrity status before being thrown into the arena where they are expected to fight for their lives alongside, and against, other teenagers.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this. Friends with similar tastes in books to me have raved about it, or at least mentioned how quickly they got through it because they didn't want to put it down. I was fairly certain that I would enjoy it but I wasn't entirely sure what it would be about, aside from the things I'd heard about it with the film coming out. As I started reading it I remember thinking 'I'm not sure if this is going to be my sort of thing' and then very quickly finding myself on page 60.

I was slightly disappointed to have heard some things both about the film and also from bloggers who were big fans of the books, which meant that I was expecting certain things to happen. I imagine if I was reading it without the knowledge of the spoilers then they would have come as a huge shock. Since then I've tried to avoid reading about the next two books (or anything to do with the films) in preparation for actually reading them myself. I suspect that I've been spoiled for a couple of things but hopefully there will be more surprises than when I was reading The Hunger Games.

I did find it a very quick read. I started it on the day before my birthday, in the morning before work and by the time I left the house I was up to page 60. I finished it on my birthday. There was a fair amount of picking up and putting down because of work, being out of the house for my birthday picnic and the like. I imagine if I'd had a toally free day, like a Saturday, I could have read it all in one sitting.

It was very brutal, lots of violence, blood and gore, it was shocking, but that was the whole point. I can see how it would appeal to teenagers with the romance aspect but it's written well enough to appeal to adults as well. It's clear that Collins has put a lot of thought into the world that she has created. Whenever I found myself thinking but why? it would be explained in one way or another. And it makes sense too, to a point. I mean, the idea of the Games is totally pointless, but it still makes sense, kinda. In a way it made me think of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, definitely one I'm thinking of revisiting after I've finished this series.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the next books, though I did have my doubts while I was reading The Hunger Games because I really couldn't think what would happen after the Games finished. Clearly I needn't have worried, they've obviously proved popular so I'm curious to see what's coming next. I'd also really like to see the films, though I'm happy to wait until they're out on DVD. I'm curious to see whether it's the way I've imagined it, as well as how they work out certain bits of the book.

So this is definitely one bandwagon that I've decided to jump onboard.
"Something catches my eye. There, resting on a mound of blanket rolls, is a silver sheath of arrows and a bow, already strung, just waiting to be engaged. That's mine, I think. It's meant for me."
Page 180

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book 36 of 2012: Cross Bones

Cross Bones is the eighth book in Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan series. It's a bit of a departure from the normal Temperance Brennan fare with the case starting in Montreal but quickly moving on to play out most of the story in Israel; after a Jewish man is found murdered and Tempe comes into possession of a photo of a mysterious skeleton from a tomb in Israel, when the skeleton surfaces in Canada, Tempe gets to take it home.
I had actually read this on before, though all I could actually remember of it was Tempe in a cave being attacked by a wild animal. I'd gotten that scene confused with an earlier book and so I was pleased when it showed up in this one because it meant that I hadn't made it up! Once again, not remembering what happens in the book was an advantage; I really struggle to reread books like this where I know who did it so not knowing spurs me on to read more.

I kind of get the feeling that this story was playing off the success of The Da Vinci Code, coming out just a year after The Da Vinci Code and featuring a plot involving Jesus and his family. It seems as though it was trying to find a way to bring Tempe into the conspiracy theory web, but it's a little disappointing if that sort of book isn't your thing and you're just wanting to read about Tempe helping to solve crimes.

Personally, I'm one of those people who would rather read about Tempe's crimes solving in Montreal and South Carolina. I realise that the character's background is in archaeology but I wish there could have been a better way to bring that in, rather than sending her off to Israel chasing after a couple of skeletons. There was an awful lot of travelling around without very much actually happening.

I did enjoy reading how it all came to be written, inspired by a friend of Reichs who was writing a book of his own. Though I kind of got the impression that it was as much a promotion of this other writer's book as it was a story for the character of Temperance Brennan. I do wonder if perhaps it wouldn't have been better as a non-Tempe Brennan book, perhaps with a different character so that Andrew Ryan didn't have to be brought into it, maybe it would have been a little more compelling.

As it was, I found it a little confusing in places, tricky to follow. But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did, it was an okay book, but I can see why I didn't remember much of it. Unfortunately, according to the reviews on Amazon, quite a few people share my views.
"My gaze drifted to the window. I felt anxious and restless, and didn't know why.
Ryan stroked my cheek. "Nothing's going to change overnight, Tempe."
Ryan was dead wrong."Page 191

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Project 365+1: Days 141 - 147

Very nearly didn't get around to doing this today. Kept on putting it off and putting it off and spending more and more time wrestling with O2 and their Live Chat because we want to get contract phones but they seem to expect us to pay a £600 deposit for them so not getting very far.

Anyway, onto the photos...
Day 141: Chocolate and Biscuits
This is what our kitchen looks like on an evening now. When we get into bed we snuggle up with a good book and a fancy chockity bikkit. Actually, one night we did actually have strawberries and cream in bed instead of the chocolate option and it felt really weird. It's a good end to the day and we're slowly sampling every different type of chocolate biscuit available, I think.

Day 142: Dead Zen
The ongoing saga of whether or not my Zen is working continued this week. Tara and I were out for our regular walk, listening to my Zen on random, when I decided to check who was singing that particular version of the song I was listening to. I unlocked the Zen, but the screen stayed blank. Turned it on and off, still blank. Got home convinced it had died. Plugged it into the mains and after jamming a bit of pencil in the reset switch, got it working again.

So right now, Zen appears to be working again. I'm back to listening to my music in alphabetical order (slowly working through the Bs now). Of course, we're hoping to get contract smart phones in the coming weeks, so I can almost guarantee that it'll start playing up again once I've forked out money for that!

Day 143: Colours of the Wind
We've had lovely weather here this week. Truly summery, which has meant some lovely sunrises and sunsets (if you're able to stand the heat). I've managed to catch the sun several times at work, and it's been perfect for walking Tara. Even when it's been cloudy, it's been fantastic, as can be seen in the picture above.

