Thursday 31 January 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Quirky

This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:

Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

Usually I love quirly characters. If they're crazy, strange, unusual, impossible to fit into categories, unpredictable or just plain loonies, I can be pretty sure I'm going to like them. I adore "Stargirl", I think Luna Lovegood is the coolest character in "Harry Potter" after Hermione, I fell in love with Weetzie Bat and her unlikely family almost instantly and I never understood how Marilla could critise Anne for being what she was (fun, creative, imaginative).

I think it must be because deep inside (or not that deep), I'd like to be like them. Quirky people are often the most original and creative. They see the world in a different way and they don't tend to conform. When they are bold I admire them (like Imogene in "The Blue Girl), and when they're shy I can understand them and maybe wish I could be their friend. Or maybe I'm already one of them and I'm just looking for assurance that quirky is cool!:D

One character, though,that I didn't like was Justin in Meg Rosoff's "Just in Case". He was quirky, or better, he was completely out of it. Strange wouldn't quite describe him. Paranoid might be the best word. And althought I would normally like a character who invents an imaginary dog and then acts as if it was a real one, and that changes his name into Justin Case to hide himself from Fate, I really couldn't relate to this guy. Even though the writing was truly beautiful.

So if you know any book with quirky characters that you think I might like, please share them with me! I'm always looking to read more books with interesting characters (i.e. strange) in them.

Monday 21 January 2008

I was a Rat! by Philip Pullman

This charming little book is a funny, moving and extremely entertaining tale that only confirms what a great storyteller Philip Pullman is.
It’s the picaresque adventure of how a little boy in a page uniform, who knows little about the human world - but a lot about cheese - knocks one day at the door of a cute old couple, Bob and Joan, and candidly declares “I was a rat!”.
Bob and Joan, seeing he is alone in the world and nobody’s looking for him, take him under their roof, give him a name - Roger - and try to teach him how to be a proper boy. Not an easy feat though, because little Roger has no clue of what a boy does or doesn’t do. But he understands the basics rules of life (at least of a rat’s life): eat when hungry, gnaw anything in sight range, run away when beaten up or when confronted with cats.
His naïve approach to the world inevitably starts a series of unfortunate events that catch him completely unaware, and that leads him away from the loving care of Bob and Joan and right into the hands of scrupleless shifty characters who are only looking to use him.
I found his encounter with the philosopher royal, who wants to study him to become famous, especially funny and clever. Here's a little taste:

“Now Roger” – he began – “why are you wearing a page-boy’s uniform?”
“I dunno. I expect I forgot but I’m not sure. If I could remember whether I forgot it I’d know if I had, but I probably forgot without remembering it”
The Philosopher Royal was used to problems of epistemology, so he made sense of that with no trouble at all.

In addition to Roger’s misfortunes, readers can enjoy and recognise the typical tabloid in the pages of The Daily Scourge, always looking for the screaming title, the big scandal or any story that could sell the most, and always ready to change opinion according to where the wind blows. These might be the funniest bits in the story. I love them!
Also, the general illustrations by Peter Bailey are adorable and made me care for poor Roger even more.

All in all “I was a Rat!” is a story good for everyone. It’s a satire of the press, of the royal family and of the whole English society, and it’s also a great story in a kind of old-fashion way. The kind that’s probably best read aloud at bed-time, one chapter at the time.

Thanks so much Ana, for this. Your present was spot on:)
Ps: The book uses a working class English, which I guess won’t help children to learn their grammar, but it would certainly make them laugh!

other blog reviews
Nymeth at Things mean a lot

Thursday 17 January 2008

The Blue Girl - Charles de Lint

What a great book to start the year with! It was such a gripping read that at times I wished I could spend all day reading it, and at the same time I didn’t want to read it too quickly so that I wouldn’t come to the end too soon.
It’s my first encounter with Charles de Lint’s work, but I will definitely look for more books written by him. I can clearly see him becoming one of my favourite writers.
This one had a special meaning to me, even before I had the chance to read it. It was a book that I chose for a project for my MA in publishing. We had to pretend we were publishers and choose what books we were going to launch. Browsing Amazon for good young adult books not yet translated in Italian I was attracted by the beautiful cover art for “The Blue Girl” and immediately picked it. I’ve been wanting to read it ever since! And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint me one bit. Sometimes it’s good to judge the book by its cover!

