Wednesday 31 December 2008

Books I've read - 2008

Tuesday 30 December 2008

The Translator, a tribesman's memoir of Darfur - Daoud Hari

I picked this completely by chance. Most of the times, when I'm shelving books in work, I find books than catch my attention and I file them under my mental wishlist. This time, instead, I decided to just borrow it (and later buy it) and read it straight away.
I'm ashamed to say I didn't know anything about what happened in Darfur. I don't like reading newspapers daily because they depress me and they take a long time, too. I prefer to go into more depth by reading books like this one.
I was surprised to notice how readable it was. The writing was urgent, with no frills, but it was also lyrical at times. I'm guessing the editors had a bigger role than usual, but it's ok. It's the subject that matters.
Hari's voice is easy to follow and to like. He managed to strike some deep chords with me, while he talked about his family, how he returned to his village learning that it might be attacked in few days and how he led his people to safety. I saw how his tribe shared everything, even when they had nothing. It made me re-think about the extreme poverty of Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes, and how lonely it compares to this.
But the atrocities they had to suffer are incomparable. It was a genocide and they let it happened. I was appalled to see just how little the International governments did to help them
But to hear how much Oxfam, Amnesty and other charities, made a difference, from someone who can testify in person, having witnessed the lack of basic resources that thousands of refugees endured, I decided I wanted to contribute as well. Just a little, but so I know I'm doing something. So as a new year's resolution, I'm going to donate monthly to Amnesty and, possibly to Emergency.

I recommend this book to anyone, but in particular to those like me who want an introduction to what is the Darfur's genocide, and those who like to hear things from people who experienced them firsthand.

other reviews:
Trish's reading nook
Natasha at Maw Books
Debi at Nothing of Importance
Wendy of Caribousmom
Literary Feline at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
3M at 1 More Chapter
Megan of Leafing through Life
Somer at SomeReads
Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

The Sci-Fi Experience

Science Fiction is a genre I need to explore more. Anytime I read some sci-fi I'm fascinated, but then never actually try to dig deeper into it. To be honest, I've read almost solely dystopian sci-fi, more than the robot/space ships type of thing. But I'm willing to try anything.
That's why Carl's Sci-Fi experience comes in handy.
As it happens, I have three books on my tbr shelf that should fit perfectly.
The left hand of darkness by Ursula Le Guin. I've wanted to read this for ages now, and although I've read quite a few negative reviews I want to judge for myself.
The Restaurant at the end of the Universe by Douglas Adams. The second book in the Hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy, which I loved.
The Handmaid's tale by Margaret Atwood. I expect to love this!

any more suggestions, even for the future?

Monday 29 December 2008

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson

I read this thanks to all the bloggers who mentioned it as one of the best reads of the year. I *had* to get it!
The verdict: a stunning book.
It was so perfect in the writing, using short, incisive sentences that went straight to the essence of the emotions.
The story is the kind that would hook me anyway, but the writing was what made it so special.
I love when I find these gems in YA fiction.
The fact that it's sci-fi it's an added bonus for me.
The search for identity, the questions of what is (or where is) the soul, of what makes a human being human, of what is ethical and what isn't, of how far science can go...they are all subjects that fascinate me, ever since I watched "Ghost in the Shell" and "Blade Runner".
But this is not your usual sci-fi novel. I just hinted at the fact that this is something unique. We get to know Jenna very slowly. She has just woke from a long coma, and at first she doesn't remember anything. Not even her parents, or herself. Not even how to smile. Then she starts regaining bits of information, but some of her memories are too vivid, and some should simply be impossible for her to remember. All the answers will come, but they will be given gradually, a surprise after the other. Just when you think you had a huge shock, another chilling thing is revealed, and then another and another. If you're anything like me, it'll be very hard for you to stop reading, you'll just drink it in one go.

Jenna's search for meaning and truth also bring up questions about spirituality, about its place in a world where science can do almost everything. But to talk about how it is dealt, it would inevitably bring up details about the plot that I don't want to spoil. I just need to say that it creates an interesting ground for debate. Was it right, was it wrong? Should we? What would you...? And what about God?
What I loved about the book is that it doesn't try to take sides or give straight answers. It just lays down the questions, because they need to be asked. Than it leaves it up to you.
The ending was what made me think this. I wouldn't have expected it, and it shows how you could never have just one-side opinion about it.

I couldn't agree more with those who recommended this book as the must read of the year. Definitely one of the best YA I came across.

other reviews:
Maw Books Blog
The Compulsive Reader
Eva's Book Addiction (contains spoilers)
I heart reading
Karin's Book Nook
Bookworm 4 life (contains spoilers in the quotes)
Book Obsession
Savvy verse and wit
Book Addiction
Kelsey at Reading Keeps You Sane

got any more? Please let me know!

