While I'm not a whole lot better depression-wise than I was two months ago, my reading mojo seems to be BACK! Hooray! So hopefully there'll be a little more going on here again, even if it's a bit sporadic until I'm firmly back on my feet. I have a couple of reviews and other posts on the way, so bear with me... :)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Read-a-thons are go! I repeat, GO!

Yup, it's that time again, and in the space of a few short weeks there are TWO big read-a-thons happening. 
First up, we have Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, which is happening from Saturday 26th to Sunday 27th April.  THIS WEEKEND, in other words.  I don't know if I'll last a full 24 hours - I'm a bit out of practice at pulling an all-nighter - but come the UK start time of 1pm on Saturday I'll be reading, snacking and spending far too much time on Twitter along with everyone else!  For more information on how to take part and what's going on throughout the day, check out the website here, or click here to go straight to the sign-up form. 
Bout of Books
And then, in mid-May, we hit Bout of Books!  I probably won't get much read on Monday because we'll be away until later in the day, but hopefully I'll be able to get started on Monday evening, catch up on anything I've missed, then get stuck in for the rest of the week...  As usual, here's the official blurb: -

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. 
For all Bout of Books 10 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. 
- From the Bout of Books team

- and if you already know the basics you can go straight here for instructions on signing up and the master Linky.

Will any of you be taking part in one or both of these?  Is it your first time, or are you a veteran 'thonner?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co. (5*)

Alternative title - Time was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare and Co.
by Jeremy Mercer (Phoenix, 2006)

"Two months before I'd had a high-profile job with an enviable salary, a sleek black German sedan on lease, an apartment in a fashionable downtown neighbourhood, and a collection of not-so-inexpensive shirts and jackets hanging in the closet.  Now, there were a few hundred dollars in my pocket, no job or prospect thereof, some clothes jammed into an old handbag, and a bed in a tattered bookstore to call home.  All things considered, I couldn't have been happier."

As most of my regular readers will know (because I've mentioned it so many times!), this book and I have been good friends for many years now.  I bought it from the bookshop on my university campus and this month has marked my third reading.  The first time I read it, I fell in love.  The second time, I looked for inspiration.  The third time, I found both.  This is, I suppose, the story of our friendship!

My first reading...

I was still at university (I think) and fell utterly in love with Mercer's world of bohemians and books.  My review on LibraryThing went like this:

"On the run from an unfortunate mistake in his Canadian life as a crime journalist, Jeremy Mercer heads to Paris to escape for a while.  Caught in a rainstorm near Notre-Dame one afternoon, he spots a welcoming light across the river and thus stumbles inadvertently on the Shakespeare and Company bookshop.  Invited upstairs for tea by the beautiful woman behind the desk, wandering the labyrinth of books and beds, he soon realises that this is no ordinary bookshop and, as a poor writer, is invited to join the ranks of lost souls inhabiting the book-lined rooms.

So begins his whimsical and quintessentially bohemian stay, under the watchful eye of eccentric owner George Whitman (surely the star of the book, with his fascinating life and Communist ideals), who renamed his unique store after the original literary oasis, run by his good friend Sylvia Beach, which was forced to close down during the Second World War.  Here all are welcome to browse and lose themselves in their reading; tea is offered on a Sunday; eclectic readings take place in the library; literary and political opinions are argued out – and those in need of a bed will find one amongst the books in return for a few hours helping around the shop and in the kitchen.

Mercer deliciously evokes days trawling the scattered tomes, nights spent storytelling by the Seine, tourists attracted by the store’s reputation, wanderers attracted by Whitman’s generosity, showering in the public washhouses, scrounging leftover food to get by: in short, a poor life, without good facilities or scope for wastage of any kind, but a happy, lively life nonetheless.  The characters moving through Whitman’s utopia are many and varied, yet he remains, a kind of rock in the tides of time and tourism, as the chaos of youthful dreams and books and wine whirls around him. 

Of course, eventually reality bites for Mercer and it’s time to move on – but his journey is magical and the lessons of the bookstore honest.  Now I have Sylvia Beach’s own book 'Shakespeare and Company’ to read, and I recommend the documentary ‘Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man’, made towards the end of Mercer’s time in Paris and readily available online.  Still not sure whether to read it?  Try searching online for photos of the store in all its glory – if that doesn’t persuade you, nothing will!"

My second reading...

