Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sunday Summary: NaNoWriMo and fancy gadgets ancient and modern

Hi all. My laptop and I have migrated downstairs today from my bedroom to the dining room, where there is warmth and coffee. NaNoWriMo has delayed my return to proper blogging. Considering that I'd had no thoughts of doing it this year, I'm rather pleased that I've just passed 23 000 words and am getting really stuck into my story. This does mean, however, that there hasn't been much reading this week. I will get reviewing soon, I promise. At the very least, I want to rave at great length about Stephen King's 11.22.63. 

This month I've fallen back into my long-lost late-night writing habits formed during my student days, finding myself getting very productive between about 11PM and 1AM. I'm really rather excited to have got that part of me back, although it's not so good when I have an 8.30AM start at work the next day. But this month I've been working more shorter working days, which fits in my writing pattern quite well. It's such a relief to get so invested in a story of my own making again, to have the creative part of my brain ticking over even in the background - although I'm sure it's making me ditsier and more scatterbrained than ever.

One of the NaNoWriMo pep talks, from Divergent author Veronica Roth, gave some advice I took on board: to break out of one's own well-established writing habits and see if any other ways work. I've long been a strictly linear writer: start at the beginning and carry on until I get to the end (or, more often, lose interest and give up.)  This time around, I've done a little bit of skipping around in the story, writing later scenes and leaving some of the joining scenes until later. I use Scrivener writing software (after an unfortunate incident where I was accidentally saving it as an OpenOffice document to a shared dropbox, completely unsuited to the purpose, and someone else deleted it, surely having read enough to know that it was not meant to be there. NIGHTMARE!)

I fear I'm rather a hardened cynic when it comes to romance, so it's been a real challenge to switch off my inbuilt censor which screams "NO, NO, THIS IS TOO CHEESY AND PREDICTABLE!" whenever my character even, say, notices that another person is attractive and likable. I don't want to be a bitter old spinster! I am not writing a romance novel, but there are love relationships in my novel. At uni I took a course in genre-writing, and we were due to study a Mills and Boon book, but the tutor took pity on us and dropped it from the course. So now I started introducing my character's love interest and realised I didn't know how to describe them, or show growing friendship and attraction. So I've downloaded a couple of free ebooks that I probably wouldn't even get out of the library using the self-serve machines, and am reading critically, thinking about what I like and what I don't like. I can't be having with too much of the characters talking about their feelings, for example, and there needs to be more of a plot than just the mushy stuff.

Yes, you read it right. I, Katherine Edwards, ink-and-paper loyalist, have downloaded some ebooks. No, I have not been won over to the dark side and bought an e-reader, but I did invest in a shiny new smartphone and downloaded the Kobo App, for emergency bookless situations. Anne of Green Gables was, of course, my first freebie. (That's four, when added to my hardback and two paperback copies.) I'm undecided whether e-books count as additions to the to-read pile or not. I've also started an Instagram account, although so far it just has a couple of trial-selfies (with ridiculous faces) and shelfies.

I've also inherited a sewing machine. It's a vintage (read "old") Singer that my Grandma bought in the '70s, but still seems to be in good condition. Since she moved into a nursing home earlier this year, it has been passed on to me. I'll admit I'm a bit scared of sewing machines - they have a tendency to get out of hand when I try to use them. But Mum has promised to help me figure out how to use it, and I already have grand dressmaking plans, and a Great British Sewing Bee book to help me get started.

This week I have been:

Reading: The Last Battle by C.S.Lewis. Never my favourite of the Narnia books, it's got some great stuff in it but I've always found it troubling and uncomfortable.

Also the aforementioned cheesy romance novel on e-book, which I will not name and shame. It is not terrible, but it is not my cup of tea.

Watching: Not much, but a bit of Star Trek and Heroes. I'll be honest, the main reasons I'm still watching Heroes is because of Sylar being enjoyably psychotic, Hiro and Ando being adorable, and Claire's story is still a bit interesting. I'm a bit lost among the other characters and subplots, but I don't like giving up on a story partway through.

Stuck in my head: Taylor Swift: "Shake it off," Kansas: "Carry On Wayward Son," "I'll make a man out of you" from Mulan, and "Little Talks" by Of Monsters And Men. Also some of the songs from Mary Poppins.

