Friday, 30 December 2011

Books of 2011

This year I set myself a challenge of reading 50 book throughout 2011 and to keep record of all of them. Unfortunately I have only managed about 50% of my target! But I did keep note of all reads and have written a short review of each below. I have given the following ratings based below:
* - Bad
** - Okay
*** - Enjoyable
**** - Good
***** - Excellent

The Cat Who Came For Christmas - Cleveland Amory ****A lovely Christmas gift for a cat lover like me! One of the original feline true-life
accounts from the eighties is an affectionate tale of the first year in the life of Polar Bear, a stray kitten taken in by the author. Full of stories all cat owners will relate to!

Casper the Commuting Cat - Susan Finden ***Another true story about an adventurous moggie who would find an adventure each day, eventually settling in Plymouth and getting the bus to town and back each day. He became a local hero, a worldwide news story and was even used in transport advertising campaigns. A lovely heart-warming story.

Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse ****
A short story to keep fans of her epic novels Sephulchre and Labrynth happy. Includes her usual mix of travel and history with a supernatural edge. It tells the story of Freddie, who is suffering from the shock of his brother's death in World War I. He travels to the French Pyrenees and comes across a small village community. During his first night he meets a young woman, also grieving who has her own mysterious story. Ideal to curl up with on a cold Winter's day.

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton *****I am a huge fan of Kate Morton's books and was so excited to read this one, her third after The House of Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. Telling the mysterious story of the Sisters Blythe, this is a tragic and at times spooky tale. I love the way Kate Morton includes writing in her stories as such an important part of life, whether its a stray letter or in this case the story of the Mud Man, written by the sister's father. I highly recommend this book.

The 13 and 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear - Walter Moers *****The works of German author Walter Moers were recommended to me with this book as the first one to discover the world of Zamonia. None of the imagination and humour have been lost in the translation to English and the accompanying images are delightful to look at. A tale of adventure and a hint of romance plus a cast of interesting characters and creatures, this book is ideal for all ages.

The Lazurus Vault - Tom Harper ***
A young graduate is given a job at a small, secretive bank, with something hidden in its medieval vault. This is very much in the style of a Dan Brown novel. While not the best book you will read all year, this is nonetheless an enjoyable read with some thrilling set pieces and likeable characters.

Rumo - Walter Moers *****The epic adventure of a young wolperting (similar to a dog!) who becomes the greatest hero of all time in Zamonia. Armed with his talking sword, Dandelion, this book is split into two parts - his adventures in Overworld and the terrifying Netherworld. Exciting, scary and romantic, I defy you not to fall in love with Rumo! This book is non-stop excitement full of grisly gore that will thrill fans of Roald Dahl.

If Only It Were True - Marc Levy ***A friend of mine has been trying to make me read this book for ages. A woman in a coma appears to a young man as her life-support machine is soon to be turned off. He must try
to save her life and goes to extreme measures, much to his friends' concerns. A short book
with an interesting ending.

The Eight - Katherine Neville *Unfortunately this is the most ridiculous book I have ever read. Billed as the original
Da Vinci Code, this makes Dan Brown's books look serious and high-brow. Full of complex chess information, cameos from historical figures, cringey dialogue and the author's favourite line of 'if only I had known...' Too many characters, too much information and some terrible stereotypes, I can only recommend this if you want a good laugh or a masterclass in how not to write a book!

City of Dreaming Books - Walter Moers ****The perfect story for all book lovers! Optimus Yarnspinner is left part of a manuscript so perfect and intriguing, he travels to the the City of Dreaming Books to find out more and embarks on a deadly adventure of a lifetime deep in to the catacombs where he encounters booklings and the legendary Shadow King.

The Roots of Betrayal - James Forrester ***Set in 1564, William Harley is in possession of a dangerous document. When it is stolen, he lives in fear, secrecy and deception, teaming up with a notorious pirate, Raw Carew. Obviously well researched, this is a fast-paced and gripping read with lots of double-crossing characters and some well-known Historical figures (characterisation not to be taken too seriously!) The character of Raw Carew is an intriguing one and there are some very thrilling set pieces. Although be warned - the graphic violence and gore is not for the faint hearted!

