Tuesday, 31 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Days 19 and 20

Day 19: Book that turned you on

Dead to the World - Charlaine Harris. Gotta love Amnesia Eric :)

Day 20: Book you’ve read the most number of times

I was never one for re-reading books, that's quite a recent phenomenon for me, so it would probably be one of the books I've studied or taught. The most likely candidate is The Giver, by Lois Lowry that I taught to year 8s. In a dystopian future society, a young boy is allocated his future job and finds out that he will be the Receiver. He will become responsible for all the memories of his seemingly perfect society. As he is taught about the past, he finds out that the present is not as perfect as it seems. It has quite a few similarities with Matched, by Allie Condie which I've reviewed elsewhere on here, but doesn't have the romance element.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Days 12 - 18

It's been a while! We went to Wales for a holiday last week and then Blogger wouldn't let me in, so I've got some catching up to do. At some point I'll have to write about the couple of books I've read, but I'm exam marking so I'll have to work around that as well. That does mean there won't be much reading going on over the next few weeks, other than exam scripts and markschemes, that is.

I have some catching up to do in the 30 day challenge, so here are days 12 - 18:

Day 12: Book that is most like your life

10 years ago it'd be something like Bridget Jones' Diary, but now it's more like the Attachment Parenting Book by William and Martha Sears. My life is currently all about slinging, co-sleeping and breastfeeding. Or at least that's what it feels like at the moment.

Day 13: Book whose main character is most like you

This may be the hardest of all, I have no idea. I don't often reads books that I strongly relate to. I think I'll have to come back to this one.

Day 14: Book whose main character you want to marry

Anne of Green Gables again for this one. I want to marry Gilbert Blythe. I couldn't understand why Anne didn't succumb to his charms earlier. Or maybe Aragorn.

Day 15: First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

I'm not quite sure what a chapter book is, is it a book with chapters? If so, the first I remember is The Secret of the Mansion, which was the first Trixie Belden book. I loved these books and freely plagiarised them in my creative writing at primary school. Between 1982 and 1986 I read most of these. I'm not sure whether I read them all, but I'm sure I read at least the first 30. There are synopses for all the books here. I was really shocked to learn that the first book was published in 1948. I had no idea at all that the books weren't modern when I read them. I wish I still had my originals, don't know what happened to them.

Day 16: Longest book you’ve read

I'm not exactly sure, but The Shadow Rising, from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, has over 1000 pages, so that has to be a contender. The series as a whole certainly is the longest I've read!

Unless The Lord of the Rings counts as one book.

Day 17: Shortest book you’ve read

Again, I can't be certain, but The Pearl, by John Steinbeck only has 90 pages, so it's one of the shortest.

Day 18: Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

Twilight. I know it's badly written and essentially about a 100+ year old stalking a teenage girl, but I don't care, I love it.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 11

Day 11 - A book from your favourite author.

Finally, an easy one! My favourite author is Sara Douglass. I first came across Sara's books in the library at the school where I taught. The Axis Trilogy was my first taste of her work and I was hooked. She mostly writes historical fantasy, although some of her books (primarily the Axis Trilogy/Wayfarer Redemption) involve some sci-fi elements. Sara was a history lecturer and actually lectured one of my friends when he was at university. She's a keen gardener and blogs about her garden when she is able. She's very interactive with her fans and posts frequently (when she's well enough) on her facebook page. She answers questions and asks questions as well, getting people to suggest names or comment on ideas.

Unfortunately, Sara is very ill. She has been living with cancer for some time now and it has returned quite aggressively. It makes me very sad that she is too ill to write or tend her garden.

Choosing one of her books is difficult, as I love so many of them. I'm not going to go with Battleaxe, the first of the Axis trilogy, even though I love it. Instead I'm going to choose The Nameless Day which is the first book in The Crucible Trilogy. It gets mixed reviews on Amazon, but I really enjoyed the series and it's among my favourite of Sara's works. The book is set in Europe in the Middle Ages, however it's not quite the Middle Ages as we know them. As Sara herself says, "I take historical fact ... and then warp it to my own pleasure. ;)" So we have the Black Prince fighting Joan of Arc. The story involves Heaven and Hell and the eternal fight between them.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

30 day book challenge Day 10: A book that changed your life

I've been staring at a blank screen on and off for 3 hours trying to think of a book that would fit the bill, and I really can't. I can't think of any book that has actually changed the course of my life. So I'm going to go for one that I think has had a reasonably large impact on my life. It was quite possibly an influencing factor in me becoming a teacher, although not a conscious one. That is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I loved Anne and wanted to be her, although I was probably more like Diana, though.

Honourable mention goes to The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Lovely book which may have encouraged me to travel to England.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Day 9: A book that makes you sick

Not so much a book as an entire genre, my choice for today are all those tragic survivor biographies - my mummy/daddy/uncle/etc. abused me and my life was horrible but I survived and here's a book about it. They always have black and white covers and titles like "Tell no one" and "Mummy, don't!"