So, for those who never heard of Charles de lint, he is the founder of a subgenre called “urban fantasy”, where traditional elements of fantasy fiction and fairy tales like fairies, ghosts and all sorts of magical creatures mix with the urban setting of the modern world. The majority of his books are set in an imaginary provincial town called Newford, where anything is possible (a bit like in Sunnydale, and the references to “Buffy” don’t stop here, stay with me!).

“The Blue Girl” tells the story of 16 year-old Imogene, the new girl in town, who’s determined to leave her trouble-maker past behind her, and live a new life in Newford. Maybe that’s why she chooses to befriend Maxime, a shy, smart and bullied student, and tries not to draw attention to herself. But Imogene’s strong personality, punk look and straightforwardness don’t help to pass unnoticed. However she manages to keep things under control, including the school bullies, until Adrian, the Ghost of a lonely kid who died in the school’s parking lot few years before, falls in love with her and tells her about his fairy friends, the Little People, who live in their school. While Maxine is excited to think that fairies really exist as she always hoped, Imogene thinks it’s nonsense and refuses to believe it. And that’s when the trouble starts.

“The Blue Girl” is not only a well-written, funny and clever fantasy novel. It’s also the story of a typical High School, which can often feels like a horror movie. Where bullies can pick on the weak, the shy and the different, and where friendship become the only means to survival.
This is why this book reminds me so much of “Buffy the vampire slayer”. Imogene and Maxine’s relationships is so much like Buffy and Willow’s at the beginning. The quick, hilarious dialogues have the same feel, and Imogene’s casual attitude to the unusual and the scary is so like Buffy’s, even without superpowers. They also have a librarian called Ms Giles! Even if she’s only mentioned a couple of times. And what about the use of words like “research-mode” and “ghost boy”?
Don’t be put off, though, if you’re not exactly a Buffy fan. The book is far from being a rip off of the show. It’s unique in its values and perspectives. And it’s a must read for anyone who enjoys fantasy, adventures, cool dialogues and the idea of having a bunch of amoral fairies dressed like hippy with dreadlocks, an imaginary friend who’s not imaginary anymore, and some scary soul-sucking shadows all wrapped up in one single book!

other blog reviews

Chris at Stuff as dreams are made on

Monday 14 January 2008

Writing progresses

Today I feel so good about myself because I've finally started working again on my story. I deliberately put aside such an unputdownable book as "the Blue girl" for the morning, to do some productive work on my precious day off. And I've effortlessly (well, almost) written a decent enough scene that I can be proud of. It was an action scene, and an important one as well, but action scenes are not easy for me, really, so I was kind of putting it off waiting for inspiration. But then last night I used my favourite technique for writing: I wrote the general lines of what was going to happen, or better, I let the pen write, cause honestly I didn't know what was going to happen till I wrote it. I thought I was going to write different scenes and then pick the best one, but the first one was the right one, so I used that. Then this morning I wrote it and it was fun! The words came out naturally and they felt right. I wrote more than 1000 words, which is A LOT for me, and I came to the end of the second part of the story. So yeah, it was a very productive day. I hope there'll be many more to come:)

Sunday 13 January 2008

"What's in a name?" Challenge

Ever since I saw this challenge I wanted to join, so here I am. Annie had the idea and now she even has a blog for it, with lots of Mr Linkys to post our reviews in the right places. Rules and conditions are here.
I had some problems finding a book with a plant in its title. Do fruit qualify as plants? If they don't I'll try and think of something else, but I'm trying to use only books that I already have, which is not easy! Anyway,this is what I came up with:

I'm reading it now and I also included it in the Young Adult challenge. I'm absolutely loving it, I think it's safe to say I'm already a Charles de Lint fan! Sometimes it's good to judge a book by its cover :)

My secret Santa present!

I've no idea why I haven't read this yet,given that I'm such a fan of Roddy Doyle's writing, but each book has its own and right time to be read, and I think its time has come now. It will also qualify for the Booker Prize project, for which, so far, I've only read one!!! shame...

I've started this and then I left it unfinished. But I've always meant to go back to it because I really want to know more about the spanish civil war from someone who was actually there. I've loved the film by Ken Loach, "Land and Freedom", which was inspired by this book, so I think I should like this. Maybe the right time has come for it as well.


I'm only using this because it was the only book that I own, with a weather event in the title! It's not a book that I've been wanting to read, I got it for free, but maybe it will surprise me.