Day 144: Catching Fire
Review will be forthcoming just as soon as I get my EMA done for my assignment and get caught up with all my book reviews (I'm only one month behind!), but this week also saw me reading the next installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. I did enjoy it, even if it did mean staying up far too late one night and feeling like a bit of a zombie the following morning. I'm quite looking forward to reading the last one now (and not only because that'll be another slot of my bookcase that I can use for more books).

Day 145: May 24th
I really can't believe that I've managed to make it this far through with this project. I was sure that I'd burn out somewhere around February or March, because that's where it's happened in the past. But I'm still going strong. Even if some of my pictures are decidedly uninteresting, like the next couple...
Day 146: Tales of the Unexpected
This is our current viewing choice at the moment. We're almost finished with the first of 19 discs, so it should keep us going for a while. I actually read the collection of short storied a couple of years back and have been wanting to watch Tales of the Unexpected since then. When Mr. Click and I first started going out we watched this series called Thriller, which was awful, Tales of the Unexpected is like a better version of that. I'm looking forward to seeing ones which I've not already read, so that I get the full benefit of whatever twist comes at the end.
Day 147: Reluctant Model
And yesterday I was working, then going to a little party afterwards so I knew that I wouldn't get much of chance for taking a picture. Tara was being all cute and sitting in the kitchen so I figured that I'd get a photo without too much trouble. Think again. She was most put out that I was asking her to sit while I was snapping away at her. She kept wandering off and finding other things to do. In the end I had to make do with this one, and doesn't she look sulky!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

All Spooked Out

A few years ago Mr. Click and I got it into our heads that we wanted to watch Spooks. Understanding it was one of those TV series that would probably be best having seen it from the very beginning. We got the first three series quite quickly and started watching...
And then kind of ran out of steam. At the time we had Sky TV as well as a routine where we'd watch one TV series on DVD one evening, another one another evening and so on. This was a good idea in practice, it was the kind of thing we did when we were going out, but it wasn't particularly practical later on when we had drama group things on almost every evening.

But having watched all of Downton Abbey on DVD and Waking The Dead, we decided that it was time to give Spooks another go. And this time we managed it, albeit with a couple of sizeable gaps in our viewing schedule; at Christmas we took a break for our Christmas film marathon, and then we had a little break waiting until we had a chance to get series 10 on DVD.

It's weird to think that we've watched the whole series now, the bonus of it having completely finished shortly after we decided to watch it all from the beginning was that we knew there wouldn't be any new episodes coming out; we wouldn't constantly be playing catch-up. The downside is that it was very, very easy to get spoiled for upcoming storylines. The number of times I looked up a series online to check which episode we were up to and saw some comment about something that was still to come, or spoke to someone at work who accidentally let slip that someone was going to die later in that series!

For the most part, I enjoyed the earlier series most of all. It was something sort of new and original and I liked the three original characters, I was a little worried when I realised that they were all being replaced that the dynamic of the show would change. But it didn't really and I came to like the new characters as they were introduced, we learned more about them, and then I felt annoyed when they were inevitably killed off.

I suppose that's one way in which Spooks was pretty unique, they really didn't care about killing off their characters. I'm used to series like E.R. where people get on trains and then come back six series later, or Silent Witness where someone is horribly murdered only to find out later that it wasn't who you thought it was. I'm not used to getting attached to characters and then having them disappear completely; at least when someone just leaves a series you can speculate on what might happen if they come back, rather than having to completely rewrite the universe to bring them back because they've been killed off!

I kind of held off purchasing series 10 on DVD, mainly because it was SO expensive. At the time when I realised we were getting close I was considering buying both nine and ten at the same time (as I had done with a couple of earlier series) but having just finished on BBC it was coming in at somewhere around the £25 mark. When you compare that to Game of Thrones which had just come out at the same time, on blu-ray, a ten episode series with numerous commentaries and special features you were only looking at £10 more. The final series of Spooks is six episodes long and only has the bare minimum of special features.

I finally caved in and bought it when around £10 had been shaved off the price because I realised that if I didn't buy it then, we'd move on to watching something else and it would be all too easy to forget to pick it back up again later. By the time we got to watch it, I'd lost track of how many episodes there were in total and so I was very surprised when I realised we were on to the last episode.

We don't normally watch TV series at the weekend... we did with Downton Abbey because we got really into it and marathoned it because we couldn't wait until the next day to watch the next episode. But generally TV series are an evening thing, while we're having our tea. Knowing we only had one more episode to watch though, we decided to go for it and watch it. I won't spoil it for anyone who, like us is a little behind the times, but you might want to have a hanky to hand.
So what're we on to next?

Well about a year ago we got some belated wedding gift money which we put towards Beauty and the Beast on blu-ray (as you do) and Tales of the Unexpected on DVD. I'd read the book as part of a Short Story Book Tree and then spotted the series in HMV. Mr. Click remembered the series and as the book appealled to me, we decided to get the series as well.

We've watched a few episodes a while back, but again, other things (like life) got in the way but now we're ready to begin again. I'm thinking it shouldn't take too long to get through them all. It's a nice convenient half hour long programme so we might be able to squeeze two in (or if we're short on time, just the one). Then there's All Creatures Great And Small, a DVD series Mr. Click got for me for Christmas a couple of years ago and which, once again, we'd gotten about halfway through before having to grind to a halt.

Looking forward we've also got Band of Brothers on blu-ray, which we bought when we got married with some Amazon vouchers and I'm determined to get the rest of E.R. on DVD so we can watch all of that as well (we've started watching it together at least twice).

When we moved in we said that we'd maybe get Sky at some point in the future (Freeview doesn't work particularly well where we live), but that we'd get caught up on some of the series we had on DVD first... perhaps see about getting Sky in once we've been here a year... Well, it's almost been a year and now we're saying, perhaps see about getting Sky next year, maybe once we've finished getting caught up on these TV series we have on DVD...