Sunday 28 December 2008

Hellfire - Mia Gallagher

Hellfire is long. That's the first thing you'd think. 670 pages are not easy to pass unnoticed. But this is the main reason why I decided to pick it up, after 2 years. I wanted to get it out of the way, the biggest book in the pile.
I've kept this proof copy since 2006, one of the first free books I took when I started working in the bookshop. It caught my attention because it was advertised as a mix between Roddy Doyle and Angela Carter. As it happens, it's nothing like them. It reminds me more of Christiane F. . Although you need to shift the setting from Berlin to Dublin and the language from German to a heavy north-side accent. And although this is fiction and as a story it works a lot better.
At first I loved recognising all the streets and places mentioned, but it didn't take much for me to be swept away by the story itself.
Lucy Dolan has just been released from prison, and as she walks along the streets of Dublin, she starts telling the story of her family, starting from her great-grandfather, who was a foundling. And her grandmother, who had the gift of Sight and of storytelling.
I had no clue where the story was going, but it didn't matter. I love stories of families. And Lucy's voice is so captivating she kept me glued to the pages anytime I opened them.
It's been a fascinating and extreme journey. I grew fond of Lucy, despite her mistakes and her anger at the world. I just kept thinking she needed to be loved, that's all. By her mother, her friends, her brothers.
The world in which she grows up is tough. Bleak flats, bleak schools, bleak streets. It's the '80s and the Celtic Tiger hasn't started to roar yet. The inner city is dominated by gang lords, who are always at war and always looking for young rascals to recruit for their errands. At 12, Micko, Lucy's older brother, and his best friend Nayler, are the two best new acquisitions. They rob, they sell, they do everything they're told. Until something goes wrong and they are packed off to reform school.
Lucy is left alone with her precious baby sister Sam, her irresponsible and uncaring mother, and her sick granny.
Her only friend her nerdy cousin Charlie. Until her first day of secondary school where she meets Amanda.
The whole story is told to Nayler, Micko's friend. To know why you need to keep reading. His relationship with Lucy is strange and complicated. Deep and tormented, it's made of unspoken worlds, of misunderstandings, of secrets and of Ifs. You might fall in love with Nayler, with his casual attitude and easy charm, or you might hate him for all he's done. But you'll never know the truth till the end.
As for me, I just cared about Lucy, and about her dreamy sister Sam.
I knew a tragedy was only waiting to happen, the only question was when. But I never imagined how it happened, till it does.
And even then, even through the hardest parts, I was always, completely, enthralled with the story. There's violence, and blood, and cruelty. But there's also magic, and little moments of tenderness.
I loved how sometimes short paragraphs were simple images of memories. A glance, an awkward silence, or a vision. Because the story is full of visions. Lucy has a glimpse of the gift. Unlike her granny, who can dive deep into the sea of visions and possibilities, Lucy is only a seagull, who can go underwater, catch a bit of truth, and then has to swim back up, gasping for air. She never knows if what she sees is the future, the past, the present,or just madness. But it doesn't matter, because nothing she sees can change what's coming.
I must be a sucker for tragic, sad and dramatic stories, even though I wouldn't have thought so. Maybe I like them because they show raw emotions. Yes, that's a right word for this book. It's raw, in all its meanings: harsh, angry, crude, unfair, painful. But also deep and intense and heart-shattering.
One of my favourite reads of the year.

other reviews:
Crime always pay

Wednesday 24 December 2008

I'm off home!

Just a quick note to say I'm going home for Christmas and I'll be back on the 28th! I didn't bring my laptop with me so I won't be checking blogs much:(
Hope everybody has a great Christmas!

Monday 22 December 2008

Secret Santa and Christmas Blog Carnival!

Finally I get to thank Joanna from Lost in a good Story for her pressies! She sent a wonderful packet with 2 books - The Kite Runner and The Ice Queen, plus Christmas candles, a cute tree decoration (is it hand-made? it looks like), AND Belgian chocolate, lavender and ginger flavour. I have to say those are gone already but luckily I took a picture of everything, here it is:

I looove this secret santa idea, thanks again Joanna, it was lovely! And thanks Nymeth for having the idea:) I'm already looking forward to next year's one!:P


Maw is hosting The Book Review Carnival, and I'm in it:) Go have a look.
If you comment to at least three blogs, and one of them it's new to you, you have the chance to win a $10 voucher for Amazon!

OK, now I'm off commenting and THEN, back to reading Hellfire, I'm enjoying it so much.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Picture Book Monday Special : Christmas (Part II)

As promised, here's the second part of my special picture book post.

The first I'm going to recommend is called The Princess' Blankets, by Carol Ann Duffy and Catherine Hyde.
This is one of those jewel books that immediately stand out for me. You can tell from the beginning that it's going to be something different. Something special.
The story is like a traditional fairytale, but it reinterprets the genre in such a beautiful and poetic and daring and sensual way, that it's hard to call it any other way than a work of art. Carol Ann Duffy is a poetess as well a writer. You can tell. It's one of the few times that I love the text as much as the illustrations. But I can't talk of illustrations here, really. They are actually paintings. Mostly abstract representations of feelings and atmospheres. As the artist explains "I wanted the mood to change like the seasons as the story progressed, so the paintings run from hot and bright to moody and harsh and finally to warm and sensual."

One could say this is not for children, but why deprive them of such a beautiful thing? I know I would have loved it as a child. It's so mysterious and fascinating.
It's the story of a princess who is always cold, and nothing ever seems to warm her up. One day a magician arrives at the castle claiming to be able to cure her. If he is successful he will claim the princess as his wife. But his eyes are hard as polished stones and the princess doesn't want to go with him. The stranger tries to warm her up with blankets made out of the ocean, then out of the forest, of the mountain and of the earth. But the princess is not cured, and the land is left with no ocean or forests or mountains...Until a musician with a kind and good heart arrived in the kingdom...

"The musician heard the Princess sigh in his ear and thought he would die with love, but he took her face in his hands and kissed her eyelids. Two warm tears trickled down the Princess' face, and the forests' blanket slipped from the bed. The musician and the Princess looked into each other's eyes and they saw their souls there, and when the musician kissed her on the lips the Princess's heart warmed her whole body with love"

One of the best children's books I have seen so far.
You can see plenty of Catherine Hyde's artworks here and here.

Next is something on a completely different note. This is undoubtley for children. Especially those who can't stop asking questions about everything and anything around them.
Why is the sky blue? by Geraldine Taylor and Amy Schimler answers a lot of questions about nature in a fun and interactive way,which I find irrestistible.
What I love most about it is the texture. It's thick paper which looks like is drenched with colour. The pastels are vivid and eye-catching, while the interactive side of it allows the children to pull tabs, lift flaps, turn wheels and open fold outs to discover the answers to the questions. It's a lot of fun!
It hasn't had the publicity it deserves, maybe because it's published within the Ladybird series, but this is definitely something you want to keep in mind for your curious children!

more sneak peeks at the book (clink to enlarge):

The illustrator has a very colourful blog, check it out:)

And now I want to talk to you about Niamh Sharkey and more specifically about her new book, Cinderella, retold by Max Eilenberg.
I've wanted to feature Niamh Sharkey for a long time but it never actually happened so there we are. The first time I noticed her was thanks to her "Gigantic Turnip". Her illustrations reminded me of some books I had as a child, no idea what, but I instantly loved them. Then I saw her "Jack and the beanstalk" and the love grew. I actually think that's her best work. I must get a copy soon.
So this year Niamh Sharkey has illustrated another classic fairytale, this time a very girly one. The epitome of girliness. Not my favourite story because it's all about a passive heroine who does nothing expect show up at a ball and fit into a shoe. And how come the prince didn't recognize her before if he was so in love with her. But anyhow, let's not go there. Once again is the illustrator I want to praise. She's done a wonderful job creating a supercute Cinderella, with supercute mice and funny looking step-sisters. Although my favourite parts are the odd-looking girls in line to try the shoe. So funny!
The colours are wonderful, as well as all the different dresses that Cinderella wears at the balls. Yes, because in this version, Cinderella goes to three different balls, in three nights, which kind of makes the love for the prince a bit more realistic.
So if you're looking for a classic fairytale, with delightful illustrations and a little bit of reinvention, go for it!

