Nothing to see here... Move along please... YES THAT MEANS YOU MADAM... Keep things moving... :)

Friday, 25 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 19th-24th

It's time for my fourth Book a Day post, based on a current Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together; click on the links to read my answers for Days 1-6, Days 7-12 and Days 13-18.

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 19th: Most memorable plot twist (no spoilers please)
The huge twist in We Need to Talk About Kevin would probably have been my most memorable if my sister hadn't spoilered it for me several years before I read it (not that it really ruined the book, it was still amazing) - so instead I'm going for The Bertha Revelation in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  Hopefully that's vague enough not to spoiler anything for people who haven't stumbled across it before - but seriously, the book was published in 1847 and most people pretty much know the deal by now, right?
July 20th: Your Desert Island novel
It's got to be something long and rereadable, hasn't it?  I've already mentioned The Count of Monte Cristo in a previous prompt, so instead I'm going to take a gamble on a classic I HAVEN'T read yet, and go with Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  That way I'd be able to enjoy it for the first time AND get rereading value out of it!

July 21st: The novel you expected to hate, but turned out you loved
This was actually quite a hard prompt to answer, because as a rule I don't pick up books I expect to hate.  Why would I read something if I think I won't enjoy it?!  The closest I've ever come is with my first Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary.  King's reputation for horror (which I'd never really read before) meant that when things started getting scary I panicked and decided I wasn't reading any more.  In the bright sunshine of the next day I realised I was being a bit ridiculous and carried on, and guess what?  It was excellent, and underneath the horror there was so much more to the novel that I would have missed if I hadn't kept reading.  I'm now a big Stephen King fan!

July 22nd: The novel you most like to give to friends
This is a tricky one because every friend is different, and something I would happily throw at one person might go down like a lead balloon with another.  My go-to recommendation for most of them (and therefore also the one I'm most likely to give them myself) would be The Secret History by Donna Tartt, just because it's got a bit of everything - it's bookish, beautifully written and teeming with murder and secrets, romance and academia, friendship and manipulation.  It's one of my favourites!
July 23rd: Favourite novel with exotic background
Hmmmm.  I can't really think of many, but one of the stand-outs is probably Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, a historical novel about Nefertiti's marriage to Akhenaten and the rise and fall of the city of Amarna.  Moran's such a wonderful writer that not only do these powerful historical figures come alive on the page, but the Ancient Egyptian setting, under the blazing sun on the banks of the Nile, almost becomes a character in its own right.
July 24th: A book that most reminds you of your English teacher
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in particular the Prologue, which we studied for our A-levels.  Our teacher, Ms Stanley, read it aloud to us in the most wonderful rolling Middle English, which made it somehow MORE comprehensible.  She also devised a class game to match up each of the pilgrims with their descriptions, which was a good way to help us get our characters straight.  The group was small, lively and full of clever, witty, enthusiastic students who got along with each other - and her - very easily, so every lesson was fun, no matter how hard we were working!
That's it for this installment!  My last #BookadayUK post will be up at the end of the month; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 13th-18th

It's time for my third Book a Day post, based on a current Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together; click on the links to read my answers for Days 1-6 and Days 7-12!  This post is also the first to contain a 'lucky dip' day, in which Doubleday invites prompt ideas and then Tweets the chosen question on the day itself.  :)

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 13th: Best title for a novel
In trying to come up with an answer for this prompt, I decided to consult this Goodreads list of 'most eyecatching or distinctive book titles'.  OH, IT'S WONDERFUL.  Some of my favourites include I Still Miss My Man But My Aim Is Getting Better by Sarah Shankman and Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off by Cara North - but the king of amazing novel titles has to be Robert Rankin.  His offerings include The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, Armageddon: The Musical, The Sprouts of Wrath and Raiders of the Lost Car Park.  Ingenious.  I don't know why I haven't read any of them yet, except that when they came into the shop they sold again reaaaaally fast.  As for books on my own shelves, I'd have to say either The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (my review) or We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  They both have a nice cadence to them, and both perfectly sum up their contents without giving anything away: they're a tiny bit intriguing without being obtuse.  I LIKE THEM IS WHAT I'M TRYING TO SAY.  They're also both amazing books, obviously!
July 14th: For Bastille Day, your favourite novel about or set in France
Hands down, no contest, it has to be The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Not only was it the first book I ever reviewed on this blog, back in 2010, it's also one of my favourite novels of all time.  I read the crystal-clear Penguin Classics translation by Robin Buss, which I highly recommend, and found that once the story and characters were thoroughly built up - about halfway through - I was turning the pages faster and faster through the rest of the book, desperate to find out how everything would play out in the Count's painstakingly meticulous plot for vengeance.  Brilliant.  (My review)
July 15th: LUCKY DIP - The last book(s) you bought
Last time we went grocery shopping at our local Tesco I ended up buying three books.  I always tell myself I'll "just have a look to see what's out this week" - but I usually end up buying something because... well, that's how addiction works!  On this occasion I came home with How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (new out in hardback - I've nearly finished it already), The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (recommended by Katie) and Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan (a summer foodie novel).

