Thursday, 29 November 2012

Book 75 of 2012: A Storm of Swords, Part One: Steel and Snow

Warning! Here be spoilers!


This is the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, which the Game of Thrones TV series is based on. It picks up pretty much where the last book ended. Arya is still out in the wilds, as is her brother Bran, Jon Snow is on the other side of the Wall with a band of wildlings, Sansa is a hostage of the Lannisters, Catelyn and her son Robb are at Riverrun, and Daenarys is recruiting soldiers for her army. It's definitely not a standalone book, you need to have read the others because those two are basically setting up all the action in this one. I really liked that this one jumped straight into the story, although it's been a little while since I read A Clash of Kings so there were a couple of story lines I was confused about at first but I quickly picked up the threads.

I think that so far this has been my favourite book. I was reading the ebook version and I was very tempted to go straight onto the next volume (though I controlled myself). Whereas the last two have taken me around a week to get through, this one took me about five days. I just didn't want to put it down.

I've found myself changing opinion of some of the characters. Tyrion is still one of my favourites and I'm really coming to like Sansa now as well. The female characters are really well written and there's a fairly even balance between male characters and the women.

I ended up staying up far too late reading on a couple of occasions (a book that gives you bags under your eyes is usually a very good read). When I was 3/4 of the way through I really wanted to finish it, but by around 11:30 I had to give up and refused to get out of bed the next morning until I'd finished it. It also managed to send my heart into my throat a couple of times, especially when it looked like Dany was going to sell Drogon to buy her army.

Obviously there were a few characters I was less interested in, though whenever you're at one of those bits you know you'll soon be moving on to someone else. It's a little annoying that there's no chapter numbers, but I've found a website which lists all the chapter titles and their numbers (and it's hardly an issue on the ebook version since it remembers where I left off). My version is a set of all of five first books and the page number function doesn't actually work past the first book, lucky the website with the chapter numbers works for that as well.

"Prince Oberyn had a chuckle. "You've grown more amusing since last we met."
"Yes, but I meant to grow taller.""
Location 42026

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Book 74 of 2012: Crow

I used to read loads of poems when I was younger, but as I got older I sort of stopped looking for new poets. The poetry trees have been great for introducing me to new poets and Crow is one of three books Jen has shared with me.

It was a fairly quick read, I snuggled up in bed with it and read it quite quickly, though I did spend longer on some poems than others. The poems generally feature the character of Crow but also have elements of mythology or Bible stories. I liked that all the poems had a common thread running through them, I though that was very clever.

When I first started it I found it quite dark but as I read on I realised that there was an element of humour in some of the poems. The imagery of them was very strong as well, with just a few words I could find a really clear mental picture, as in Dawn's Rose "A cry / Wordless / As the newborn baby's grieving / On the steely scales."

Other favourites were Examination at the Womb-door, Crow's Account of the Battle, Apple Tragedy and Crow Goes Hunting. When I was reading Crow Goes Hunting it reminded me of the bit in Disney's The Sword in the Stone when the witch and wizard were having a battle and turning into different animals.

Although it was a very quick read, it's kind of stuck with me and I keep on remembering bits. I've gone back to the book a couple of times to remind myself of poems or odd quotes. I've given it a middling sort of rating because I wouldn't say it was one of my favourite poetry books, but it's stayed with me and I think I'd like to revisit it again in the future.         

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Project 365+1: Days 323 - 328

It's only taken me almost a year to get completely organised, but I've been doing well with the blogging this last week. It's helped along by the fact that I have to write book reviews to earn points for the reading challenge I'm doing, getting points seems to motivate me slightly more than just posting them on my blog.

I've been working a late shift this week which has meant more time for early morning dog walks (which haven't been so much fun recently because the mornings are dark and it's kind of creepy being out at 6am when it feels more like about 4am), but not so much time for taking photos. Also, it has been raining. Quite a lot. I'm planning on making more of an effort to take some more outdoors photos in the run up to Christmas now.

Day 323: This Week's Viewing
We were a little worried that we wouldn't have time to watch all of our Christmas films in December this year, what with various things we have on, places we have to go and the sheer number of holiday films we now own, so we started a little earlier than we would normally do. I have a sneeking suspicion that this will inevitably leave us with rather more days left before Christmas than we have films to fit into, but I suppose that it will be an excuse to revisit some of our favourites.

Day 324: I Shall Wear Midnight
I started reading the last Terry Pratchett Discworld novel on my bookcase this week, I Shall Wear Midnight. I'm almost done with it, but I'm sort of dragging it out to make it last a little bit longer. I'm wanting to buy the other books that are out in paperback, but I should probably wait until after Christmas just in case Santa decides to slip a copy of Snuff or Dodger into my stocking. ;)

Day 325: Movember
Mr Click has been doing Movember this month. He's decided to go for a goatee look, apparently this is technically breaking the rules, but I have to say that I think a goatee is a better look than a moustache. While it was a little bit of a trial at times, it's reached a good sort of growth level now. We had to go through the stage of it looking really scruffy and kind of like he hadn't washed his chin for a few days, then there was the period where it was long enough to be spiky, which meant that when I snuggled up to him and he rested his chin on my head, it made me itch. But now it's kind of like having a soft fuzzy animal on his chin.

He says he's going to shave it off next week, which I can't say I'm that bothered about. It's been nice to have the fuzzy thing visiting, but I think it's close proximity to me in bed is to blame for all the random dreams about rats that I've been having recently!

Day 326: Fully Armed
I really enjoy knitting. It's the sewing up that I struggle with. I like taking a ball of stringy nothingness and clicking my needles and watching something fully formed come out of the end. When it comes to sewing things together I'm a bit lazy (the stripey lap blanket that hangs over the back of my chair, and can be seen in some photos, has been finished for well over a year now and still hasn't had the ends woven in).

Santa was knitted up very quickly, but since then progress has slowed somewhat because once the fun knitting bit is over I want to get on with another project on my needles. It's something that I'm fighting to overcome. Unfortunately with OU work to be done, I've tended to sit and work at that rather than sit and knit while we watch TV.