To look at Niamh's artwork go to the Barefoot's website here or visit her blog.
I've had the pleasure to meet Niamh while she was signing her books in our shop and also at P.J. Lynch's exhibition, and she was so lovely to me! She even knew about my blog :D I think she has earned an eternal fan:)

And the last for this year is Her Mother's Face by Roddy Doyle and Freya Blackwood.
This is Roddy Doyle's first picture book. It's a nice story about a girl, Siobhan, who can't remember her mother's face because she died when she was only 3. Then one day she meets a beautiful woman in the park who tells her to look in the mirror and she will know. Although the basic storyline is simple, the story is enriched with details about Siobhan's life and memories about her mother. She can remember her voice, her hands, and some words like
"Cat and spuds for dinner, Siobhan, how does that sound?"
"Yeuk, cat? or yeuk, spuds?"
"Yeuk cat."
"Okay. We'll have chicken instead".

And I haven't even started telling you about the illustrations. They feel like comfort food. Warm and welcoming, and calming. Reassuring, even. I am a watercolour lover, so it's not by chance that I'm attracted to this book! I've tried to look for images on the internet by this artist but I only found this..

That's it!!! I hope you enjoyed my choices. I've loved reviewing picture books, and I'm looking forward to discover more gems in the new Year! Merry Christmas to all of you :=)

The Pub 2009 Challenge

I've noticed this year how I don't tend to read many new books, because I always have so many old books at home that need to be read first, so although I add them to my wishlist, I usually manage to get around them when they're not new anymore. But then at the end of the year, I look at the "Best of the year" lists and I feel awful because I haven't read *any* of those. Hence the need to have an excuse to read new books. I have some ARC aside so I don't even have to add more books to the tbr list. The rest I can borrow from the shop:P
The rules are to read 9 books published in 2009. No children/YA (which is good, so I read something different and more suitable to my age) and at least 5 fiction (which shouldn't be a problem either)
Here is the official blog for the challenge.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Picture Book Monday Special : Christmas (Part I)

I have a bunch of picture books that I have been meaning to review for a while but never got around to do it, so I gathered them all up and decided to post a special post for Christmas, although it's not monday yet! They are not just Christmassy stories, but books that would make perfect gifts for Christmas or anytime!

First is a really special edition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's called We are all born free

Twenty-eight famous illustrators have offered their personal interpretations of the thirty articles of the Declaration, transforming it into a thing of beauty and creativity. I wish I could show them all to you, but you watch a preview on the Amnesty website, as well as read the article on the book.
Reading the articles is a somewhat painful experience, because it makes me think of how easily these basics rights are denied every day somewhere in the world, so I prefer to concentrate on the wonderful illustrations. There are few from some of my favourite artists: Polly Dunbar, Alan Lee, Chris Riddell, Jane Ray... Then there some stunning ones of artists I had never heard of like Hong Sung Dam or Jackie Morris. Definitely a book to behold, to discuss, and to treasure.
All proceeds will go to Amnesty International.

Next in line is The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (remember?).

This classic short story has been recently interpreted by P.J Lynch and the result is gorgeous! The story is heart-breaking and deeply romantic, although very old-fashioned (especially when referring to the wife as the possession of her husband...). But again I'm drawn to it mainly by its gentle watercolours, and the feeling of instant classic that the paintings inspire. You can watch a slideshow here.
P.J. also has a channel on youtube with some very interesting videos showing the process of making an illustrated book. Here's one:

My next choice is Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister and Grahame Baker-Smith

A completely different thing from P.J. Lynch, this book is all about magic and whimsical illustrations created with mixed techniques.
Follow this link to look at some of Grahame Baker-Smith's art. Fascinating, isn't it? He uses a lot of gold and purple and stars and mad details and decorations to create something which can only be described as stunning.
The story adds a lot to it as well. One day Leon and his brothers go to the magic show. But only Leon truly believes in it. When the show starts everybody is spellbound, until Leon is invited to enter the magic box. A whole world shows itself to him. The Place Between, the place where magic takes you. Ever wonder where things go when they disappear? In the Place Between of course! But not everybody can see this place. Only those who believe...
For true dreamers!

And lastly, I'd like to introduce you to Miki by Stephen Mackey.

"On midwinter eve when an icy wind blew,
the moon weaved her magic and wished came true."
This is a real feal-good christmassy book.
In a land far far away, there lived Miki and her friends. All around them was cold and dark so Miki wished she could find a little tree, and at once a little tree sprang up in front of her. So starts her story.
Everything she wished that night came true. She wished to decorate the tree and a string of fairy lights appeared. She wished a twinkle machine appeared and it did! But then the penguin grew tired of cycling to make it twinkle. So then Miki wished she could catch a star, because it would shine forever. And that's when she was pulled into the icy sea by a huge white whale and her adventure began...
This is an enchanting story told through rhymes and soft paintings. Set in a magic arctic-like land, it's full of fuzzy polar bears, cute penguins, and then sea creatures like octopuses and jellyfishes and crabs. I love its colours, all tones of blue and green and cream, and the textures of the brushes which looks smooth and velvety. Stephen Mackey is an author to watch.
To have a look at the sketches for this book click on the video below:)

Wednesday 17 December 2008

The Bloodstone Bird - Inbali Iserles

The Bloodstone Bird is the story of Sash, a boy who is bullied at his new school for his "girlie" name and his loner attitude, and of Verity, a popular and rich kid who decides to join Sash in his adventure, despite Sash's efforts to be left alone. It all begins when Sash enters his dad's studio, a room that's always been forbidden to him. His father is a taxidermists, and their house is packed with all sorts of stuffed animals, especially birds. But aside from his every day job, Sash's father often goes on expeditions to exotic places, allegedly to find rare species of animals to study. He's a loving father but he's too wrapped up in his researches to notice Sash's socialising problems in school. One day, after one of their arguments, Sash decides to brake the rules and opens the door to his father's studio.
In there he finds an old trunk, a map and a riddle. All the ingredients to begin all good adventures, aren't they?