You can't go wrong with Roald Dahl. Well, at least if I can get away with a giant peach been counted as a plant. Which it is. Right?

Saturday 12 January 2008

7th Edition of the Bookworms Carnival is up!

Pop in to Becky's for the edition of the Bookworms Carnival! Lots and lots to read this month as the topic, Best of 2007, proved to be a very popular one. So if you're searching for some really good books to read, look no further. Or alternatively do like me and check who agrees or doesn't agree with what you thought of the books you've read in 2007. Have fun!

Thursday 10 January 2008

8 random things about myself

Darla at Books and other thoughts has tagged me for this,so here am I again with another meme, not about books though. Or not entirely. Enjoy. I will also have to tag 8 more people...

1)I like making things. It can be food, knitted scarves, notebooks, cards, cosmetics…I like the process of making them, sometimes more than the finished product. I love the feeling of the dough for a cake in my hands, the softness of the yarn while I knit and the pride of watching the knitting taking form, the joy of mixing colours on paper before painting. I’d love to learn how to make pottery, because I like handling clay. One day I’m going to learn how to sew properly and maybe design my own clothes.

2)I am an artistic gymnastics fan. That sport with the beam, uneven bars, floor and vault. Not with clubs and ribbons. That’s rhythmic gymnastics. I did some gymnastics when I was younger, and I was actually good but never had proper coaches nor proper gyms. I have an insane amount of tapes of recorded gymnastics competitions, which I got through trading with other gymnastics fans. In 2004 I even went to Athens to watch the Olympics.

3)I have a thing for Japan. Food, mangas, 80’s anime, Harajuku’s street style, all that kind of things. My dream is to have enough money to go on a backpacker’s trip to Japan, travel around, sleep in a traditional Ryokan, and take a bath in its hot spring common bathroom, possibly in some remote little village on top of a mountain. Then taste all sorts of food, go to one of their festivals and look at all the colourful stalls, write a wish on a strip of paper and hang it on a bamboo branch. I’d like to be there for the blossoming of the cherry trees and have lunch in a park surrounded by pink petals, enjoying the arrival of spring. Then I would spend few days in hectic Tokyo, and visit all the manga shops and spend a fortune on silly gadgets. I might even buy a cartoon costume and be a cosplayer for a day. Anybody wants to come with me?

4)I’m the best at NOT keeping resolutions. I’ve just bought a book when I had said I wasn’t going to buy anymore books this year. It’s a special one, I’ve been wanting to read it for two years now, and I’ve ordered it especially from the States. I meant to keep it for the shop and let other people buy it. But I couldn’t refrain myself and here I am, reading a book that’s not in my tbr list, that’s new and not even part of a challenge. But, hey, another resolution was not to get stressed over reading, and to read for pleasure, so there you go. Even.

5)My heaven on earth is called Levanzo and it’s a tiny island in Sicily. I’ve been going there on holiday since I was born and I believe it has a magic effect on me. It recharges my batteries. There I feel inspired, relaxed, creative. I’m going to live on that island when I retire, one day. Or possibly sooner, if I make enough money to buy a house there. (sigh).

6)As a kid I never believed in Santa. For some reason I always knew it was my parents who were buying the presents. But I believed in a guy called Asdrubale (pronunciation for he English speakers: as-droo-ba-lay). He was the product of my playschool teacher’s imagination, who told us that he was the coolest guy, a sort of super robot. He could fly and he had lots of buttons to press. If u pressed one you could have a shower of sweets. With another one a bunch of flowers. He was an almighty hero for all of us kids. And I firmly believed in him. Until some other kid cruelly said: “I bet he doesn’t exist. I bet he’ll never come to us. He’s only an invention of our teacher”. Hence instilling the doubt in my faithful child’s heart.

7)The first book I’ve ever read is “How babies are born” (I still have that book!). Every day I would sit down, look at the watch, and dutifully read for 30 minutes straight. I was barely 6 and I thought the book was very boring and not clear at all, what with all the bees, and flowers, and chickens. Also I thought “spermatozoon” was the weirdest word ever!

8)I like sleeping a lot. I get grumpy if I don’t sleep my 8 hours at least. If I don’t sleep enough my whole day is going to be ruined. I would have headaches and a general feeling of hatred for everything that’s around me, except my bed. Which remind me that I work tomorrow at 9 and it’s way past bed-time…

That was fun!
Now for the tagging, I've no idea who did this already but let's try. I'll randomly tag:
Tiny little librarians
carl v

Monday 7 January 2008

Books I've read - 2007

Final list. Just to keep track and put a link to my first reading year as a blogger!