July 16th: Favourite book to take to the beach
The last couple of years I've taken beach-or-ocean-related books on holiday, which has felt quite appropriate as packing has commenced each summer.  The most perfect one for sunlounger reading turned out to be On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves, which isn't the most well-written of novels, but which is PERFECT thematically.  It's about a young tutor and her teenage student who are stranded on an island in the Maldives for several years, learning to survive and eventually falling in love.  It's a real page-turner, and what better place to read it than during a sweltering day by the ocean?  I'll definitely be reading it again sometime!  (My review)
July 17th: Novel which surprised you most
One of the most memorable surprises for me was reading King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, for Hanna's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge in 2012.  It was one of the books I wasn't looking forward to that much - I expected it to be dry and dull and generally outdated - but as it turned out, it was a brilliant adventure novel that got gradually more and more gripping until it hit some amazing setpieces at the end that wouldn't have been out of place in an epic blockbuster movie.  Possibly directed by Peter Jackson.  It wound up being one of my absolute favourite reads of the year! (My review)
July 18th: Favourite crime novel of all time - it's the Harrogate Crime Festival!
Ummmm.  My favourite crime book is without doubt In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - but that's not really a novel.  One of my surprise favourites has actually turned out to be Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.  I haven't read on with the series yet, but obviously the premise is intriguing (as anyone who has ever watched Dexter will know) and I found his inner monologue, with its playful menace, dark humour and flights of alliteration, to be quite addictive.  I still have six more books to read, and six more series to watch, so I've got plenty more Dexter Morgan ahead of me yet! (My review)
That's it for this installment!  I'll be back soon with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 7th-12th

It's time for my second Book a Day post!  As you may recall from the first instalment, this is based on a Twitter project called #bookadayUK, where bookish types can tweet their responses to a series of daily prompts.  After it proved a success in June, it was taken up by Doubleday UK, who have continued it into July.  Talking about the books here on the blog instead means I don't have to worry about the 140-character limit, and I can group a few days together.  Onwards!

Here we go!  Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments, and head over to Twitter if you fancy taking part in the original project...
July 7th: Most chocolatey novel - it's National Chocolate Day!
Well, this one's a no-brainer.  The clue's in the title - it's got to be Chocolat by Joanne Harris!  I'd already fallen in love with the film (and still prefer the movie, I think) but the book has more of a magical feel, and the descriptions of food (especially chocolate!) are just mouthwatering.  Definitely not one to read without a stockpile of sweet treats on hand to indulge your cravings...
July 8th: Favourite Great War novel
I don't think I've ever read one, though I've definitely got a couple on my shelves, including All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which I've heard is amazing.  I have read novels set in World War II though, my favourite of which is probably Atonement by Ian McEwan.  That book ripped my heart out, stomped on it and gave it back, and had a bit of everything in there - romance, family, war at home and abroad...  Robbie's narrative, in particular, was so evocative of the endless days of fear and exhaustion as the army retreated to Dunkirk - it was amazing. (My review)
July 9th: Most irritating character in a novel
Absolutely no contest here - it's got to be the vile Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series.  I just... ugh.  I hate her so much that I literally can't watch Imelda Staunton in anything else now without feeling a wave of revulsion.  But it's a different kind of hate to, say, Voldemort.  With him it's like, "Whoah, this guy's terrifying... I'm just gonna be over here hiding in a corner."  With Umbridge I felt more like when I was at school and a really nasty teacher would humiliate someone in class for no reason.  Definitely more a "THAT BITCH NEEDS TO GO DOOOOOOWN" kind of thing.  All that pink!  All those little coughs!  All that sickly sweet malevolence!  NOOOOOPE.

July 10th: Novel with the most memorable picnic for Teddy Bear's Picnic Day!
The Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton - and most other Enid Blyton series, to be honest!  I particularly remember that whenever parents came to visit the school, there would always be amazing picnics.  Sometimes the girls would go out with their families and friends for a picnic on the clifftop somewhere, or there'd be a Strawberry Tea held at the school for everyone to enjoy.  Let's face it, all Enid Blyton books are MADE by the picnics - bottles of ginger beer, hard boiled eggs with twists of salt, apples, slabs of cake and gingerbread, thick slices of bread...  Okay now I've made myself hungry.
July 11th: The book that made you cry
Ohhhh, I'm a real book crier.  One of the worst offenders for me has to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...  I mean, I knew going into it that it was probably going to be bad, but I ended up having my heart ripped out over and over again as the pages went by.  I sobbed and sobbed, and then sobbed some more, and I gave myself a crying headache, and had to take naps because I'd exhausted myself.  **SPOILERS** The losses with the strongest emotional ties got me hardest - Fred, obviously, because of leaving a twin brother and a close-knit family behind, and Lupin and Tonks, lying side by side in the Great Hall.  I think that one was bad because they'd finally found happiness, they'd got baby Teddy, AND you didn't see them die, it was just one more wretched twist of the knife at the end as the battle's full body count was revealed.  OH JO HOW COULD YOU?!  Anyway, this is the reason I haven't reread all the books yet, and also why I haven't seen the Deathly Hallows movies.  I need to be feeling strong before I go there.  :'(
July 12th: Novel that best conjured a place for you
This was quite hard to choose, but I think the most recent example would probably be The Shining by Stephen King.  Because the Overlook Hotel is pretty much a character in its own right, King brings it alive so that you can almost smell the dankness of Room 237, the liquor in the bar and the wintry leaves of the topiary in the grounds; you can hear the dull echo of sounds in the corridors and the cold howling of the wind outside...  That hotel's definitely going to take some beating as far as vivid settings go. (My double review)
That's everything so far!  I'll be back soon with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