Looking Forward To: This time next week I'll be on holiday. I wasn't planning to go away during my time off, but I found out that Cary Elwes, who was Westley in The Princess Bride - one of my favourite films of all
time - is signing a book he wrote about making that film, in Forbidden Planet in London. At first I muddled the dates and thought it was the Saturday, my last day at work, because things are always on Saturdays and it seemed inconceivable (ho ho) that it would be any other day. Then I checked again, and it's actually the following Tuesday. The book was on my Christmas list, so I decided I would break my book-buying ban and go up for the signing, and do some Christmas shopping, and see my sister all at the same time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Readers Imbibing Peril IX wrap-up post.



Apologies for the lateness of this post!

This year I took part in RIP IX (Readers Imbibing Peril, organised by Carl Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings.) My chosen challenge was Peril the First: to read four dark, spooky and intriguing novels in the space of two months, and you can see my sign-up post with its goals and suggested reading list here. I'm pleased to announce that for perhaps the first time since I started this blog, I've managed to reach my goal!

The books:




The Silkworm by "Robert Galbraith." The second of J. K. Rowling's crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike lives up to and goes beyond the standard set by The Cuckoo's Calling, and shows that her magical storytelling is not limited by genre. I could not put this down.

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black. A vampire novel for the reality TV and social media generation, combining the danger of the monsters of old with the glamour of the more recent species - but no, they do not sparkle.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. A collection of novellas that pose the question: what might drive a person to commit a crime? As I found with his own son's book, Horns, there is no horror quite as unsettling as the perfectly mundane awfulness that can be found in seemingly ordinary people.

My last book did not come from the original to-read pile but was a birthday present from Hanna. I'm not entirely sure that 11.22.63 counts, as it's not exactly horror, but it is written by Stephen King. An immersive, fascinating, world-changing novel. I did not want to finish this book. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. (I intend to write a full review very soon.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sunday Summary: fly-by post 4

Well, my manic October is over and now I go back to having weekends of a sort again, even if, as is the case this week, actually in the middle of the week. Hurrah! But although I'm doing fewer hours at work, with Halloween over, the world is ready to catch up with the retail calendar and launch into Christmas, and of course things will only get busier. This Thursday I actually ran out of tasks to do. (There is never actually nothing to do, even if it's just cleaning and replenishing the shelves, but I stopped chasing my tail for a moment, making the most of the fact that this was probably going to be my last afternoon like that.

This week I have been:

Reading: 



The last part of 11.22.63. Beautiful, devastating, a wonderful book (that has already altered the way I think time travel in other fiction, such as last night's Doctor Who.) Stephen King does it again! I plan to write a proper review of this one later this week.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, a novella about a thirty-something Japanese couple who get adopted by their neighbours' cat, and form a bond with this darling creature. A pensive, poetic read that is worth taking time over, despite its short length.

Rereading Redshirts, one of my top books of last year, and one which I recommend to anyone who has affectionately noticed the absurdity inherent in certain kinds of science fiction TV shows. A must-read if you like the film Galaxy Quest.

Watching: 



A bit more of Heroes - season two is a short one, due to the writers' strike of a few years ago.

Captain America, to remind my dad of Steve Rogers' story so far, before we watch the sequel. (The Avengers is, naturally, also on the cards.)

A bit more Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are some great, thought-provoking episodes of this series, but the fact remains that it doesn't capture my affections as much as the original series, the original cast. I do like Worf and Data, though.

 


The Addams Family, on Netflix. It seemed appropriate Halloween viewing, with hot chocolate and marshmallows, while tucked up with a rotten head cold.

Doctor Who. The first part of the season finale was powerful stuff. I've been a bit ambivalent about this season, enjoying each episode well enough, but not really hanging on to the story during the week. A recurring small character through the series really gave me the creeps in a way I term "the Umbridge Effect" - making the watching experience less enjoyable when the character is on screen. But a few weeks back, I stumbled upon someone's apparently random idea about this person which, if it were true, might make me rethink my approach to them.

Last night's episode was really powerful. An unforeseen* major event within the first minutes, some fine acting, especially from Jenna Coleman, some fantastic lines (including a reference to Peter Capaldi's most famous previous role), a journey somewhere that seemed impossible even for the TARDIS, and some huge plot twists that were unusual in being none the worse for being anticipated.

Scaring myself with: just the thought of getting scared by certain Stephen King books. Perhaps it is not a good idea to read his "Nightmare fuel" page on TV Tropes just before bed. I was the child who had to be taken out of birthday parties and school assemblies because I'd freak out when I saw a clown. Guess which book is not on my immediate to-read pile!