* 47) The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Di Camillo
* 46) A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
* 45) Hazel Wood Girl by Judy May
* 44) Kiss by Jacqueline Wilson
* 43) Io non ho paura (I'm not scared) by Niccolo' Ammaniti
* 42) Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
* 41) My dad's a birdman by David Almond
* 40) Life on the refrigerator door by Alice Kuipers
* 39) The God of small things by Arundhati Roy
* 38) Boy by Roald Dahl
* 37) Skellig by David Almond
* 36) Ma tanto non sei di Livorno by Claudio Marmugi
* 35)The Magic Faraway Tree by Enyd Blyton
* 34) The Giver by Lois Lowry
* 33) Lucky Star by Cathy Cassidy
* 32) Chocolat by Joanne Harris
* 31) The Mum Mystery by Gwyneth Rees
* 30) Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block
* 29) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (reread)
* 28) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
* 27) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
* 26) The secret diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Towsend
* 25) Weezie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
* 24) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
* 23) Setalux by Simona B. Lenic
* 22) L'ultimo elfo (The last elf) by Silvana De Mari
* 21) La ragazza Houdini by Martyn Bedford
* 20) La valle delle Lucciole by Gloria Cecilia Diaz (reread)
* 19) Le ali della sfinge by Andrea Camilleri
* 18) La pista di sabbia by Andrea Camilleri
* 17) The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles
* 16) Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
* 15) Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge
* 14) The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
* 13) The boy in the striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
* 12) A Village Affair by Joanna Trollope
* 11) Driftwood by Cathy Cassidy
* 10) Something Invisible by Siobhan Parkinson
* 9) Blart by Dominic Barker
* 8) A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
* 7) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
* 6) Just in Case by Meg Rosoff
* 5) The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
* 4) Lorelei's secret by Carolyn Parkhurst
* 3) The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
* 2) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
* 1) Charlotte's web by E.B. White

Sunday 6 January 2008

Reading Trouble Meme

Back at the end of November Lisa at Books on the brain tagged me for this fun meme, and I've let it waiting far too long, so here it is!

1. Have you ever gotten into trouble for reading?

Not really in trouble, but in secondary school I used to read my own books during classes. Not all the time, just when it was getting boring or the teacher was particularly annoying. So I would sit in the last row and hide my novel behind the school book. I've done this regularly during English classes at 16/17, as a protest against our teacher who was one of the most obnoxious person I had the displeasure to meet. It was a sort of boycott against her teaching. Fortunately I was pretty good at English so I didn't need to listen to her much. Whenever she tried to check if I was actually listening I had my answers ready so no trouble there. I wish I could say I missed classes because I was reading in the bathroom and got caught, or something like that, but I didn't.
If trouble is lack of social life because I liked books more than hanging out with people my age, than yes! I got into a LOT of trouble:P

2. Has reading ever SAVED you from getting into trouble?

Again my mind goes back to the good(?) old school times...I remember I got away with a lot of non studying because I read a lot of non-requested books. That helped when confronted with questions in tests about things you were supposed to know from school books. Of course that was only for literary subjects. I miserably failed almost all my scientific tests, so no help there. Arts teachers usually loved me because I I was "the one that reads books", even if I didn't do all the homeworks all the time. So I guess that saved me from getting into trouble more than once.

What was the first book you read that you KNEW you would get into trouble reading if caught?

I don't know if I would have got into trouble for reading it, because my family is very liberal, but I felt like I had to hide anytime I sneakily read a page or two from a book called "Everything you wanted to know about sex but never dared to ask" or something like that. It was there, in the library, with the rest of the books, not particularly hidden, but I knew I didn't WANT to be caught reading it because it would have been too embarassing! I was 12 or 13.
I could think of a lot of movies or tv programmes that I wasn't supposed to watch (like the soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" ahhh I was so addicted at 13 and my dad kept forbidding me to watch it,I thought it was so unfair. Now I kind of agree with him) but it's harder with books.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to tag someone so I'll leave it to anyone who wants to join in. Feel free to answer the meme and leave a link to it:)

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Some Thoughts About 2007: My Year In Books