June mini reviews and what I'm reading now

Yeah, yeah, this is a week late, but SSSSSH BUSY.  Last month was quite an interesting one - the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour, a week basking in the Croatian sun, etc etc - so despite not reading as much as I expected on holiday I actually finished quite a few books, yay!
~ What I Read ~
Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
I started out the month by finishing up this potboiler of a Victorian novel for the readalong - even though I never actually finished the readalong POSTS.  I'm definitely slipping this summer...  Anyway, it was just as melodramatic as I remembered, and a lot of fun even if it's definitely not the best novel I've ever read!  3.5 stars, plus bonus points for the beautiful PEL cover.  :) 

Doomed (Damned 2)
by Chuck Palahniuk
Next up was the second book in Palahniuk's Damned trilogy, which I started last month.  I actually liked it more than Damned; that one was crazier and more shamelessly grotesque, with Madison traversing Hell with her new friends, whereas in this one she's stuck in Purgatory (drifting around on Earth as a ghost) watching the consequences of her accidental phone call to her grieving parents in the first novel.  It was still mad, and occasionally disjointed, but it felt a bit more grounded than the last book, which helped.  3.5 stars.

Boys Don't Knit (Boys Don't Knit 1)
by T.S. Easton
Hands down one of the funniest, most charming books I've read in ages.  If you threw Shameless, Skins, Adrian Mole and a bag of yarn into a magical bookish blender, this is what you'd get.  It's about a boy called Ben who joins a knitting class as part of his parole after accidentally taking out a lollipop lady with his bike... only to find that he's good at it.  Really, really good.  It's very British, very funny, very earthy, and anyone who's been to school here in the last fifteen years or so will feel right at home with these characters.  LOVED IT.  4.5 stars!

Lisey's Story
by Stephen King
You know how sometimes someone on the internet recommends a book that you'd not normally give a second glance, but then you see it somewhere serendipitiously and it rings a bell and you decide to give it a go because WHY NOT?  That's what happened with this book, and it was SO GOOD.  It's Chris from The Reading Rhodes's favourite book, and I spotted it in the library one day, and that was that.  It's a big novel - 700 pages or so - and quite slow-building, but so worth it.  It starts out as a gentle story of grief and recovery after the loss of a spouse, and becomes a fascinating and exciting novel taking in everything from sisterly love to other worlds to mental illness to stalker violence.  Not one I'd have picked up on my own - but I'm glad I did!  4.5 stars.

Geek Girl (Geek Girl 1)
by Holly Smale
Awww, this was so much fun.  Bex bought it me for the Ninja Book Swap last autumn, and I took it to Croatia with me at the end of the month and devoured it over a couple of long hot sunlounger days.  It's perfect poolside reading, like a cross between The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada.  It's about a fashion-clueless geek called Harriet who is accidentally 'spotted' during a trip to The Clothes Show live with her best friend Nat, who has always dreamed of being a model.  The novel's about how she takes this opportunity to do something new, finds a way to reconcile it with her own values, and deals with the fallout with her friends and family.  It's smart, easy to read and very cute - bring on book 2!  4 stars.

Lullaby (Watersong 2)
by Amanda Hocking
I read Wake last year by the pool in Fuerteventura, so it felt right to read the second book in the series this year by the pool in Rovinj!  In fact, this series has become so entwined with beautiful holidays, hot sun and sea breezes in my mind that I think I'm going to re-buy the first book and keep them all.  Anyway, in this second book Harper is trying to find Gemma, her younger sister, who has been spirited away by the beautiful Penn, Lexi and Thea, and is struggling to resist the darker side of her new life as a siren.  It's an easy read, and I enjoyed this one more than the first novel.  Hopefully I might even finish the series this summer!  4 stars.
~ What I'm Reading ~
While I was on holiday I also read the first 200 pages or so of June's TBR Challenge pick, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, and the first chunk of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  I've nearly finished the latter and have already preordered the sequel, which is exciting!  After that I hope to go back and finish Lamb because I was really enjoying it, it just wasn't quite light enough for sweltering days on a sunlounger when my brain was melting.  I'm also still reading A Match to the Heart: One Woman's Story of Being Struck by Lightning by Gretel Ehrlich, which was my May TBR Challenge book but proved so frickin' purple of prose that it was driving me nuts; I put it aside for a while and haven't picked it back up since.  Oooops.