On evenings when we take a TV series to bed on my laptop, I usually sit and read while it's on, but as we've been watching Christmas films, I've started taking Santa to work on instead. It's not been too much work either. The first night I sewed up and stuffed both arms, and got the first one almost completely sewn on. The second night I finished sewing on that one and did the other one too - all this time I've been putting it off and it took me about an hour and a half. That'll teach me!

Day 327: Almost Time
The two film magazines I get have both released their Hobbit covers now. I've just started reading this edition of Empire which has easily the coolest cover ever. It's sort of holographic and 3D, something which isn't captured very well on camera. I don't get any choice in which of the five covers I could have received since I order my copies from a local newsagent, but I'm glad I got Gandalf.

I can't wait to see this film. I've not got quite the same buzz I had during the Lord of the Rings films, but then again, I wasn't really that fussed about The Fellowship of the Ring and the first time I saw it I was just about into it when it suddenly ended. I think part of it is because I've missed out on a lot of the hype online and on TV. All the same, I'm planning a trip to Glasgow in the very near future. I've made sure I'll have time off work. And I really can't wait!

Day 328: Getting Dressed
And so this is how Santa is looking now. By rights after sewing on his arms I'm supposed to sew on his beard and embroider his face. But the instructions for where his arms were to be positioned seemed a wee bit too low down, so I'm holding off on the face until I've seen where his hat will come to so I can adjust accordingly.

Then he just needs his cuffs and a sack. That brown wool I'm using, by the way, came from a batch of wools that my Nan let me have years ago and I used to use it for making braided bracelets for my friends. Funnily enough, the wool was intended for knitting cuddly toys, so I'm quite pleased that I'm finally using it for the intended purpose.

Also, plan for the Santa sack is to put boiled sweets in brightly coloured wrappers inside (like presents) and then either having Santa on my desk at work, or having him at home where visitors can help themselves. ^_^

Next up, I'm planning on making a Roly Poly family. I have no idea what I'll do with them, but Mr Click likes the pattern and I'm definitely in the mood for knitting more stuffed toys (and I have a massive bag of stuffing still to use up)!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Book 73 of 2012: The Duchess of Malfi

This is the second book I've been studying for my course, there's no essay to write on this which means its 99.9% guaranteed to come up in the exam.

It's a story about marrying for love versus marrying who you're told to. The Duchess has been widowed and her brothers want to put her off of remarrying, mainly so they set her up with someone they choose. What they don't know is that she's going ahead and getting married to someone that she's chosen and he's far lower down the social ladder than her brothers.

When what The Duchess has done becomes clear her brothers start making plans to pretty much bump everyone off in true tragic fashion.

The edition we had to read was the Longman version. The play is on the right hand page and then on the left is a summary if what's happening that page, meanings and information about the words, pictures of performances, and any other extra notes as well. It makes it nice and easy to read, plus you feel like you've got all the information you need right there on the page, so there's less flipping back and forward or worrying about a separate study guide.

I followed the story quite well, helped partly by the notes which stopped me getting confused. I found this a bit more challenging than the Shakespeare, but the story was good, though I did kind of guess what was going to happen right at the beginning (and was proved right). It felt a little different because the action spanned several years, I'm used to plays taking place within a few days.

Of all the characters Ferdinand annoyed me most of all. I realise it was a different time, but seriously, what a jerk! It was weird that the Duchess was never given a name, it made it harder to see her as a real person, though I understand that it was done to emphasise her status.

I think Antonio and the Duchess made a cute couple. The book mentioned various different approaches that had been taken in productions and one apparently played the relationship as a marriage of convenience whereas another did it as a romance. Personally I didn't like the idea of it being done to annoy her brothers and avoid being married to someone they chose, I liked the little element of romance and by the end I felt really sorry for them and especially their son. :(

It's probably not the sort of thing that you'd pick up to read for fun, unless you're really interested in reading Renaissance plays :lol: but I'd recommend it if you're in the mood - now I'm just really wanting to watch Shakespeare in Love.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book 72 of 2012: Unseen Academicals

This is the thirty-seventh Discworld book, one that I would have been reading shortly even without the Autumn challenge spurring me on. I may have bumped it up the list a little way just to make sure I would definitely get it read in time to count, but as I've been slowly working my way through Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels since the end of 2011, I've been looking forward to it for a while.

It's the first for several books that focuses largely on the inhabitants of Unseen University, an academic institution for the training of wizards. The game of foot-the-ball has been played in Ankh-Morpork for quite a while and Vetinari (the city's leader) has got an idea to help clean up the game. At about the same time the wizards have discovered a clause from one of their financiers that states that in order to receive their money, they have to have a team which takes part in the football matches. Meanwhile, the Patrician has also helped to bring a young *ahem* goblin into the city, who is now working in the vats of Unseen University (as a candle dribbler, got to get that right to give the place the right ambience) named Nutt, who is not quite what he seems.

It's sort of a story of upstairs-downstairs, following the escapades of the wizards as they try to develop the new rules of football, and those who work in the University (in the Night Kitchen) Glenda and Juliet, (and in the vats) Trevor and Nutt. As with any Terry Pratchett story, there's several smaller plot lines all working together into a larger whole; a romance between Trev and Juliet, what Nutt really is and where he's come from, Glenda's relationships with both Nutt and Juliet, Archchancellor Ridcully and the Archchancellor-formerly-known-as-the-Dean, the game of football. They start off more or less separately, but then gradually come together. Which is what I've come to enjoy and expect in the Discworld stories.

While the original Discworld books kind of started with the wizards, and I find them interesting characters, they'd not really among my favourites. I don't mind odd glimpses of Ridcully or the Dean, but I prefer the books with the Witches or the Watch over the Wizards. All the same, I liked this one because although there was a lot of focus on the wizards, there was a fairly equal split between them and the other characters. It had the classic Discworld humour that I've come to know and love (poor John, ends up sitting next to me reading out daft bits that probably make no sense whatsoever to him, but which are hilarious to me). There were dozens of quotes that I wanted to copy out (I squeezed eight into a space in my book journal that normally holds about five) and there were more footnotes than there have been in some of the other recent books, which I was happy about because I love the little asides.