This 2007 has been, I might say, my first year as an adult person. I’ve had a full-time job as a bookseller for 15 months now. I’ve paid the rent and everything with my own money, I’ve experienced the hardship of having 40 hours a week of my life used up, and the delights of the long-waited two days off (sometimes in a row, even!). And what have I done to welcome my grown-up life? I’ve gone back to childhood. of course! This year I’ve become addicted to children’s books and I’m actually pretty happy I did. Before I started working in bookselling I had done a Master in Publishing, and when questioned about our interests, about what we would have liked to publish, I said “children’s books” without even thinking. I guess I’ve never left my childhood, and reading children’s literature is a way of keeping contact with it. I’ve always read a lot, but I abandoned children’s books at around the age of 15, when I decided I was ready for adult fiction. I never went back, with few exceptions (i.e. Harry Potter). Then at 27, I felt adult enough to be a child again ☺

This year in June, I’ve also started this blog. And since then I’ve experienced so many new things and met some really cool people. I’ve joined my first challenges. I only completed one, therefore realising I’m not a challenge person. I feel the pressure of having to read those particular books instead of being free to decide right after I finish one. However, if I hadn’t join this challenges I wouldn’t have read some of the best books of this year.
So, these are my picks for the best reads, not in order cause charts are cruel. For some I’ve written a review, for others you just have to trust me.

- The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
I’ve read the first two before January 2007 so I won’t count them, but together as a trilogy are among the best books I’ve ever read. So much that I’m re-reading Northern Lights now. And I’m not a person who re-reads much.

- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
I cried and laughed all the way through this. I absolutely love everything about it.

- Stargirl + Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (read why here and here)

- Lorelei’s Secret by Carolyn Parkhurst (very well written, original and at times shocking adult fiction)

- Blart by Dominic Parker
The most hilarious fantasy parody for children I’ve ever read. Not that I’ve read
many to be honest.

- Tim the Tiny Horse by Henry Hill
This book is so, so funny. And Tim the tiny horse is so cute you could die.

- Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge (read why)

- The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles (read why)

- The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari (read why)

- Setalux by Simona B. Lenic (read why)

- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
For me, a very satisfying ending. She finished with style.

- Weetzie Bat + Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block (read why here and here)

- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and ¾ by Sue Towsend
I must read the rest of the diaries soon.

- The Giver by Lois Lowry (read why)

- Skellig by David Almond (read why)

- My Dad’s a Birdman by David Almond (read why)

- A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly (read why)

I’ve also enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Di Camillo, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, I’m not scared by Niccolò Ammaniti, Boy by Roald Dahl, Hazel Wood Girl by Judy May, Lucky Star by Cathy Cassidy, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
But for different reasons I won’t add them to the list. They just deserve to be mentioned.

I’d also like to talk about picture books. I’ve never reviewed them here, maybe because I find hard to do it. I’m used to discuss chapter books, I’ve done it for so many years. While picture books are closer to figurative art, and maybe I don’t feel like an art reviewer. However, I will mention those that captured my attention, sometimes so much that I had to buy them. I like to look at them from time to time. They’re heart-warming, funny, clever, creative, or maybe just cute. Here they are:

Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner

Stunning watercolour illustrations for a story that cherishes the simple pleasures in life.

Witches and Fairies by Eva Montanari

Beautifully illustrated, a fun story about fitting in for very young children.

Mabel’s Magical Garden by Paula Metcalf

Delicate and simple, it will never fail to warm my heart.

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

Apparently simple, but extremely clever and inventive, great fun! I love the watercolour, sketch-like illustrations.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

This guy is a genius. I dare anyone to read this and not find it a true work of art.

The Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

I was completely stunned by the art here, every page could be a beautiful painting of its own. I must find out more about this artist.

Click Clack Moo – cows that type by by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

Hilarious! Such a great idea. Buy it, or read it, even if you don’t have kids, it’s worth it.

I’m almost at the end of this long post, but the New Year can’t be salute without resolutions.
My blogging and reading resolutions for the next year are the following:
- Read more with less stress. It doesn’t matter if I don’t go through all my TBR pile. Reading is for pleasure, not a marathon to win.
- Try and write a review right after I finish the book, and if possible take notes while reading. It helps the reviews a lot.
- Don’t buy books for me, I have enough and I can always borrow them.
- I haven’t forgotten about my writing resolutions (--->read). But I haven’t really followed them lately, too many stressful things going on. This year I want to write for pleasure, not because I have to. I want to have fun with it. Because that is what’s all about.
That’s it. I hope this year is going to be a good one, we all need it☺