Can't sleep. Clown'll eat me.

But who needs Stephen King when you've got some of the stuff in that last Doctor Who episode? There was a time watching that episode that made me really wonder if the show had crossed a line, gone too far - and I like it when it goes dark. There were some ideas that will linger uncomfortably for a long time, I think.

Sneezing: A lot, especially (naturally) on my day off.

Writing: Well, I've made a start on NaNoWriMo, although I didn't even manage the wordcount for the first day. That's fine. For me it's not about reaching the 50 thousand words, so much as getting back into writing stories, and sticking with it. I don't know who I am when I can't write, and it's been such a long time.

Also, this week I hope to get back into some proper reviews for the blog, now I've (potentially) got a little more time on my hands.


SPOILER in white text >>> 

Actually, I did think for a moment, "Danny's too close to the road" before the phone went silent his end.  <<<
<<<

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 3

This one really will be a fly-by post I'm afraid. It's been a mad, pretty horrible week for me. The next  paragraph will be all about me feeling sorry for myself, so feel free to skip ahead to the kitten picture instead.

On my day off, I met up with friends and felt that I utterly humiliated myself by being in a foul mood, although thinking about it afterwards I realised most of the humiliation was in my mind, things I hadn't said or done at all. I just wanted to disappear. But there's nothing like working in retail, in full view of the general public, for feeling invisible. Thursday was manic, so many jobs to do thanks to it being a big release date for new books Christmas, and I worked so hard trying to get about a week's worth of work done in a single day. Of course, the next day, the manager only noticed the things that got missed! Add to that all the customers who studiously pay great attention to the air a little to one side of me just to avoid eye contact or saying hello or, you know, acknowledging the existence of the shop person (although woe betide you if you're not exactly where they want you when they want something from you.) And just to round off the week, I had a customer nattering on his phone while purchasing something. I came so close to refusing to serve him. I wish I had. It doesn't happen to me too much, but it's a behaviour so universally despised it always shocks me when someone is that rude. How can they live with themselves?

Oh well. Next week is the last of what has felt like one continual week with the occasional day off. I'll be down to working four days in November, and my days off won't be so far apart. Hurrah!


This week I have been:

Reading: 



Not a lot, due to busy work schedule and tiredness, but I'm still enjoying 11.22.63 a lot. It's so different from what I had been expecting, but only in the best ways. I had been expecting a look at "what would the world be like if Kennedy had never been assassinated?" but well over halfway through and the critical date is still far off. Instead it looks at the little changes a person might make due to time travel, as well as immersing the reader in a fascinating setting, with characters one comes to really care about. We've reached the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which to me, as to protagonist Jake/George was something far-off and vague. Yes, I knew that people used to be afraid of the possibility of nuclear war, but knowing that it was a threat that came to nothing, I never really imagined what it must be like to live with that terror. King compares it with the days after 9/11.

Overall, Jake's plan seems to be going too well, too successful. The prologue showed him with a "what have I done?!" attitude, at the end of the tale, and I just know it's going to end in catastrophe. I just don't know what form that catastrophe is going to take.

I also read the latest Neil Gaiman book; a short story really, a fairytale that seems very familiar but challenges what you think you know in a way that, as is Gaiman's way, made me conclude: "Of course! Why did I never realise this before?" It is a gorgeous telling, and a gorgeous book, illustrated by Chris Riddell in black and gold ink.



Watching: Star Trek: Nemesis which will get a full review to complete the set. The end of an era, although I would agree with those fans who slot parody film Galaxy Quest after Star Trek Insurrection to keep the "Even-numbered films good, odd-numbered films not-so-good" pattern correct. It was not terrible, but it was a bittersweet end to the series.

I also watched Tangled on Netflix, which, now I'm nearing the end of my free trial, is working fine or mostly-fine for me now. I will keep testing it, and if it doesn't fail me again, will renew my membership. Netflix is not all I had hoped for - it does not have half of the films or shows I had wanted it for - but it is worthwhile for the things I'd like to see if not to own.