Tess of The D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy *****Re-read for book group for what feels like millionth time. This is one of my favourite books although nobody else in the group felt the same way! The tale of poor Tess Durberyfield, who's whole life is shaped by the mistakes of men. Everytime I read it, I still hope for a different outcome, but Hardy's descriptions of the Dorset landscape are beautiful and emotive.This is a real classic which everyone should read.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan ***My holiday reading as my dream is to open my own cupcake cafe / book shop / art gallery! Although this book makes it seem so easy! Loved the recipes at the start of the chapters and the insight into running a cafe, but ultimately it is a romance, when I would have preferred a story just about cakes!

The Queen's Fool - Philippa Gregory ****I love Philippa Gregory's books. Although they are widely criticised I find them fascinating.
I was engrossed in this story of Hannah, fool to Queen Mary, who is  caught up in the family and religious conflict between Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Becoming close to both, she must decide who to betray as well as hiding her own secret. A great insight in the characters of these two famous women with a very likeable character in Hannah.  

The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht ***I'm still not sure whether I liked this book or not. I think this would have worked better
as a set of short stories, as the folk stories are very interesting, but I found the
central characters a little pointless. At times difficult to read, it felt like a text I used to
have to read at school. Full of metaphors and analogy's, this is the perfect book for
literature students.

The Alchemaster's Apprentice - Walter Moers ****A book by one of my new favourite authors about a crat (cat) called Echo! Surely a perfect read for me! After his owner's death, Echo is homeless and starving. He is taken in by the Ghoolian the Alchemaster and makes a deal to be fed in return for his fat to be rendered down for Goolian's spell. But after regaining his strength, Echo realises that there is still much to live for and with help of his new friends in the castle, tries to defeat Ghoolian. A great cast of characters including a one eyed owl and some vampire bats.

Sister - Rosamund Lupton ****A dark, scary and poignant book about a woman who goes missing and her sister who will go to any lengths to find out the truth. Told in a very different style and with a conclusion that will make you gasp out loud, this is a book you will remember for a very long time.

The Beach House - Jane Green ****I find Jane Green's books either very enjoyable or incredibly predictable. Fortunately this
is her best book in my opinion. The perfect seaside read with a great variation of characters
this is chick-lit at its best.

Prawn and Prejudice - Belinda Roberts ****Another seaside read for me, Jane Austen's classic is transported to the Devon holiday resort of
Salcombe with some very modern additions (Pemberley is now a yacht!) Very amusing, with
all the characters captured perfectly, this will make you want to book a holiday and re-read
Austen's classic.

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Euginedes ****My first Jeffrey Eugenides book and I must admit I did struggle with it at first (mainly to do with long intellectual debates which went over my head!), but I stuck with it and did find it a rather satisfying read. There is not much action, just a study of three graduates, linked together in some kind of love triangle, who are trying to find their place in the world, something most people can identify with. Madeleine is a ‘Victorianist’, a fan of English authors such as Jane Austen with a romanticised view of love. She is in a complex relationship with Leonard a scientist struggling with manic depression. Meanwhile travelling the world is Mitchell, studying religion and thinking non-stop about Madeleine who he is in love with.The main characters are all flawed, self-indulgent and a little bit annoying, but you can’t help but care about them. They are described so intimately, you feel like you know them well and although set in the 80’s, the novel’s themes are still so close to issues today, that it feels like a very contemporary story. Well worth reading!

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy - John Le Carre ***I can see why this is a classic and why so many people love this book, but for me it was
full of too much dialogue and information to keep up with and I worked out who the 'mole'
was pretty early on in the book. I did quite enjoy the character of George Smiley though and would happily read further novels in the series.

One Day - David Nicholls ***Didn't really 'get' this book, like with so many raved about reads. I found the character of
Dexter so annoying, I just wanted Emma to tell him where to go! Very well written, with the
periods of time caught perfectly, I just found this book a little depressing.

Company of Liars - Karen Maitland *****A hugely enjoyable read. Told from the viewpoint of 'Camelot' an old relic seller, an
unlikely group of travellers including a healer, a deformed storyteller, a pregnant woman, two musicians, a magician and a strange young girl are on the run from the plague and their secrets. One by one their pasts are revealed with tragic consequences. A very dark, spine-chilling tale written very well and with a final jaw-dropping revelation, I highly recommend this book.