My favourite characters were probably Nutt and Glenda. Nutt was just wonderfully innocent and I loved the way he lectured people. And Glenda, well, she was a nice contrast to all the men and I liked the way she looked after everyone. Normally I don't have a problem picturing the characters in Terry Pratchett's novels, but in this one I did struggle to figure out how old everyone was. I ended up settling with the four staff characters being in their late teens or early twenties, but there wasn't much of a clue either way.

I'm glad that although the story was about football, it wasn't just about football. I'm just not that interested in football and I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy this book for that reason. Funnily enough, I really enjoyed the bits where they were training, coming up with rules and the commentary on the game itself (especially the bit with one of the professors on the wizarding team telling off the crowd who are chanting his name because he wants them to include all of his titles). Some bits were probably lost on me considering how terminally non-sporty I am. :lol:

I also liked seeing Rincewind again (though he's not one of my favourites) and the Librarian (who is). Ponder Stibbons has developed well too, I think he first cropped up in Hogfather and I think I have a tiny book-crush on him - he's a magical geek (be still my heart)! As far as reading it as a standalone book, I think it probably benefits from some knowledge of previous books. Sam Vimes crops up so to fully appreciate him you'd probably need to read at least one of the Watch books. The cabinet which appeared in Making Money is used again, though with very little explanation which I wonder if perhaps it would be a bit confusing. But otherwise I don't think there's anything there that could spoil the book if it was the first of the Discworld books to be read. It's not quite up there with my favourites, but it's always nice to have a new Terry Pratchett book and I enjoyed this one a lot.
"'He saved my life!'
'That's no basis for a relationship! A polite thank you would have sufficed.'"
Page 143

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book 71 of 2012: The Lost World & Other Stories

John's a huge Sherlock Holmes fan so I'd suggested this book as a gift for him a while back, figuring that he'd enjoy reading about another of Conan Doyle's characters. Whenever John finishes one of his books, I grab it to read myself so we can share our thoughts. This copy, The Lost World & Other Stories, comprises of The Lost World, The Poison Belt, The Land of Mist, The Disintegration Machine and When The World Screamed. Of the five, The Lost World and The Disintegration Machine are my favourites.

The Lost World is the first of the stories featuruing Professor Challenger and is told through the eyes of Malone (a journalist who manages to overcome Challenger's hatred of journalists and strikes up a friendship with the man). Challenger reports that he has identified a place in South America which is home to dinosaurs and leads and expedition to the place to bring back proof of its existence. It's very much a product of its time, anyone who isn't a white European is clearly a lesser species, but racism aside it's an exciting little read. It kind of made me want to watch Jurassic Park. :lol:

The Poison Belt sees the four main characters of The Lost World reunite (Malone, Challenger, Lord Roxton and Professor Summerlee). Something strange is happening across the world. As the globe travels through space it appears to pass through a 'poison belt'. Challenger makes preparations and the four friends gather, along with Challenger's wife, to watch the end of the world.

The Land of Mist takes up most of this book, it goes on and on and on and is the main reason I gave this book three out of five. Without The Land of Mist I would've ranked it much higher. In contrast to the other Challenger stories, it's told in the third person, it also features Enid Challenger (Challenger's never-before-mentioned daughter). It's a story about Spiritualism as Malone and Enid work to convince Challenger to believe in Spiritualism. From a religious point of view it was quite interesting and I quite enjoyed the relationship between Malone and Enid, but I don't think it really needed to be quite so long.

The Disintegration Machine reminded me of some of the shorter Sherlock Holmes stories. It's a very short story, just a few pages, jumping back to before The Land of Mist takes place (though chronologically it was the last of the Challenger stories to be written). Malone and Challenger go to investigate a scientist's claim that he has created a machine which causes any object or person subjected to its ray to disappear. It's a little bit sinister, but it was short and very clever.

When The World Screamed was the second to last Challenger story to be written, I got the sense that this was trying to get into the Challenger groove after The Land of Mist. It's told from the point of view of Peerless Jones who works for some sort of drilling company. Professor Challenger has decided that the world is actually some sort of giant living animal and so drills towards the centre of the earth to prove this. I think I might have enjoyed this a little more if it was told from Malone's point of view, rather than through the eyes of someone we'd never met before.

On the whole I really liked the characters of Malone and Challenger, I think that I could actually have grown to like them more than Holmes and Watson if there were a few more stories featuring them. While I was reading it I kept on picturing Challenger as John Rhy-Davis, so it was quite funny when I was looking the books up on Wikipedia and found that he did actually play him in two film adaptations - I think I might have to look those out.

I enjoyed the writing style too, very clearly Arthur Conan Doyle and more to my taste than the Brigadier Gerard stories. It was quite funny in places and I found myself writing out loads of favourite quotes. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who's enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories, though I think I would've enjoyed it more if The Land of Mist hadn't been quite so long/preachy.

"The door was opened by an odd, swarthy, dried-up person of uncertain age, with a dark pilot jacket and brown leather gloves. I found afterwards that he was the chauffeur, who filled the gaps left by a succession of fugitive butlers."
Page 23

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Project 365+1: Days 316 - 322

I've been so well organised this week, not only have I managed a blog post every day, I've got book reviews written for my next five or so books that I've read, and I've been planning posts for December already. I'm a little bit scared about where this sudden burst of inspiration has come from (and I'm not wanting to shout about it too loudly in case I scare it away).

NaNo is still going well as well. I've slowed down the pace a bit now (generally getting somewhere between 700-1000 words per day in) because I just don't need to keep rushing at it. I've got a little over 10,000 left until the end of the month and as I have a tendency to stop when I hit the 50,000 word mark, I've decided that if I pace myself like this, I'll still be writing until the end of the month. The shift I've been on this week hasn't been brilliant for having writing time, plus I've been wanting to get caught up on my OU stuff. Now I'm back on track, and I'm on a better shift, I think I might get a few more words on the page each day.