On London's north-south river, long forgotten
When earth and suns align, with moon betwixt
Until again the moon's dark intervention:
Hidden from the world a doorway opens
here you'll find the bird of flames descending from the sun
it heals all hurts and friendship binds with song
What river? which suns? what world? and more importantly, what bird of flames?
Sash starts researching immediately, and in the process he somehow finds himself working with his school enemy Verity, who is determined to find the bird, no matter what.
Sash is skeptical but Verity seems to believe in the riddle with all her heart. Is the bird of flames just a legend or is there really an animal capable of bringing harmony to whoever finds it?

This was an engaging read that kept me interested all the way through. Inbali Iserles is the author of The Tygrine Cat, and like in her first novel, which I reviewed and raved about last year, her writing is smooth and it flows so easily that it makes her books really fast and gripping reads. She uses a traditional literary topos for fantastic fiction, the portal into a parallel world, but it still feels exciting and new. The idea of an underground river still running beneath London (which it is, by the way) is fascinating per se, but adding a magic portal to another world is beyond cool.
I liked the parallel world. A tropical paradise with a past of peace and harmony and a present of oppression and terror. Sash and Verity, in their search for the bird, become entangled in this world's destiny, and in doing so, they will also have to deal with their own personal problems.
I have to say I never came to like Verity, while I sympathised with Sash more. But instead of identifying with one character, I just enjoyed the adventure in its own, the solving of the mystery, the action, the dangers in the magic world.
I'm really looking forward to anything Inbali Iserles is going to write.

Young adult challenge 2009

I think I've read more the 12 YA books this year, but they weren't those that I chose originally. I didn't like changing the list completely, because it felt like cheating. So as I said, this year no choosing before hand. The rule is to read 12 YA books, one for each month. Is it really a challenge? nahhh...
To join go to J. Kaye's!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Quick post

This is not about books but if you like music read on!
I just found a link to download an album for free (I like those things) by an Irish songwriter, Adrian Crowley. I had never heard of him but I'm listening to it now and I really like it! He reminds me a bit of Nick Drake, but with a deeper voice. You have time till the 18th, so hurry up and let me know what you think!
To download go here.

Book Binge!

Today I came back home with a bag full of books. OK, they've been sitting in my locker in work for ages but today I decided to actually adopt them and give them a real home among the other legitimate books! I've no excuses, they were FREE and I couldn't resist. But the fact that they are home now means that they're gonna go to the Master List of Books to Read for next year, which I plan to follow religiously. So it was a serious decision to make.
What did I get?

#1 - Mr Toppit by Charles Elton

The cover itself made me want to read it straight away. You can't see it but there's a little round window on the bee, and if you lift the flap jacket you see the "other" cover, which is a children's book called "The Hayseed Chronicles". But this is not a children's book. It's about a series of children's books, and the power that one of its character has on the real world. Or at least that's what I got from reading the blurb and an article on The Bookseller.
To be published in February 2009.

# 2 - The Unicorn Road by Martin Davies

"On the coast of medieval Sicily, and expedition prepares to venture into unknown lands in search of the mysterious beasts of the East.

Five thousand miles away, a young girl prepares to leave the water meadows of her childhood to travel to the Emperor's court.

Neither Journey is destined to run smoothly."

Doesn't it sound intriguing? This proof reading copy also came with an attractive see-through dust jacket, which just reads "Uncover and Discover the magical journey that awaits you". Published in January 2009.

#3 - Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

This has been out a while but will only be published in Uk and Ireland in January. I've only heard good thinks about Speak, another YA book by the same author, so I have very high expectations for this one. But it's strange how Speak hasn't been published here, isn't it?

#4 - Firmin - adventures of a metropolitan lowlife by Sam Savage

This looks like a kid's book but in fact is not! It's a memoir of a rat who loves literature. "A debonair soul trapped in a rat's body".
I heard it was a publishing sensation in America, but not so much here. I'm very curious!

#5 - Instructions for living someone else's life by Mil Millington

I found myself flipping through it and giggling at what I had read, without even knowing what was going on. So I had to take it home and give it a chance to develop its full potential!
It's about a 25 -year-old guy in the 80's who all of a sudden wakes up in 2006, realising he has missed 18 years of his life. Stuck with a middle-aged body, a stranger for a wife and a life that hasn't turned out what he had hoped for. Nightmare or metaphor? Can't wait to find out.

#6 The Burnt-out Town of Miracles by Roy Jacobsen

I didn't even bother to stop and see what the book is about. I just liked the look of it. Plus it's a lovely, thin hardback. Free. Anyway, let's see what kind of book is it, shall we?
From the back: "My town was ablaze on 7 December, after all four thousand inhabitants had been evacuated, except for me. I was born here, had lived here all my life and couldn't imagine living anywhere else...There is always one, at least one, who doesn't follow the crowd, he doesn't even need to know why, and here in Suomussalmi it was me."
Hmm I still don't know much, but it sounds interesting. Creepy but interesting.

# 7 and last The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

My proof copy looks much better. It has old-looking, sepia cover, which only says "Do you dare to enter?". I kind of hope they change the colour back to sepia, it looks much more intriguing.