The second time I read the book, two years later, I was on the cusp of opening my bookshop.  Since then I'd seen the documentary I mentioned at least twice - it became one of my go-to methods for getting out of a reading slump or inspiring me to read more each day - and seen lots of pictures and amateur YouTube footage of the shop, and I felt like I was going into the book with a more rounded feel for the world George Whitman had created for himself, his writers and the daily flood of visitors.

This time around, I wasn't just looking for a bookish good read - I was also looking for bookshop inspiration.  Thanks to George and to Mercer's book, I understood that books are, ironically, only a small part of running a bookshop.  While we wouldn't have the space and the right kind of customers to create anything like George's vision, I tried to adapt some of the elements of the atmosphere I'd fallen in love with through Mercer's account into workable parts of our own shop.  We tried to pour ourselves into our surroundings and make our shop a friendly and idiosyncratic place to be.

We didn't have a mirror covered in letters and cards - but we had a humble pinboard with pictures, interesting things we found tucked in books, recommendations and bestseller lists.  We didn't have a shop cat - but we did have a tiny mouse that liked to sit in our bird feeder, much to the bemusement of the tourists.  We didn't have beds amongst the bookshelves - but we had comfortable chairs where regulars would sit for up to two hours chatting about books and their lives (or sleeping, in one case).  Because it was OUR shop, and we had the flexibility of mostly selling second-hand books, I wasn't afraid to sometimes make personal decisions instead of business ones, waiving a few pennies for a kid whose pocket money wouldn't quite stretch to a book they wanted, slipping in a freebie for a teenager who was eagerly collecting Star Trek novels, or helping out a practically-homeless woman who would 'buy' a book for a fraction of the marked price on the understanding that she'd bring it back when she was finished with it.  In the back of my mind, there was always the question, "What would George do?"  I still hadn't visited Shakespeare and Company, thanks in part to the agoraphobia that crippled me right at the time when a Paris trip would have been ideal - after uni, before work - but it was always in my mind, thanks to Jeremy Mercer and his magical book.

My third reading...

And so we come to 2014.  After four and a half years of trading as a mother-daughter business, in a bookshop that had become our second home, we sold up and moved on around the New Year.  Neither of us have been back to see what it looks like now - it would be like going back to your old house to see what the new owners have done with it - and it already feels like a distant memory, thanks in part to the crippling depression that's driven such a huge wedge between me and the rest of the world of late.

As far as rereading this book goes, it means I've finally read it as a whole, in a lot of ways.  The first time, I was reading it as a magical vision of bookish possibility; the second time, I was reading it and feeling inspired in my own business; the third time, I've been able to just read it for itself, feeling greater familiarity with the world Mercer was immersed in and a greater appreciation for the negative aspects of life at the bookshop - the thieves, the poverty - as well as the amazing ones.  I can also now place the timeline of the book compared to the documentary, which was made after Mercer left the shop but while he was still in Paris, the summer that George's teenage daughter Sylvia returned from England to live with him for a few months; some of Mercer's friends at the bookstore appear in the film, and so does he, briefly!  I can now appreciate how close George and Jeremy became over the years, and the role he played in bringing Sylvia back to Paris.  At the time he stayed in the store, George could only dream that one day Sylvia might come home and carry on the family business in his place, so it warmed my heart to know that his dream came true.  Without her permanent return to the shop, where she quickly took over as manageress, the bookshop might have been lost when George died just before Christmas 2011.  I only wish, as I said in this heartfelt post after his death, that I'd made it to Paris sooner... 

If you'd like to watch the documentary that I've been going on about with such reverence, it's not available as a whole on Google video any more, but I've made a playlist of its ten-minute segments on YouTube.  It's just under an hour long in total, and gives you such a flavour of life at Shakespeare and Company in the early Noughties, its history, its eccentric late owner, and the 'tumbleweeds', the ever-changing collection of young writers who continue to live and work there to this day.  I love it, and I watch it every so often when I'm in a reading slump or feel generally uninspired.  I hope you enjoy it too!

