Dickens in December: I give up.

You may have noticed the lack of a Pickwick Papers update on Thursday. I was putting off formally giving up on it because I thought that I might sit down and catch up over the weekend, but I didn't, and I haven't got the slightest inclination to read any more of it. It's actually stopping me from reading other stuff, as I was feeling guilty about not reading it. So enough is enough, I quit!
You have defeated me once again, Dickens! Curse you!

Oh well! I read more than half, and I think that's a perfectly respectable amount to have read. 

I don't really understand what happened though, because I really enjoyed the first few chapters that I read. I don't know if it's because I was in a different state of mind when I was reading them, or whether it was just that the things that I was enjoying hadn't been repeated ad nauseum yet, but yeah, maybe that's just a sign of how inconsistent the book is. And how pointlessly long it is. And how desperately in need of an editor it is. I think this might be the first time that I have enjoyed a book so much at first and then ended up giving up on it. I quite often start not really liking something and warm up to it halfway through, but this is definitely a new experience for me! It's weird, I don't like it.

Still, I'm glad that I took part in the readalong! I think that this, combined with A Tale of Two Cities last year has firmly led me to the conclusion that I really don't particularly like Dickens. But if it has a plot, as Tale of Two Cities does, I can muddle through even though I dislike the way that he writes in general and find that I have to force myself to concentrate in order to figure out what is actually going on. So thank you to Bex for organising the readalong, and I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to see it through to the end.

I am glad that I didn't invest in a nice copy of the book now though! Hehe.

Is anybody still actually carrying on with the readalong?

Blog related note:
So you know, there may not be very many/any more posts from me this year. I am going to the UK for Christmas for the first time in 6 years, and need to actually start preparing for that (I'm SO EXCITED!), and I'm going to be over there until the end of the year. So if I don't post again, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas/whatever other seasonal thing you celebrate/end of December!


Dickens in December: The Pickwick Papers readalong, part 3

I did much better at reading the chapters in time this week, and my suspicions were correct: I do definitely enjoy this book more when I'm reading it at a more leisurely pace.

That being said, is it just me or was there a lot of fairly racist stuff in this week's chapters? I have no examples, because I'm not that organised, but there were a few bits where I noticed it. Sigh. Also, I had noticed this earlier but all of the female characters in this book seem to faint a lot! Was fainting actually that prevalent in that time (something to do with wearing corsets, perhaps?) or is it just Dickens being an arse?

I also feel like I'm supposed to like Sam, or empathise with him much more than with the other characters, but he is kind of leaving me cold. I don't mind when he's interacting with the main characters, but as soon as he goes off to see his father or does anything on his own he starts grating on me. How does everyone else feel about him?

Onto more positive points - I am definitely enjoying Winkle's ineptitude at everything. He is like me, although nobody would ever look at me and assume that I would be good at anything sporty, hehe. I really liked the ice skating chapter in general, although when Pickwick fell through the ice my first reaction was to think that he was going to almost die like in every other thing that I've ever read/seen where that happens.

I also like that most of the scrapes that people get into are as a result of them being extremely British and not actually talking about stuff for fear of embarrassment/embarrassing the other person.

When someone at some point started reciting (or whatever - yeah, I made no notes, sorry) A Christmas Carol, I really thought that we were going to get some prototype version of the later A Christmas Carol, which we didn't, but the goblin story was an awful lot like A Christmas Carol, right? I always think it's interesting to see stuff in earlier work that is then expanded on in later work. Makes me feel like some kind of literary detective! Although you know, the goblin story was quite boring. Why have goblins if you're not going to use them well? Silly Dickens.

When I saw that the trial had a whole chapter of its own I groaned a bit, but I actually really enjoyed the trial. It was all completely ridiculous, of course, but that is definitely not a bad thing.

Anyway, although I am enjoying some parts of the book, I am finding the whole thing is getting a bit stale. It is also far too long. If it was cut down so that only the actually interesting and amusing bits were in there, it would be much better! I am generally against abridging books, but I think I would enjoy an abridged version of this much more. This is also where actually have a plot would save the book somewhat, as at least I would (probably) want to know what happens next. As it is, I end up hoping that the next anecdote will be interesting each time I pick up the book, and I'm disappointed more often than not.

Some quotes that I enjoyed/that confused me:

‘What, Sammy!’ exclaimed the father. ‘What, old Nobs!’ ejaculated the son. And they shook hands heartily.
- I think I need to start using "What, old Nobs!" as a greeting.

"‘Fine time for them as is well wropped up, as the Polar Bear said to himself, ven he was practising his skating,’ replied Mr. Weller." 
- What is Sam going on about here? Or any of the time when he's talking?

"The chief features in the still life of the street are green shutters, lodging-bills, brass door-plates, and bell-handles; the principal specimens of animated nature, the pot-boy, the muffin youth, and the baked-potato man."
- I have no idea what a muffin youth is, but I want to be one. Or a baked-potato (wo)man. Mmm, baked potatoes.

"Veil, young brockiley sprout, wot then?"

- Young brockiley sprout, hehe.


Comics I read in November

Okay, so I'm not a huge comic/graphic novel reader (although I have read a sizeable amount of manga), but I do buy them occasionally and would love to read more! If I ever get some kind of tablet device then I would really like to look into exploring comixology or maybe signing up for marvel unlimited... but for the time being, printed comics, yay!

Hawkeye Volume 3: LA Woman written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Annie Wu and Javier Pulido

I talked about the first volume in Matt Fraction's Hawkeye run (ah, I feel like whenever I talk about comics I'm getting all of the terminology wrong, help!), here, and I also read the second one, which I didn't blog about (because I am a bad blogger) but did enjoy. This volume is much more straightforward than the first two volumes, which tended to have non-linear stories. It follows Kate Bishop, the other Hawkeye as she goes to L.A. Obviously this means almost no Clint Barton (boo!) but I like Kate, so yay! I guess the next volume released will cover what Clint was up to while Kate was in L.A., so I'm looking forward to that.

The first bit of it is taken not from the normal Hawkeye comics but from Hawkeye Annual #1 (I guess? Comics confuse me), and it's slightly jarring after the other things because it has a completely different colouring style, although it's apparently the same colour artist. Normally these Hawkeye comics have a very limited colour palette (which I like), but the first one uses more standard colours (I guess?). I didn't dislike it at all, but it felt like I was reading something else. It's weird how much having different colouring changes the feel of the comic! And I so wouldn't have been able to put my finger on what felt so different had it not been for the additional stuff at the back of the second volume where the person who does the colouring talks about how he purposefully uses a limited palette.

Anyway, if you are at all interested in Hawkeye I really recommend this (but do start at the beginning of this run, not at volume 3!)

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona

This is definitely a much more straightforward comic than Hawkeye. There has been a lot of buzz around this, mainly focused on the fact that the main character, Kamala Khan, is a Muslim Pakistani girl, which is pretty unusual for a superhero. I think the comic does a really good job of making Kamala's life seem completely normal for her (if that makes sense? I think sometimes things can go too much in the direction of WOW LOOK HOW DIVERSE WE'RE BEING! rather than actually seeming real), and I really liked her as a character. 

The story itself is pretty straightforward, Kamala ends up getting the power to alter her body so she can change her body at will, and one of the joys of this is that she could use it in the way that most teenage girls would and make her ideal body or something (...okay, maybe not just teenage girls because that is exactly what I would do if I had that power before even considering doing anything else, if I'm honest), and at the beginning she does struggle with that a bit, but then she just uses her ability to be awesome and try to fight crime, which is a wonderfully positive message.

I say this as a complete comics newbie, but so far it seems like this would be a good comic to jump in with, as so far there has been nothing that relies on you having a massive amount of comic knowledge to understand. I managed with my knowledge which is mostly just based on marvel films, hehe.