From Amazon: "When Conrad Harrison impulse-buys a big old house in Wisconsin, his wife Jo doesn't share his enthusiasm, reluctant at the idea of leaving their LA life - so Conrad is left to set up their new home as she ties up loose ends at work. But Conrad's new purchase is not all that it seems. Soon Conrad is hearing the ghostly wailing of a baby in the night, seeing blood on the floor and being haunted by a woman who looks exactly like Jo. With his wife away, Conrad becomes obsessed by the pregnant girl next door, Nadia, who claims to be a victim of the evil in the house. The crying leads him to a bricked-up body, and the mystery of the Birthing House unravels, pulling in Jo, Nadia and leading Conrad to a nightmarish conclusion."

This is published in January but I think I'll leave it for Halloween and the RIP Challenge, it sounds perfect.

And that's it! If I ever wonder how I managed to accumulate so many books in so little's the answer. I just can't say no, especially when I don't even have to open my wallet :P
But next year will be different. Oh yeah.


And now I want to thank Zoe, who gave me the "I love your blog" award! Thank you thank you thank you!
So I'm supposed to:
) Add the logo of your award to your blog.
2) Add a link to the person who awarded it to you.
3) Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4) Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5) Leave a message for your nominees on their blogs.

But I'll skip nominating anyone, I love all the blogs on my Reader (wow I've only recently discovered it and it's FAB!) and I don't want to choose only seven...
But thanks you so much again Zoe, I love your blog too:)


One last thing: I went to cinema twice in the past few days. Saw "Inkheart" and I gotta say it was entertaining! I haven't read the book but I can feel they cut through it a lot, which can't be too bad because I remember when I started reading it, it was very long-winded. Now I have to decide whether to read Inkheart or skip it and read Inkspell instead. Touch decision.
I also watched "Changeling" and it was excellent! I loved the 1930's setting and Angelina Jolie gave a wonderful performance. Beside she was stunningly beautiful every second of it. She just earned a new fan.

Sunday 14 December 2008

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

The more I think about this book that more I'm convinced of how good it was. It gives me a warm feeling remembering all its characters, the strange atmosphere of familiarity and safety of the graveyard, its...cosiness. Although not a very long book, this story allowed me to find my comfortable place in the pages, making feel at home. I felt sad reading the last page, I wish it had gone on and on. But it's what readers have to go through all the time they finish a good book. Say goodbye to a world and its inhabitants, and maybe wish to meet them again in a sequel. Since I don't believe there will be one, I will have to wait till the story has faded a bit more in my memory, to read it again and feel as if it were new.

So, why was is so good? Since I'm basically the last to review this book, it shouldn't be a mystery. The story of Bod, who is adopted by the ghosts of an old graveyard when he is only a baby, is well known by now. I normally wouldn't think I'd like books made out of different episodes, like short stories. But Neil Gaiman did a great job. We follow Bod as a baby, then a boy, and then as a lonely teenager. Although he is different from all the people he knows (he's alive!) he is given the freedom of the graveyard. So he learns how to fade, how to go through walls, even how to haunt, when necessary.
The only friend he makes is a girl named Scarlett, who comes to play with him in the graveyard,when they're both very young. But when she leaves town, he is only a fading memory for her, a sort of imaginary friend who only belongs to childhood.
Bod has a guardian. A mysterious figure named Silas, who protects him and advises him. He has all the features of a vampire, although I hadn't noticed them and was still wondering who he was, when a friend pointed it out to me! Silas is the nearest thing to a fatherly figure that Bod has. It's only natural that when Bod decides he wants to go to school, Silas is against it and Bod defies him. It's the first time Bod confronts his guardian so openly and refuses to do what he's told. So reluctantly Silas acknowledges that it's time to let him make his own choices and faces the consequences.
But Silas is right. The outside world is full of dangers. Someone is after him. Someone who wants to finish the job he had started many years ago. Eventually Bod will have to face him and use all his resources to defeat him.
Aside from the main storyline of the man Jack, which was suspenseful and exciting, what I loved most were the characters. Miss Lupescu, Liza the witch, Silas, the Owens, and of course Bod. Kind, honest, impulsive Bod. If I will reread this book, it will be for them.

Now, I had said I've been to Neil Gaiman's signing so let me tell you something about it. It was VERY exciting! He read the first chapter from The Graveyard Book because the majority of the people in the audience hadn't read it yet. I wish he had read the whole book to us. He knew when to pause and where to put the emphasis on and just how to read it properly. I think he's one of the best readers I've listened to and he should have a career in audiobooks :P But that wouldn't probably leave him much time to write and to do signings so maybe not!
After that he answered questions from the public. I wish I could have formed a thought properly, and asked a question, because people asked questions non related to the book,while I would have been more interested in the process of writing it. Did he have a fully formed story when he started writing it? Where all the characters already there? What's the meaning of the danse macabre? and the Lady on the horse? None of these things were discussed and I regret it. Next time I'm going to a signing of a book I've read, I'm going to start thinking about the questions BEFORE!
Anyway, he mentioned his next book, which will be a poem he wrote for Tori Amos' baby called "Blueberry Girl", which will be illustrated by Charles Vess. Take a look here, it looks like it's going to be gorgeous.
He then said that his next actual book will be a non-fiction, travel book, called "Monkey and Me". I love travel books, so I'm looking forward to it.
He said many other things, for example that he doesn't like working on sequels, because new projects are always more exciting. But even though sometimes I didn't know what he was talking about, I just enjoyed listening to him talking. He's funny and fascinating, and now I want to go and read all this books.
I got Coraline and The Graveyard signed, but again I couldn't think of anything good to say so I kept my mouth shut. I leave you with this little video I took of him reading. Enjoy.
(Sorry it's a bit shaky)

other blog reviews:
Orpheus Sings the Guitar Electric
The Written World
Jenny’s Books
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
Books & Other Thoughts
The Bluestocking Society
dreaming out loud
Melody's Reading Corner
Booknotes by Lisa
A High and Hidden Place
Bart's Bookshelf
You Can Never Have Too Many Books

Nothing of Importance
Fizzy Thoughts
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Becky's Book Reviews
Hello, My Name is Alice
Sophisticated Dorkiness
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Andy Wolverton
Real Book
Em's Bookshelf

Saturday 13 December 2008

More Challenges

OK, I like joining challenges but then I don't like following them, feeling obliged to read certain books I decided to read months before. So what I'm going to do is, not choose the books! I'll join the challenges only if it's possible to pick the books along the way.
So far I've picked:

Dewey's Reading Challenge, in memory of Dewey.