Notable Quotables:
  • "I woke up straight.  The instant my eyes opened, everything felt sharp and clear, as if I'd finished a wind sprint or stepped from a frothing sea.  I'd always been one to play with snooze buttons, lolling in bed and rationalising being ten, twenty, thirty minutes late for work or school.  But that first morning at the bookstore, there were no slow degrees of consciousness or seductive fingers of sleep.  I was alive."
  • "In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés.  Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights.  That night at Polly's, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple.  That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too.  Hope is a beautiful drug."
  • "He washed his clothes by hand, ate the most basic of meals, and shunned the cinemas or restaurants.  With this regime, not only was he able to survive on the bookstore's paltry receipts but he also managed to provide communal meals and tuck away enough money to keep expanding the bookstore... George had discovered money to be the greatest slave master, and by reducing your dependence on it, he believed, you could loosen the grip of a suffocating world."
  • "I had been at the bookstore more than a month, but it felt like time had barely passed.  Without the normal barometer of a workday or a fixed schedule, life had become fluid.  It was hard to keep track of the hours and days in the bookstore, everything came and went in pleasurable waves of evenings and mornings and afternoons.  In the criminal world there is a term, hard time, which refers to difficult prison sentences in maximum-security facilities... Time at Shakespeare and Company was as soft as anything I'd ever felt."
  • ""You know, that's what I've always wanted this place to be," he said.  "I look across at Notre Dame and I sometimes think the bookstore is an annexe of the church.  A place for the people who don't quite fit in over there."  I understood.  We sipped our beer until the sun set and then sat awhile longer."
  • "Living with George at Shakespeare and Company has changed me, made me wonder about the life I left and the life I want to live.  For now, I sit, I type, I try to be a better man.  Life is a work in progress."

Source: I bought this book from the little branch of Blackwell's, above Market Square, at the University of York.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

My tentative Spring reading list

I know the traditional seasonal Top Ten Tuesday was a couple of weeks ago, but I just didn't get around to doing it at the time and I wanted to post a kind of optimistic spring TBR anyway, so... here we are.  Given that my bout of depression has made things a bit quiet around the blog of late, I thought this would also be a good chance to tell you about some of the books that might be coming up on here in the next month or two!  Obviously this list will shift and change, depending on library deadlines and book shopping and my general reading mood, but these are some of the books I currently have in mind to read soon...
Damned / Doomed
by Chuck Palahniuk
As most of you will know, I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's bizarre stories and strange characters.  I spotted Doomed on the 'new books' section of my local library last month, which surprised me given that said library is mostly utilised by the over-60s.  Needless to say, I grabbed it, and it's provided me with the motivation to finally read Damned, which has been sitting on my bookshelf since the day the paperback came out.  Hopefully I'll squeeze them both in before the sequel has to go back!
The Double
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
As you can see from the book cover (if you didn't know already), The Double has just been made into a film, starring Jesse Eisenberg and directed by Brit favourite Richard Ayoade.  And I want to see it.  Which means I have to read it first, as per my personal rule!  I've never read Dostoyevsky before so I'm hoping that this will be an accessible place to start; it's only about 165 pages so at least the size isn't too intimidating!
Grasshopper Jungle
by Andrew Smith
It's hard to FORGET I own this one, because it practically glows in the dark.  It's another book I managed to acquire last month, and I absolutely can't wait to get stuck in.  It's the story of two boys who accidentally unleash an army of horny, hungry giant insects on the world... HOW CAN YOU RESIST THAT SYNOPSIS?  It's also apparently LGBTQ-themed, which makes it even more interesting.  Definitely not one I'll be able to resist reading for much longer.
Lady Audley's Secret
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
I've had a strange urge to reread this book recently.  I saw it at the library on Monday but didn't pick it up because I already had five books to check out, then LO!  I got home and found that Alice was hosting a readalong in May.  So I signed up and used it as an excellent excuse to buy myself a shiny new PEL copy.  I last read it in my first year of university, and all I really remember is that it was a fast read and a total potboiler, so it should be fun to reread it and make snide notes instead of academic ones.  If you want to join in click the link to go to Alice's post!
It's Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini
I've had this book for a few months now - as most of you know, mental health-related novels are my catnip - so last month I bought the DVD to persuade me to bump it up my reading pile a bit.  From what I've read and seen, it's about a boy who wakes up in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt, convinced that he's not meant to be there with the other 'crazies'... only to find himself making new friends and falling in love with another patient.  It sounds like it'll be a good mix of drama, sweetness and humour, so hopefully I'll love it!
The Bookshop that Floated Away
by Sarah Henshaw
I found out this week that Sarah Henshaw, owner of famous water-bound bookshop-on-a-boat The Book Barge, has just written a book telling her story (how many times can I write 'book' in one sentence?!).  Obviously I've heard of the shop before, and seen pictures, but it was the mention of the new shop bunny, Napoleon Bunnyparte, that made me absolutely 100% certain that this book needs to be in my hands.  I ordered a copy on the spot and it should arrive tomorrow, yay!
The Library of Unrequited Love
by Sophie Divry
I actually saw this in Waterstones last month, but balked a bit at spending £7 of my not-earning-right-now cash on a 90-page large-font novella.  Happily (and fittingly), the library had a couple of copies, so I got it from there instead!  I do like a nice little book-related yarn, and I reckon this would be an excellent choice for the more sleepy hours of this month's Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, which I have of course signed up for.
A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Yes, I do have the BBC tie-in edition.  Yes, this is only partly because it was £1.99 in The Works and the first copy I came across.  NO, I WILL NOT BE ASHAMED OF MY SHERLOCK FANGIRLING.  I've heard mixed things about this one - on the plus side, YES SHERLOCK HOLMES, on the minus side, quite a bit of weirdness in the middle before it all pulls together - but it's the first in the series, which seems like a good place to dive back into the world of Holmes and Watson after enjoying The Hound of the Baskervilles a few years ago.
The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
Again with the movie coming out!  I used to be really on top of what book-to-movie adaptations would be hitting cinemas soon, thanks to a handy UK release date website I found, but of late I've let it slide and often only find out when the social media buzz starts or a new trailer is released.  Anyway, this one SOUNDS good (hence me owning the book already) and LOOKS good (if the trailer's anything to go by), so... read it I shall.
by Vladimir Nabokov
This is one I've had on my shelf for years - I even bought the Jeremy Irons adaptation a few months ago as a kind of 'you can watch it once you've read it!' motivational tactic - but then I've never picked it up.  My curiosity has been piqued once again thanks to Barry Pierce, a fantastic young BookTuber, who raved about its beautiful prose so much that I immediately boosted it back up Mount TBR.  He also persuaded me to finally read To Kill a Mockingbird and watch Midnight in Paris, both of which I absolutely loved, so everything bodes well for me enjoying this one just as much!

Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer
I first saw the movie about six years ago, and OH my goodness it turned my world upside down.  It's a gorgeous film, full of sweeping scenery and beautiful ideas, and for a girl who was stuck indoors with mountains of junk and terrible agoraphobia, it was mind-blowing.  Aaaaand yet I've never read the book.  I also have Back to the Wild, a collection of Chris's photos and journals, compiled by his family into a big glossy book, which should be a good companion to Krakauer's narrative.

Lord of the Flies
 by William Golding
Last year I made a list of ten things I wanted to do by my next birthday.  One of the items on that list was 'Read To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies', because they're two of the longest-standing classics on my bookshelves.  I've read Mockingbird this month, so that just leaves Lord of the Flies to finish by the end of May!  It's also one of my TBR Challenge picks, so it'll be a double triumph.  :)
So, that's just a kind of rough idea of what I might end up reading in the coming weeks.  I'd really like to cram in a couple more classics before the weather gets hot and my brain melts - summer is DEFINITELY the time for lighter reading - but the rest could shift and change depending on library deadlines and whether my mood/concentration stay at a decent level. 
Which books do you hope to read over the next month or two?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Double review: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

~ THE BOOK (5*) ~
Published by Hodder Children's Books, 2008.

As I mentioned in my March reading wrap-up, this was actually a reread for me.  I first read this book at the age of perhaps 11 or 12, and really didn't understand what all the fuss was about.  Why?  Well, I'd only been at secondary school for about ten minutes, had no knowledge of sexual violence, and thus didn't really appreciate the level of 'reading between the lines' that is required in order to catapult this book up to greatness.

This time around I absolutely loved it!  On the surface it is the story of Melinda Sordino, a thirteen year-old girl starting high school for the first time.  Unfortunately, Melinda has recently alienated her entire group of best friends - amongst others - by calling the police from a party over the summer.  What her ex-friends don't know is why she called the police: she was raped at the party by the hottest boy in school.  Which brings us to what's going on under the surface - because this isn't just some flighty Mean Girls novel about an unpopular girl in high school.  It's really about a young woman slowly healing after a terrible experience, finding her voice, discovering her own strength, and finally being able to speak out about what happened to her.  And what a beautifully evoked journey it is...