Of course, I'm planning on ordering Game of Thrones on blu-ray at some point...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Book 35 of 2012: Bad Blood

Bad Blood by Lorna Sage was the penultimate book in the Stranger Than Fiction… set that I’ve been working my way through since the end of last year. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from it as the blurb on the back didn’t give me much to go on. Now I can kind of see why the blurb was a bit vague, it’s a bit of a tricky book to explain. It’s a book about Sage’s grandparents and parents, which sort of explains how they influenced her and how she became the person she was… or something like that.
Considering I wasn’t sure what to expect from it and I didn’t know what it was actually about, I found myself really enjoying it. In some ways it reminded me of Cider With Rosie, though I couldn’t say exactly what it was that did, except perhaps the fact that it was largely an account of a rural childhood and so I found myself drawing parallels with that.

I really liked the inclusion of the photographs. There’s something nice about seeing photos or pictures of the people that are being described in a book like this. You don’t expect it in a fiction book because the very nature means you’ve got to conjure the picture yourself, and personally, I quite like being able to come up with my own mental images without being influenced by anyone else’s interpretation. But with non-fiction books I like to see who it is I’m reading about. Plus there’s something about family photos, everyone seems to have similar photos; the perky primary school snapshot, the family in the garden, the wedding photos.

By the time that the book came to a close, I’d really gotten into the story of Sage’s life. It goes on to describe her pregnancy and daughter, which I really wasn’t expecting from the beginning of the book, but then it sort of ends just when it’s really getting interesting. I would have liked to have known more about her later life, about university and about her relationship with her daughter’s father.

I do like reading biographies, there’s something fascinating about peeking into someone else’s life and learning about what their life was like. It’s really interesting to see how different, or similar, your own life is. I suppose it’s a little voyeuristic too, getting a glimpse into the world of someone else. That said, this probably wouldn’t have been one I would have picked up for myself, especially based on the blurb alone, but I’m glad that I’ve read it now.
We’d been taught in Miss Myra’s class to do addition and subtraction by imagining more cabbages and fewer cabbages. Every time I did mental arithmetic I was juggling ghostly vegetables in my head. And when I tried to think of minus one I was trying to imagine an anti-cabbage, and anti-matter cabbage, which was as hard as conceiving of an alternative universe.
Page 30

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Book 34 of 2012: A Hat Full Of Sky

I’d almost gotten caught up on the reviews for the books I’d read so far this year, and then one way or another I’ve ended up a month behind again. A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett, was my 34th book this year; this one is the second in the Tiffany Aching series within the Discworld books. Having rescued her brother from the Fairy Queen, Tiffany is now ready to go off and train to be a witch, unfortunately something is roaming the land and Tiffany Aching proves to be a useful host; it’s up to the Wee Free Men and Granny Weatherwax have to bring her back to herself.

It took me a long time to read this for several reasons. Firstly, I realise that the copy I was reading was a signed first edition and so I instantly became paranoid that I was going to damage or spoil it somehow. I avoided taking it to work to read in my breaks and just read it at home (note to self: make sure you pick up a cheap paperback copy for next time you want to read it). I also started reading it on the day that we picked up Tara so the five days I spent reading it were also being spent getting to know our new pet; being woken up in the early hours of the morning by a puppy wanting to use the bathroom isn’t really conducive to late nights spent reading.

Perhaps for this reason I found it harder to get through than I’d expected. Obviously, there was a lot of stopping and starting. In one way, that’s why I’m glad to have my Kindle now. I have some lovely books that are just to inconvenient for reading out of the house; numerous copies of Lord of the Rings, the Clan of the Cave Bear books (yeah, yeah, I know after the first one they do rather go downhill) which I inherited from my Grampy, The Complete Illustrated Works of Lewis Carroll. There’s no way I’d get rid of the books, but having them in electronic format makes them so much more portable.

I really don’t like having to stop and start when I’m reading. It’s the reason for countless late nights, large attractive bags under my eyes, and probably my ridiculously pale skin (which has led to me being cast as a ghost in no less than three separate productions). When I start a book, especially if it’s one that I really get into, I want to keep reading it without stopping. If I have to keep picking it up and putting it down, I find myself getting frustrated and start struggling to follow the story. It’s especially frustrating if it’s a short book which shouldn’t take me more than a few days to read. Anyway, back to my thoughts on A Hat Full Of Sky

It reminded me a bit of Equal Rites, because Granny Weatherwax plays a bigger part here. She’s typical Granny Weatherwax, sending Tiffany off to learn how to be a witch with a woman who has two bodies. It’s wonderfully twisted and weird, just as you’d expect from the Discworld.

However, I didn’t quite like this one as much as The Wee Free Men. The story was good, but I would have liked to have seen more of the Wee Free Men. One of the things I loved about The Wee Free Men was their interaction with Tiffany, but Tiffany and the Clan’s stories ran more parallel to each other in this book. But I’m still looking forward to the next of the books in this arc, one of which, I Shall Wear Midnight, I actually managed to pick up a copy in a charity shop in Dunoon the same day that I started A Hat Full Of Sky. I have a funny feeling I’ll enjoy that one a bit more, Tara is settled in now and I’m not going to be quite so worried about damaging this copy.
IS THIS YOURS? Death asked Tiffany. The voice was heavy and all around her, like thunder.
‘No. Er… he’s his.’
Page 309

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Project 365+1: Days 134 - 140

For some reason my last book review post didn't post, it set itself as a draft but was still showing as scheduled. Weird, oh well, it's up now, and I'm getting this week's batch of photos organised.
Day 134: Rearranged
Last week I rearranged the bookcase. I only actually removed around twelve books, but somehow that made space for all those other ones which were lying on their sides on top of other books. This perhaps helps to illustrate my obsessive reading schedule (which with the introduction of a Kindle to my reading stocks has only made things more obsessive).

The top row and a half are all Terry Pratchett books, I've actually completed that top row and I've only got a handful of Discworld books left to read now. At the end of that are some random other books that I've got to read, starting with Dubliners which is a set text in my next course (previously this slot was taken up by my Stranger Than Fiction... set). Third row is crime (plus one romance book leant to me by my mum-in-law). I'm over halfway through the Kathy Reichs section just now. Beneath that are various Tolkien books (just a fraction of my collection), I will reread The Lord of the Rings this year, but right now I'm working on the Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. I've also got four of Mr. Click's books on this shelf (which I'll read before him if he doesn't get to them first), they're all various charity shop finds, short story collections.