How was your reading month?  What was your favourite book of June?  And what are you reading to kick off July?  I hope you're all having a wonderful summer!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A Book a Day in July: 1st-6th

So, over on Twitter last month, there was this thing called #bookadayUK, where bookish types Tweeted their responses to a series of daily prompts.  After its June success, it was taken up by Doubleday UK, who have continued it into July.  Since I'm not feeling much like writing reviews and stuff at the moment - partially due to the summery weather, probably - I thought I'd use the same prompts in blog posts to share some recommendations over here too!

Here we go!  And don't forget to leave your responses in the comments, or head over to Twitter to take part in the original project...
July 1st: A book that made you laugh out loud
I think I'd have to go with a book I read just last month: Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton.  It was everything I love about British humour: honest, dry, a bit mad...  It's basically about a boy, Ben, who ends up joining a knitting class as part of his parole after an unfortunate accident involving a lollipop lady, a bike and a bottle of Martini Rosso.  Part Skins, part Shameless, part Adrian Mole, only with more wool!
July 2nd: Favourite SF/Fantasy novel for World UFO Day!
Ohhhhh hell.  I've got four to pick from and I can't choose!  If you held a weapon of your choice up to somewhere vital upon my person and threatened to do me grave harm if I didn't settle on one, I'd probably have to go with... ummmm *pained expression* *much wringing of hands*... The Princess Bride by William Golding.  Just because it's more unique than Good Omens, less icky than Warm Bodies (which is amazing, but has a couple of non-dinnertime-friendly moments) and more concise than Lord of the Rings.  And it gave me that happy 'awesome book' feeling all the way through.  BUT I LOVE THEM ALL.  (My review)
July 3rd: Favourite novel in translation
Hmmmm.  My number one choice will actually fit perfectly as a recommendation for a later prompt, so I'm going to have to go for Perfume by Patrick Süskind, originally written and published in German.  At the time I wasn't 100% sure how I felt about it, but as the years have gone by (I read it in 2011) it's turned out to have stayed with me more profoundly than many novels I loved in the moment but have barely thought about since.  It's dark and twisted and deeply enmeshed in the olfactory world, and Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is one of the most memorable characters I've ever come across; I'm very much looking forward to reading it again sometime!  (My review)
July 4th: All-time favourite American novel for 4 July/ Independence Day
Having finally read it this year and been absolutely blown away, it's got to be To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It's moving and amusing and thought-provoking and deeply rooted in its southern heritage, and I don't know whether to be annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner, or glad I read it when I did because the timing was obviously just right for me and this book to bond!  (My double review)
July 5th: Most delicious novel about food
I think my favourite novel ABOUT food (so far - I have more on Mount TBR!) is probably Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop by Abby Clements.  It was a surprise hit last year - I thought it'd just be a fun frothy summer read, and I ended up absolutely loving it!  Two sisters inherit an ice cream shop on the Brighton coast, and one of them also flies to Florence to attend a course for the business, so between the two locations it has so many delicious descriptions of ice cream, gelato and sorbets, in all kinds of wonderful flavours... It made my mouth water!  (My review)
July 6th: Which book will you put down today to watch the Wimbledon final?
I was pretty sure I'd barely end up reading a thing today, because not only was it the Federer-Djokovic Wimbledon final (I really thought Federer was going to triumph for a while there!) but I also discovered that Waddington Air Show was being streamed live on Planes TV.  My entire family set off there at about 6am this morning and had a wonderful day - but I got to enjoy the planes with multi-angle cameras, official commentary (which they couldn't hear, the nearest speaker was too far away), funny internet commentary, full WiFi access for dull moments, my own toilet, plenty of drinks and a Domino's pizza.  All that was missing was the smell of aeroplane fuel and the full roar of the displays (which was particularly noticeable when the Lancaster flew in, I LOVE THOSE MERLIN ENGINES)...  Anyway, the book I set aside to enjoy all of this was The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey.  I've been reading it for waaaaay too long now, I really should settle down and finish it soon.  Maybe tomorrow!
That's everything so far!  I'll be back in the week with more; in the meantime, what would you have picked for some or all of these daily prompts?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

HELP! I'm having a holiday reading crisis!