Not only is the writing deceptively simple and frequently gorgeous, but what really surprised me was how much humour runs through this book!  I didn't remember that at all from my first reading, so I was delighted to discover that Anderson has a marvellous knack of combining sparkling wit with troubling themes to offer a reading experience that has it all - it's funny but truthful, sarcastic but airy, tongue-in-cheek but very moving.

One thing I absolutely loved was the idea of art as therapy.  Early in the book, Melinda's unconventional and completely awesome art teacher allocates each student an object that will form the basis of their work that year, across as many media and styles as they care to try.  Melinda's object is 'tree'.  Not only does this offer a metaphor for Melinda's personal growth, strength and return to life as the novel goes on, but her artistic efforts, and Mr Freeman's enthusiastic mentoring, become the means for her to learn self-expression and explore her feelings in new ways.  She keeps her work in a deserted janitor's closet (like a mini staffroom), which she cleans, personalises and adapts into her own little sanctuary.

I think these elements of the novel particularly struck a chord with me because I, albeit for different reasons, found similar refuge within my school environment as a teenager.  Like Mr Freeman's art room, ours was light, bustling, relaxed, and always open to students during breaks and lunchtimes.  I'd tag along with friends who were taking art and spend time doing homework, eating lunch, singing along to the radio, and ogling my crush, a shy boy from the year above who was also a proficient artist and could usually be found hiding away in the art room with his best friend.  My 'janitor's closet' was an upstairs classroom, my Mr Freeman a history teacher who would quietly unlock the door for me and unceremoniously throw out any rowdier groups who dared to invade by pretending I was in detention!  Like Melinda, I found that having somewhere peaceful to go made school more bearable.

In conclusion, this is a truly fantastic novel.  Despite being published fifteen years ago (so around the time I first read it, rather scarily), it still has a wonderful blend of humour and truth, a school setting that is still relatable now, and a strong and inspiring message about sexual violence, self-expression, and having the confidence to speak UP and speak OUT against people who have hurt us and experiences no one should have to endure alone.  This is definitely a story that will stick with me this time around - I may even buy my own copy to keep - and I can't wait to read Wintergirls, which is already installed on my TBR shelves!

Notable Quotables:
  • "Art without emotion is like chocolate cake without sugar.  It makes you gag...  The next time you work on your trees, don't think about trees.  Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage - whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl.  Focus on that feeling."
  • "I try to read while eating alone, but the noise gets between my eyes and the page I can't see through it."
  • "People say that winter lasts forever, but it's because they obsess over the thermometer.  North in the mountains, the maple syrup is trickling.  Brave geese punch through the thin ice left on the lake.  Underground, pale seeds roll over in their sleep.  Starting to get restless.  Starting to dream green."
  • "I crouch by the trunk, my fingers stroking the bark, seeking a Braille code, a clue, a message on how to come back to life after my long undersnow dormancy.  I have survived.  I am here.  Confused, screwed up, but here.  So, how can I find my way?...  I dig my fingers into the dirt and squeeze.  A small, clean part of me waits to warm and burst through the surface.  Some quiet Melindagirl I haven't seen in months.  That is the seed I will care for."

Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.  The YA section is pathetic - literally a shelf and a bit of mostly-old books, maybe 40 at most - but this one was there, hooray!

~ THE MOVIE (4.5*) ~
Starring Kristen Stewart and Steve Zahn. Directed by Jessica Sharzer, 2004.

I wanted to give a quick shout-out to the excellent TV movie, which I watched the day I finished the book.  It stars Kristen Stewart as Melinda and (sorry Stewart-bashers) she's really great!  It's a pretty faithful adaptation - a couple of detail tweaks, a little less friendship-drama and a slightly altered ending to her year as Mr Freeman's art student aside, it's spot on.  Everything is beautifully played, from the giddiness of the party to the horror of rape, from the trauma of Melinda having to be around her attacker in the school environment to the slow process of self-expression in her art class.
I think my absolute favourite scene is between Melinda and Mr Freeman (played by Steve 'This place is a tomb... I'm going to The Nut Shop where it's fun!' Zahn, aka George from You've Got Mail) at the end of the school year.  Unlike in the book, Mr Freeman leaves at the end of the movie, just not suited to following the no-radio no-freedom no-fun rules of the school board.  To show him what a difference he's really made, Melinda takes him into her janitor's closet, which is now FULL of her art.  All kinds of trees, studies of leaves, paintings, a sculpture and the most beautiful Picasso-esque chalk drawing.  It's basically Melinda's entire emotional journey, and he can only look around in wonder, tears in his eyes, while she watches shyly.  It's a beautiful moment, perfect and simple, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I had tears running down my face by the end.
Anyway, if you like the book, watch it.  It's hard to find on DVD here in the UK, but you can watch it on YouTube or elsewhere online quite easily.  Highly recommended - I might even cough up for the DVD now!
Have you read this book, and did you like it?  Which other books by Laurie Halse Anderson should I look out for?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