Day 316: Lots of Laundry
We've got this lovely rug/throw that we keep on our bed which helps to keep us nice and toasty. Unfortunately, Tara's taken to sleeping on our bed, so that rug needed to be washed. Luckily, Mr Click's parents let us have another couple of throws to replace it while it was at the laudrette. Unfortunately, those throws are both cream and so get dirty even quicker than the lion rug does. This is the laundry basket when it returned from having its contents cleaned (the pile of socks on top was from our own washing machine, I just needed to dump them somewhere well out of the sock monster's reach).

The lion rug is all lovely and soft and fleecy again now and I can't wait to get it back on the bed. Except I kind of can wait, because now we've got the heating on, and getting into bed in a warm room with a big heavy throw over me will just be unbearable. But it'll be lovely when the weather starts getting warmer again and we start turning the heating off.

Day 317: Frog
This week we mourned the sad loss of Bug. Bug has been Tara's favourite toy ever since we got her. She chewed his antenae off (and ate one of them!) and started ripping off his wings and eating his legs, so I had to amputate all of them that she left, but poor old Bug hasn't stopped smiling. He even survived his dip in the washing machine (despite me being convinced that the only thing that was holding him together was dog slobber and dirt).

But then Tara got a little enthusiastic about pulling and chewing him the other day and ripped a big hole in his side and we were forced to conclude that maybe Bug's time with us had passed. So Mr Click found a green fluffy substitute. And we named him Frog.

He's lovely and cuddly and good for whacking and chewing and throwing. Unfortunately for Frog, Tara's got teeth like needles and she's already torn a hole in him as well. So right now Frog is hiding out in the spare bedroom until I can attack him with a bit of thread so that Frog and dog can be reunited with each other again. And hopefully she'll be able to go a little bit longer before destroying him completely.

Day 318: It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
I've been taking part in a reading challenge on HTV, which has various sub-challenges which you can take part in alongside just trying to read as many different books as possible. Each season we've got a challenge to read six books which begin with each letter of the current season, in this case 'Autumn'. The fact that there are two Us in the word Autumn sent me looking for some free/cheap downloads of my Kindle and I ended up finding two books Louisa May Alcott's Under the Lilacs and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey which I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to read otherwise.

With that in mind I set about looking for some Christmas reads. Normally in the run up to Christmas I read Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters to Father Christmas. This year I decided that I wanted to add to that and so I did a bit of searching and found twenty-eight free books all with the word Christmas (or something similar) in the title. So now I have enough reading material to last me until somewhere around Valentine's Day!

Day 319: The Veiled Detective
Review coming shortly! (because I'm being awesome and getting all caught up with those reviews). This is a book which I actually got Mr Click last year and I've been wanting to read ever since he finished with it, but I've kept on overlooking it in favourite of other books. Even this time I nearly passed it over in favour of a Colin Dexter book from his shelf instead. I whizzed through it quite quickly once I got into it (which took a little while). Now I'd better get some more of these Further Adventures books for him this Christmas!

Day 320: New Home
This is a picture of two parts. At the top you can see the collection of Christmas films and DVDs that I dug out of the cupboard upstairs to bring down so we can start our traditional Christmas film watching (we've got over thirty, so we need to start a bit before the beginning of December to squeeze them all in). That's not even all of them pictured there because there's a handful out on the bookcase in the front lobby as well (those which I'd already brought down, or that we've already watched).

The bottom half of the picture is the new rat cage which we invested in last week. The girl's cage was home to around ten rats (over the last ten years) and has really reached the end of its useful life. The ladder has been disposed of, the shelves are all worn and chewed and ruined by rat pee, the bars are rusted. It also had this faint odor that no amount of scrubbing and febreezing would get rid of, so the time had come to consign it to the skip and get a new one.

And for £90 we've got exactly what I wanted. It's exactly the same cage as the original, but they've updated it in the intervening years. The bars are now plastic coated (which I imagine the girls will discover soon enough and start removing, but it looks snazzy right now), the plastic feels much sturdier and the base is a few millimetres deeper (not such an issue now we use shredded paper, but definitely a big deal if we're using litter). The tubes that come with it are clear and it doesn't have that old lingering odour of the old cage. Considering the last one was a little over ninety quid and we had to take the car to get it, £90 with free delivery was a good enough deal for me.

Day 321: Settling In
We had great fun setting up the new cage (and Tara had great fun exploring the ma-hoosive box that it came in). The best part of the day yesterday was watching the girls exploring their new surroundings because the old cage was so worn out we were pretty limited in where we could put things inside so we've not changed it around as much as I like. This is Holly checking out the change in scenery. I just wish I could have taken a photo of Carol falling off the hammock because we'd moved it to the other side of the cage from where it usually hangs.

Day 322: Hanging Around
The one job that we didn't get done yesterday was fixing up this, our new coat stand which we bought in Ikea two weeks ago. Until this morning it's been in the box leaning up against the living room wall and generally getting in the way. I love putting things together so Ikea's flat-packed furniture is just my idea of a really good time. It took me all of about fifteen minutes to do (and that's including the time it took to fasten part of it together wrongly and have to take them out again).

It's called 'Portis' and we've already started filling it up with coats and things. Until now we've been hanging everything off of the kitchen door and the single hook we've got in the kitchen (the walls can't take hooks because of the plasterboard). The coats we don't wear so often are all in the spare bedroom so I'll have to take down all the ones we put up this morning to put the lighter ones underneath, but other than that, it's a job well done, at last. ;-D

And that's about it for the Click household this week. I've got a long week coming up, hoping to get a spot of Christmas shopping done as well as a trip to the vet for Tara about a warty thing on her chin. We've got a stack of Christmas films to watch and I've got to start thinking about my next OU assignment too, which means I have to finish reading one of those books first!

It's going to be another busy week!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Book 70 of 2012: Making Money

I'm a massive fan of Terry Pratchett and have been reading his complete Discworld series of books off and on since the end of 2011. Making Money is the 36th book in the series and the second featuring Moist von Lipwig.