So, Charlotte suggested that I do this, even though it'll probably cause chaos, but WHATEVER.  Basically, this is the shortlist (more like epiclist) of books I could take on holiday with me.  I leave in less than 48 hours.  In terms of bookish preparation I got as far as finishing Lisey's Story so I didn't have to take a 700-page library book with me, and I started Lamb by Christopher Moore this morning, but that's about it.  I've got a bit of everything in this heap, from girlie novels to thrillers to autobiographies to travel writing.  I'm not a huge fan of heavy-going books when I'm splashed out on a sunlounger getting slowly baked, so no hardcore classics or dense non-fiction, but... yeah.  Pretty much everything else is on here.  And I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CHOOSE.

  • The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  • Penelope - Rebecca Harrington
  • Player One - Douglas Coupland
  • Strata - Terry Pratchett
  • Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
  • The Informers - Brett Easton Ellis
  • How I Became a Famous Novelist - Steve Hely
  • Submarine - Joe Dunthorne
  • Redshirts - John Scalzi
  • The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson
  • Cream Teas, Traffic Jams and Sunburn: The Great British Holiday - Brian Viner
  • Narrowboat Dreams: A Journey North by England's Waterways - Steve Haywood
  • Dawn of the Dumb - Charlie Brooker
  • Hotel Babylon (reread) - Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous
  • Dearly Devoted Dexter (Dexter #2) - Jeff Lindsay
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (reread) - Rick Riordan
  • Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith
  • The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta
  • Popular - Maya van Waganen
  • An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
  • Trouble - Non Pratt
  • Amy and Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson
  • Boy Meets Boy - David Levithan
  • Going Vintage - Lindsey Leavitt
  • Beauty Queens - Libba Bray
  • Geek Girl - Holly Smale
  • The Wish List - Jane Costello
  • Losing It - Cora Carmack
  • The Runaway Princess - Hester Browne
  • Alex As Well - Alyssa Brugman
  • A Play on Words - Deric Longden
  • The Hit - Melvin Burgess
  • Project X - Jim Shephard
  • Berserk - Ally Kennen
  • Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer
  • The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown
  • Gravity - Tess Gerritsen
  • Pushing the Limits - Katie McGarry
  • Easy - Tammara Webber
  • Hate List - Jennifer Brown
  • An Education - Lynn Barber
  • My Mad Fat Diary - Rae Earl
  • In Stitches - Dr. Nick Edwards
  • The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey
  • Lullaby (Watersong 2) - Amanda Hocking
  • Angelfall - Susan Ee
  • Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi

Somehow this looks even worse in a list than it does stacked in these two piles.  Oh dear.  On the other hand, one of the piles fell over and serendipitiously squashed this spider: -

- which I would never have even known was there otherwise, so... swings and roundabouts.  :)

OVER TO YOU, INTERNET.  If a book's going to make me sob, please tell me (spoiler free, obviously!) because I hate getting crying-headaches when I'm already a bit hot and bothered, so that might narrow it down a bit.  Do you have any rules or ideas on holiday reading to help me whittle the choices down further?  Any thoughts on which should make the cut?  I'm probably going to take about six, so... HELP!

Friday, 6 June 2014

On that YA-hating Slate article

This morning over breakfast I found myself reading Alice's tactfully balanced post about this click-bait Slate article condemning YA literature.  ALL YA literature.  Which you should be embarrassed to admit to reading, ever, apparently.  And I got to writing a comment, which turned into a longer comment, which eventually I just gave up editing and turned into this post instead.  Hello!  Just a quick heads up: you should probably go read the article first, then come back.  Ready?  Okay...

So, let's get straight into this.  The thing that REALLY bugs me about this article is the way that everything is set in absolutes.  No mention is made, for example, of the many people out there who read occasional YA and also a lot of other adult books.  In a similar vein, according to Graham, all YA is trashy and all adult books are not.  Rainbow Rowell is lumped in with Stephenie Meyer, just as in adult fiction, Sophie Kinsella is universally recognised to be on a par with Charlotte Bronte.  Orrrrrr not.  You can't make sweeping accusations about how all young adult literature is mindless froth any more than you can posit that reading a John Grisham novel is on a par to reading something by Ray Bradbury.  And OH NO YOU DIDN'T just include The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an example of an inconceivable crappy modern page-to-screen success story. 

Now, don't get me wrong, if this article had been written in a more balanced, less deliberately offensive manner, I might have agreed with parts of it.  For example, I absolutely agree that it's sad to see a lot of grown women, in particular, writing off anything from the general fiction section of a bookstore as being 'too hard', and seeming quite proud of their determination not to so much as LOOK there for something they might enjoy.  I heard this in my bookshop several times, I've heard it while browsing in Waterstones, I've heard it in my local library...  In taking this particular stance, YA readers are guilty of the exact same thing as Graham and other YA-detractors: dismissing an entire section of the literary world as not being worthy of their attention. 

My problem is that Graham (and many of the commenters) leave no room for ANYONE over the age of about 17 who ever reads and enjoys a YA novel to chime in without feeling ashamed about it.  People who occasionally read the popular novels making the transition to the big screen got shamed in the comments for deigning to give them any attention.  Even someone who had only read Harry Potter got slammed because she didn't have kids, therefore THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR SUCH SLOPPY BEHAVIOUR.