Raining Cats and Donkeys - Doreen Tovey ****A heart-warming and humorous tale of Doreen's trouble-making cats and stubborn donkeyand the scrapes they all get in to causing all sorts of responses from their nosey villagers. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

The Owl Killers - Karen Maitland *****A fascinating look at the lives of 13th Century villagers and their fears and superstitions when a group of strange women settle on the outskirts. Told from five different viewpoints from the settlement and within the village,
this book may seem confusing at first, but it is well worth sticking with. Horrific and thrilling, this is one of my favourite reads of the year.

Lady of Hay - Barbara Erskine ***The eighties best-seller was re-released this year with a short story to update readers
on the main characters. This book is a little too long and the supernatural side of the
story does get quite ridiculous towards the end. I found the story of Matilda, much more
interesting than the present day Jo. Some scenes I found quite disturbing and the behaviour of the modern day characters were all so confusing.

Secrets of the Tides - Hannah Richell ****This book is due out in April and is full of family secrets and guilt. Told from different
family members viewpoints in the past and present, this is a very sad and poignant story, about how little mistakes can cause a tragedy. Not the kind of book I expected it to be, but I could not put this down. Hannah Richell's style of writing is very easy to read and she expertly captures the voice of each character. Only criticism is the the ending is too saccharine for a book full of so much drama.

In 2012, I aim to write a more detailed review for each book I read in a separate entry on my blog. I am off to Paperchase tomorrow to invest in some notebooks to keep a record of my thoughts on each book and I would love to hear what you are reading to, or your thoughts on any of the books above or my future reads.

Happy New Year!!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A book is for life, not just for Christmas

Friends and family look away now..! It seems that I have mostly bought books as Christmas gifts this year! I spend most of my time whilst out shopping browsing book stores and it turns out I have found a book for suitable for everyone!

For me Christmas is all about spending time with family, indulging in lots of food and spending time indoors out of the cold, either playing board games or wrapped up warm engrossed in a book. As a child I loved receiving annuals and books by my favourite authors (Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Gerald Durrell) and sitting quietly in the corner reading them cover to cover.

My family are all big readers and children are encouraged to have a love of literature. This year I have bought the younger members of the family some amazing picture books including their favourite characters. I think reading is so important to learn creative and imaginative skills and to discover new worlds and experiences through the medium of words.
Other Christmas gifts range from light-hearted festive reads and 'chick-lit' to crime thrillers, fantasy novels and beautiful cookery books. I can't wait to see everyone crowded around the tree eagerly flicking through their new, shiny books!

And me? I am hoping for lots of new reads to start off my new year - from my much hinted must-read list to brand new discoveries and recommendations. And from the shapes of some some of my presents, I don't think I am going to be disappointed!

Monday, 7 November 2011

What Would Jane Do...

One of the main factors I loving books and reading as much as I do is because of Jane Austen. I have been a fan since a very early age and can clearly remember my very first Austen purchase. I was at primary school and must have been nine or ten. My class had been marched to our local secondary school to attend a book fair, each pupil armed with a voucher to put towards a new book. While friends were buying Roald Dahl or Jacqueline Wilson, my chosen book was Emma by a certain Jane Austen. I remember my teacher being very surprised! I don't know why I bought it, but the cover somehow appealed to me. It took me a while to read and I didn't understand the full wit at that age, but I still enjoyed it and have been hooked on her work ever since.

It was also around that age that I enjoyed watching the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Since then I have read the book too many times to remember and the DVD is still my favourite way to spend a wintry evening, curled up with a blanket, drinking hot chocolate. P&P is my favourite Austen novel. I love the range of colourful characters, the witty dialogue, the locations and the feistiness of Miss Elizabeth Bennett. I have read so many spin-offs including the love it or hate it Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the seaside set Prawn and Prejudice and Amanda Knight's Mr Darcy's Diary. I even have an interactive adventure called Being Elizabeth Bennett and a personalised version featuring my name rather than Elizabeth's!

It's not just Austen's most popular novel I love though. Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, although about common themes such as relationships and status all feature strong female characters and prove that Austen was a brave writer, way head of her time. Her protagonists are women who all want to shape their own future rather than depending on family and marriage and reflect Jane's own thoughts and feelings, not being as independant as she wanted to be.

