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!


Jen reads... Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong mainly tells the story of Stephen, a young man who is initially sent to France to see the textile industry over there, starts a love affair, and then ends up fighting in the first world war.

I bought it a few years ago and only just got round to reading it. I actually started reading it once when I was still in 6th form (around 17 or 18 for anybody who doesn't understand the British school system!), and gave up when it got to the war stuff because I found it too difficult to handle. I had pretty much the opposite problem this time.

First, because I hate being overly negative, I'm going to talk about some things that I actually liked about the book. I found the bits that were focused on the actual experience of fighting in the first world war and life in the trenches really fascinating. I wouldn't say that I enjoyed them as such, because I'm not sure enjoy is the correct word to use with this kind of subject matter, but it made me realise how little I know about the whole thing. I liked the bits that were about tunneling and how tunnels were used to undermine (literally, I guess!) the enemy. I haven't read a huge amount of war literature, so I have no idea if this holds up when compared to other stuff, but it was interesting. Especially the bits that weren't focused on Stephen.

So... onto the stuff that I didn't like.

I did not find the whole love affair part of the story interesting in any way. I think maybe I'm becoming more cynical, but I find it really hard to get behind any kind of romantic relationship which is obviously just based on lust. I couldn't see any other reason that Stephen and the object of his affections (whose name I have forgotten) were interested in each other apart from that. Maybe that was the point, but I feel like it wasn't.

Also, Stephen just seemed to be a complete idiot. I honestly didn't really feel any sympathy for him at any point in the book. If he had been written as somebody that we're actively meant to not be rooting for, that would be okay, but all indications were that we were supposed to be on his side. And I really was not.

AND, awwwwkward sex scenes. I don't have the book on hand right now, so I can't provide any examples, but the descriptions were soooo bad. Urgh. Which is something that I am quite happy to forgive if the rest of the book is good (I'm looking at you Murakami!), because I understand that it can't be the easiest thing to write about well, but... yeah. urgh.

Plus, sexually assaulting a young girl to stop her from being interested in you is NOT THE WAY TO DO IT! Argh.

I basically would have liked this book to have focused on the war stuff, because that was interesting. I would have also probably enjoyed it better if it had focused on any of the other characters in the trenches with Stephen. At points it seemed like it was going to, but it always seemed to come back to Stephen, which I just found really frustrating because it meant that other potentially interesting characters were left completely undeveloped, and characters that I had started to care about had their storylines wrapped up in a really unsatisfying way.

I found the writing a little bit confusing at times as it sort of jumped between different perspectives, but there didn't really seem to be any reason for it to do that, it was just more that the author thought he should give a bit of backstory about some of the other characters and couldn't think of a better way to do it? Again, this would not have bothered me if I had been enjoying the overarching plot, but... yeah.

All in all, it wasn't boring, which is something, and I did end up getting sucked into it at points, but.. yeah. Sigh.

This has made me want to read more about the actual warfare in the first world war. I only hope that the next book about it that I read doesn't annoy me as much as this one did. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!


Catch-up mini reviews! Part 7 - Short Stories

I’ve finally reached the last part of this series of catch-up posts. Huzzah!

This post covers 3 short story collections that I finished recently. I have realised that I like short stories best when I read then when I feel like it, rather than reading all of the stories in a collection one after the other, and I started reading some of these collections a year or so ago, so these mini-reviews are probably going to be more general impressions that I was left with after reading. So without further ado, onto the reviews!

Unnatural Creatures, an anthology of stories selected by Neil Gaiman

I bought this completely on a whim from a bookshop I go to with a small section of English books… and I’m really glad I did! It contains 16 stories (including one by Neil Gaiman) by a really wide variety of authors, and although this kind of anthology can be a bit hit and miss, I didn’t actively dislike any of the stories at all, so yay! I must remember to actually see what other stuff some of the authors that I had never heard of have done.
I read a lot of this while I was very stressed out by work and other things and couldn’t concentrate on novels, and it was perfect for that kind of reading.
If you like stories about weird and wonderful creatures, then this would be a good collection for you!

Just don’t go into it expecting it all to be by Neil Gaiman. As some online reviewers have. It’s very obvious that it isn’t from the cover, silly people!

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

If you are like me, you’ve probably heard people raving about how amazing Karen Russell is. After hearing a lot about this book, I thought that there was no way that I wouldn’t like it… and I was right, sort of.
Firstly, I think Karen Russell has an absolutely insane imagination, but also a gift for making stories based on intriguing, otherworldy premises seem completely plausible. I found the ideas behind some of the stories more interesting than others, but I really enjoyed seeing how the world worked in each story.
On the other hand though, I found the first few stories I read to have disappointing endings. I don’t necessarily look for all ends to be tied off in a nice neat little bow, but some of the stories seem to end really abruptly, and I was left going “…and?!” after the first few. But once I accepted that the stories may not end in a way that satisfied me, I ended up really enjoying the rest of the stories.
I think ultimately whether you enjoy this collection or not will depend on what you personally read short stories for. If you read them for beautiful language, or interesting ideas then you will not be disappointed. If you need a definite ending to the stories, this may not be for you. But, even though I struggled a bit at first, one I had realigned my expectations I REALLY enjoyed reading the rest of the stories, and I definitely want to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove at some point!

Topics About Which I Know Nothing by Patrick Ness

I had no idea what this was when I bought it, haha. I thought it might be a collection of essays, but it turned out to be short stories. I don’t think this will be everyone’s cup of tea, but the stories were all written amusingly, and had some interesting ideas in. It was a little bit hit and miss for me, in that although I enjoyed reading all of them, I have problems recalling most of the stories now.
I REALLY enjoyed “the gifted”, the last story in the collection, which is about a school project which goes horrifically wrong. It was creepy (unsurprisingly, given that it is narrated by a group of dead schoolchildren!) in a really good way, and definitely stood out from the other stories for me.

If you like Patrick Ness, I think it’s definitely worth reading!