Honestly, it's pretty rare when I read something that I don't have some small complaints or criticisms about (my husband said that my constant criticism of everything is a sign that I'm turning Japanese, but I think that I've always been like that, and most of my Japanese friends are about a million times less nitpicky than I am), but I really couldn't find anything wrong with Ms. Marvel. I want the next volume to come out now!


Dickens in December: The Pickwick Papers readalong, part 2

So this is going to be short and sweet as I am not feeling particularly well.

I knew that Jingle would be back! Yay, I predicted something correctly for once! (It doesn't happen often).

I enjoyed the side anecdotes more this time round (maybe because I was expecting them and was thus mentally prepared for the break in tone from the rest of the book), but I still don't really think they belong in the story, and I kind of wish that Dickens had had a much more aggressive editor.

Ode to an Expiring Frog was amazing.

I couldn't have cared less about any of the election related stuff. My eyes kind of glazed over for most of that chapter.

I liked the old fashioned mic drop at the end of the story that the old man who was obsessed with inns was telling:

As the old man concluded his tale, he advanced to a peg in one corner, and taking down his hat and coat, put them on with great deliberation; and, without saying another word, walked slowly away.

(Although to be honest I'm not sure that the story that he told warranted it, but whatever)

I left it a bit late to start reading this week's chapters, so I'm going to try and start earlier next week. I definitely seem to enjoy the book more when I'm reading at a more leisurely pace without worrying that I'm getting behind.

I will have a more substantial post next week, I promise!


Mini reviews of end of October/beginning of November reads

Let's face it, I am never going to find the time/inclination to write proper reviews for everything that I have read. So my new plan is to give everything that I have read a mini review at least, and then do individual posts for books that I actually have a decent amount to say about.

And I did actually write this in early November, but then forgot to post it, haha. Oh well.

On with the reviews!

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

If you are looking for a light-hearted, easy to read book that doesn't take itself too seriously, this might be one for you. The story follows Harriet, a girl who is a self-professed geek who hates fashion, but is then scouted at a fashion event that she only attended to support her best friend Nat who actually wants to be a model. Awkward. It is completely ridiculous, and I am pretty sure that the fashion industry does not work at all in the way that it is depicted in the book (although I could be wrong I guess, according to the author biography it seems to have been based on personal experience!), but it was thoroughly entertaining, and I really loved Harriet as a character. I only bought this because it was really cheap, but I think I will definitely read the rest of the series the next time I need something that I know will be very entertaining.

My only complaint isn't anything to do with the book really, but there were "handwritten" sections that ended up being really tiny and difficult to read on my e-reader. I couldn't figure out a way to make the pictures bigger, so ended up having to squint at them. Probably just me being stupid, but I feel like that should be accounted for when it's made into an e-book!

The Dinner by Herman Koch

I'm sure that those of you who haven't read this have at least heard of it. I don't really want to say much about the story as I think it's the kind of thing that works best if you know as little about it as possible beforehand, but it is about a man who goes out for a meal with his wife, his brother and his sister in law, and throughout the dinner it is revealed that all is not as it seems.

I have heard some people say that they couldn't relate to the characters at all, but I didn't find that to be a problem. I enjoyed the book and the revelations weren't at all what I thought they might be. It was quite a tense reading experience, and on the whole I enjoyed it. I did find it slightly annoying that it kept on purposefully not telling you the names of things, like "at a hospital, but I won't tell you which one because..." when there didn't seem to be any need for it to be written that way.

I also went into the book thinking that everything would be revealed through the dinner, but there was a lot of remembering things that had happened, and I think conceptually it would have been much more interesting if it had just been the meal. I'm not entirely sure why I thought that it would just be the meal, I must have misunderstood something that I read about it! (I tend not to read reviews/blurbs too closely if I know I actually want to read something, so sometimes completely get the wrong end of the stick)

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Creepy cheerleaders? I'm there! This was a pretty creepy sinister book, and although I'm not sure I would count it amongst the best books that I have ever read, it was very well written, atmospheric and above all, enjoyable.

The book opens on some horrible event that has happened involving the narrator, Addy, and then the book goes on to cover the events that led up to it and... well to say any more would involve spoilers.

I enjoyed this, although I found some of the dialogue pushed the lines of plausibility (especially some of the things that Beth, Addy's best friend said). But overall, it was a very enjoyable read.

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

This was an interesting one for me, as the book is set in Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe, obviously, I so knew that before I started reading the book), and most of the books that I read that are set in countries that are not the UK or America tends to be more serious literary fiction (like the two books that I read this year that are at least party set in Zimbabwe and Nigeria, We Need New Names and Americanah - neither of which I blogged about, apparently! Bad Jenny. They were both excellent!), and this was definitely not.

The story is about a hairdresser, Vimbai, who is the star hairdresser in her salon until a man, Dumisani, shows up and takes a job as a new hairdresser. The story follows Vimbai and Dumi as their relationship evolves from rivals to something else, as we find out more about Dumi's mysterious past.

I liked reading a book set in a country which has a lot of political and economic issues, where those issues were not the main focus of the book, but to be honest, if it wasn't for the setting I'm not sure how far I would have got into the book. I spent a lot of the time that I was reading it saying "ARGH Vimbai stop being an idiot!" in my head, as she was infuriatingly naive about a lot of things, and I didn't find the plot particularly interesting, although it didn't outright bore me at any point. What I did find fascinating were the insights into daily life in Zimbabwe and being exposed to a completely different culture. If this book had been set in... I don't know, Birmingham or somewhere I probably would have read a couple of pages, shrugged and decided that I didn't care.

Also, every chapter seemed to end with a sentence like this: "Little did I know that this small twist of fate would cost me my crown.", which I think is okay occasionally, but gets irritating when it is repeated ad infinitum!


Dickens in December: The Pickwick Papers readalong, part 1

It's time to break out the Dickens again for another Dickens in December readalong, hosted by the wonderful Bex of An Armchair By The Sea.

I totally meant to do an intro post but um, I didn't, so let's just say here that before I started reading it I knew next to nothing about the book. In general I'm not really a massive Dickens fan (I like the stories, not too sure about the writing style), but last year I also joined in with the readalong of A Tale of Two Cities, which overall I would say that I enjoyed, but I did still struggle with somewhat. This meant that I was slightly nervous going into The Pickwick Papers in case it all became too Dickensy for me. But to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the first section a lot!

First of all, it's funny. The first chapter immediately sets up the idea that the whole novel is going to be lightly poking fun at everything, which is sadly necessary for me as otherwise I have a habit of taking things which are supposed to be funny at face value and being confused when I read reviews afterwards talking about how funny the book was (although I don't think it necessarily would have been a problem with this book!)

Another good thing about it is that it's pretty fast paced, so if you aren't particularly interested in what's going on then it's very likely that the next chapter is going to be about something completely different. It feels like it has been a long time since I have read a book that focuses more on small events happening throughout the book than on an overarching plot. It actually feels weirdly nostalgic to read, as a lot of the books (particularly classics) that I read when I was younger were more along those lines - Little Women, A Little Princess, What Katy Did At School, What Katy Did Next (weirdly I can remember these two much more vividly than the first book), a lot of Astrid Lindgren books (I will always love you, Bullerby children). I seem to have fallen out of the habit of reading these, but honestly this whole thing is reminding me that I should probably have some books like that mixed into my reading.

As far as the characters go I definitely love Pickwick and Tupman already, although I feel like the other members of the Pickwick club have not really had a chance to shine yet. Hopefully they will in the rest of the book. I also enjoyed Mr Jingle, and I sort of hope that he keeps on popping up throughout the novel to stir things up.