We can pick 6 books for each year that Dewey blogged, or 5 books from any year. I've browsed her blog and there's so much to choose from! From my experience is more fun to choose books that I don't already own, and wouldn't have picked, if not for the review. It doesn't help tackling the pile, but it's more fun!
For now I've noticed a couple of books I might want to read, for example Spelldown by Karen Luddy, Misfits by James Howe, Dykes to watch out for and some others.

The second, and last for now, is the Manga Reading Challenge, hosted by Rhinoa.

I have no idea what I'm going to read and that's part of the fun of it. I was an avid manga reader in Italy. Here there isn't such a big selection, so I'll have to search for some good ones, and hope for the best.
As in my comments to Rhinoa's blog, I'd like to suggest a few manga that I've loved in the past, and some others that could be interesting too.

Anything by Rumiko Takahashi is great. She's funny and incredibly inventive. My favourite of hers is Maison Ikkoku. Set in a shared house full of quirky characters, is the story of awkward student Godai, who falls madly in love with the manager of the house, the lovely Kyoko. This manga is a lot about romance and humour and misunderstanding, but in dealing with all this, it shows japanese culture in a way I haven't encountered in any other manga.
There's also an anime of this series, like for most of Takahashi's works. She's one of the most famous mangaka, so if you don't know where to start, I think she's a good introduction.

Another author I've read as a teenager is Masakatsu Katsura, a sort of legend for any manga lover. He's the creator of Video Girl Ai. This manga was so popular in Italy that I remember going to a theatre representation of it! OK it wasn't very good, but it gives you the idea.
The drawings are gorgeous, and kind of erotic too, but not XXX! It's a very tender and romantic story, with elements of science fiction. It's essentially for young adults, although I think anyone should try it at least, because it's a classic.
It's about Yota, a young guy hopelessly in love with Moemi. When he realises that Moemi is in love with his best friend, Yota finds himself in a video store to rent a porn movie and console himself. He ends up taking a video starring a girl called Ai Amano. What Yota doesn't know is that the video is a special one. It contains a Video Girl especially created to cheer up the renter of it, by physically coming out of the video in human form. Unfortunately Yota's vcr is broken so when Ai jumps out of the screen she's not what she should be. First of all she's cranky. But most importantly, she starts feeling emotions towards Yota. Something a Video Girl should never do. If it sounds weird, it is! But it's also incredibly emotional and tender, and it deserves to be discovered.

Another favourite author of mine is Tsukasa Hojo. He's the author of City Hunter, but I'm not mad for it. As a child I loved the anime Cat's Eye, but as a manga, my favourite of his would be "Under the dapple shade". It's the poetic story of a girl who can talk to trees. It's really beautiful, both graphically and storywise. It's not on Amazon but it can be read on-line here. If you can bear to read on a screen, it's absolutely recommended. There's also tons of other manga to read on this website!

Other honorable mentions are: RG Veda by the Clamp. The artwork is fabulous. The story is interesting, but some of the morals of some characters, I think, are questionable, depending on what you make of them.
if you like fantasy comedy, try Those who hunt elves. I should actually look for it as well, cause the series was interrupted in Italy.
For sci-fi and action fans I'd choose Battle Angel Alita . Also Ghost in the shell (although I've only seen the anime), Eden, and obviously Akira (again, never read the manga, should probably pick it myself!)

Right now, I'm really into a manga called Nana. It's still in progress, and since Italy is publishing at the same time as Japan (plus the time for the translation) it's going really slow! I hope I can pick up the latest issue when I go home for Christmas :)
There's a lot of smoking going on but if you manage to bypass that it's kind of addictive. Darla has reviewed the first two issues on her blog. I love the relationship between the two Nanas ( I secretely have a little crush on punk Nana) and right now I'm waiting to see what will happen to their friendship. Ai Yazawa, couldn't you draw and write faster??

For more realistic manga try Mars by Fuyumi Soryo. It's oh so romantic.

Ok I'd better stop here, I'm getting carried away again. Please, if you've read any good manga, feel free to recommend it to me, I'm very open to try anything:)

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Two reviews

I feel like I've lost the ability to review after such a long time. It feels a bit strange now, to sit down and write my thoughts on books I've read, as if I haven't done this in ages, while it's only been a month or so. Oh well, I want to catch up so I'll talk briefly about some books now and see if I can get back on track!

The first is Girl meets Boy by Ali Smith

Ok, I have to admit, after reading this and The Accidental, that Ali Smith is not for me. I enjoyed this more than the Accidental, probably because it was shorter, but it didn't stand out at all. It's part of the canongate myth series, reinterpreting Ovid's myth of Iphis in a modern tale that defies genders. It sounds interesting and it was, I just wished the author spent more time with the two lovers and less with all the rest, including a very long (considering the length of the book) lecture of how to call a bottle of mineral water. It started slowly, and by the time I was interested, it was over.
I can only clearly remember one quote and I love it:
She was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen in my life...She was as brave and handsome and rough as a girl. She was as pretty and delicate and dainty as a boy. She turned boys' heads like a girl. She turned girls' heads like a boy. [...] She was so boyish it was girlish, so girlish it was boyish, she made me want to rove the world writing our names on every tree.
Some parts were really moving, especially those about love. And I also liked that there was a political, rebellious side, even if a bit naive. It's just that I'm not comfortable in Smith's style, and I grow tired of it pretty quickly. The endless flow of words that lose meaning after a while, the fragmentation, the vagueness. It's too abstract for me. I like that in painting but obviously not in prose.
I'm ready to try one more book and then I give up. I was told Hotel World is brilliant. But I don't expect at this point to be blown away by it, so I won't run and buy it any time soon...