And the row you can just make out, that's Mr. Click's row. He's now got his Colin Dexter set which he's loving, judging by the way he's whizzing through the first of the books. And not pictured is the very bottom row, which I've not rearranged at all (though sooner or later, when I rearrange the boxes upstairs, I may get around to it).

Day 135: Dr Seward's Diary
On Saturday I started reading Dracula in ebook format, obviously, I'll post a review of that later, but I was impressed enough to take a photo of it while I read. I'm just slightly in love with my Kindle, it's wonderfully lightweight for my work bag, the screen is crystal clear and everything can be done with touch.

I'm actually using Dracula for my final assignment for my course, which is another bonus for the Kindle. I can really easily search through the book for particular passages which has been invaluable for selecting the bit of text I want to use. Of course, I'm still referring to the actual book for the purposes of the assignment (mainly because I'm not entirely sure how one would go about referencing an ebook like this) but it's made it easier to narrow down exactly which bit of the book I need to be looking at.

Day 136: Bedtime
This was not the picture I had been hoping for, I'd actually taken dozens of photos of Tara happily gnawing her way through a Dentastix chew hoping that one of them would come out (though it was unlikely considering the fact I was kneeling in the corner of the room, with the camera perched on my knee unable to check the focus of anything). There were a couple that were halfway decent, but none of them was the perfect photo.

Tara likes routine, which suits me just fine as well. On an evening we get in, have tea, take her for a walk, maybe watch a bit of something on TV, then she gets her last walk of the day, we shower, have hot chocolate in bed and Tara cleans her teeth. After that she'll happily flop down at the end of the bed (or more recently, on John's jumper at his side of the bed) and snore contentedly while we read. The one or the other of us has to wake her up to take her out for her last 'trip round the garden' before we turn the lights out and either set the alarm, or remind Tara to wake us up in the morning (seriously, who needs an alarm clock when you've got a big black labrador who can tell you precisely when it's 6am?!)

Day 137 - Four Stars
When I hit the end of Dracula, I was thoroughly surprised when I was asked to rate my book. I already use the same system of stars in my book journal, so this helped tie it together nicely (though I use half stars as on option in my own journal, something which I can't use here). If I'm reading out of the house (i.e. somewhere with a wi-fi connection) then I can also share my reading habits.

I really like that little interactive aspect of reading with the Kindle. I never used to write in books until I became involved with the Book Trees, now it feels totally natural, and there are times when I'll be reading something and I really want to highlight something so that the next person to pick up the book will be able to see what I was thinking while I was reading it (even if that next person is just going to be me in a few years time). But there's something wrong about writing in some books, so I generally control myself. At least with this, I can happily tap away and leave a little note to myself to consult when I go on to write my review, or I can share information about how far through the story I am. This makes me geekily happy.

Day 138: Irises
Mr. Click went off shopping to restock our cupboards and came back with two of my favourite things: flowers and chocolates. So far I've only eaten one of the chocolates (lovely choc-a-bloc things), but after leaving the flowers in a washing up bowl full of water overnight I got them straight in a vase.

There were only one or two flowers open when he got them for me, but over the course of the week all of the buds have been opening out. They look beautiful. Yesterday, when I spent the better part of the day reading or watching TV, I watched the shadow cast from them move around the room; first on the wall opposite my chair and then gradully heading up the stairs as the sun moved over.

Day 139: Bedside Table
And so this is what my bedside table looks like right now (except I've since finished Break No Bones and am back on just the Kindle, though I'm gearing up to read the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire). Here we have; Tiffany style butterfly lamp (which casts a lovely coloured glow over the room), my moneybox and a bag of 2ps which I'm never going to get around to taking into the bank (also a bag contain aniseed balls which I save for while I'm sitting on the bed working on my OU), pills (woo hoo!), the very edge of the alarm clock, my phone, assorted pens and pencils (and also my birthday clip book lamp), and then my notebook, book journal, Kindle and the current reading material. This is relatively tidy for me!

Day 140: Golden Ticket
Saturday, I finally cracked out one of my Christmas presents. A Wonka bar that Mr. Click had found for my stocking (complete with golden ticket), considering our film choice for the day, it seemed somewhat fitting. It tasted very good and I only spent half the day singing Oompa-Loompa songs.

So plans for this coming week, work as usual (though looking forward to the next few weeks coming after that when I've got quite a bit of holiday coming up - thank you Bank Holiday weekend!) Not to mention plans with friends and three free ebooks to read and review. Oh, and I'm trying to get caught up on my book reviews, finish my final assignment and start looking at registering for my next one! Busy busy!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Book 33 of 2012: Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops

I've been really looking forward to this write-up. I've been anticipating this book since last year when my friend first announced that she was getting a book published. That friend is the wonderful Jen, champion of books on HTV (a forum I frequent).

Firstly, I have to say, it's very very cool to have a book which is written by someone I know. I have a book somewhere which was written by a family friend, my Grampy had a book published, I've met authors and have a little collection of signed books, but somehow this one is different. I've been bragging about it to all my friends at work, I just can't help myself. I know it's something that Jen's worked so hard for that I can't help but feel really proud of her.

Anyone who has worked with the public will be able to tell you that people ask some really bizarre questions and can come out with all sorts of crazy things. As Jen as discovered, bookshops seem to attract an awful lot of weird! This book is a collection of some of the really strange things people have come out with in not only the bookshops that Jen has worked in, but shops from all over the world. No matter what your background, you can't help but nod along as you find odd little similarities between your own experiences... and perhaps a few embarrassing moments when you realise that you might have been that strange customer.

The book has some fantastic illustrations in it. A selection of the quotes are illustrated with cute little pictures. In a way, I kind of wish there were more pictures; there were several quotes which I think would have made some good pictures.

It was a nice quick read. I read it on the Saturday morning before we went off to pick up Tara, it would have been ideal to read at work where I could have picked it up and put it down in my breaks. Some of the quotes were familiar to me, having heard them before, but there were loads which were new as well.