The one thing that I don't quite get though is why there are so many anecdotes included in it, that are either told by other people or written down and read by one of the characters... like, I don't really get why they're there at all? The ones so far have not really been that interesting to me, and they have a decidedly different tone to the rest of the novel, it just seems a bit odd to have them there. I guess though, it is Dickens, so he has to do some moralizing at some point, and they are there to fill his moralizing quota? Perhaps.

Anyway, I am definitely enjoying it, and I think that one of my main issues with this readalong might be actually making myself stick to the schedule!

Yay for enjoyable, very readable Dickens! Let's hope that the book carries on in this vein.

A few quotes that I enjoyed:

Now general benevolence was one of the leading features of the Pickwickian theory, and no one was more remarkable for the zealous manner in which he observed so noble a principle than Mr. Tracy Tupman. The number of instances, recorded on the Transactions of the Society, in which that excellent man referred objects of charity to the houses of other members for left-off garments or pecuniary relief is almost incredible.

‘Mr. Tupman,’ rise,’ said the spinster aunt, with averted head—‘I can hardly speak the words; but—but—you are not wholly indifferent to me.’

- I wish that I had used this at some point to respond to somebody asking me out.

"Who could continue to exist, where there are no cows but the cows on the chimney-pots"

...who indeed.

P.S. I'm still on the lookout for a pretty printed version of the book, as I could only find very old battered looking penguin classic versions (the ones with the black spine) at all the bookshops (only 2, to be honest, but it's not like I'm surrounded by bookshops with a decent English fiction section) I looked in here, so I ended up getting an e-book version as well (although not a free one, because I don't think I could deal with awful formatting). Anybody have any recommendations? (I can get hold of both US and UK versions equally easily)


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A warning before I start talking about the book - I actually lent the book to a friend so I don't have it on hand, and as I never take notes this may not be the most detailed review ever. Ah well!

This is my second proper Neil Gaiman book, and it made me feel that in time, he may well become one of my favourite authors.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of a toddler who manages to escape from his crib and make his way to the local graveyard on the same night that a man comes to his house to murder his family. Naturally, the ghost residents of the graveyard agree to take him in, with the help of a mysterious friend of the graveyard called Silas. So the toddler is adopted by the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Owen, and they decide to call him Nobody Owens, or Bod for short. The book follows Bod as he grows up and gets up to all sorts of mischief.

Now looking at that summary of the story, that is a pretty depressing way to start a book, but as it is a children's book we are spared the horrible details. The book has a sort of loose ongoing plot to do with the initial murders weaved through it, but it is mostly a collection of short stories featuring the same characters, that involve Bod going on some kind of adventure, learning something, and growing. In other hands this could be very boring, or far too childish for an adult to read and enjoy, but Gaiman seems to be the perfect person to tell this kind of story. All of Bod's adventures are very entertaining and a bit dark, which is the ideal combination for me.

I really loved all of the characters in the book, from the adventurous, curious Bod to the mysterious Silas, and could happily have read several more volumes detailing Bod's adventures. Alas, the book did not last forever.

My one complaint about the book (because I can never just like anything, apparently) doesn't really have anything to do with the writing. I don't know if all copies of the book have pictures, but mine did, and although I didn't dislike them, they showed Bod wearing normal clothes and then on the next page there were descriptions of him just being wrapped in a grey sheet, and that kind of thing drives me slightly crazy when reading books! But that is literally the only thing that I disliked about the book.

If you are looking for a charming, easy to read novel that you could easily read in chunks and then put aside for a while (although why you would want to, I have no idea), then I definitely recommend this.

I definitely need to try more Gaiman, I think I might read more of his children's books first before anything else, because I'm a bit scared of not liking some of his adult stuff. I know that when I read Smoke and Mirrors, a few of the stories weren't quite my cup of tea, which is fine for a short story but would make me sad it if was a whole novel.

I actually finished this in October (even though I am actively trying to update my blog more often, I am wayyyyy behind in writing stuff about things that I have been reading), so for once I read a spooky book in the run up to Halloween. Yay me!


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

 I don't think that anything that I say here is going to actually fully express how much I liked this book. But honestly, I loved it from the moment that I started reading it till I finished.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

This book made me change the way that I normally read, which is quite an achievement - Normally when I really get into a book I start trying to read as fast as I possibly can (and thus miss bits and get confused later, haha), but with this book I actually slowed down. It's not a particularly long novel, and I didn't really want to leave the world that VanderMeer created, it was so creepy, atmospheric, and above all, fascinating.

One thing that I really liked about the book was the way that it captured the narrator's voice. The narrator, the biologist (she isn't named in the novel) obviously has a scientific background, and her narrative style reflects that really well. It was sort of detached at times, as if she was stepping back and observing what was happening, which perfectly fit her character. There was a distinct lack of flowery language (always a good thing in my book!), and I thought that the biologist, and the other characters in the book were all drawn really well, and seemed like real humans who are reacting in very human ways to what happens to them. I think this is an excellent example of how to write a strong female character (for men, women generally don't have issues with this!). The character doesn't have to be some kind of warrior, you just need to give them a personality that isn't purely defined by the fact that they are female, and give them agency.

This has nothing to do with the content of the books, but I really like both the UK and US cover art for the whole of the trilogy. They both do an excellent job of conveying the mood of the book. In fact, although I have got all of the novels digitally, I am quite tempted to buy physical copies as well. (Plus, I got Annihilation for free (presumably to entice people to spend money on the rest of the trilogy? It worked for me!), and I feel that this is wayyyy too low a price for a book that I enjoyed this much!

I'm really curious as to where the series will go next. There's still a lot left open and unknown at the end of the first book, and I know that the second one focuses on a completely different thread of the story and completely different characters. I already bought it, so I'm excited about reading it! Although I am also a bit wary that it might let me down. With a book where half the fun is reading about all of the mysterious happenings and trying to figure out what exactly is going on, I think it would be very easy for the explanations (if they do come by the end of the book) to be slightly disappointing. I hope not though.

On a random tangent, the weird creatures in this book reminded me that I still need to read Maddadam. In fact, it's been too long since I read any Atwood at all. Hmm...


Super exciting life update!

So yesterday was a pretty momentous day for me. It was the last day at my job... and a busy one! I didn't leave the office until it had gone 11! This is mostly my fault as I assumed that I would have time in the last couple of days to sort out the data on my work computer and clean my desk, but I didn't vouch on new work coming in earlier this week. Ah well! It's weird how staying that late doesn't seem like a bad thing when you know that you don't have to work the next day (and that you won't be wasting most of a precious weekend day by sleeping, because it's Friday and everyone else is at work. Mwah ha ha ha!).

Anyway, I quit my job as I got to the stage where I think I either had to accept that I would be working there until I was forced to quit for whatever reason, or to actually try to do something that I've been wanting to do for ages, which is becoming a freelance translator. I have no idea if the freelance lifestyle will suit me (or if I will be able to get enough work to make this financially viable!)... I expect that the reality will be radically different from the idealised version I've been pining after for years, but if I am going to do this then I figured it was better to try now, than in a few years when my husband and I might have more responsibilities than we currently do. And if it doesn't work, then I can go back to an office job (or an English teaching job) and feel more satisfied with the decision.

In terms of books... this means that for at least the next month or so I should have more time to read! Yayyy! I haven't really been aiming to read a particular number of books this year, but according to goodreads I have finished 82 books so far (I'm pretty sure that my blog does not in any way give off the impression that I have read that much!) which is so close to 100 that I feel tempted to aim for it... but then I don't want to rush through books (which is something that I do too much anyway) just for the sake of having read a nice round number by the end of the year. So I'll probably just carry on reading the same way that I normally do. Hehe.

Also, I think that I am probably not going to be able to get that much work for the first half a year at least of doing freelance stuff, so I have been toying with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo, and I think I might give it a shot! I have an idea that I've been mulling over for a while, and although writing was always something that I really enjoyed, I haven't tried to do any for years. I realise that fully deciding to do this on the last day of October probably isn't the way to go into it, but I may as well try, right? I've been secretly wanting to since I heard that it existed (so at least 10 or so years ago?).