I accept that this may be controversial, and it's not that I don't feel for the pain and suffering such people have gone through, I absolutely do, I just don't want to read about it. It makes me sick that there are publishers growing rich on the back of these tragedies, feeding into the voyeuristic tendencies of the general public.

I do know people who really enjoy reading these books and I just don't understand it. If you're one of them, please leave a comment and let me know why :)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 8

Day 8 - A book that scares you

Candlenight by Phil Rickman. I've read almost all of his books and really enjoy them (even more so now that I've visited some of the locations mentioned). Candlenight was the first of his books that I read, and it and the novels that followed utterly terrified me. Supernatural horror.

Special mentions also go to The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Haunting by Margaret Mahy, which scared the crap out of me as an 11 year old.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge Day 7: Book that you can quote/recite

Day 7: Book that you can quote/recite

"Silly old fox, doesn't he know? There's no such thing as a gruffalo."

"The magic hat, the magic hat, it goes like this, it goes like that..."

As the owner of a soon to be 4 year old (on Saturday, how did that happen?) I read a lot of picture books.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer is one I can recite. We have a lot of Julia Donaldson books and the simple rhymes make them easy to remember.

We also have a lot of Mem Fox books which also have lovely, catchy rhymes. We like The Magic Hat, Shoes from Grandpa ans Where is the Green sheep. I can't read Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge often because it makes me cry.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 6

Day 6 - Favourite Young Adult book

I read a lot of YA stuff. I read a lot of it as a child/teen, although it wasn't called YA then. I've read a lot since then as well. I got a real taste for it when I was teaching English and had to teach YA novels. Authors I loved include Cynthia Voigt (Come a Stranger, Tell Me if the Lovers are Losers), Margaret Mahy (The Haunting, Catalogue of the Universe) and of course L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. There are a lot of newer YA books I love as well, but I choosing one of the older ones.

A special honourable mention has to go to Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden. Ellie and her friends decide to go camping in the bush for a weekend before they go back to school at the end of the summer. When they return home they discover their town has been invaded by an unnamed enemy and they seem to be the only line of resistance. The book, and indeed the others in the series, draws you in and keeps up the tension throughout. Can they survive? Can they rescue their families? Can they defeat the enemy? And if so, what will it cost them? Brilliantly written.

So the winner: my favourite YA book is Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody. Obernewtyn is set in a post-apocalyptic world. If released today, it would probably be described as a dystopia. The ruling council have declared that all those showing signs of being different are labelled Misfits and destroyed. For humans, this means ritual burning. Elspeth Gordie is sent to work on a farm after being orphaned. There she is selected by Madam Vega to travel to the mysterious Obernewtyn. There she discovers that there are others with similar Talents to hers and they fight to restore the rightful master of Obernewtyn and set up a haven for other Misfits.

I was around 12 the first time I read this book and loved it instantly. I haven't read the whole series, there was a 10 year break between two of the books, but I've loved the books I've read.

Monday, 16 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge Day 5 - A book you'd like to live in

Day 5 - A book you'd like to live in.

Another hard one. I read a lot of fantasy and enjoy immersing myself in those worlds, so it's tempting to pick one of them. I also thought about going back to some of the classics I loved as a child, particularly Enid Blyton's books. I have stuck with a childhood classic. I would like to live in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. To be able to duck into the back of a closet and discover Narnia, with its mythical creatures and of course the wonderful Aslan. I read and loved the books as a child, and then read them again when I was at university* and was able to appreciate them in a completely different way.

*my university had a library where studying was banned, it was purely for leisure purposes - how cool is that?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Day 4

Day 4 - A book that makes you cry

I am such a sap, I cry at everything. That makes this quite a difficult one (who am I kidding, they're all difficult - I'm not good with choice).

So I'm going with The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I found it sad, uplifting, moving and harrowing and I cried. A lot.

The book is set in Afghanistan and starts prior to the Soviet invasion. Amir is a wealthy Pashtun boy and Hassan, a Hazara, is the son of his father's servant. The boys have grown up together and are very close, until an incident where Hassan is cruelly assaulted and Amir does nothing to stop it. In his guilt, Amir tries to have Hassan sent away, and eventually succeeds. A few years later the Soviets invade and Amir and his father escape to Pakistan, and eventually to America. Many years later, Amir hears from a friend of his father who asks him to come to Pakistan. He discovers that Hassan, now dead, has a son who needs Amir's help. Amir must enter Taliban controlled Afghanistan in order to save the boy and atone for failing his father.

I don't know if I've sold it at all well, but this is an incredible story. I confess to being completely ignorant of Afghanistan and its history. My knowledge is limited to what is shown on the news, so I enjoyed learning more about the country. It's a story about love, loyalty, loss, war, repentance and forgiveness.

Have you read it? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought. Or, tell me what book makes you cry, I'd love to know.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

30 Day Book Challenge - Days 1 to 3

Blogger has been down for a couple of days, so I couldn't start this when I wanted to, so I'm going to do the first 3 days all together.