One thing I will definitely say, make sure you've got someone nearby when you're reading it; you just have to share it. Luckily Mr. Click was sitting next to me so I was able to read out some of the quotes to him as I went along. He actually comandeered it when I was finished; this is the man who until very recently only read books with Sherlock Holmes in them! As with me, he couldn't help but pick out favourite bits as he went along.

I'm just disappointed that I wasn't able to make it to any of the events that Jen was at promoting her book. But she'll have other books coming out in the future, so I'll just have to make an extra effort to get to one of those events instead.
"CUSTOMER: Do you have that book - I forget what it's called; it's about people with large, hairy feet.
BOOKSELLER: Do you mean hobbits? The Lord of the Rings?
CUSTOMER: No... erm - The Hairy Bikers."
Page 9

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Book 32 of 2012: Inkdeath

I completed my read of the series of Inkworld books with Inkdeath, the third in the trilogy. This follows on from Inkspell and follows Meggie, Mo, Fenoglio and crew as they try to solve the troubles caused in the previous.
Resa is pregnant, difficult decisions must be made about whether they stay in this other world or go back, Elinor is pining for her family and longs to visit the Inkworld. Mo takes on the persona of the Bluejay and Dustfinger is brought back from the dead, Farid and Meggie have relationship issues and a new character is introduced.

I realise I'm skimming somewhat on the story, but I honestly can't remember that much of the details, it just wasn't that memorable a book. It was very much along the same lines of Inkspell which just seemed to go on and on without actually advancing the plot particularly. Considering the fact that it was only about three weeks ago when I read it (from the time when I actually wrote this review), I don't really remember that much of it.

I spent a good chunk of the story just feeling really annoyed with Fenoglio and Meggie for meddling so much. I think that was the main thing I took issue with, both with Inkdeath and Inkspell, the characters started interfering with something they should have left well enough alone. Unfortunately it made me kind of feel that way towards the books themselves; Inkheart was a wonderful, magical book, it was certainly open for sequels, but it didn't really need to be fiddled with, it was perfect without them.

Another aspect that I didn't like was the introduction of the shape-changing. If it had been mentioned in the past two books I might have felt a little happier about it being brought in, but because it suddenly appeared in this book, it just felt contrived. It was a very convenient way to get the characters where they needed to be, to keep them hidden, to keep other characters from realising who they were.

That said, I don't think I've mentioned one of my favourite things in the series before; the illustrations. Cornelia Funke did the illustrations in the book herself, which is pretty impressive. They are truly beautiful and fit in with the tone of the story perfectly. I think I was aware that she had done the chapter heading illustrations in The Thief Lord so I'm not sure why it surprised me that she had drawn these ones. I like it because you know you're seeing pictures which detail things in exactly the same way that the author herself pictured them.

This book began with a note explaining that Funke's husband had become seriously ill and died during the writing of Inkdeath which may have influenced it's darker tone. The darker tone might have worked well, but the characters annoyed me so much during this one that I don't think I paid it much attention. As much as I loved the whole series, the books themselves are wonderful, the chapter quotes are great and the idea is totally magical, I really don't think the sequels are as good as the original. Despite that, it's not put me off Funke as a writer, I've still picked up a copy of Dragon Rider which is happily housed on my bookshelf waiting for me to get around to reading it.

"Almost five months later a baby will be born at the lonely farm where the Black Prince once hid the Bluejay. It will be a boy, dark-haired like his father, but with his mother's and sister's eyes. He will think that every wood is full of fairies, that a glass man sleeps on every table - so long as there's some parchment on it - that books are written by hand, and the most famous illuminator paints with his left hand because his right hand is made of leather."Page 697

Monday, 14 May 2012

Reading Revolution

So, as I posted earlier in the week, I decided to treat myself to an eReader. I’d considered the various different ones on the market and eventually settled on the Kindle (in part because that was what several people at work had received for Christmas and so I’d seen more Kindles than any other eReader).

I was all set to go for the original one but Mr. Click pointed out that I wouldn’t be paying that much more for the Touch version and it would give me rather more space for reading material. And who was I to argue? I also treated myself to the mains adaptor for it and also to a cheap and cheerful protective book-style case.

I didn’t go for the extra postage fee for quick delivery because I’ve learnt in the past that this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to get to you any quicker. And I suspect I was right there, having ordered it on a Sunday night, the day before a Bank Holiday Monday, I was told it would get to me on the following Saturday. Instead it showed up on the Thursday.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the packaging. It’s all very environmentally friendly. I was a little confused by the massive Amazon style cardboard package it came in, like an oversized DVD packet. But inside was a neat little box which you tore open and there it was nestled inside. Even the polystyrene insert appears to have been recycled. The cable held together by a strip of cardboard, and a couple of little sheets about the set-up and warranty tucked neatly away too.

It came to life as soon as I took it out the box, recommending that I connect it to my computer via the USB. I fiddled with it and discovered the power button on the bottom; in true modern gadget style it doesn’t actually come with any instructions beyond telling you to attach it to the nearest PC with the appropriate cable. It started up wonderfully and immediately brought up the User Guide.

I skimmed through that and very quickly got a feel for it. Having had an iPhone in the past, it’s very easy to get an idea of how to work it. The button on the bottom is the ‘Home’ button, taking you back to main screen where all of your books are listed. To go back or forward you swipe your finger across the screen, alternatively to go back you tap the left edge of the screen. Clicking at the very top of the screen opens your options giving you a menu, search options as well as various other features depending on what it is you’re looking at. I also discovered, quite by accident, that you can adjust the font size by making a ‘pinching’ motion with your thumb and forefinger, just as you would zoom in and out on an iPhone/iPad.

Not having internet access at home, I wasn’t able to register it immediately. So I also couldn’t download any books as I didn’t have any eBooks saved onto my computer. I did however connect it to the computer and transfer my OU course books, assignment guide and EMA guide in PDF format onto it. It seemed far too easy, plug it in, let it install, click and drag the files into the folder on the Kindle. No special software required at all.