....now wondering what to do with the rest of my day. Maybe changing out of my pyjamas and showering would be a good start! I'm also feeling a really strong urge to clean my house, but that doesn't seem relaxing enough for a day off!


Mini reviews of October reads

I seem to have read a lot of books this month that I don't really have that much to say about.. so mini review time it is!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Obviously this was amazing (and a re-read). My husband has slowly been reading his way through the entire series, and I knew that if I started re-reading them as he was reading them I would end up irritating him, so I was waiting for him to finish to indulge in some proper comfort reading.

The last time I read Harry Potter (in English - I have read the first one at least in German and Japanese since then!!) was years ago, so I had forgotten how many little jokes and things there are scattered through the books that make me smile. I ended up reading this when I was in the middle of trying to read Five Days at Memorial, because my slightly cold-addled brain couldn't comprehend it any more, and it was just what I needed!

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton

This is another book that I read whilst trying to get through Five Days at Memorial, and again it was just what I needed! I'm sure British people will have heard of the Agatha Raisin series, but if you haven't, it's based around a woman who has retired and moves to the Cotswolds to a village where lots of murders seem to happen (I assume). This is the first book in the series, and is about her moving there, and trying to fit into the village by entering a quiche competition which ends in murder.

It's a bit daft, but the actual character of Agatha Raisin is unusual in that she's actually quite unlikeable, but pretty fun to read about. All in all, it's quite silly, but lots of fun and oh so very British, and seeing as Britain is so very far away, it's nice to read something like that once in a while. (Harry Potter is kind of similar in its Britishness... maybe being sick makes me slightly homesick?) I will definitely have to remember to keep the other Agatha Raisin books in mind when I want something light and entertaining. I only wish that there were charity shops near here where I had a chance of finding the books for cheap!

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This is my second Asimov book. I read The Gods Themselves ages ago and really loved the middle section (and thought the beginning and end section were okay), and I was hoping that Foundation would have at least a section on the same level as the middle section of The Gods Themselves... and it didn't really. But seeing as I have since read reviews of The Gods Themselves saying that it might be the best thing that Asimov wrote, my expectations were almost definitely too high.

The book is about a group of people who travel to the far reaches of the universe to work on an encyclopedia... which is a pretty interesting idea! I was fascinated by the encyclopedia idea, but the story quickly changed into lots of important people having important conversations with each other and outfoxing each other. Which was fun, but towards the end I realised that in the whole book, which covers over a century of this new society being established there were TWO female characters (that I noticed!). One is a servant girl who gets excited by some pretty jewellery, and another is the nagging wife of one of the male characters. Not great. I get that this was probably a consequence of the time when it was written, but.. hmm. It doesn't particularly encourage me to read more!

I sort of want to read the next book, as this one was more a collection of short stories about the foundation (see what I did there?) of this new society, but... I'm not convinced that this will ever happen! It's not a bad book by any means (apart from the lack of female characters - because half of the population of the new society isn't worth mentioning?), but it just wasn't my thing.

Oh and in the book they say "Space!" and "Galaxy!" instead of swearing. Which is fun, and something I might try to incorporate into my everyday speech!

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

Fascinating look into slightly insane techniques that have been tried out in the American military. I found this when I read the psychopath test a few years ago too, but I always feel like I should like Jon Ronson books WAY more than I do. I'm not sure what it is about the books, but although I find the subject matter interesting, there's something that stops me from finding the whole book as enjoyable as I feel I should. Maybe I just don't like his writing style? I'm not entirely sure...

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

My parents LOVE Jo Nesbo, and as almost all of the e-book versions were really cheap a while ago I thought I would give him a try. This is actually the third Harry Hole book, but it was the first published in the UK which is why I got it. I would have preferred to try the first book, but never mind. This is why I should do more research before I buy things!

There were certain parts of the book where I found it hard to put down (even when I really should have done as it was already late and I had work the next day). In general I thought that the story was good, and I learned a load of stuff that I didn't know about Norway and its role in World War II, but I don't think that I'll be reading any of the others. Yet again, I have reminded myself that I'm just not a massive fan of crime as a genre (when it comes to books, anyway). I told this to my parents when I skyped them earlier and they recommended me a different crime series that they thought I might like, so maybe I'll give that a try at some point! I do like the idea of having a series of books that I know I'll enjoy!

Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker

I have actually been reading this really slowly over the course of the last 5 or 6 months, reading one or two columns before sleeping. I have loved Charlie Brooker's columns for years now, and this is a collection of them. They're from between 2000 to 2004, and mostly diatribes about how rubbish TV is (with the occasional thing that he actually liked). He gets a bit obsessed by 24 which made me feel really nostalgic! He also talks about loads of programmes that I had completely forgotten about, and the early episodes of talent based TV competitions which are somehow still going. If you like the way he writes, enjoy his rage, and want to enjoy a nostalgic look back at TV from over 10 years ago, you will enjoy it!


Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

Oh Five Days at Memorial... I wanted so much to love you like I thought I would, but... well, we'll get into that.

Before we start, you should probably know that I'm fascinated by medicine in general, I like (hypothetically!) thinking about ethical dilemmas, and find seeing how humans react to natural disasters fascinating (although living in Japan puts me in a bit too much danger of actually being a victim of a natural disaster for my liking!). So given that this book is about possible euthanasia performed at a hospital in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, you would think it would have been right up my alley.

And it was, for the first half at least. The book starts in the middle of the disaster, and then goes back to the beginning, to the preparations (or lack thereof) made for it, to previous hurricane damage in New Orleans and the aftermath, and what people should have learned from it, and then goes into what happened during the hurricane itself. I really enjoyed (although that is not quite the right word) all of the first half of the book, up until everyone had either been rescued or was dead. I even stayed up late reading it on a weeknight, which I don't do very often.

My problems with the book really started in the second half when it was talking about what legal action was taken, who said what about whom, and what was going on in general. My main issue was that there was far too much information for me. There were a lot of people who were working in the hospital during the hurricane in the first place (and although I was much more interested in that part, I did feel a bit overwhelmed by it), and then introducing all of their lawyers, the prosecution, people doing other investigations into the case just became too much. I couldn't keep up with who everyone was, and the narrative seemed to jump around all over the place. I think it was trying to keep everything in chronological order, but I just found it confusing. I also would have been quite happy to just read a really pared down version of what happened afterwards, and the issues that it had raised, rather than a whole run-down of exactly who said what and when. I just found it a bit tedious.

For example, when talking about the main surgeon who was accused of performing euthanasia, Anna Pou, it talks about how she was treating one of her long-term patients, and spends a fair amount of time talking about him.. and he wasn't actually involved in the hurricane in any way. I understand that this was to highlight the good sides of her character, her devotion to her patients and the fact that she ended up not being able to treat him any more after being arrested, but it could have been easily shortened or just mentioned as an aside.

The book does raise some important ethical questions on whether euthanasia was an acceptable choice here (if that is actually what happened, that is), whether it is ever acceptable, what medical professionals should actually do in the face of disaster and so on... and I'm sure that if I was reading it as part of a class on that kind of issue or something, it would have been perfect. I just think it was a little too dry to be read for pleasure, which is why I read.

As a disclaimer... I read the second half of the book while feeling a bit under the weather, which probably affected the amount of patience I had. I did actually realise this and switch to a different book for a while, but when I came back to it feeling a bit better, I still had the same issues.

If you're interested in the book, I wouldn't tell you not to bother reading it, but I sort of wish that I'd just read the original article that the book was based on. Basically, I wanted just the five days at memorial of the title, not the years of case building and litigation that followed.