Gold by Dan Rhodes
I wanted to save this for a longer review cause I think it deserves one, but time is slipping away and I don't want to be left with lots of old reviews in the new year.
Anyway, this was brilliant! A funny, cosy, original, and quick read that's perfect for these cold winter evenings. With a hot cup of tea, wrapped in a duvet, possibly in front of a fire.
It's about Miyuki, a British girl of Japanese origins, who spends her holidays in the same seaside village in Wales every year, in January. She and her girlfriend had both agreed that, once a year, each had to be able to spend a month alone, away from the other. This is supposed to strengthen their love and their relationship. That's why Miyuki choses the semi-deserted town by the sea, where she can read a book a day, drink gallons of beer at the pub, and go for solitary walks sipping hot tea. She can also binge on junk food as much as she likes and observe the quiet but interesting village life, always from a distance. Only this year will be different. And by breaking the rules and interacting with the locals, her holiday takes a completely unexpected turn.
For some reason, probably because it's very funny and very British, it reminds me of Nick Hornby. The characterisations are wonderful. I loved tall Mr Hughes, short Mr Hughes, Septic Barry and the Children from Previous Relationships. Only by flipping through the pages now, it makes me want to read it again.
Gold is a little gem. Clever, quirky, but also moving and heart-breaking. (You'll see why).
And yes, you'll never think about sneezing in the same way again :)

Saturday 6 December 2008

Weekly Geeks# 27: for Dewey

Even though I've only known Dewey through her popular blog and even though we weren't the closest of friends, I was deeply shocked and moved when I heard the sad news. It still feels really strange to think that she is not here anymore. Hers was a blog I would visit almost every day, to check on the new weekly geeks, to read her insightful reviews and her sunday coveting. I remember being envious of her beautiful house by the woods, not knowing what was going on behind the walls. I thought she was some kind of superwoman. Managing her reviews, her challenges, and building the blog community. She recently participated in Nanowrimo, and still kept posting reviews. I thought she was amazing. Now I think she was phenomenal. I can't imagine what kind of pain she was going through, but to us, she always managed to be the usual ultra-organised, motherly, kind, and funny Dewey.
The Read-a-thon was one of the best thing I've ever done this year, it was incredibly fun, and it was all her idea. It started off with few people and went on becoming a huge event. I hope, next time, we will manage to keep her legacy alive, and have a Read-a-thon in her memory, although it will never be the same without her.

It's only a coincidence, but I'm reading Toni Morrison for the first time now, and it's absolutely amazing. I've always loved her quote that gave Dewey's website its name, and now I'm glad to discover the writer behind it.
Also, Dewey was reading or had read "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" Another coincidence. A friend of mine just finished it and left it for me to read it. It's supposed to be incredibly funny and witty. Just like Dewey.

Sunday 23 November 2008

So, still no reviews...

...I will have so much to catch up with in the next months! I'd like to say that I have being writing like a mad thing, but sadly I've actually slowed down a lot. First I got discouraged by reading The Goose Girl. The writing and the imagination was so superior I just couldn't bring myself to love my story anymore. So then I decided to put The Goose Girl down for the moment. I tried to read only non-fiction while in writing mode, but fiction just lured me to it again when I was innocently browsing a library shelf. I ended up taking out "How I live Now" by Meg Rosoff, and man, that was good! And thankfully I didn't compare it to my writing that much, because the genre is so different. The ending wasn't what I hoped for, but still the characters, the style, and the story itself was worth it.

Now I'm reading a book that's not published yet. It's called The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison. It could be chosen as Kids Book of the Month in our shop and our buyer wants to know what we think of it. So far I'm liking it even though nothing has happened yet. There's nasty fairies, and a girl who can see them, and a mysterious ancient house, and an old gypsy woman living in a caravan in the forest. And some children disappearing. It sounds very promising, doesn't it?
Anyway, today I should get lots of writing done. But I'm scared because I got to a very important part, maybe the key scene for the whole story, and I've thought about it so much and put so much expectations on how it should be that now I'm intimidated by it! So instead I've been "researching" without actually writing anything :P
Maybe I should stop thinking how important it is and just write it! I can always edit it later...hmmm. Easy to say...

Ok, I should get going and stop procrastinating!

Sunday 9 November 2008

Christmas Swap a.k.a. Secret Santa is here again!

Yay! Go and join now, it's great fun!
Here all about it from Nymeth,
or Dewey!

If you're not convinced yet, read my posts from last year:

Jill from the Well-Read Child was my santee, here is was she said when she got her presents :-)

Can't wait for this year's Secret Santa!

Friday 7 November 2008

A little update...

I've been writing. A lot for my standards, if you consider I didn't write anything for months and months!I get up early to write, I even brought my laptop at work to write during lunchtime, because I knew I wouldn't get much done after work. It's brilliant.
I visit NanoWriMo's website regularly to keep me motivated, even as an outsider. And yesterday I was surprised to find out that apparently Water for elephants by Sara Gruen was written doing NanoWriMo! I couldn't believe it. That's got to be inspirational, to say the least ;)
But this wasn't the only inspirational thing I found on their website yesterday. My highlight was Philip Pullman's Pep Talk! This is a wonderful idea. All these famous writers are called to write some motivational/encouraging/understanding words to all the Nanowriters and then they're sent by e-mail to them. Thankfully, they're eventually published on the website, and that's why I could read Philip Pullman's yesterday. I loved it. At the end he talks about how being readers and lovers of stories will help us to become writers as well:

...if you do love reading, if you cannot imagine going on a
journey without a book in your pocket or your bag, if you fret and fidget
and become uncomfortable if you're kept away from your reading for too
long, if your worst nightmare is to be marooned on a desert island without
a book - then take heart: there are plenty of us like you. And if you tell
a story that really engages you, we are all potential readers.

Yes, that's me. Does it mean I have potential? :P

Oh if you have time,read Jonathan Stroud's too, that's worth it too!

ps: I don't know how people, like Dewey for example, can do Nano, have a job and all that goes with it, and post reviews on their blogs too. It's beyond me. So unless days suddenly stretch to 48 hours, I won't be posting reviews for a while...Or maybe I'll try tomorrow if I'm lucky!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Look what I got today in the post!