I was a little bit surprised at the lack of specific software, I’d been at least expecting something with the user guide actually on the computer rather than just on the device itself. But I suppose that they expect you to have access to the internet where presumably there is a whole lot more information. It’s something I can live with, it’s such a simple thing to use anyway, and the search function is great. When I wanted to check how to transfer PDF documents, I just opened up the guide, ran a search for ‘PDF’ and there it was.

I’ve not had much of a chance to explore it properly yet, but it certainly seems easy on the eyes. Having seriously strained my eyes reading A Christmas Carol on my DS screen, as well as giving myself headaches lying in the dark playing with an iPhone, already I feel like this is gentler for me. I’m looking forward to trying it out over a longer period of time to see how it compares, but I’m already thinking this’ll be so much better for me.

As of Saturday I started reading Dracula on it, which I got as a free download from Amazon; they have loads of ‘classics’ available for free download. I’ve found the dictionary function really invaluable, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I go back to reading a paperback after this and I can’t just press on a word to bring up a dictionary definition, hehe. You can also highlight blocks of text (which is very useful for my book journal quotes, I just highlight any passages that catch my eye and then when I’m ready to copy them in, I just flick through all the highlighted bits and pick the one I like best).

It’s not backlit, which makes it very easy on my eyes. When I was reading with the lamp off, I just had to grab my little book torch and kept going. Having a backlight on it would definitely not help with my eyestrain.

There’s also an amusing little feature which you can turn on with certain books, you can have the book read to you with the ‘text-to-speech’ feature. Reading Dracula I deliberately picked a page with a man speaking in a North Yorkshire dialect, it did a surprisingly good job of it… even if it did sound rather like Stephen Hawking was reading to me!

Right now I’m planning on alternating between reading one book from whichever shelf I’m on and one book on my Kindle. So far I’ve not actually bought any books, all of the ones I’ve downloaded have been free (I have no idea how many I actually got in the end, but there were so many that I had to learn how to set up ‘Collections’ to stop my Home Page from getting too cluttered). Several of the books I’ve downloaded I actually already have in hard copy. Dracula takes the form of a lovely red book which has a slightly battered dustjacket from the last time I read it and which just isn’t practical to carry around; likewise Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which I’ve had for years as part of a Complete Collection of Lewis Carroll with beautiful illustrations but which I can’t fit in a bag to actually read it outside of the house.

I’m really enjoying using it and any doubts I had about it are being quickly dispelled, but I’m glad that I didn’t rush in to buying one and that I took my time to figure out exactly which one would suit me best.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Project 365+1: Days 127 - 133

Last Sunday the weather was lovely and sunny, nice and warm, almost like summer. Today, not so much. No chance of running around the garden with our pup in the hopes of snapping some good photos of Tara, but last week I got loads. It was really tricky choosing which one would be the actual picture of the day, but in the end I settled on this one:
Day 127: Enjoying The Sun
There was another which featured Madam laying on the grass with her eyes closed, sort of sun bathing but I liked her expression in this one more. One day I will write a post with nothing but photos which almost made the Project, so many of Tara would be perfect if she was in focus or hadn't blinked or done something daft which couldn't be captured properly on camera.

Day 128: Overflowing
On Sunday I decided to invest in an eReader, and this is the reason why. This is only a small portion of our collection, the rest are in boxes upstairs. The second shelf up from the bottom is Mr. Click's but since this photo was taken I've finished the Stranger Than Fiction set on the second shelf down and so things have been rearranged slightly; Mr. Click's now got a few inches on the shelf with my Lord of the Rings books.

Day 129: Waiting Patiently
Tara loves Mr. Click. She'll follow him around and gets quite frustrated when she can't go wherever he's gone. On a morning when he goes to get breakfast, she'll lie by the door (which has resulted in some juggling escapades when he can't open the door when his hands are full of bowls and mugs); when he goes to the bathroom, she'll lie outside waiting for him; and when he's cooking tea, she'll lie outside trying to sniff her way under the door. Mr. Click was not moving quick enough for her and she did not appreciate me taking her photo while we were waiting.

Day 130 - Almost Ready
After ordering my Kindle on Sunday, I had to patiently wait for it to actually arrive. Unfortunately its expected delivery date was the 12th of May, the Saturday I was supposed to be off the island for my tutorial. Just to taunt me the case and magentic light thingy that came with it arrived on Wednesday. Tempted as I was to jam a paperback in there and pretend it had already arrived, I controlled myself.

Day 131 - New Toy
Totally not expecting it to arrive until the Saturday when I was off the island, it arrived. I got a message to say that I had a package waiting for me at home. I was ever so slightly tempted to check and see if there were any holiday hours going that afternoon so I could go and play with it, but I controlled myself. Of course, not having internet access at home, there was relatively little I could actually do with it. I did transfer my OU books across onto it and started getting the hang of how to work it, then decided I had better hurry up and finish Seabiscuit so I could make use of my new toy.

Day 132 - Beginning Of The End
Got myself all organised the night before my tutorial and even printed out a copy of my EMA guide. It's quite scary to think that this it pretty much the end of my course, I've just got to get this last essay written and submitted and then that's it for the linguistics strand of the course. This summer I'll be preparing for studying literature and hopefully two years from now I'll be getting ready for my final exam/essay. That's a scary thought!

Day 133 - Everything's Better With Cake
We had E301 themed cake at my tutorial. One of the women, who was also on my last course, is completing her degree with this one so she made cake. It tasted great and looked good too. Having almost completed this course I could say an awful lot about the creative language use on this cake. I won't because it probably won't interest many people unless they are as geekily obsessed with language as I've become.

Unfortunately my last course for my degree will be a children's literature one, and I'm not entirely sure I could make an edible cake as well crafted as this. Might have a go though... maybe some literary-themed jam tarts...

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Come To The Dark Side... We Have eBooks

I got some money for my birthday and so had to make a decision about what I was going to put it towards. At the time I was thinking that perhaps I was going to need to invest in a new mp3 player as my Zen was feeling a little bit under the weather, but once I'd got that up and running again I decided to put investing in new music media devices on hold until something came along that was a bit more suitable (or my Zen totally gives up).