Moist first appeared a couple of books back in Going Postal. He's a serial con-man who woke up after being hanged for his crimes and as part of his parole was given responsibility for the ailing Ankh-Morpork Post Office (the last four people to hold the position had died in mysterious circumstances so it wasn't like he was getting off lightly).

Impressed with Moist's work for the Post Office, and rather worried about his attempts to break into the Post Office and the decision to take up Extreme Sneezing, Lord Vetinari sends Moist to work on one of the banks in the city.

I love Going Postal and so I was expecting something in a similar vein from Making Money, but Moist didn't actually seem to spend a lot of time actually in the bank. The plot is typical Pratchett, rather convoluted, but it all comes together in the end, which is good but I would have liked to see more of Moist changing things from within as in Going Postal.

Of course, the best thing about the Discworld books is the sense of humour inherent in them. This one didn't have as many footnotes as I've come to expect from Terry Pratchett, but it's still wonderfully funny. I mean, it's got a dog who spends half the book wandering around with some sort of unnamed sex toy, a banker with a dark secret in his past (he's not actually from a family of travelling accountants), and a man who has accidentally built an economic modelling machine that is actually influencing the real world economy.

Moist basically finds himself being framed for the contents of the bank vault going missing, meanwhile his girlfriend, the chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart, is bringing back some ancient golems that have been trapped underground for thousands of years. Pratchett has a brilliant way of introducing the various plot strands of a story separately and then gradually bringing them all together. The Discworld has become so vast now that you find yourself looking out for old familiar characters; C.M.O.T. Dibbler crops up, King Harry gets a mention, Vimes, Detritis and Carrot all show up. As does Death, though only briefly.

The brilliant thing with the Discworld series is that you can dip in and out of the series, in fact, if you're trying to read them for the first time I'd advise you not to try starting at the beginning. I think that the Moist von Lipwig series would be a really good place to begin. Making Money follows on nicely from Going Postal and although it wasn't quite what I was expecting, in a way it's probably good that it didn't follow the same mold as Going Postal because that would've been too predictable. Though I am wary of whether Moist will get another book of his own, there's only so many things in Ankh-Morpork that Moist can be allowed to reform.

"'Talking books? That sounds a good idea,' said Moist.
'Quite possibly,' said Spools with a sniff. 'But these weren't meant to, and certainly not to complain about the quality of their glue and the hamfistedness of the typesetter. And of course now the university can't pulp them.'"
Page 205

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Book 69 of 2012: Tipping the Velvet

Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters was my sixty-ninth book of the year and the last of the HTV book tree that I received. I'd heard a bit about this book before it popped through my letterbox as one of the book tree reads. I knew enough to have considered buying Fingersmith which is by the same author when I've seen it in charity shops. I didn't know enough to say exactly what the book was about though.

It is set in the Victorian era and follows the story of Nancy Astley, an oyster-girl from Whitstable, who falls in love with a male impersonator, Kitty Butler, who comes to perform at her local theatre. The book is divided into three parts, the first sees Nancy going away to work in London as Kitty's dresser, eventually joining Kitty's act (as Nan King), and developing a relationship with her.

The second part sees Nan betrayed by Kitty so she leaves the double act and, with her male impersonator's gear, sets herself up as a rent boy. It is during this period that she is discovered by a wealthy woman named Diana Lethaby who takes Nan on as a sort of live-in tart/rent boy.

The final part has Nan escaping from Diana and trying to live a 'normal' life. But of course, she can't help falling in love again. And I'm not going to say anything else because I don't want to spoil the ending.

It's probably not something I would've chosen to read based on the back of the book alone, I can't really say I've ever given much thought to the lifestyle of lesbians in the Victorian era, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

There was more than a bit of sex in the book which didn't bother me but I think it made me take longer to read it. At any other time it wouldn't really have mattered but at the time I was reading it, I wasn't really in the mood for that. Also, I felt a bit self conscious reading it at work, I was worried someone might look over my shoulder and think I was reading 50 Shades of Grey! :lol:

I didn't really warm to the character of Nan until the third part of the book, but that was sort of okay because until that point she was very self-centred. Once she started thinking of other people she became immediately more likeable. The end of the book was a little bit far fetched but totally perfect too.

"But children, he concluded, weren't made to please their parents; and no father should expect to have his daughter at his side for ever... 'In short, Nance, even was you going to the very devil himself, your mother and I would rather see you fly from us in joy, than stay with us in sorrow - and grow, maybe, to hate us, for keeping you from your fate.'"
Page 59

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Book 68 of 2012: Othello

I’ve always enjoyed reading Shakespeare, ever since we first studied Twelfth Night at school I fell in love with the style of the language. So when I saw that the first book I’d be studying for my OU course was Othello I was quite excited as it’s one that I’ve not read before.

The edition that we were set to read was the Oxford Classics version which the course book explains was chosen due to the ‘extensive’ introductory notes. What this actually means is that the first 170-odd pages of a 400-&-something page book are taken up by a rather dry and dusty introduction. Even the course materials say that it’s not actually necessary to read all this, but wanting to be a good student I read it all.

I didn’t particularly like the style of the introduction. A lot of it was making references to other books and essays written by other Shakespeare scholars and along the way, it gave away the entire plot of the play. I realise that when you’re reading a classic text you can hardly expect to be totally spoiler free and I already knew the basic plot of Othello before I started, but I didn’t like that it gave in depth discussions on points that I hadn’t actually read yet. There was also a lot of repetition in the introduction, it would talk about the issue of race, then talk about the actors playing Othello in different productions and then go back to talking about race again, so a couple of times I found myself wondering whether I’d lost my place and had ended up reading something I’d already read.

In terms of the actual play, I really enjoyed it, but again, the formatting of the book caused me a problem reading it. The way it was laid out was with the play on the top half of the page and then notes on the text in two columns at the bottom, which made it really awkward for reading as it broke up the text. A better way might have been to have the play on one page and the notes on the facing page or at the end of a scene. The thing I’ve always found with Shakespeare is that you need to get into the rhythm of the text and the way the notes were formatted meant that you were constantly stopping and starting. I ended up having to read to the end of the scene then go back and read the notes, just occasionally looking at them if I was unsure of the meaning of a word.