As well as the novels, my Austen bookshelf includes her short stories The Watsons and Lady Susan and unfinished novel Sandition, plus a collection of letters to her sister Cassandra which give a great insight into her life.

One of my favourite places is the lovely Jane Austen Centre in Bath, which features in my opinion, the best shop in the world, full of books and Austen merchandise, much of which is now in my house! My ultimate ambition is to take part in the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, prancing around in regency costume! I also love visiting Austen film and TV locations, my favourite being Basildon Park, Netherfield in the Oscar winning film starring Keira Knightley.

My love of all thing's Austen will continue throughout my whole life. I love the books, fashion and language and discovering new adaptations. Next on my list to read is PD James' Death Comes To Pemberley and I look forward to finding out more about Jane's amazing work.   

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Great Snakes! It's Tintin!

I have never been a fan of Tintin and have not read any of the books, but the trailers for this motion capture release have really caught my attention over the last few months. I was not disappointed. With such a great production team including Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson and writers Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffatt, plus a cast including Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig and motion capture actor extraordinaire Andy Serkis, it really could not have wrong!

The begins with Tintin purchasing a model boat - The Unicorn - much to the disgust of some unknown enemies. The boat is stolen, but the secret message stays with Tintin, who leans that only a true 'Haddock' will lean the meaning. He soon meets the last remaining Haddock, the Captain of the ship he is kidnapped on and a fast and furious adventure soon begins taking place on the high seas and in parched deserts.

The most impressive thing about this film for me was the technology. The attention to detail is amazing. At some parts I totally forgot it wasn't a live action film and in other parts it worked really well as it helped to make some of the death defying stunts not so unbelievable as Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy are thrown around some amazing landscapes. 

A couple of scenes that were highlights for me included the opening sequence, as the identity of Tintin is slowly revealed at a London market place, as he is having a portrait done (a great comic moment of the final product being the orginal Tintin image) and then walking past a line of mirrors, each one revealing a different view of his face. The other one included the hapless Thompson twins, finally finding a wallet thief, but not actually realising it, thinking his large collection is a hobby rather than the result of a long career of pickpocketing. But for me, Snowy really steals most of the scenes as the very clever, loyal and brave sidekick to Tintin. His relationship with a vicious guard dog Rottweiler is very sweet.

There were some sequences that I did lose a little interest in as they went on too long, especially Haddock's visions of his Grandfather's story and I wasn't expecting the film to be so slapstick, although the children in the screening seemed to love it! There are plenty of jokes for the adults though, mostly surrounding Haddock's alcohol addiction, which does come in handy when he provides much needed fuel for an aeroplane!

Overall, I really enjoyed this film and am looking forward to the planned sequels. There were times that it felt like an Indiana Jones adventure, not a bad thing! It has definitely encouraged me to read the original stories, and with the box set on special offer at my local Waterstones, I may just be doing that...!

Watch the trailer here

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


Welcome to my 'blog'! This has been on my list of things to do for a long time now and finally I have got round to doing it! First of all an introduction... I admit I am an addict. I am addicted to books. I cannot walk past a bookshop without walking in and browsing for a long time, I cannot resist a bargain and I love the smell and feel of old books. As a result, my current reading pile is towering at 20+ varied books. They range from brand new releases, to 'classics' from the popular to the obscure, fact and fiction and shiny new buys to charity shop steals (not literally!)

I read and write a lot of reviews on websites such as Amazon and Waterstones and thought I would like to collect all of my thoughts in one place, keep a record of what I read and find out what other book obsessives are reading and recommending. From now on, free time committing, I am aiming to share what I am reading, critiques of books and various other musings on books and authors. I started a book group earlier in the year, which is proving difficult to find enjoyable, thought-provoking reads for the variety of members, so tips from any other book clubs would be welcomed!

I will also delve into the world of film and theatre with a literary connection (I work in theatre, so may also give an insight into the odd production!) and also occasionally give reviews on any exhibitions, or events in London which I think followers may enjoy.

I look forward to discovering blogs and making friends while on my world wide web journey, but right now it has been a long day so I think it is time to have a bath, make a cup of tea and curl up on my favourite chair with my current read.

Bye for now!