March: What I Read, What I'm Reading

Another month down, and happily, over the last week or so, I've finally been feeling like I'm getting my reading mojo back!  My general outlook hasn't really improved, not by much anyway, but my passion for books has returned at full throttle so hopefully I'll get plenty of reading done in the coming weeks.  Not only that, but I'm making a real effort to write some proper reviews as well so the blog should be a bit more active again.  It's still daunting to be staring at a blank Blogger post, so instead I've been writing one paragraph at a time in a notebook, in between reading chapters of my book or doing something else.  The whole process feels much easier once I've got a draft down like that!  I've also got a discussion post idea that I'm hoping to knuckle down and write at some point, and my March book/DVD/library haul went up yesterday.  In the meantime, here's my overall reading wrap-up for the month and what I'm getting stuck into as we careen into April!
~ What I Read ~
 Kiss Me First
by Lottie Moggach
A semi-thriller about online life, obsession, death and ethics, this one piqued my interest way back before the hardcover was released.  I picked up the paperback last month and dived straight in!  Basically it's about a young woman, Leila, who is chosen by a cultish website founder to help a friend of his, Tess, who wants to end her life.  To save Tess's family and friends from heartbreak, Leila will spend time learning everything there is to know about Tess before taking over her social media presence for several months after 'check-out', slowly decreasing the frequency of her communication until she's just... gone.  There are some pretty big themes in this book: it's about the naivety of young people who've spent more time online than in the real world; it's about the ethics of suicide and an individual's rights over his or her own body; it's about how easy it is to become enmeshed in an online world, a life, even a romance that isn't real in any way.  The middle section was a bit slower, and the story arc didn't really play out in the way I expected, but the beginning was fascinating and the ending quite fitting and even a little startling, so I still enjoyed it and found much to think about within its pages.  I gave it 4 stars, and you can read my full review here.

by Laurie Halse Anderson
I first read this many years ago, when I was only around 11 or 12, and honestly, I didn't get what all the fuss was about.  This is definitely one of those YA books that requires you to actually be - or have been - a young adult to really appreciate it.  Although it's simply written, getting to the heart of the novel and reading between the lines of Melinda's story needs a little more maturity and understanding of the world, I think.  This time around I absolutely loved the book, which in case you've been living under a rock, is Anderson's very famous novel about a girl who is raped at a party and spends the next year at her new school slowly working towards finding her voice, expressing herself, and speaking out at last.  It's a very easy read, and very funny, but it also packs a real emotional punch and captures the teenage experience beautifully despite the book now being fifteen years old.  I'll be reviewing this one properly this week, along with the excellent TV movie - 5 stars, highly recommended!

Screen Burn
by Charlie Brooker
I've been hopping in and out of this book since last year, so I was quite glad to have had a little flurry of reading and actually finished it this month.  It's a book of Charlie Brooker's TV columns from The Guardian, dating way back to the early Noughties.  You'd think that they'd be a bit boring to read now, so many years later, but actually Brooker is much like Caitlin Moran in that even if you've never seen the programme he's discussing, you can still enjoy the ride and get a few giggles along the way.  He particularly delights in reviewing bad telly, bringing out his blisteringly acerbic humour at full throttle, which is always fun!  It was a bit of a nostalgia trip too, reminding me of programmes I enjoyed waaaaaay back when I was a teenager - and it made me feel suddenly old, with references to review copies of upcoming shows making the transition from VHS to DVD, and early mentions of brand new series like Scrubs and Smallville.  Wow...  Great for idle moments, 4 stars.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian
by Scott Douglas
THIS!  THIS was what I wanted when I picked up Don Borchert's Library Confidential back in 2010.  As a young librarian in Anaheim, California, Douglas provides all the funny stories and strange characters that Borchert does, only he does it with a genuine feeling of affection and respect, and more importantly, a real understanding of libraries and their place in a community.  Whereas Borchert seemed to be trying to shock the reader with scandalous tales of library shenanigans, Douglas's anecdotes are friendlier and he seems to learn from every experience, adjusting his picture of library life and his role within it.  He definitely has a touch of the Bernard Black about him, but always rounds off his gripes with a warm acceptance of the experience and (mostly) generosity towards whoever (or whatever) is on the receiving end.  Oh, and I also loved the funny, self-deprecating and frequently very interesting footnotes and info inserts.  This book has gone unread for far too long (I got it for Christmas years ago) and so not only am I delighted that it was so good, but it also topples another book from the twelve that make up this year's TBR Pile Challenge.  I might review it fully at some point, but in the meantime I gave it 4 stars.