Whatever happened to 'everything in moderation'?  I mean, I love risotto and strawberries and broccolli and grapes, but DAMMIT give me a donut or a hamburger every once in a while and I'll be a happy camper.  Especially if it's red hot outside or I'm super-tired or I've just finished something heavier and more virtuous.  And sometimes I will sob all over that donut and proclaim that it's one of the best things I've eaten all year, right alongside the aforementioned strawberries, because YUM.

This metaphor just got weird.

The point is that for me, YA literature usually does make for easier reading (though that doesn't mean there aren't profound messages and hard-hitting subjects being tackled, or that the writing is any less skilled or even beautiful), because YA is designed for a younger audience - but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it as part of my reading diet.  I certainly don't feel ashamed or embarrassed by it.  Sometimes I go two months without picking up a single YA novel; sometimes I have a run of several together - but I'm most definitely not going to cut out a swathe of potential reading material just because I'm over 18.

Yes, I do sometimes wish that solely-YA readers would broaden their horizons and stop being so blanket-dismissive of adult books; likewise I wish people who are outright hostile to YA would find a handful of really good ones to enjoy and realise that a YA label isn't synonymous with a mark of poor quality.  Personally I'm glad I've found a middle ground where I can walk into a bookshop or library and explore EVERYTHING; as a result I know that there's something on my bookshelves for every reading whim, covering both adult AND young adult or children's literature: when I want to learn about a particular subject, when I want a classic to curl up with, when I want a compelling modern read, when I want drama and complexity, and when I just want a page-turner to splash out on a sunlounger with for a few hours or race through during a readathon.  I win, as far as I'm concerned.  :)

Over to you!  What do you think of the Slate article?  Are you a devout YA-er, a firm reader of adult books, or do you believe in a happy medium of just sampling a bit of everything the literary universe has to offer?  Do you find yourself having to defend your reading choices, and how does that makes you feel?  Which books would you recommend to YA readers who want to branch into adult fiction, or for adult readers who are sceptical of what YA has to offer?

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

May book and DVD haul: BIRTHDAY EDITION

Soooo, I haven't been around the blog much (because SUNSHIIIIINE!), but I've already posted my May reading wrap-up, and now it's time to share my incoming goodies!  I know I've already done one book haul, earlier this month, but this had more to do with the fact that I was meeting up with Hanna for coffee and shenanigans and book shopping and more coffee and MORE BOOK SHOPPING, so it made sense for that day's purchases to have their own post.  Besides, this month has been a bumper one for books anyway, because IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY ON THURSDAY and that meant BOOKISH PARCELS, which as we all know, are the best kind of parcels.  :)

I'll start with my birthday things, because there were some beautiful books and cute gifts that deserve some love, and some beautiful PEOPLE who deserve even more love for being so generous and knowing me so well...  I know there's at least one parcel still in the post, so fear not, sweet bestowers of birthday books, they're just taking a while to arrive because SNAIL MAIL.