And I started season 2 of Heroes. I was glad to see that supervillain Sylar miraculously survived being skewered with a samurai sword, as he is a very entertaining (and, have I mentioned, disturbingly attractive?) antagonist. Not so pleased that Slimy Nathan Petrelli also survived, though his brother Peter is Missing Presumed Dead (in fact, he has forgotten his identity and fallen in with a bunch of thugs in County Cork.) Claire has started her new school with her own secret identity, but the cheerleaders are from the exact mould as those in her last school. And I realise how bored I am with the Evil Cheerleader character. Just one character, cut and pasted and reused in every single high school story ever. 

Knitting: a long blue cardigan for myself (with sparkles in the yarn) which is finished except for the buttons, and a secret project as part of a Christmas present. (ssshhh.)

Sleeping: whenever I can.

Eating: Too much chocolate. I have discovered the Thornton's Special Toffee bars which are so good - crunchy tiny bits of toffee, rather than the chewy sort.

Saving up for: a new phone. I don't really want one - I want my phone to be a phone, not a super-deluxe camera, or computer, or toaster - but after a hair-raising experience when trying to get to Oxford from London by a certain time while the main train line was closed, I've decided I need at least to be able to get onto travel websites on the go.

Also, though only potentially, an exciting holiday maybe next year. (That reminds me: need to renew my passport.)

Looking forward to: Having two days off, one after the other, on November 5th and 6th.

Walking: Last Sunday afternoon after blogging, while it was sunny, I went for a short walk past a nearby farm and back along the cycle track by the river. It's one of my favourite places to walk and think and daydream, and looked really lovely with the autumn leaves (before it rained, and they all turned mushy. Oh well.)



 This really wasn't a fly-by post at all, was it? Again.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 2.

Good afternoon! There is sunshine today, which I have missed. Even though summer has not been over for long, I was starting to feel as though the sun had gone into hibernation until spring. I'm tempted to go out for a walk this afternoon, to make the most of the good weather and take in the bright autumn colours.

This week I have been...


Reading: 


I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb). More than just a memoir, this book helps you to understand not just what it is like to live under threat from the Taliban, but also the social, historical and political context that allows extremism to take hold. Malala is intelligent and passionate about the importance of universal education, demonstrating the harm done by ignorance, her frustration with those who would warp her religion to make it a tool for oppression. A powerful read from an extraordinary young woman.

I have also begun 11.22.63 by Stephen King, in which a teacher is sent back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. This book has a new, perhaps unique, take on time-travel. In this universe, it seems that there is a proper timeline, an established chain of events, and time really doesn't want to be altered. Every time you go back to the past (down an invisible flight of stairs in the pantry of a diner) the timeline resets itself. Or does it...?

Watching:

I finished season 1 of Heroes, which I had been buddy-watching "with" my sister. I won't write a full review of this, but will put some of my thoughts onto the page in bullet-point form.

  • Fun, entertaining, incredibly cheesy at times, but not the greatest mastery of storytelling in the world. It felt a bit first-drafty, with plot holes and continuity errors, and seemed a bit disorientated. All I knew going into this show was "save the cheerleader, save the world," but I'm still a bit unsure of how saving Claire actually helped with saving "the world" (read: New York City) and how much of trying to prevent the coming apocalypse actually helped to make it (almost) a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • There were several characters with their own subplots, but the ones that interested me the most were Claire the indestructable cheerleader, the adorably geeky Hiro and his friend Ando, Peter Petrelli (although I loathed his family) and the psychotic super-villain Sylar (played by Zachary Quinto, the young Spock in the Star Trek reboot films), who could perhaps be argued to be a darker version of Peter. Peter absorbs other people's powers by standing near them. Sylar absorbs other people's powers by killing them horribly.
  • Sylar reminded me in some ways of Spike from Buffy, starting from the time when he paid a visit to the Bennet home and charmed the mother while waiting for the daughter to come home. Both have mommy issues, and both have a sinister dangerous charisma which is disturbingly attractive. 
  • A couple of characters had what I called "the Umbridge effect," which is to be so creepy and unpleasant they make the watching experience less fun. Claire's father, who Jenny and I christened Creepy Bennet, was one of these, morally ambiguous, doing terrible things for noble motives, but making my flesh crawl, and not in a good way. He does get some backstory and character development along the way, but I will keep up the nickname. Also, Peter Petrelli's politically ambitious brother Nathan, and their mother, were just plain slimy, contemptible. And there were a bunch of sinister corporations and mobsters whose stories just didn't interest me. Ultimately, sexy psychopathic supervillains are much more entertaining than slimy older guys in suits.