Jen reads... Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth is a selection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's the first thing that I've ever read by her, but if this is anything to go by, I'm going to love her other books!

All of the stories focus on Indian American characters, but although the stories share some themes about what it is like to be a first, second or even third generation Indian American, they are all different enough that this is in no way an issue (although I have seen some people bring it up as one). The first half of the book is made up of unconnected short stories, but the second half follows two characters, Hema and Kaushik at different stages in their intersecting lives.

There weren't any stories that I disliked or found boring in any way, which is pretty rare for a collection of short stories! Although my experience of being British and living in Japan is obviously quite different to the experience of Indian families living in America, there were a lot of things about the immigrant experience that Lahiri touches on that I have experienced to some extent, which I enjoyed. There were also a lot of culturally specific issues that I have no experience of, but which I found really fascinating to read about - The role of women in the home, traditional family roles versus modern ones, having relationships with people outside of your own culture, and so on... but the book isn't solely concerned with these issues. It also tackles much more universal problems such as how to cope with the alcholism of a family member, how things appear on the outside may not completely different to how they actually are, what happens to solid relationships when you add children into the mix, unrequited feelings and many other things.

Lahiri writes in one of my favourite styles - her writing is easy to read and not at all pretentious, but still extremely moving and beautiful. I don't normally comment that much on writing style (because it feels too much like I'm still in English lit. at school), but I really found myself appreciating it as I was reading.

The stories in this book are at both fascinating and quietly devastating, and they made me want to read a lot more of Jhumpa Lahiri's work. Highly recommended!


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

I recently decided that if I'm going to write book reviews on here, I should actually try to take notes or at least highlight passages in books so that I can look back at them and remember what I wanted to talk about... so of course, the first book that I choose to do that with to be one where to talk about the main topic of the book would immediately involve diving into spoiler territory. I won't, but I would love to talk about the book to somebody who has actually read it!

If you have heard anything (other than the booker nomination) about We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, then you probably know that there is a massive twist in the story about 70 pages in. I already had the book, which I had bought without knowing much about (other than that it was cheap and nominated for the booker), and was convinced to read it when I heard Simon on The Readers podcast* talk about how amazing the twist is. I hate being spoiled, so I knew that I needed to read it before I heard anything else about the book.

But setting the twist aside for the moment, as soon as I got a few pages into the book I knew I was going to love it. The book does a really good job of setting up this family where something is not quite right, but nobody is willing to talk about it for fear of upsetting the status quo, in an early part of the book where Rosemary goes home from college for thanksgiving. There are also several places where it is hinted that the narrator, Rosemary, is not entirely normal, exemplified by a scene in the college cafeteria, where she gets embroiled in an argument between a couple, where she ends up acting not entirely like a normal person would. This all made me really want to read on and figure out what was actually going on.

Another thing that I really liked is that Rosemary is a really self-conscious narrator. By that I mean that she is extremely aware that she is telling a story, and often makes asides to the reader, saying things like "Such a sweetheart. But don’t get attached to him; he’s not really part of this story". I think this could have been done really really badly, but it is handled really well, and makes Rosemary much more likeable, even when her behaviour is initially inexplicable.

The story starts in the middle, and then moves all over the place before finally reaching the end, but this is done in a way that feels natural and not at all jarring. This is a technique that I really love when it's done well.

 So now we come to the twist... and what a twist it is! I honestly did not see it coming in any way. It wasn't even in the genre of twist that I thought it would be. It turns what I thought was another well-written story about a dysfunctional family into something quite different. To be honest, it completely flummoxed me until I had read on a few pages when it all started to make sense. I think the thing that I like the most about the twist is that it isn't the whole book. I think you could quite happily know what the twist is before reading it and it wouldn't ruin your enjoyment of the book at all. I don't mean to say that because the writing is excellent (though it is), or that the characters are well rounded and interesting (though they are), you are going to enjoy the rest of the book even if you know what happens. What I mean is that the twist reveals the main point of the book, the fact that there is a twist isn't the point.

I would still recommend not knowing what the twist it is before you read it though.

I would be very happy if this wins the booker, and the fact that I enjoyed this so much is making me wonder if I should try to read the rest of the shortlist (I went off the booker prize a few years ago when I tried to read The Finkler Question which I HATED and did not finish, which is pretty rare for me)... I probably won't though, haha.

Quotes I enjoyed:

"When there is an invisible elephant in the room, one is from time to time bound to trip over a trunk."

"“Pass the turkey, Mother,” my uncle Bob said, sliding smoothly into his traditional rant about the way turkeys are being bred for more white meat and less dark. “The poor birds can hardly walk. Miserable freaks.” This, too, was intended as a dig at my father, the enterprise being another of science’s excesses, like cloning or whisking up a bunch of genes to make your own animal. Antagonism in my family comes wrapped in layers of code, sideways feints, full deniability."

"Language does this to our memories—simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture."

"At dinner, I adopted my usual strategy of saying nothing. The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff. Saying nothing was more amendable, and over time I’d come to see that it was usually your best course of action. I’d come to silence hard, but at fifteen I was a true believer."

* If you like book podcasts and haven't tried that one, you should! I only recently discovered it and have really enjoyed the back episodes that I've listened to so far.


Book quiz! Yayyy!

I'm not sure I've ever done something like this before, but everyone else is doing it so I'm going to join in! Yayy!

1. What is your favourite fictional food or drink?

Is this just food that appears in books? If it's actual food that doesn't exist, then I would have to go with something from Charlie and the Chocolate factory... I realise that chocolate exists already, but a chocolate waterfall/river would be amazing. (As long as it's not the stuff that is used in chocolate fountains that has a ton of oil mixed into it!)
If it's just food that appears in books then maybe lemon cakes from a song of ice and fire, because they sound delicious. Actually most food in those books sounds delicious. Mmmmmm.

2. How long did it take you to finish your last book?

The last book I finished was Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang and it took me about 2 and 1/2 days. My husband has been off gallivanting around America this week, so I've had a lot of time to read.

3. How many times do you stare at your books or bookshelves each day?

I don't really stare at my books or bookshelves? Some of my bookshelves are right next to my futon (I live in Japan, sleeping on a futon is the norm here!) though, so I definitely look at them before I sleep and when I wake up. The section that is right next to my head is mostly my husband's textbooks from university, so not too exciting.

4. How many Goodreads friends and books do you have?

I only have 12 friends on Goodreads, hehe. How sad. I have 94 books, but I don't keep any kind of to be read list on there, so that's just books that I've finished since I joined or books that I'm currently reading. If anybody reading this wants to add me, feel free!! You can find me here.

5. Do you ever quote books in public?

Maybe? More than half of my friends over here don't speak English though, so would have no idea what I'm talking about if I did, and I'm not sure that I would be able to quote many things in Japanese. I'm sure I do when talking to fellow English people though.

6. Do you ever re-read books?

Yes, but all of the books that I would re-read are in England! When I was younger I would re-read stuff ALL of the time though. I am going to re-read all of the Harry Potter books at some point soon though, as my husband has finished reading them in English so there's no danger of me catching up to him and annoying him! Hehe.

7. Do you judge a book by its cover?

Yes. Especially now if I'm thinking about buying a book to actually have at home instead of reading it digitally, I refuse to buy it unless I like the cover. (This is why I have still not read Maddaddam - I want to own a physical copy of it, but I HATE the cover art of the version being sold over here.)

8. Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr?

Twitter (although I don't tweet much) AND instagram (because pretty pictures!). I "read" a few Tumblrs, and if I was younger I'm sure I would have loved it, but I don't really want to make my own.