The other options then; clothes or DVDs. I tend to get most of my clothes from charity shops and I tend to just pick up what I fancy as I go along. Generally whenever I go near a charity shop, I'll look out for something I can take away with me. On occasions I've been charity shopping with the intention of buying a bunch of clothes but aside from needing some new jeans and a summer jacket there's nothing I can't wait for.
And DVDs, well, we've been buying DVDs from charity shops just recently (spent a small fortune the other week when I had my hospital appointment, but got some good DVDs out of it). We tend to buy Disney blu-rays and other films as places have them on offer, but there's none at the moment that we really want or need. Though having said that, I have just forked out for series 10 of Spooks so we can finish watching the series and file them away in our cupboard ready to watch Tales of the Unexpected.

So that left books. The problem is, we've only got one bookcase at the moment (Mr. Click is only allowed one shelf because all of my books take up the rest of the space). I'd like to get another one but that would cause a problem with where our Christmas tree would go in December so we've held off until we can get something which would suit better.
In the spare bedroom I have four boxes of books. I had a massive clear out when we moved almost a year ago and only brought about two boxes with me in total, so since then I've acquired quite a few more. There's also a bunch of books which are waiting to be sold or passed on to someone who will love them more than me. I regularly reshuffle my bookcase to make space for the books in the boxes waiting to be read, and to move the books that have been read recently back upstairs.

So I made a spur of the moment decision and decided to go for a Kindle. Now, when I say it's a spur of the moment decision, I've actually been weighing up the pros and cons of getting an eReader since some time around last November. A bunch of people at work got them for Christmas and starting singing their praises, I played with them and told myself I really didn't need one.

I mean, there's nothing quite like a book. The smell of a well loved book, the feel of the paper in your hands, the satisfying thunk when you toss an annoying book across the room (only kidding!) Plus, you can't browse a secondhand bookshop or charity shop and come away with a bunch of bargains on eBook, can you?

Plus I have so many books still to read, there's a teensy little part of me that argues that I should really work through that backlog first, but it's neverending, there's always new books coming out. And I do have a course starting in September which will give me extra books to read (required reading which isn't about linguistics, I'm a little bit excited).

I'd been determined to make use of the library, because who needs an eReader when you can read books for free (or 75p order fee) from the local library. However, it was a little disheartening to go searching for books which are fairly popular only to find that my council area doesn't recognise them or their authors. So I went back to charity shops and secondhand shops, hoping to find copies of the books I was wanting to read.

But then I kind of checked out the books available through Project Gutenberg. I've been trying to read more classics, and I've got a lovely copy of Dracula on my shelf to read which weighs about half a tonne and doesn't actually fit into my work bag... and I spotted it there... plus I realised that I have quite a few books which I might want to pass on to someone else and rebuy in eBook format as and when they're available to save us a little bit of space.

Obviously, I won't be getting rid of all of my books. And it won't be the end of buying books. But it'll be so much more practical for work, for travelling, for taking up space on the bookshelf and bedside table.

Sadly all of the accessories I bought have been arriving this week, but I'm still waiting for my new toy. It should arrive today, but I'm off to Glasgow so won't get a chance to play with it right away. At least it's given me time to finish my proper book-book that I'm reading (Seabiscuit for those who are curious), so I can be all ready for getting on with Dracula once it's arrived.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Book 30 of 2012: Monday Mourning

Another series I’ve been getting through very swiftly has been Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books. The most recent of these that I’ve read being the seventh, Monday Mourning. Despite not remembering so much of the last book I read, I remembered quite a lot of this one; mainly the finding of the women and the fire.

This book begins with three girls bodies being discovered in the basement of a pizza parlour. Claudel believes that they are an archaeological find but Tempe believes otherwise, a mysterious phone call makes her more certain. The investigation goes on to find a man who kidnaps and holds girls captive… except there’s slightly more to it than that.

This one had rather less of an element of suspense to it. As I said, I could remember more of it, especially the ending so I didn’t feel quite the urgency when I was reading it that I’ve had with previous books. It’s for this reason that I’m really looking forward to getting beyond the next book and on to the five or six that I’ve never read. It’s so good reading these books for the first time when you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

I think that the way this one was done was clever, there was a good build-up and as usual there were the classic Reichs cliffhangers. It’s a little bit tiresome having Claudel and Tempe always sniping at each other, especially as the previous books often end with some sort of taciturn understanding being reached between them, only to have it dissolve by the next book. Claudel did seem to be friendly with Tempe by the end of this one, so we’ll have to see how that plays out in future books.

It did also follow the classic formula with three chapters from the end, Tempe winds up in hospital. I remember when I was first reading these books, by the time I got to this point, reading them one after the other, I was getting a bit fed up with this always happening to her. I can see that it is a nice and easy way to wrap up the case and tell the reader the outcome without Tempe having to recount it all. I’m curious to see if this trend will continue with the future books.

One of my favourite things about this series of books is the relationship between Tempe and Andrew Ryan. They’ve got this sort of not-quite-on, not-quite-off thing going on. In this one it’s definitely veering more towards the side of not-quite-on, Ryan spends most of the book being rather distant. I did kind of want to give Tempe a thump and tell her to just ask him outright but it all comes out in the end. I vaguely remember being a bit disappointed by them in the next book, though I don’t remember exactly why. Plus, there’s only so far they can really go with the back and forth stuff, sooner or later they’re either going to have to hook up properly or else move on. I realise these are crime books first and foremost, but Reichs does the slightly mushy romantic stuff pretty well, so I always look forward to it cropping up.

Waking to the Tuesday morning weather report, I knew I was in for killer cold. Not the occasional mid-forties damp with whine about in January in North Carolina, I mean subzero cold. Artic cold. If-I-stop-moving-I’ll-die-and-be-eaten-by-wolves cold.Page 13

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Project 365+1: April

Is it just me or is this year just whizzing by? How can we be into May already?