The verdict: Probably not something I'd re-watch over and over, but it sustained my interest enough to order the second season second-hand. (I intended to renew my Netflix subscription to watch the rest of the season, but the internet is a bit slow and unreliable on my computer and doesn't always like streaming videos.)


Planning:



Judith asked me the other day if I was going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, to which I answered unequivocally "no." I haven't written any fiction for a while, or at least not stuck to anything. And a couple of days ago, I was feeling sad about this lack of productivity, and my brain said, "surely you can write something, just a drabble or a short story?" But it seems I can't do short stories. With short stories you really need to keep it simple, about one thing, one event, just a couple of characters. And the plot bunnies got breeding, and the basic idea expanded and spread, until I came up with something that might at least go some way towards the 50 000 word count required to complete NaNoWriMo. My only fear is that I have two weeks before November starts: what if I lose interest? I'm not too concerned about hitting the 50K mark, but I'd like to write something in November. (I also have an idea for a drabble slash "fanfiction*" about two of the supporting characters in a novel I wrote several years ago. Hardly enough for a novel, but something.)

Enjoying: Pumpkin spiced lattes. As well as Starbucks, which I don't tend to visit, one of our local coffee shops has this as a limited edition autumn flavour, and it is delicious, one of the things that had me actually looking forward to autumn, which I tend to dread a little.


*Can one write fanfiction about one's own unpublished writing? I'm not sure this drabble is "canon" but I want to explore the relationship between these two characters nonetheless.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post

Hello all, hope you're well. I've been back at work this week and it's been ridiculous. Two weeks into October, we are well and truly into the Retail Christmas season. I'm working full time this month to cover various other people's shifts, and my days off aren't even the same every week. I've worked four days, have today off, and have another four days starting tomorrow. I'm physically tired from moving so many heavy books and boxes around, so today is pretty much a duvet day.

This week I have been:

Reading: 



Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. I'm still working through all the Discworld books I haven't read before, and hope to finish the series by the end of the year.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. This was my birthday present from Ellie, a moving and surprising story about the effects of an unconventional upbringing on a family. It was very different from what I had expected - another book following this year's trend of excellent books with bright yellow covers.

Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok: the story of a little girl and her mother who move from Hong Kong to America, to find life there very different from the life they had envisioned. A beautiful, often sad but ultimately hopeful story about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Kwok evokes well the confusion of being young in a strange culture, with an incomplete understanding of the language and culture.

Not reading:

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I have to confess that went back to the library unfinished. I would like to read it at some point, but I've got so many newly-bought and birthday books to read, and I'd much rather get stuck into them.

Unwrapping:



Two more birthday presents arrived this week: books from bloggers Hanna and Charlotte. Charlotte sent me science fiction classic Flowers for Algernon, as well as a little Tolkien treasury full of poetry, art and ponderings about the Lord of the Rings. (This has found a home on my Lord of the Rings feature shelf - yes, I have a shelf of my bookcase devoted to Tolkien!) Meanwhile, Hanna sent me Stephen King's 11.22.63 which I, along with probably all of the UK Stephen King readers, keep writing the wrong way round, and which I have been wanting to read ever since it first came out. She also sent me The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making. How can a book with that title be anything but excellent? Thank you both so much, I'm thrilled by all of these books. My only problem is: which do I read first?

Watching:

Heroes, season one, which I have been buddy-watching with my sister (even though she lives in London.) This never interested me when it was on TV - I couldn't be having with those superheroes. And then The Avengers happened, and I realised that those kinds of stories appealed to me after all. So far, Heroes is fairly familiar territory to anyone who watched X-Men or Agents of SHIELD, but with a greater focus on the effects of developing superpowers on ordinary people's ordinary lives. I'm only a few episodes in so far but I'm already getting attached to the characters. Hiro Nakamura is my favourite character so far - he is so unashamedly geeky! His excitement is so endearing.

Playing:

Some friends had a tabletop gaming evening last night. The previous week, I was introduced to Netrunner, which was not very successful due to a poorly two-year-old refusing to go to sleep. Luckily young Sam was fast asleep last night, and we got through a game which I can't remember the name of, but was based on Lovecraft's writings. It is a collaborative game: players versus the monsters. The monsters won.