9. Which genres take you the longest to read?

Classics (if that is a genre) because I feel like I HAVE to read them, even if I've chosen to myself, so I end up feeling reluctant about actually doing it. Also, non-fiction books (because they get pushed to the side when I get really into whatever fiction book I'm reading!) and any books that are a collection of short pieces - essays, columns, stories etc. I put them down and then forget to pick them back up. I've been reading a collection of Charlie Brooker columns for about 6 months now, haha.

10. Who are your favourite BookTubers (or Book Bloggers)?

I tried watching book stuff on youtube, but I didn't really get into it at all. My favourite book bloggers are anybody whose blog I have commented on! (I don't want to list people in case I miss anybody, although I doubt that anybody really cares whether they're on my favourites list or not, hehe)

11. How often do you pre-order books?

I'm not sure I've ever pre-ordered a book.

12. Are you a shopaholic?

No. In general, I actually talk myself out of buying stuff way more often than I let myself buy things. I'm much more likely to want something, consider it for about 6 months and then end up not buying it.
I'm assuming this question is supposed to be about book shopping though. It takes me a lot to buy actual paper books, but I buy cheap digital books too often. I'm currently trying not to buy anything else until I've worked through the 20 or so unread books I have on my kindle. I'm not sure it's going to work though.

13. How many times have you re-read your favourite book?

I don't have a favourite book, but books that I would list as my favourites are all ones that I loved as a child/teenager and have re-read many times since then.

14. Do you own a lot of books?

Not compared to most people who write book blogs! I have a fair few digital books now, but I really don't have a huge amount of paper books, because we have no space for them.

15. Do you take pictures of your books before you read them?

No, but if I get really excited about a book I've just bought then I might take a picture. Seeing as most of the books I read are digital anyway, I'm not sure that anybody would really want to see a lot of pictures of my e-reader, hehe.

16. Do you read every day?

Yes. Most days I will read at least a page or so of whatever book I'm reading (I can't remember the last day that I didn't do that), and when I don't do that I still read lots of articles or whatever online. Also I have to read at work (to be able to translate something, you have to read it first! Who would have thought?!)

17. How do you choose a new book?

To buy - I have a mental list of books that I want to read and when I see one of them on sale somewhere I will probably buy it. Otherwise, if something fits the mood that I'm in while book shopping I will probably buy it (and then not be in the right mood to read it for months, hehe).

18. Do you always have a book with you?


19. What are your biggest distractions from reading?

The internet in general. I have realised recently that I am a much happier person if I actually try to do something that I have chosen to do in the evenings after work rather than just do random stuff, so I try to either choose to read something or choose to watch something, and once I've done that I tend not to get too distracted.

20. What is your favourite place to buy books?

My favourite place would be an actual bookshop. In Japan, the bookshops that have a decent selection of English books are few and far between, but I really like the big Kinokuniya in Shinjuku (the one connected to Takashimaya), and the big Maruzen in Oazo near Tokyo station. In England I like going to charity shops as well.

In reality, I buy most of my books on amazon. I would probably not do this if I was in England, but as I don't have access to a library with a good selection of English books (although judging by the English sections I have seen in libraries here, I could probably read ALL of the Agatha Christie books ever published), it's a choice between not reading because I can't afford to, or reading and buying things on amazon. Obviously, reading wins.


The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Warning - this review (and this book!) are probably not for the squeamish!

I have always been fascinated by medicine (I wonder if it's inevitable when you have a parent in the medical profession who leaves medical journals lying around the house all of the time? Must ask my sister!), and have wanted to read this book for a long time, but let's be honest, reading a fairly large book about cancer isn't exactly the most appealing prospect!

What finally got me to actually buy and read this is some translation that came in to my company which was to do with some new treatments for cancer that are in development. While struggling with the translation (medical stuff is hard when you have no kind of medical background!), I realised that I barely knew anything about cancer, and that maybe this would be a good thing to read to help me to learn.. and I was right!

The Emperor of all Maladies is a really fascinating look at the history of cancer, from the first time that it was recorded, to what the causes were once believed to be, early treatments, up to the modern day (or close - it was published in 2010).

It goes without saying that cancer is a really hideous disease, but some of the methods that used to be used to treat it are similarly hideous. There is a lot of talk in the book about radical mastectomies, which is horrific surgery that involved cutting away large swathes of muscle around the breasts, and cutting things out of the neck as well - basically cutting as much as was humanly possible without killing the patient, leaving many women horrifically disfigured, without actually curing the cancer in many cases.

Although at times the book was quite depressing - unsurprisingly, considering the subject matter - it did really make me appreciate how far medicine has come, as a lot of cancers that would have almost certainly been fatal before can now be cured, or at least sent into remission for long periods, and although it is probably unlikely that anything will ever completely cure cancer, I don't think it is too preposterous that one day cancer will be mostly treatable. I really hope that is the case!

I think that anybody who is interested in this kind of thing and isn't too squeamish would enjoy this book, but I suspect that a lot of the book may hit a little too close to home for anybody who knows anybody currently being treated for cancer, or anybody who is being treated themselves...

Other things of note:

  • The book also talks a fair bit about AIDS, which I found really interesting after reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home.
  • While reading about some of the more disgusting/horrifying descriptions of early treatments on the train, I kept on making involuntary weird faces which caused people around me to look at me strangely, hehe. 


I am officially the worst book blogger.

So apparently I haven't posted anything here since June... oops?


To be fair... no wait, I don't really have an excuse. Hmm.

I actually have some posts that I wrote back in June which I haven't posted properly yet, so hopefully I'll be posting those this week (unless I reread them and remember some reason why I hadn't posted them, hehe), and then I'll try and do some catch up reviews for stuff that I've read in the meantime. I think I am going to have to give up on actually trying to review everything that I read though (um, if anybody actually realised that that is what I was trying to do! Hehe). Maybe just posts about the things that I really want to talk about, and other random posts, and then a monthly/bimonthly round-up of what I've read?

Anyway.. I will try to be better! At least I have actually still been reading!


Jen reads... Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

One of the reasons that I haven't updated in a while is that I have read a lot of books about which I'm having difficulty finding coherent things to say, and this book is definitely one of them. So if this post makes little sense, this is why!

As such, this review may be a bit spoilery, because I honestly have no idea how to talk about it in a spoiler free way.

Tell the Wolves I'm home is the story of June, whose uncle and best friend, Finn, dies from AIDS. It's mostly about the unlikely relationship that she develops with Finn's secret boyfriend, Toby, and her relationship with her sister, Greta.

I'm sure that I have said before that I have a weakness for stories about sisters, and this one captured a certain kind of sister dynamic perfectly. Greta and June were once really close, but have drifted apart, and find coping with Finn's death is half making them drift even further apart, and half bringing them back together. They both seem to be coping with his death in completely different (but completely understandable) ways, and I really enjoyed (if that is the right word, which it isn't) seeing the way they interacted with each other.

One of the other huge elements of the book is June's relationship with Toby (arguably much bigger than the sister stuff, but I have sister based fiction priorities, dammit!), which I also thought was portrayed completely realistically. They both react to each other and their situation in ways that made complete sense, and it is enjoyable seeing them forge new ties in the wake of Finn's death.

The book is set in 1987, and everybody is still pretty ignorant about AIDS (although not as ignorant as they would have been a few years before then), so you also see how June and her family cope with how the rest of the community that they live in reacts, and how June's parents reacted before and after Finn's death. It's really depressing in a lot of ways, and it made me wonder how much has actually changed... Obviously, we now know a lot more about AIDS and treatment is available now that wasn't then, but I can't help but think that a lot of families might still react exactly the same way as June's does.

This book is definitely a tearjerker... although I generally don't see that as a bad thing! I didn't feel like I was being manipulated into crying as I have done with other books *cough* fault in our stars *cough*. I really REALLY liked it, the whole thing was skillfully done, it was never too sentimental, and it was realistic without being ridiculously gritty and hard to digest.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home appears to be Carol Rifka Brunt's first book, and if her first one is this good then I have high hopes for her future work!