Anyway, once again, made a little collage of all thirty of April's photos.
Project 365+1: April
As you can see, a certain black labrador is kind of dominating things this month. I'll have to get some photos of my girlie!rats in this coming month!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Project 365+1: Days 119 - 126

Another week, another batch of photos which I've just this minute finished editing ready to post up here... so, without further ado.
Day 119: Party Time
On my birthday we completely forgot to crack out the cake, so we had it for breakfast the next day instead. Figuring that it had made a good breakfast on Saturday, we had it for breakfast again the next day... and the next. I never blew out any candles though, so we've got them stuffed in a drawer ready for the next time we're having a party and need cake.

Day 120: Feeling Zen
Earlier in the week, I plugged myself into my Zen ready to take the dog for a walk, when I noticed something a little odd; rather than showing the track title, album and artist it just said something about selecting music from the music library. Despite the illusion that there was no music on the player, it carried on playing just fine. However, when I plugged it into my computer it couldn't find those tracks in the folder, even though it told me that there were more folders than it was actually showing.

Sunday then became the day of figuring out how to make it work properly (all the while pricing up new mp3 players which weren't produced by Apple). About seven hours later, I had it fixed which is just as well because Creative have dropped out of the market of 30Gb+ size mp3 players and I'm not sure I could live with iTunes on my laptop again.

Day 121: Birthday Wishes
When I got to work on Monday there was a little envelope wedged into my keyboard; a card signed by the rest of my team. One of the women in our team always organises a card and a cake for birthdays. Unfortunately mine was organised for my birthday... which I'd taken off... so the cake was rescheduled for the following week. It was lovely.

Day 122 - Not Quite Six
This was taken as proof for a friend that I did in fact take the dog out for a walk at 5:30 in the morning. I meant to take the photo before we left, but as Tara was getting a little bit desperate I had to settle for leaving it until I got back. But, yup, I do get up insanely early and tire Tara out so that we can eat breakfast in peace. Of course, I needed to be up early anyway for work, this weekend when she started bugging me and I told her to go back to bed, she did, so she's learning.
Day 123 - All Fenced In
We have a garden fence again, and the gate is has something to close against too. It blew away in the bad weather and we've been hoping to get something put up for Tara soon and so it was a pleasant surprise when we came home and found an unexpected fence there. The old one was like the gate, but this one is wire so hopefully won't be as likely to blow away as the last one. It also makes it incredibly difficult to photograph, but presumably I won't be taking too many fence photos in the future so it doesn't really matter.
Day 124 - Linked
Mr. Click picked up a little treat for me in Oxfam. A Links of London necklace (I wouldn't know anything about them if it wasn't a friend who's very up on her jewellery). It's lovely and it matches the top I picked up in Dunoon a few weeks back. It's also reminded me that I really need to get my jewellery all sorted so that I can actually wear it occasionally, especially as I didn't in fact strangle myself with it and my pass at work as I'd predicted.
Day 125 - Shadows
Having been settled on the bed studying for a fair chunk of the evening while Mr. Click took Tara out for her before-bed walk, I noticed that the sun was making pretty pictures on the wall through the window. So the OU was abandoned while I dashed off to grab my camera to try and figure out the best way to catch it.
Day 126: Are We Done Yet?
Yesterday I was determined to get a good photo of Tara, unfortunately I left it a bit late in the day and so was having to use the camera flash (which can make her eyes go funny). I took dozens and dozens of photos, lots of which were blurred or out of focus or didn't actually have a dog in them because she moved just as I pressed the button. Tara found the whole ordeal a little boring, which ironically was the last picture of the set and my favourite!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Book 29 of 2012: In The Heart Of The Sea

My twenty-ninth book of the year was the eighth in a set of ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ books that I got last year. I’ve had mixed views of these books so far. Some have just been not the sort of book I normally choose to read and so I’ve been pleasantly surprised by them, others haven’t been my sort of thing at all while one was a reread which I enjoyed just as much the second time as I did the first. I’d been half looking forward to In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick since reading The Perfect Storm several weeks earlier.

It tells the story of events which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a whaling ship, the Essex, out of Nantucket which was attacked by a massive whale. The men then began a journey back across the ocean in three of their little whaling boats, eventually becoming separated and having to deal with dehydration, starvation and then cannibalism. It’s quite a shocking story, almost unbelievable, I couldn’t have imagined that anyone could survive so long at sea the way that they did. I really did enjoy reading it though.

It was very cleverly written. Although it began at the end, so to speak, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the survivors would be. In fact, as at that point you didn’t know that they began the journey in three whaling boats and then became separated I just assumed that the survivors described at the beginning would be the only ones who survived the journey.

My copy has two glossy sections inside with photographs of artefacts from the Essex, some of the men question as well as paintings and photos of the boat and Nantucket. It’s a shame that there weren’t more photos available of the men who survived the disaster. There were also maps and diagrams in the book as well, the maps were especially well positioned so that they didn’t give away future events that the book hadn’t reached yet.

One of my only complaints about the book was that it ended with some really extensive notes. The book itself was obviously really well researched with loads of information coming from modern experts in the subjects dealt with, as well as quotes from people of the period. The notes section gave extra information about where this earlier information had come from. It was right at the end of the book and then separated down into the individual chapters it was relating to, unfortunately at times it wasn’t immediately clear what the reference in the notes was referring to as by that time you’d finished the book. I didn’t realise it was there until towards the end otherwise I might have flicked back and forth through the book.

Perhaps a better way of doing this would have been through the use of footnotes or perhaps through simply printing the notes at the end of each chapter. They were very interesting but they were also interspersed with ‘thank you’s which could have been held back for the acknowledgements section.

One aspect of this set of books that I do really like is the little ‘Bonus Features’ section at the very end of the book. It normally includes a bit of information about the author or an interview, a little essay about the subject, quotes, books that might be of interest, websites that link to the subject in some way, as well as a list of other books available in the series (obviously I already have many of these though there are a couple which weren’t included so I may have to keep my eyes open for them). I was particularly interested to see that Nathaniel Philbrick has written quite a few other books (mostly with a nautical theme) and I’m thinking that I might like to look out for a copy of Sea of Glory having enjoyed the style of In The Heart Of The Sea so much.

No longer going backward, the Essex was now going down. The whale, having humbled its strange adversary, disengaged itself from the shattered timbers of the copper-sheathed hull and swam off to leeward, never to be seen again.
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