Internetting:

Not a lot, because the thunderstorm a few nights ago did something - I don't know what - to our wireless router. But since that's been fixed, I've been reading and watching Mark Oshiro reading Wyrd Sisters. With the introduction of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, the series becomes a very different thing. This is when it starts to get really good. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Book splurges and birthdays

Hello! Hope you are all well. I'm feeling a particular case of the Sunday-itis. After having a lovely week off work, I'm going back tomorrow, and it's going to be crazy. Retail Christmas will be well and truly underway by now, and I've got a whole load of extra hours for the dreaded rearranging of the shop, and then my colleagues squeezing in their autumn holidays one after another. So for October, I'm allowing myself to take a step back from the blog, and just use what time off I have just to rest and try to stay sane through a usually-difficult season. I still hope to write some Sunday Summary posts, even if they are in bullet point format.

But first: BOOKS! ALL THE BOOKS! On Wednesday I took a trip up to Coventry, a city I haven't been to since I was twelve, in order to visit the newly-opened Big Comfy Bookshop, whose progress I've been following on Twitter. With the rise of internet shopping, it was so encouraging to see a new bookshop business - if you google how to open a bookshop, the answer tends to be "don't bother." Of course, the Internet would say that...

The Big Comfy Bookshop was pretty empty when I went in there, but the owner, Michael, told me it had been crazy-busy at the weekend, and he was pleased to have the chance to fill up the shelves and price the stock. It seemed to be Fresher's week at Coventry university, and Michael later tweeted that he had had lots of students in the shop. It is a decent-sized shop in a new shopping village away from the city centre, with a great range of books. It also doubles as a coffee shop, with comfy sofas and good cake. My problem was narrowing my selections down to what would fit in my book bag. For myself, I chose two Stephen Kings: Needful Things, which I have a vague memory of my ex-boyfriend raving about years ago, and Cell. I also discovered three of the four Space Odyssey books by Arthur C. Clarke, which my dad has been reading, but which have not all been readily available in the shops. I have the first book, the second was bought new and the third came from the library. The Big Comfy Bookshop provided the fourth and final book in the series.

As it seemed silly to come all the way up to Coventry just to visit one shop, I got myself thoroughly lost in the city centre, but had a chance to look around the old cathedral, which was famously bombed during World War 2. I also ended up buying more books in Waterstone's (Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, an author who has been brought to my attention by Alley's rave reviews) and Oxfam (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life In Space by Mary Roach, and Gravity by Tess Gerritson, which I know was reviewed by someone fairly recently, but I can't remember who. Sorry. Ellie?)

You'd think that might be enough books to be going on with, but my birthday happened yesterday, and it seems my mum has been cunningly intercepting the postman a lot this week. I had a stack of parcels from my lovely lovely blogger friends, and notice of some more to come. THANK YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE! That was such a wonderful surprise!

So: the presents. From my parents:


Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3 DVDs, to add to my Marvel collection, and the William Shakespeare's Star Wars books: The original Star Wars trilogy rewritten in Shakespearean language and iambic pentameter. Right up my nerdy street.

From my sister:


A Spock figurine, a set of Lord of the Rings collectable Pez dispensers, a Lego Batman film, and the third season of Sherlock.

From Ellie:


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which she says she is also reading along with Hanna, and some delicious Thornton's chocolates. (I fear these will not last long.)

From Laura:


This is in fact the coolest birthday card ever as the cakes on it are made of fuzzy-felt, and you can rearrange them if you like. Also Kate Atkinson's Life After Life which I've been wanting to read for ages. Thank you Laura!

From Bex:


My fellow Swallows and Amazons-fan bought me this biography of the series' author, who led a very interesting life indeed when he wasn't writing innocent stories of children camping and sailing and playing at being pirates and explorers. When I went to the Lake District in August I looked for this book in every bookshop I went into, but even though Ransome is so strongly associated with the area, I couldn't find it anywhere. Hurrah for Bex!

From my other friends:


Judith bought me the red polka-dot handbag, which as you can see is a good size to keep a few books in. I always say a bag not big enough for books is no more than a purse (and not a lot of use.) She also gave me some chocolates, a pair or red earrings (not pictured) the gorgeous colourful cushion and Adventures with the Wife in Space, the account of a man who decides to introduce his wife to the other love of his life - Doctor Who, working through the entire classic series, episode by episode. My friend Sharon bought me a Tardis mug - which will go very nicely with my Tardis biscuit jar, and I got some interesting bath stuff from Sam and her twin daughters, Alice and Evie who are four.