Jen reads... Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

This is the third book in the Graceling Series. I talkedabout the first two books, Graceling and Fire here.

Obviously, as this is the third book, anything from here on in is going to be really spoilery for the first two books. Consider yourself warned!

Bitterblue focuses on Bitterblue (obviously), who is saved from Leck, the King of Monsea and Bitterblue’s father, by Katsa (I initially wrote Katniss, hehe) and Po in Graceling. She is now the queen of Monsea, and is working to help the country to recover from the effects of Leck’s reign, while also trying to figure out what kind of queen and person she is going to be.

I found Bitterblue immensely likeable in Graceling, and I still felt the same about her in this book. She feels like a real person, she makes realistic mistakes, and it was interesting to see her grown up (this book is set 8 years after Graceling) and trying to handle the responsibility of helping her country get back on its feet. I liked the fact that there was an 8 year gap, as I feel that a book set immediately after Leck’s reign would have got a bit tedious quite fast.

As I said in my review (if you can call it that!) of Fire and Graceling, I didn’t enjoy Fire as much and felt that the romantic elements dragged it down somewhat. I didn’t feel this with Bitterblue, and definitely enjoyed it more than Fire. It definitely covers some of the same ground as Fire, namely how to deal with the legacy of an evil parent, but I think it did it better, and really enjoyed reading it.

I would be very happy if there is another book in this series, as I have enjoyed reading all of the books so far! I think that this way of doing a series, where they are all set in the same world but not necessarily about the same people works really well here. It also means that it avoids some of the problems a lot of YA trilogies have, where each book needs to ramp up to some kind of epic conclusion at the end which almost inevitably falls a bit short. I would much prefer to read this kind of thing, where each book has connected threads with the others, but is also a self-contained story.

Having said that, I did like that some of the characters from previous books make appearances too, and I remembered who they all were! (Unless I read books several times I tend to forget everyone apart from the main characters, and I forget them sometimes as well) Yayyyy! The stupid names must have helped.

 I don’t know what more to say apart from if you enjoyed Graceling and/or Fire, you will probably like this one too.

Oh and I haven't mentioned this anywhere, but I HATE the covers of these books. I realise I am probably not the target audience, and I read them all on a kindle anyway so the cover isn't really a factor, but still... This is probably (definitely) me being a big snob, but I would NEVER have tried these books if I hadn't heard good things about them. Yeah yeah, don't judge a book by its cover and all that, but when there are so many good books out there to choose from, the cover design does end up coming into it!


Jen reads... Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

I have followed Chuck Wendig's blog for a while now (fueled mainly by the part of me that secretly wants to be an author), and for the most part I really like it. A lot of what he says about writing makes sense to me. I like him in general, so I really really wanted to like this book, so I'm sad that I didn't. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I disliked it. Sigh!

The story is about Miriam, a woman who can see how people are going to die when she touches them. These visions, and the fact that she is unable to do anything to change what happens, have led to her closing off from the world and fueling herself on a diet of booze, cigarettes and sex with slightly unsavoury characters. She unwittingly gets involved in shady things, and the story follows her as she tries to find a way out, and to come to terms with her power.

I liked the idea of this book, and was excited about reading it, but honestly, I spent a lot of the first half considering stopping reading (something I rarely do). This may have been because I was reading it off the back of Fangirl, which I adored, so maybe I was bound to be disappointed, but that definitely wasn't the only reason. What I was expecting was a fun lightweight story based around an interesting premise, and I just didn't find it that fun. I did end up getting into it a bit more in the second half, but honestly, I just didn't care that much about it. 

I think one of the main reasons for it is that Miriam doesn't come off as particularly realistic to me. I know women who are as foul mouthed as she is, and likely to make the same kind of jokes, but something was just.. off about her. Like she had been written as a man, and just had her gender arbitrarily changed. At first I just accepted it, and figured there would be some reason, but when we finally learn about her upbringing I ended up more confused. I have a hard time believing that somebody raised the way that she describes in the book would end up thinking and talking like she does. I feel like the dialogue in particular could have done with being checked by a woman who actually speaks in that kind of way.

Maybe at the end of the day the book just wasn't for me. It seems like a LOT of people have really enjoyed it, so maybe it just isn't my thing (although most of the online reviews that give it high ratings seem to be written by men). I'm kind of curious to see whether I would enjoy the other books in the series more, but unless somebody hands me the other books in the series for free, that probably isn't going to happen. 

I didn't really have any other problems with the book other than that, but I think my issues took me out of the book so much that I had a hard time enjoying the plot. Oh, and this didn't bother me, but if you're thinking of reading the book, there is a LOT of gore, graphic violence and foul language (the last one is obvious if you've read anything on Wendig's blog!)

All in all, disappointing. Oh well. At least I like the cover??


Jen reads... Packing For Mars by Mary Roach

This is the second Mary Roach book that I've read. I bought this one for my plane journey back from the UK in February, but ended up not reading any of it because I was distracted by Eleanor and Park. But, as with Stiff, I really enjoyed it.

The book focuses on astronauts, the history of space exploration, and what potential problems there would be if a mission to mars were to take place. 

And I loved all of it. 

Mary Roach is definitely a really entertaining writer. Her sense of humour shows in almost every sentence that she writes, and although she takes the subject completely seriously, she is not afraid to point out the ridiculous and amusing aspects of it. She also asks the really important questions - How do toilets work in space? How would people have sex in space and has anybody already tried it? and so on. 

I ended up annoying the people that I work with and my husband by constantly saying "Ooooh did you know this?!" every time I read a bit, haha. 

I don't really have much else to say about it, but if you are at all interested in space travel and astronauts (I wasn't particularly, but still enjoyed it!), and if you like your non-fiction to entertain you at the same time, then you should definitely read this!

And to end with, a couple (out of hundreds) of quotes that I enjoyed (I read it on my kindle, so no page references):

In a 1960 Civil Aeromedical Research Institute study, squatting on a drop platform caused “severe knee pain” at relatively low G forces. “Apparently the flexor muscles . . . acted as a fulcrum to pry open the knee joint,” the researchers noted with interest and no apparent remorse.

The abdominal organs are packed down into the pelvis like sandbags, the head has sunk down into the shoulders, and I don’t even want to talk about the testicles.

One self-help phobia website helpfully reassures the afflicted that “if you have no plans to travel into space . . . astrophobia may not significantly impact your life.”

I must now go and read all of the other Mary Roach books! (I think there are only two left, BOO!)


Life update!

Exciting things going on in Jenny land at the moment:

I bought a sewing machine!

And made a skirt! And it turned out surprisingly well! I guess my years of reading sewing blogs paid off, hehe.

I'm going to try making some work suitable clothes next. I wear pretty much the same kind of thing every day, and have done for the past 5 or 6 years, and unfortunately some of my shirts are starting to develop random holes in them (not mendable ones at the seams, but just holes in the middle of the fabric, haha), so I need to replace them, and it is DIFFICULT to buy things that fit me and flatter me here, especially for smart work clothes which tend to have a lot of ruffles and stuff on the front here (generally not flattering for me - I do NOT need to make it seem like I have any more volume on my chest than I already do!), or to be plain shirts which I cannot see fitting me at all, seeing as I have enough problems finding shirts that fit and flatter me in England.

In general I am not THAT bothered anymore by how I look or my body shape, but when trying to buy clothes and shoes here I really wish that I was skinny, small chested and had small, narrower feet. (Okay actually I wish I had smaller narrower feet anyway, not because I hate the way that my feet look, but because buying shoes in England is really difficult, never mind in a country where the biggest shoe size for women is normally 25-25.5 cm - around size 6 to 6 and a half in UK sizes). Because that is the shape that 99% of clothes and shoes here are made to fit.