Celebrating my 27th birthday!
First up, my beautiful little sister Hannah, who is apparently psychic.  I saw The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin on Jean's bookshelf tour over at Bookish Thoughts and thought it sounded so amazing, so I added it to my wishlist.  A day or two later, I moved it to my (private) library wishlist instead, because I thought it might be a bit expensive or hard to come by for a birthday gift.  BUT LO!  My sister, completely independently (or so she claims) saw it somewhere and thought of me.  So now I can look up any ailment and find a book recommendation to cure it!  Hypochondria?  Read The Secret Garden and learn from Colin's experiences.  Sick of being short?  Read The Hobbit and remember that small people can still have big adventures, AND royally kick ass along the way.  In need of a good cry?  There's a handy top ten list in here to get you sobbing...  As if that wasn't awesome enough, Hannah ALSO bought me the little Matilda mug I've had my eye on for ages (to be used for fun things like juice and milkshake, because THAT IS NOT ENOUGH COFFEE), plus a rude card.  I LOVE THAT GIRL.
The whole household bought me this striking bouquet of flowers from our always-excellent local independent florist.  Once again they know me so well; apparently the florist asked if they had a colour scheme in mind and their immediate answer was 'anything bright!'  I hate wishy washy flower colours, and always go for the most eye-popping colours I can find to cheer me up, so these are perfect, especially the gorgeous sunflowers!
My mum and stepdad had also bought a pretty birthday card with a kind of vintage-Oxford-academia vibe (a stack of old books tied together with a chiffon scarf, perched on the front of a bicycle), and my mum MADE me some jewellery.  She takes a jewellery class with her friend every week (heating metal and hammering/shaping things, rather than beadwork-type jewellery making), and made me a beautiful pair of dangly silver earrings, shaped like flower bells with little blue drops in the middle, and a silver knot-style bangle.  I tried to take a picture but it wouldn't quite focus right - you'll have to take my word for it that they're just the loveliest things, and so personal as well.  :)
As well as contributing to my 'redecorating my room' fund (to buy paint, new furniture etc), my dad surprised me with the yummiest hot chocolate mug-and-biscuit-plate set, packed into a pretty matching box, with a bag of mini marshmallows to go on top!  I bought some new hot chocolate on Friday and carefully washed everything so I'm all set - particularly when you add in the little bag of peanut 'n' chocolate cookies my grandparents threw into the mix when I went down to visit on Thursday!  The pretty 'tea and cake by the seaside with daisies' card was from Dad too.  ALL THE DELICIOUSNESS!
And so to you lovely lot, who have been so amazing over the past few months of depression and, y'know, struggling to stay alive - and have STILL pulled out all the stops for a happy birthday too.  I wish I could show this blog to all the mental health professionals who belittle the concept of 'online friends', because the support I've had over here has been far more generous and positive than anything my local CMHT has cared to throw my way thus far.  Now would be a good time to say THANK YOU EVERYONE for your emails and cards and tweets and texts and little pick-me-up packages.  You know who you are, and you really did help me stay alive.  No exaggeration there in the slightest.  :')
The very first package to arrive on my doorstep was this absolutely frickin' GORGEOUS book, from Jess at Jess Hearts Books.  It's called The Bees, it's by Laline Paull, and I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but the honeycomb pattern is all metallic and shiny, and there's an embossed bee in a cutout hexagon the middle.  I was stroking it in Waterstones when I was shopping with Hanna the other day, but couldn't justify buying TWO full-price hardbacks in one day and had to leave it behind.  AND NOW IT'S MINE AT LAST!  It's basically a novel about society, except that the society happens to be a hive, and the protagonist is a bee.  Emma Donoghue recommended it in a 'best upcoming books of 2014' piece I read somewhere, which definitely bodes well!  Thank you so much Jess...  :)
Bex (from An Armchair By The Sea), despite being very pregnant at this moment, actually went out trawling the shops for second-hand books from my wishlist which is just... amazing.  The Pact is probably the only Jodi Picoult novel I've never found second-hand (not for want of trying, I assure you), and I've only ever seen A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole once, waaaaaaaay before I knew what it was and that I wanted to read it.  AND SHE FOUND THEM FOR ME.  Not only that, but there's this gorgeous book cover card, and a box of vanilla chai tea.  I LOVE chai tea, and I've never tried Pukka's version before, but the smell when I undid the wrapping paper was just... mmmmm... divine.  Bex... I love you so much for knowing me so well.  :)
At the same time as Jess's parcel arrived, so did one from my fellow Ellie (from Curiosity Killed the Bookworm)!  I've heard such amazing things about The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, and have already read and enjoyed her debut novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, so that one's gone straight onto my 'to take on holiday at the end of June' pile.  Ellie also sent a copy of Night Film by Marisha Pessl, a kind of multimedia mystery thriller (there are articles and pictures and things scattered throughout the text of the novel), which I've been eyeing up for weeks, and ALSO threw in A Clockwork Orange on DVD.  This was particularly good timing, because not only am I dying to watch it anyway (hello, cult classic!) but I also caved and bought Penguin's restored edition of the original novel when I was out with Hanna earlier this month.  You all know how much I love to 'read then watch' whenever I get the chance!  Thank you so much Ellie, I can't wait to get stuck in to all of these!  :)
Next up was a mystery package from Katie (Katie Who Can Read), which got off to an excellent start with a card so beautiful IT HAD ITS OWN BODYGUARD.  Well, a card protector to stop it getting squished in the envelope.  In my head it was a bodyguard.  She sent me the highly-anticipated Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, quite fittingly since she met him and all!  I've been eyeing this book in Waterstones for MONTHS, and absolutely loved the first few instalments of the BBC radio adaptation.  Sadly I fell behind and missed the rest, but with an all-star cast including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head and Bernard Cribbins (and even a guest cameo or two from Neil Gaiman himself), I'd heard enough to know that me and the book were going to be good friends.  Katie also sent a box of the most-delicious sounding chocolates; I've never even HEARD of the Thornton's Summer Collection, but the flavours sound incredible - lots of summery berry flavours to try, yummy.  THANK YOU KATIE!  :)
One of my oldest blogging friends, Rachel, who now vlogs instead at Ray Reads, went for a dose of dystopian fantasy-esque summer reading with Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and Angelfall by Susan Ee.  I've nearly bought Shatter Me a few times, because it looks like such an interesting read and the prose style is quite striking, so that's definitely on my 'potential holiday reading' pile.  Angelfall was discovered thanks to a huge buzz on BookTube, with people raving about the angel-apocalypse angle and the 'can't put this down' page-turning chapters, so... again, definitely excellent holiday reading fodder.  Thank you Rachel - I'll be blaming you when I have to bulk buy the rest of both series before the end of the summer!  :P
Aaaaand last but most definitely not least, my dear blog wife Laura (Devouring Texts), who not only sent this super-pretty laser-lace-cut card (with a small essay inside, naturally - a woman after my own heart there!) but also ventured into a real-life Waterstones in order to send me a copy of The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman, which I CANNOT FRICKIN' WAIT to read even though I know it's going to break my heart, give me crying-induced headaches etc etc.  I have literally never heard a bad word about this famous cats-as-Nazis-mice-as-Jews Holocaust graphic novel, and a lot of people say it's one of their favourites despite the gut-wrenching subject matter.  THANK YOU LAURA.  I'll be billing you for large amounts of Kleenex and chocolate if I end up needing a week to recover.  :P
The acquisitions I can't blame on other people 