It was a quiet sort of birthday, but my sister had come back from London to see me, Sam and the twins came over in the morning, which was a lovely surprise. I don't get to see a lot of them due to work - if I've got the day off, she tends to be working, and vice versa. We put on the Lego Batman film to keep them entertained, (and very entertaining it was, too. Batman and Superman team up and spend the whole time bickering, as do Lex Luthor and the Joker. If the forthcoming Batman vs Superman film is not as bickery as the the Lego versions, I will be very disappointed.) The girls are big fans of Scooby-Doo, and thanks to a Scooby-Doo/Batman crossover, they could name more of the villains than I could. They are learning young.

Last Christmas, I bought Alice and Evie a selection of picture books and Neil Gaiman's Fortunately The Milk. I hadn't heard how the twins got on with the latter book, but I was very pleased when Sam told me yesterday that they took it to school (they have just started "big school") and made their teacher read it to the class for story-time. Success!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that were hard to read

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
I haven't written one of these posts for a while, but this week's topic got me thinking. Not all of the titles listed below were books I hated - although some were - others were ultimately rewarding but hard work. In no particular order:



 1. Horns - Joe Hill. The main character wakes up one morning with horns on his head, and the ability to hear people's deepest, darkest secrets. And most of these are horrific. It is exhausting spending time with seemingly decent people only to find they are so foul underneath.

2. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo. Good story, (great music) and it really gives a lot more understanding to the musical adaptation - but could do with a ruthless editor. I'm not entirely sure we needed fifteen pages about the sewage systems of Paris, and that's one of the shorter digressions from the plot.

3. A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin. This was the point at which I was sorely tempted to give up on the Song of Ice and Fire series. I grew heartsick with the violence, the sexism, the awful worldviews of the majority of Westeros. I'm glad I stuck with it, but it's heavy-going at times.

 

4. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami. Not my first Murakami novel, but the first I read full of his trademark surrealism. It's in three volumes, and is patchy in quality: fascinating world-building, but I was not convinced by the "love story" or the characters.

5. The Children's Book - A. S. Byatt. The only book I put down unfinished this year (so far.) The Children's Book follows a rather bohemian family at the turn of the last century doing... stuff. It was enjoyable enough, the characters were okay, but a hundred or so pages in, I couldn't figure out what the plot was going to be. The book got ruined on my camping trip in August; I still have it, it is still readable, though not in any condition to pass onto anyone else, so no doubt I'll pick it up eventually just to prevent it from feeling unloved. But I'm not in any hurry.

6. The Bitterbynde Trilogy - Cecelia Dart-Thornton. This is a pre-blogging favourite - as I said before, a book being hard work is not necessarily a bad thing. These books are rich in mythology, but also in purple prose - why use one word when a paragraph will do? I haven't reread them in a while. Life is short and there are so many books. But I still hold a fond place in my heart for The Ill-Made Mute, The Lady of the Sorrows and The Battle of Evernight. 

(Actually, just seeing the covers again makes me want to reread this series right now.)

7. Post Office - Charles Bukowski. One of the first books I had to read for my university course, Post Office was short, and I made myself read it in one go, knowing that if I put it down I would not want to pick it up again. I loathed it with a fiery passion, although I believe I was an anomaly in this. I was disgusted by the main character, could not get past certain decisions he made early in the book, and these feelings overshadowed any humour I might have found in the book. You may notice I haven't posted the cover for this one. I won't have that on my blog or my computer.


8. Rilla of Ingleside - L. M. Montgomery. From one extreme to another: Rilla is one of my favourite books, but only to be read when I am feeling emotionally strong. The first time I read it as an adult I sat up all night crying over it, not only a certain beloved character's death, but that the idea that the timeless, innocent world of Anne of Green Gables should be irrevocably changed by the First World War.

9. The Call of Cthulhu  - H. P. Lovecraft. One of the pioneers of a certain kind of horror fiction, but he writes for the most parts by hints and glimpses, and creating a spooky atmosphere. The prose is full of "indescribable horrors" - you're a writer, man, describe it! 

10. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville. Another candidate for "did not finish." I've read about fifteen chapters, and okay, it is not as impossible to read as I'd expected, even with some unexpected humour, but I'm not sure life is long enough to read another 135 or so chapters of a man chasing a whale, even if it does help me understand the references that seem to be popping up in every film and TV show I watch. I know what happens. Man chases whale past all sanity, resulting in his own destruction.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Star Trek: Insurrection (IX)


An undercover surveillance mission on a quiet planet of peaceful people, the Baku, goes wrong when Lieutenant Commander Data malfunctions and starts attacking the people around him. Captain Picard is faced with a dilemma: this is a dangerous example of technology going horribly wrong, but though Data may be a machine, he is a good friend and a trusted crew member. How can the captain allow his destruction? This could have been a major cause of conflict throughout the film, but in actual fact, all it takes is an epic rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's "An English Tar" from the Captain and a reluctant Worf, to jog Data's memory and restore him back to his old self (with a bit of help from Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge.)

When Picard and Data return to the planet to make amends, they uncover a suspicious plan masterminded by the Federation Council itself, to move the Baku off their home planet and onto another one without their noticing, thanks to my least-favourite addition to the Next Generation Trek-verse, the Holodeck technology. This discovery calls into question the Federation's very soul, a systematic violation of the Prime Directive of non-interference of a culture's natural development. Insurrection adjusts this law to refer only to those planets who have not yet discovered warp-speed travel. The Baku have invented this technology, although they shun it, so apparently they are fair game. It seems a somewhat arbitrary place to draw the line, although we discovered in First Contact that this was the point where everything changed for the human race, when the Vulcans decided it was okay to say hello and introduce them to the wider universe.

This planet has some interesting properties in its atmosphere, restoring youth and extending life - which is why the Federation wants it. After all, there is a case to be made for the fact that it has the potential to help millions and billions of people, instead of just the few hundred who live there. "The needs of the many," and all that. But Picard and the Enterprise crew determine to defend the Baku against forced relocation. Data befriends a little boy on the planet, and learns from him a little more about what it is to be human. Picard finds a girlfriend, and Deanna Troi and Will Riker rediscover the romance that has been hinted at right from the start of the first season - but lose Riker's beard. Riker's beard, has been popularly linked with The Next Generation getting good, and so to have him shave it off - and in an odd-numbered Star Trek movie - could be viewed as a very risky move. Insurrection is not a terrible Star Trek film. It hasn't got the cringe-factor of The Final Frontier (V) nor will I deny its place in Trek canon, as I do Generations, but neither is it ever going to reach classic status with The Wrath of Khan, the one with the whales, or First Contact. It is a solidly OK film, but overall just feels like an average episode on a grander scale.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown - Holly Black (RIP IX book 2)

People liked pretty things. People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them.
Vampires have always existed, but until recently they took great measures to keep their existence a secret. That all changed a few years ago, when a vampire named Caspar Morales got carried away, creating many more. The epidemic spread out of control, and now the vampires of the USA, and anyone infected by them, are imprisoned in Coldtowns, where they party and feast all night long. These parties form the basis of the most popular reality TV shows, are there is a significant proportion of the population who longs to join them, attracted by the glamour and the danger and the romance of being forever young.

Seventeen-year-old Tana is not one of them. She's seen the other side: when she was very young her mother was attacked by a vampire, and infected. In this world, one does not automatically become a vampire until one drinks human blood, but before you can return to your human life, you have to endure the Cold - up to eighty-eight days of desperate cravings as the infection sets in. Not many people make it through.

When Tana wakes up to find herself one of only three survivors of a vampire attack on the party she'd been at - the other two being Gavriel, an ancient vampire and her infected ex-boyfriend Aidan - she heads down with them to the nearest Coldtown, where she finds herself caught up in a strange world of death-seeking misfits, vampire politics and her own nature. Gavriel is an enigma, an oddly charming but deadly vampire with a Past. Can she trust him? Can she even trust herself?

I was impressed with Holly Black's world-building for The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, bringing a renewed sense of danger and glamour to vampire fiction. There was a classic, pre-Twilight feel to this book, of beauty and horror, and I was not at all surprised to see Anne Rice cited as one of Black's influences in the acknowledgements. The crowds of uninfected humans who made their way to Coldtown, particularly the twins known as Winter and Midnight, repulsed me in their sick fascination for the vampire lifestyle, giving up what it was to be human to be part of the undead fame game - for the gate into Coldtown is, with few exceptions, one way only. Yet they were entirely believable too, liveblogging and videoing every experience, and everyone convinced that they were safe, they were immune, that danger and death were things that happened only to other people. This is vampire fiction for the social media generation.

I read The Coldest Girl In Coldtown as part of Readers Imbibing Peril IX.





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