If you want to do your own list, there's a facebook page with the rules, or you could check out #30daybookchallenge on twitter.

Day 1 - Your favourite book.

This is really hard as I love so many books, but there's one that always comes to mind when I'm asked that question and that's To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

I'd have thought everyone has read this book but my husband hasn't, so there must be others out there who haven't either.

I won't do a summary because I've been watching Eurovision and am a bit tipsy, and you can find one on Wikipedia if you don't know the story.

What I love about this book is how although we're seeing through the innocent eyes of Scout, we are able to see the true nature of the situations in the book. The scene outside the jail when Atticus is facing down the lynch mob is full of menace, but Scout is unaware of this and shames the men into leaving.

The whole thing is beautifully written and there are some really moving scenes. Jem having to sit with the neighbour who is weaning herself of morphine is one example.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."
- Atticus Finch

The book is full of amazing quotes. If you haven't read it, please do.

Day 2 - Least favourite book

This one isn't as hard. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Bloody awful book. So depressing. An old man goes fishing and then dies. I spent 12 weeks of my life studying that book, I'll never get them back.

Day 3 - Book that makes you laugh out loud

This one is really hard, I can't think of many books that have me laughing out loud, certainly not novels. There are a lot that raise a smile, and maybe a titter, but actual laughing, not so much. So, I'm going for The Complete Monty Python: All The Words. I've always liked Monty Python, and this has the scripts for sketches like Blackmail, which still makes me howl with laughter.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

To Touch The Stars - Jessica Ruston

Having been part of the same online community as Jessica Ruston for a number of years, I was really excited to read her first novel, Luxury, and I wasn't disappointed. So I was doubly looking forward to To Touch The Stars. It was released in hardcover late last year and came out in paperback and Kindle in February.

This romantic drama tells the life story of Violet Cavelley, matriarch of the Cavelley family and founder of a fashion empire. As Violet prepares to celebrate her 60th birthday her friends and family gather, but someone is watching as the guests arrive. We meet the family first - eldest son Flip, responsible workaholic who expects to take over when his mother retires, and his fiancée Tillie; younger son Blue, sensitive, damaged and brilliant and his partner Adam, who keeps him centred; Fran, the youngest, scarred and trying to avoid notice. On the surface, it appears that this family have it all, the villa in Capri, a successful business and money to burn, but what they have in abundance is secrets.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe update!

So I said in my review that I'd been inspired to go and make some cupcakes. The big one (almost 4 year old girl) and I made them together. We decided on strawberry cakes with vanilla buttercream icing. We had a lot of fun making and decorating them and the result is below. I've since bought a piping bag so that we can do a bit more precision decorating. They were absolutely delicious. We used a standard cupcake recipe and added natural strawberry flavouring. I was a bit worried when I saw (after they'd gone into the oven) that the flavouring wasn't bake stable, but they turned out very well and the icing was delicious. I normally dislike buttercream so that was quite an achievement :)

The Farseer Trilogy - Robin Hobb

Another recently discovered fantasy series that I missed on first release, the Farseer Trilogy was published in the mid-90s. This is epic fantasy, with kings and queens, magic and intrigue. The series follows the life of FitzChivalry Farseer, illegitimate son of the King-in-Waiting of the Six-Duchies. He is dumped at the castle by his maternal grandfather and is given into the care of his father's servant, Burrich. In the first book of the trilogy, we see Fitz grow from a small boy to a trained killer in service of his king and grandfather. Not all are happy to have Fitz at court, and his life is a dangerous one. In addition to this the land is under attack from raiders across the sea. The raiders take people as well as food and wealth. The fight against the raiders is a major part of the story and they are a formidable enemy. We're kept in suspense as to what they do to their prisoners right to the end of the final book and the reveal is worth the wait.

The three books are:
Assassin's Apprentice
King's Assassin
Assassin's Quest

As well as Fitz's personal story, there's the story of the Six-Duchies itself. The books are told in the first person and at the beginning of each chapter there's a small section that Fitz is writing on the history of the land and people. This serves as a clever exposition tool, introducing places, people and mythology without bogging down the story.

I really enjoyed these books although I did start reading the third before the second, which caused quite a bit of confusion. Towards the end I just couldn't put it down and had to find out what happened. I must say, the ending did manage to take me somewhat by surprise.

My favourite character by far was the Fool. I loved him, particularly in the later books. I shared his frustration with Fitz when he didn't understand what he was being told and didn't make the links that I had already made. A really well written character.

I did find the timeline difficult to follow. I had no idea how old Fitz was in the second and third books. He is described as being a young man in an old man's body, but I got very little sense of how much time was passing.

There are similarities to other epic fantasy series' but the books don't come across as derivative at all.

Hobb has written other books set in the same world and with the same characters and I look forward to finding out what happened to Fitz once the Red Ship Wars ended. Unfortunately, that will have to wait as the new Sookie Stackhouse book is out this week!