Also need to buy some wool so I can start knitting again! I love knitting.

I restarted the couch to 5k program!

I have tried this a couple of times, and never stuck with it because life got in the way, or I got sick or something... but I'm determined not to let that happen this time! I've done the first two runs of the program, so I should hopefully be finished by mid July... I'm actually finding it much easier this time round than I did the previous time I tried, for the following reasons:
  • I have a beautiful park near my house to run in. Seriously. It's lovely. I will take pictures at some point. It's only a few minutes away from my house. A nice place to run in definitely seems to be helping!
  • Before when I tried it I was running around my hometown, which is also nice, but full of people I know (or at least was at the time), and I was scared of running into. I stand out much more here, but I don't really know that many people properly, and to be honest do not care as much as I did before.
  • I walk a LOT. And the area I live in is ridiculously hilly, so my legs are already used to getting me up and down ridiculous hills several times a day.
  • I am letting myself go slowwwwly. The main aim is to build up my endurance so I can run (okay, let's face it, jog slowly) for half an hour without stopping, rather than to go quickly. I can work on that later! 
So the runs so far have been kind of easy (still getting a bit out of breath by the end, but I can remember having to force myself to carry on through the last few running sections of my first run the last time I tried). I also haven't had much soreness or anything so far (I expect this is thanks to all of the hills), although my leg muscles are feeling a little bit tight.

At some point I expect my enthusiasm is going to wear off a bit, but I am determined to do it this time! I plan to read lots of running related books/blogs to keep my enthusiasm up, so if you have any recommendations let me know! And I'm keeping a running journal this time so hopefully I can look at that to motivate myself when the lazy part of my brain is trying to talk myself out of putting my trainers on and going outside.

If I make it to week 4 I'm going to buy myself some proper running clothes, because it is about to get HOT here and I don't think any of the clothes I own now are that suitable for running around in 30+ degree temperatures.

Not so good things....

I am in a bit of a reading slump. I'm still reading, but a couple of weeks ago I was getting home from work, watching maybe one episode of parks and rec (I am currently on a massive rewatch of all of it, yayy!) while eating, doing all of the other stuff I need to do around the house and then reading until it was time to go to bed... but at the moment I just do not feel the urge to keep on reading once I'm back, and I'm finding it hard to read while on the train etc. Hopefully I'll get my mojo back soon though, because I really really do love reading and I am at my happiest when I manage to get a good chunk of reading into my day.


Jen reads... lots of stuff!

Mini reviews! Yayyy!

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I picked this up after Laura from Devouring Texts pointed out on twitter that it was a kindle daily deal.. and I'm really glad that I did! It was very entertaining and perfect for a nice, fun, light read. I feel that this might be one that you either love or hate, so it might be worth seeing whether you like Jenny Lawson's writing style by reading her blog first, before trying the book. If you are one of the few people who haven't already read it! Obviously, I fell on the love side, but I can see her being a bit divisive.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

This is another daily deal book... I can remember people talking about this series and comparing it to Harry Potter, so I immediately went into NOOO IT CAN'T BE LIKE HARRY POTTER BECAUSE HARRY POTTER IS THE BEST THING EVER!!! mode, and completely dismissed it (this would have been back in 2001 when I was considerably younger and more closed minded than I am now!). That also left me thinking that it was exactly the same kind of story as Harry Potter, which it is not.

I enjoyed the book for what it was, and would have probably loved it had I read it when I was younger. But I can't see myself reading the other books unless they are also daily deals at some point.

Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

I picked this up because I am trying to start running again (HOPEFULLY I will stick with it this time, because none of the reasons that I've quit before have anything to do with disliking the running part, and everything to do with inherent laziness, or life getting in the way), and thought it might inspire me to carry on. And I think it has, hopefully! I definitely felt better about the prospect of me running after reading it, because the author seems to have a body built like mine (we have almost the same bra size! too much information?), and almost all of the things about running I've seen that have been written by women who do not have a large chest to contend with. I don't think that my body is in any way built for running (or sports of any kind!) but I feel that if someone who is a similar build to me can do it, then I definitely can!

 For a more in depth review see Laura's post about it.

(I have now completed the first week of the couch to 5k programme. It's going well! I am really really determined to finish it this time, I bought proper running shoes at one of those shops where they watch you run on a treadmill and then find the best kind of shoes for you, and have barely used them, but I will!! I WILL!!!)

Saga volume 3 written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples

I already talked a bit about the first two volumes of Saga, but I have to say that much as I enjoyed them, it was volume 3 that has made me really love the series. It just seems to be getting better!
Still not good reading material to take on a train or anywhere else people might see you. Although Japan does have a good number of people who openly read erotic manga on the train, I do not want to be one of them (because they're mainly creepy men), especially when this series isn't really designed to titillate.

I want volume 4 to come out already!!!


Jen reads... Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

With this book I think I have very enthusiastically jumped onto the "OH MY GOD Rainbow Rowell is amazing!!" bandwagon. I picked the book up in England when I went back there in February, and was pretty sure that I would love if after I read Eleanor and Park… but I saved it for a while, partly because I don’t want to go through her whole back catalogue too quickly, and partly because I think some part of me was scared that I would be disappointed by it.

Luckily, I wasn’t!

Fangirl is about twin sisters, Cath and Wren, who are both starting at the same college. Up until this point they’ve always been together, but Wren decides that she wants to be more independent, leaving Cath, who (like me!) is a bit scared of change, alone to fend for herself.
Oh and Cath writes really popular fan fiction based in the world of Simon Snow (similar to Harry Potter).  

The story is about how they grow apart and grow as people during their first year at college. It has love story angles as well, but to me the story was so much more about Wren and Cath’s relationship than anything else. This is probably one of the reasons that I loved it. I have a weakness for anything based around sisters (which is probably why I reacted so strongly and with so many tears when I went to see frozen a few weeks ago!), and I really loved seeing how they interacted and dealt with their own individual problems and each other.

The story focuses on Cath, who seems to be completely scared of everything new. Which I completely understand, because I am like that as well! I’m not sure that it’s a spoiler to say this because, let’s be honest, it’s quite obvious that the book is going to go this way, but it’s really nice to see her overcome a lot of her issues with the people around her and the new world that she’s been thrown into, and to open up and grow as a person.

Also, I REALLY want to read the Simon Snow books now. Even though I know that they don’t exist! BOO! Somebody write them!

I really really really loved this book, to the extent that it resulted in at least 1 ridiculously late night because I couldn’t put it down. I’m normally quite strict with myself about when I go to bed (otherwise I spend the next day being really grumpy and feeling rubbish), but I honestly couldn’t stop reading.

The only issue that I had with the book (only a very very tiny issue, mind you) was that my copy had a picture on the inside front cover which set up really clearly how relationships were going to end up being played out, which wasn't a HUGE problem, but I would have much preferred it if they had gone with a more ambiguous picture, or put that one at the back. It didn't really ruin the reading experience, but I definitely would have preferred to go in without any knowledge of how things are going to go.

Apart form that though, a hearty recommendation from me! Even more so if, like me, you’ve ever had a period in your life when you’ve been really into fan fiction. I can remember getting obsessed with Harry Potter fan fiction after the goblet of fire came out, when I was waiting for the order of the phoenix. I can’t remember what it was called at all, but there was one really long piece of fan fiction in particular that was supposed to be a potential version of what the order of the phoenix might be like (similar to what Cath is writing in Fangirl) which I looooved, and I was actually a little bit disappointed initially with OOTP because of it, hehe.

I don’t ever read fan fiction now (I’m sure there is good stuff out there, but I have no desire to wade through all of the rubbish to get to it), but it reminded me of that time in my life, and made me feel all nostalgic.

So, to summarise... YAY RAINBOW ROWELL!