It also felt that a lot of the notes were unnecessary because of the ‘extensive’ introduction. After reading several pages about the line “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” explaining what it means, who the black ram is, why ram is symbolic, what tupping means and who the white ewe is, you don’t really need to have a long explanation repeated in the notes for the line itself. It especially bothered me when there were other less obvious lines which don’t have any explanation at all, or words that were defined each time they were used even though the context didn’t change the meaning; though I realise that a lot of understanding comes from experience but I felt that the notes were a little bit haphazard in their definitions.

The Appendices at the end were interesting and I think that a lot of the information from the introduction could have been slotted in here (though there was a lot of repetition from the introduction in here as well). I like that there was information about the history of the play, when it was performed but felt it was a little bit too bogged down in the differences between the Quarto and Folio editions. I felt like someone had told the editor/author that they couldn’t write a book about that, they had to produce an edition of the play instead, and they just squeezed the play in between. I really liked the inclusion of the story that Othello was based on being included at the end.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Othello, it’s just a shame that the rest of the book got in the way!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Project 365+1: Days 308 - 315

This last week has mostly passed in long hours spent madly typing away on my laptop. If I've not been spending time NaNoing (mostly in the mornings before work), then I've been working to get my assignment finished (also mostly in the mornings before work, but after NaNo because I've obviously got my priorities straight).

Now the assignment is submitted and I've already started work on the next section ready for the dreaded December 13th submission date of TMA02. I'm still powering through the NaNo story, The Experience Machine, having hit 30,000 words today. After last year's non-starter I'm quite pleased with how well it's going. The few times when I've felt myself writing into a corner, in true NaNo spirit I've just wound up whichever bit I'm on and I've moved onto the next section.

Normally if I get stuck when I'm writing I just stop where I am until something better occurs to me, so this is definitely progress of a sort. I'm fairly confident that by the end of November I might actually have something approaching a very rough first draft of an interesting story. My next major hurdle I suspect will be not stopping writing when I get to 50,000 words. In the past during NaNo I've hit my target and then stopped, regardless of whether I've reached the end of the story or not.

Day 308: Gosa Vadd
Although we have not yet put together our new coatstand (which is still in the box in the living room but which we will get to at some point in the coming week, I'm sure), we do have lovely new Ikea pillows on the bed and a nice new Ikea lampshade hanging above it. Google reliably informs me that Gosa is the name of the pillow and Vadd means stuffing or wadding. They're definitely comfortable anyway. I love that I seem to forget how comfy a new pillow is each time my current pillow gets all sort of squashed down and flat. These ones are lovely and fluffy and when you lie back your head sinks into it, heavenly!

Day 309: Playlist
Please ignore the grubby screen in the above photo. I swear it doesn't look that bad normally in real life, the flash just seemed to highlight every fingerprint and spot of dust! This photo was really just supposed to show that I'd managed to get the Taylor Swift CD Speak Now onto my iPhone. At the time that this was taken, I'd not finished my assignment so I wasn't letting myself have Red, but to celebrate getting the second draft all sorted meant that I allowed myself Speak Now.

Of course, the iPhone being the iPhone it took me best part of an hour (on and off) to figure out how to get the CD onto the iPod bit of my iPhone. I was nearly late for work, but at least now when I'm in the shower I can have music playing in the background. It's also just as well that I've figured out how to do this now, because in a couple of week's time I'll be wanting to put all my Christmas music on here instead.

Day 310: Back on the Shelf
And to celebrate my finishing and submitting my assignment, Othello and The Duchess of Malfi are now safely back on the bookshelf, at least until I need to dig them out for exam revision at least. It's quite nice to see the gap closed up, though not for long because I've taken the next book off already (Oroonoko which I'm hoping to make a start to later on today, just as soon as I get to the end of Northanger Abbey).

As of yesterday I officially finished Part 1 of my coursebook and moved on to Part 2. I'm not sure whether or not the travel writing and journeys section is going to be quite so interesting, although there seems to be a lot of information about the historical context of these writings so I'm looking forward to getting more stuck in before I make any big judgements about it.

Day 311: All Gone
This was another of our Ikea purchases: new plates! The plates we've been using since we moved in were my ones from when I was in Halls at university, added to with some that I got for my flat while I was at university a little over a year later. While the ones that survived Halls appear to be bomb-proof, the ones I got later have become ever so slightly chipped now (one has had to be binned after it didn't survive a trip out of the house and came back in more pieces than it left in). New plates were called for.

Growing up we always had matching sets of plates, which, while it looks nice, isn't particularly practical. I mean, if you break one, it's very difficult to replace it. I much prefer having everything odd. So when we were in Ikea we each picked a new dinner plate and side plate. Mine are the ones you see above: pretty floral pattern for the side plate and plain green for the dinner plate. Mr Click went with matching for his, both have music on them, as soon as I spotted them I knew they were perfect for him. We're planning a trip over there again in the future at some point, so we might slowly replace all of our crockery with funky stuff from there.

Day 312: Camouflage
Look! I took my camera out of the house this week!


I walked Tara round and round the garden as usual the other morning, completely oblivious to the fact that we had a little visitor stopping by. He was sitting at the bottom of the drain pipe, right above the drain, beside a little pile of leaves that had washed down it, so he was blending in well. It wasn't until I was about to go back into the house that I noticed a little pair of froggy eyes watching me that I quickly dashed in, dumped the dog and grabbed my camera.

This is actually a different frog to the one who normally visits our garden (why yes, I am that well acquainted with the amphibians who come to visit), this one was much smaller and more of an orangey-brown (hence the blending in so well with the leaves). It had vanished by the time I went out later in the day, so I hope he's found somewhere warm and snug now.

Day 313: Bugged
Our stairs have been bugged. See that dingy little green blob on the bottom left of the photo. That's Tara's Bug, her favourite toy. And Bug stinks, or at least, he did when this picture was taken (hence Bug's banishment to the stairs, sometimes Tara thinks a good way to wake you up and let you know she needs to go out is to stick stinky, slobbery Bug in your face, which isn't much fun at 6am).