I've recently discovered Etsy and I wish I could buy almost everything there....
So I treated myself and bought some earrings! Actually I'm thinking of giving one pair to a friend as a Christmas present, because they're really lovely:
From Blinkingmouseshop:


I'll definitely keep the first pair, cause I love stars! and will painfully give the second away and make a friend happy (I hope!)

I also got a book!

I mooched the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which I believe will be my next read!or the Goose Girl? hmmm tough choice!

Ok now I should DEFINITELY start writing...

Sunday 2 November 2008

It's National Novel Writing Month!

and I'm not doing it! I wouldn't mind taking part, it sounds like a lot of fun and I'm sure it would be immensily satisfying to finish a novel in a month. But I still have my story to finish, that I started 3 years ago, and I don't want to start anything else till I finish this. The good news for me though is that I decided it's time to do it! Let's write this, and get over with it. And what best time then NaNoWriMo to get a writing boost? So I'll be trying to write at least 1000 words for the next month..well, 28 days now. I wanted to start yesterday, but I was hindered by a bad cold and a very annoying temperature. Today I felt much better so I opened that word document again and wrote my 1000 words! well done me.

It's been a great day, after a not so great Halloween weekend. Actually, it must have been the worst Halloween I had since I'm in Ireland! Almost nothing went like it was supposed to. I didn't have a costume till two days before friday. I finally decided to dress up as Daphne from Scooby-doo after seeing it in a fancy dress shop's catalogue, but unfortunately it was gone. Then I said to myself:"How hard can it be to find an orange wig, a pink dress and a green scarf?"
VERY HARD! If you're looking for them two days before Halloween. Never again.
I went into all the shops I knew but didn't find the right dress so had to settle for pink top and pink skirt. Then I ordered the wig online with 24 hours delivery, but they were out of stock. Then ordered it from another shop, and they called me to say they were also out of stock! So I thought, ok, I'll die my hair! Not permanently, only with the colour spray that washes off. Take my word: NEVER try those things on your hair. It was awful! My hair looked like a wig that was used to wipe floors after it was too old and ugly to do anything else!
I was in the shop already, and had to get ready to start the day. So thankfully we had a bright pink wig that I used to cover my sorry-looking hair and a witch hat, and that was it. I was a punk witch. I later bought some punk looking black gloves with white starts and similar leg warmers....and it wasn't too bad! but not what I wanted...
Anyway, life had to go on. I got ready to organise the Halloween party with the kids. Callista kindly emailed me few games to play with them and I used one of her suggestions. It was a creepy story to tell in the dark about a dead woman named Brown, and as you tell the story you pass around her "body parts" which were actually bits of food or other things that feel like body parts. It sounded all very scary and promising. *If only* things were done like they were supposed to be done. But we couldn't have a place which was dark enough, so the kids could see what was inside the bowls, even though they were covered. Some of them were also too old and they spoiled the game. Then, the person that was supposed to be the ghost at the end, was busy doing something else, so the scariest bit didn't happen properly.
Yeah, it was a bit of a disaster, but I was very relieved it was over. I swear this is the last Halloween party I organise.

But not everything bad happened in the last few days. In fact, last Thursday was a very exciting day because I went to the signing of.....drum rolls.....Neil Gaiman! You'll hear all about it in my review of the Graveyard book very soon:)

Saturday 25 October 2008

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

I loved this book so much, I giggled all my way through it. I had seen the film but it was enough time ago not to see the differences and make too many comparisons. This was pure pleasure reading.
It's not really a story. It's more a window into the mind of a 30 something guy, Rob, who is not ready to be an adult yet, but feels like his life is slipping away from him. The trigger to everything is his girlfriend Laura breaking up with him. He starts remembering his past top five break-ups, in chronological order, and try to find an answer to his current situation. My favourite of his break up is probably the first one, with Alison Ashworth. They were only twelve or thirteen and their relationship, based on snogging in the park, lasted only three days:

What did I think I was doing? What did she think she was doing? When I want to kiss people in that way now, with mouths and tongues and all that, it's because I want other things too: sex, Friday nights at the cinema, company and conversation, fused networks of family and friends, Lemsips brought to me in bed when I am ill, a new pair of ears for my records and CDs, maybe a little boy called Jack and a little girl called Holly or Maisie, I haven't decided yet. But I didn't want any of those things from Alison Ashworth. Not children because we were children, and not Friday nights at the pictures, because we went Saturday mornings, and not Lemsips, because my mum did that, not even sex, especially not sex, please God not sex, the filthiest and most terrifying invention of the early seventies.

At page 4 I was in love with the book already. Not that I sympathize with the guy at all. But it was fun to read into his mind. It felt so real sometimes I had to remind myself that this was not a memoir but fiction. He made me laugh a lot, but I couldn't help to be annoyed sometimes, because I could put myself into all his girls' position and totally see their point of view!
Poor Penny Hardwick who was dumped because she wouldn't let be touched, but was secretly mad for him. She only needed more tenderness.
And what about his pining for Laura? It's all a matter of ego:
I'm unhappy because she doesn't want me; If I can convince myself that she does want me a bit, then I'll be OK again, because then I won't want her, and I can get on with looking for someone else.


But despite all this, he is irresistible. The writing is irresistible, his snobbish obsession with music is irresistible. His friends and employees, Dick and Barry, are irresistible. The whole package.
Of course Nick Hornby knows his Rob is a bit of a tosser, but it's probably why he feels like a real person who's trying to analyse the reasons why he manages to mess up his love life all the time.
Some of the most insightful conclusions about Life come from Rob's relationship with music:
What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives."

Some other conclusions, like the one about unrealistic expectations that pop music puts into young impressionable minds, I think are due to Rob not having found real love yet, otherwise he'd know what those romantic songs talk about:)
But I should stop arguing with him as if he was a real person! I wish he was, so I could have a proper chat with him about some stuff :p

So, to put an end to this messy review...You should read this book. Even if you are not a music nerd, or 30 something, or a man. You're in for a brilliant read.

other blog reviews:
Books I done read
Where lemon melt like lemon drops
Trish's reading nook
Know any more? Please let me know!