Obviously, my birthday didn't stop me quietly amassing a handful of extraneous books of my own along the way.  At the very beginning of May I won the April draw for the 2014 Full House Challenge, hosted by Book Date, and chose Hate List by Jennifer Brown, about a girl who survives a school shooting carried out by her boyfriend, as my prize.  After I read Life Support in May, I wanted to pick up another of Tess Gerritsen's handful of medical thrillers and found Gravity in the 2-for-£7 offer at Tesco.  It's about a virus accidentally let loose on board a space station, where the astronauts are effectively quarantined and dying off one by one while a physician tries to contain the illness so they can get back to Earth.  DEFINITELY coming on holiday with me, it sounds very exciting... 
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman is about an intersex teenager raised male, who actually feels female and realises the time has come to transform herself into the person she's meant to be.  And finally, The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab, which just sounds fascinating.  My sister has Dutton's other book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and this is really an extension of his thesis that contrary to media portrayal, some psychopathic traits are helpful, even outright desirable, if you want to live a successful and fulfilled life.  I haven't read the first book yet, but I spotted this one at Tesco (yes, supermarket temptation again), flipped through it, and stumbled across a page headed 'Hannibal Lecter Versus Dexter Morgan'... and that was that.  INTO THE BASKET IT GOES, NO INTERNAL DILEMMA NECESSARY. 

The day before my birthday, Dad took me out for a little shopping and a cup of tea, and I ended up in The Works.  I thought I'd just about exhausted their current stock, but this was a branch I don't go to very often and they had some different books, which was nice!  First up was The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, which I know Hanna enjoyed and which recently got a rave review from Chris at The Reading Rhodes, so for £1.99 I couldn't NOT buy it, even though it's a mass market paperback and the print is TINY.  I also bought Up in the Air by Betty Riegel, an autobiographical look at life as a young Pan Am stewardess in the early 1960s.  The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay was one of several books on the subject that I found stashed away on a corner carousel, but this was the only one that seemed to take a more sociological slant, looking at what life was like for everyone there, from the top codebreakers down. 
Hippie by Barry Miles (a prevalent writer of countercultural history and Beat biographies) is a beautiful glossy encyclopedia-slash-coffee-table-book filled with photos and pop culture and political snapshots of the 60s; I've admired it before but it disappeared from my local branch.  It was only supposed to be £4.99 (instead of £20), but when I got to the till it had actually been priced down again to £2.99.  BARGAIN!  And as a last-minute 'why the hell not?' addition to my basket, I threw in a Matilda bookmark for 99p, which I'll probably end up sticking up somewhere instead because it looks like it should be on a pinboard or door rather than in a book.
Aaaand finally - I swear - the DVDs that I succumbed to purchasing this month, despite constantly failing to leave myself enough time in an evening to watch more than an episode of something from my latest box set.  When did watching a 2-hour movie become so difficult to fit into an evening?  And yet I find myself at well gone 9pm wondering where the time has gone, and thinking, "Ah, no, I'll just watch an episode of House/Dexter/Elementary instead..."  The best laid plans, etc.  Anyway, I bought Couples Retreat, the comedy drama starring ALL THE PEOPLE (Vince Vaughn, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman...) because it was only £2, I've seen it before and the Bora Bora setting is to die for.  The Bling Ring was only £3 in Tesco and looks like a disgracefully fun summer movie.  Aaaand Filth.  Which looks like it'll be exactly as it sounds: filthy.  It's based on an Irvine Welsh novel, so I'd expect no less.  It stars James McAvoy as a corrupt Scottish policeman living the high life of drugs, sex and general degradation, and the trailer made me chuckle, and it just looks MAD... in the best way.
Thank you again to ALL THE WONDERFUL PEOPLE who have helped make my birthday such a lovely one, especially after everything that's happened over the past few months...  It means the world, it really does.
Now it's over to you!  Which of these have you read, watched or otherwise dabbled in?  What should I boost up the pile, and which would make fantastic sunshine/aeroplane reads for taking on holiday?  Tell me aaaaaaaall about it in the comments!