Since this photo was taken Bug has taken a spin in the washing machine and now smells absolutely delightful. And for this reason he's still hanging in a net bag clipped onto the airer, because it's only a matter of time before he starts getting all gross and stinky again once Tara gets him back. Luckily she's got her Kong right now, so she's not missing him too much.

Day 314: Festive Films
We've got to that time of year where Christmas is slowly creeping up on us and more than anything I want to just stay in and watch Christmas films (and as we have over 30 of the things on DVD and blu-ray, it does take us rather a while to get through them all). So we have a little collection of films that while Christmassy, aren't technically Christmas films, which makes it okay to watch them in, say, the first couple of weeks of November.

So yesterday when we got back from walking Tara (and talking about nothing but Christmas) we stuck Holiday Inn on. Holiday Inn is allowed because lots of different holidays are celebrated; Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas as well as a couple of President's Birthdays. Then later in the afternoon we decided to carry on the theme and so watched Hogfather, also allowed because although Hogswatch bears striking resemblances to our Christmas, it's actually a different holiday, celebrated on a different world, so that makes it okay. Still to watch are The Holiday and Love Actually, but we'll save those for a little bit longer.

Day 315: Kitty Cat
I've been wanting to take a photo of my in-laws' cat for a few months now. She and Tara share something of a love-hate relationship. The poor cat will put up with virtually anything from Tara, though will happily lie there smacking her if Tara goes too far, which Tara seems completely oblivious to or treats it all as a fun game. Kitty's quite a pretty cat even if she does have a slightly psychopathic way of just staring at you. She's quite photogenic as well, considering she'll happily stay put in one spot for ages, so I'm hoping I can get some more photos of her in the future, maybe some where her chin doesn't blend into her chest so much.

And that about wraps up this week's worth of photos. Tara's pestering for her walk now so we'd better go before she starts bugging the cat and causing trouble. I'm hoping that in the next week I might manage to hit the 50k on my NaNo story (and keep my momentum going into week three). I've also got to get stuck into my OU as well as lots of reading.

Plus we're starting to gear up for Christmas, and that's always fun too. ;-)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Project 365+1: Days 301 - 307

It's been a pretty busy week, what with Halloween, the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, a TMA just begging to be written and a shopping trip off the island. I'm beginning to feel like I need another weekend to recover from the last couple of days. Come next week I think I'm just going to spend all Saturday in bed!

Day 301: Bookcase Staples
These battered old books have been on my bookcase for as long as I can remember. The copy of The Wind in the Willows is actually a couple of years older than I am. When I rearranged my bookcase the other week I dug these out and gave them a slot, partly because I need a book beginning with 'W' for the upcoming Winter challenge during HTV's Reading Challenge, but also because it's been a long time since I read them and I thought they deserved an outing.

Then I couldn't actually wait to get started, so I read The Wind in the Willows. I have such fond memories of these books. Compared to some modern editions, the covers are quite plain, almost boring, but I have so much love for them that it was never something that bothered me as a child. I'm not sure why I've held onto them for so many years when there's so many less battered and better smelling copies that I could have replaced them with, but these are all I have left of my childhood bedrooms, and I want to use these to introduce other children to the lovely stories.

Day 302: Getting It All Planned Out
Having written out my TMA draft, I then discovered that I'd completely overlooked the guidance notes, so I drew coloured lines round each section to see how relevant what I'd already written was. Then I replanned it with the above mind map to make sure that I was covering all of the information I needed to. Then I pretty much avoided touching the stupid thing until 7am today because I'm just not motivated to actually write it at all. But at least my planning makes it look like I know what I'm writing about.

Day 303: Backing Up
I've been far too lax with my back ups recently. It suddenly hit me when I realised that I had seveal Gbs of photos that hadn't been copied over to my external harddrive, and that I was rapidly running out of space for non-photographic things on my computer. With NaNo fast approaching, it seemed like the right time to get everything backed up. Unfortunately this meant that I couldn't actually start work on my assignment because of the backing up kind of taking priority... oops.

Day 304: Halloween Reading Material
I'm not really a big fan of spooky stories. I'm too chicken for scary movies and if anything scary books are worse because I have an over-active imagination and whatever is described in the text, I will make even worse in my own mind. But I wanted to read something which was suitable for Halloween, and The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories fit the bill perfectly. It's by Tim Burton and is a collection of little poems about some very strange and unusual children. It's a little bit creepy, but fun too, exactly what I wanted from my All Hallows Read book of choice.

Day 305: An Unexpected Party
This week I started my annual re-read of The Hobbit. I first read this when I was six and it's easily still one of my favourite books. It's stuck with me because at the time the school were trying to make me read those Oxford Reading Tree books and I just wasn't interested. Why read about boring children when you can read about people having adventures with goblins and dragons? I ended up having to take The Hobbit into the school to read several pages to a teacher to prove that I was able to read these 'harder' books, hehe.

Normally I'd read it a little earlier in the year. I like to read it before I start The Lord of the Rings which is traditionally my summer read, but with The first of the film trilogy coming out in December, I wanted to read it a little closer to when I see the film so it'll all still be fairly fresh. I've got the opening memorised, I love it, I can't wait until I have a little person of my own to read it to and hopefully make them love it as much as I do.

I love the story of how it came to be written too, with Professor Tolkien marking essays and finding a blank sheet and writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' which led to all sorts of marvelous and interesting things. Plus from a geeky linguistics perspective it makes me laugh because 'holbytla' means 'hole-dweller', and where else would you expect them to live?

Day 306: The Trolls
This is a late-night snap while I'm reading the aforementioned book. The copy I'm reading was picked up in a secondhand shop and I quite like it because it's inscribed with a message from Nigel to Rosalind, Christmas 1988 with the words 'I'm sure it's a good read' in brackets underneath. I like to think that Rosalind enjoyed it because it was certainly well-read by the time it came into my possession. I've got several editions of The Hobbit but this is the first with illustrations by Tolkien himself. I'm resisting the urge to skim on ahead to pick them out because I'm enjoying suddenly turning the page and finding one of them there. It's making me look forward to digging out my copy of The Father Christmas Letters next month and enjoying the pictures in there.

Day 307: Successful Shopping Trip
Yesterday we were very busy. We trekked off the island in the direction of Ikea (via Pets at Home) and bought interesting goodies such as a coat stand, a lampshade for the bedroom and new crockery. Then we visited Braehead where I did not find any trousers for work (silly me thinking that because the jeans and trousers I've been wearing are the same size, any other trousers I try on with that size on the label will fit) but I did find new work boots so I don't have to worry about finding various things to stick my buckle back on with anymore.

I also finally got to spend my £5 voucher I got from work in HMV. Ever since I got it (way back at the end of August) I've had plans to get The Hunger Games on blu-ray. We then did our regular two-month shop in Lidl plus picked up a few things in Tesco, such as the Taylor Swift CDs seen above. I've wanted to get my hands on Speak Now for about two years, but it never seems to be in any shops when I'm looking for it. I listened to it for the first time this morning while I was working on my TMA and I'm already in love with a couple of the songs on it (Never Grow Up in particular makes my chest feel all tight). I'm holding back on Red until I've finished my assignment, then I'll reward myself.

The visit to Ikea has given us plenty of ideas for things we can do with various rooms in our house, as well as a few storage ideas. Our next big thing for the house will be a chest freezer in the new year, but after that, possibly by the summer, we'll be getting a new bed, and I've a funny feeling it might be coming from Ikea.

And this coming week?

Well, we're hopefully having a bonfire tomorrow night, if the weather stays dry. If not we'll sit inside in the warm and eat hot dogs anyway. Tuesday is my personal deadline for my TMA. I'm almost done, I've got best part of it finished today, all that's left to do is wrap it all up with a conclusion and make sure all of my references are in place. I've not had my dummy TMA back yet so I'm assuming I just format it the way I normally would. There's also plenty of NaNoing still to be done. I slipped a little behind my target yesterday as the shopping wore me out and I didn't want to get my laptop out during The Hunger Games, so I'll be catching up with the odd word here or there.

Plus I'd like to sleep a bit, maybe have a lie-in or two. Oh, and I need to finish my Christmas shopping. Fun!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Do You NaNo?

It's that time of year again folks! NaNoWriMo otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, the aim is to write a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. You can start at 00:01am on the first of November in your local timezone and you can keep going until 11:59pm on the thirtieth. The idea is that everyone has a novel inside them, you just need a little bit of motivation (and competition) to get it out. The focus is quantity not quality, editing is for December, just get the words on the page and keep going.

I first learned about it back in 2004 about a week into the madness, but thought I'd save it for the following year and quietly completed my first NaNo attempt in 2005. I've done it every year since then, winning every year except last year when I was trying to do it by hand and didn't have internet access for most of the month.

On two occasions I've managed over 100,000 words on a novel; two consecutive years I wrote a crime story, the second year rewriting the previous attempt based on the original notes I made. It remains unfinished but it's quite possibly the best NaNo story I've ever produced and I've got a funny feeling it may come back out again at some point in the future for a third go around.

This year I'm going for a story which I got the idea for during an OU tutorial way back in 2009. We were talking about Philosophy and the idea of an 'Experience Machine' which you could enter into and experience only good things and whether you would be able to learn or grow in that environment. I spent a fair bit of time planning it as a story but kept pushing it aside to work on other stories, then Inception came out and I shelved it for good.

Until now, that is.

Theodore Finch lives a perfect life; he's got a perfect job, a perfect house, a perfect wife and a perfect daughter. Everything is good, it's always been good and it always will be good, he's not sure how he know's this, it's just the way life is.

And then he wakes up.

Suddenly he's a frail middle-aged man with a wasted body, stuck in a rehabilitation hospital for 'Machine Junkies' those strange society outcasts who prefer to spend their time hooked up to Experience Machines to live out their fantasy lives. He's got to come to terms with the fact that his wife and daughter do not exist and learn to live in a world he has shunned for twenty years.

But it's not that easy. There's something sinister happening within the Machine network; a virus has been unleased, people have been reported missing, and maybe his wife - Sarah - wasn't the Machine creation he was led to believe. One thing's for certain, the only way Theo is going to get to the bottom of this mystery is to go back into the Machine, and there's no guarantee he's going to be able to get back out again.

I'm quite looking forward to getting started now. I've tried two different approaches to writing NaNo over the years; there's the 'seat of the pants' method (where you go in with little to no planning and just hope the story unravels as you go along) and then there's a more organised method where you plan everything out. I like a mix of the two, as much as I'd love to be able to just jump in on November the 1st, I just can't do it. I need to have an idea of where I'm going and how I'm going to get there.

I've found the best approach is to follow a vague plan. For The Experience Machine I broke the story down into five chunks (each giving me 10,000 words), then each of those chunks into five (giving me 2,000 words for each) and each of those points into two, so I've got a plan of fifty points each one coming in at around 1,000 words. It makes it nice and easy to keep track of what I'm writing and how I'm getting on towards my word count. Plus it means I know more or less what's going to happen at each stage of the story, but as each point is no more than one sentence long, it gives me plenty to play with so I've got a little bit of 'seat of the pants' approach going on - but it's one I've planned for.

I'm still not entirely sure how The Experience Machine is going to end. I've got two possible endings, I might even write both and see which one I like more. I'll probably post updates (and maybe even extracts through the month) to show how I'm getting along.

I'm trying out a new approach this year as well, traditionally during NaNo I aim for 1,667 words per day, which means that you can finish on track on the 30th. The system I've found this year is named 'The Reward System' and means that each day you can write a little bit less. The month begins with 3,346 words and with your word target each day decreasing until the end of the month when (if you've stayed on track) you'll only have one word left to write. I think this'll work for me better than my past approach because I can get ahead at the weekends and coast during the week - the first few days will be trickiest, but that's when you've got the most momentum.

Whatever method I take in the end, I'm looking forward to seeing how this turns out.