The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer
I only bought this book last month, but I was stalking Hanna on LibraryThing and noticed she'd given it 5 stars, and then she urged to me read it via Twitter, and that was that.  Happily I wound up completely agreeing with her: this is a beautifully written, effortlessly smooth and utterly compelling debut novel.  Written by a registered mental health nurse, it's about a little boy called Matt whose brother Simon dies while they're on holiday; writing his story down ten years later, Matt chronicles his family's grief and recovery, and his own quiet descent into schizophrenia.  It sounds really heavy when you put it like that, but it's not at all.  The prose is gorgeous but easy to read, and as he slowly unfurls Matt's history, Filer drops the pieces into place with precise and perfect timing.  I breezed through it in two or three days, thoroughly enjoyed every page, chuckled a few times, and had a little weep or two along the way as well.  It's perfect.  5 stars, and I'll almost definitely be writing a full review of this one!
~ What I'm Reading ~

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs: The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co. 
by Jeremy Mercer
I've spent a little time this week starting to go through my book boxes again, sorting out a few more to go the charity shop.  At the same time I've been pulling out books I've already read and loved to put up on my bookshelf - and this is one of my absolute top all-time favourites.  This is my third read, and I've fallen in love with it all over again!  Basically 20-something Jeremy Mercer left Canada in a rush after receiving death threats linked to his job as a crime journalist; broke and disillusioned, he ended up in Paris and discovered Shakespeare and Company one rainy day.  Known for its eccentricity, warmth, literary credentials - and for providing food and lodgings for drifters and writers, with beds nestled in amongst the bookshelves - the rest is history.  Mercer spent over a year living there under the watchful eye of the late George Whitman, immersing himself in bookshop life, new friendships, a little romance - and LOTS of books.  This travel memoir is the result, and it's been one of my biggest inspirations and most beloved books ever since!

Don't forget to check out my March book haul, and I'll be back in the next couple of days with a full review of Speak

In the meantime, how was your reading month?  What was your favourite book of March?  And what are you reading to kick off April?

Monday, 31 March 2014

March book, DVD and library haul!

I can't believe it's the end of the month again already!  I've had a marginally better time of it recently - more reading, two reviews, and another on the way - so my reading round-up will be a little more book-heavy this time around.  That'll be up in the next day or so, so keep an eye out...  In the meantime, here's my book haul for March!  The one I did for February seemed quite popular, so I thought I'd do another one to show you some of the books I might be reading soon (I've already read two from my February haul, which is unusual for me!) and a few other bits and pieces I've acquired this month too.  Enjoy...

A few strays to kick things off.  I actually included Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde with the rest of the order I placed with The Works last month, but for some reason it arrived a good week after the rest, so there we go.  The other three in this picture are, yet again, from various trips to Tesco recently.  One stand-alone pickup was Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas, which just came out in paperback at last.  It sounds like a bizarre cross between Room and Running with Scissors, which should be interesting.  Aaaand then I fell for that 2-for-£7 deal.  Again.  I'd hoped to complete my collection of the Percy Jackson books, but they were missing the fourth so I just bought Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian.  To fulfil the offer I ended up buying another copy of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  I already have a Penguin Classics copy, and I've read the book before, many years ago, but... but... THIS ONE HAS FOUR BEAUTIFUL MEN ON THE FRONT.  I've been enjoying The Musketeers (and their tight leather and impressive sword skills) very much of a Sunday evening, my 'who do I fancy most?' choice changing every five minutes, so... shut up.  If anyone asks, I bought it because it's 'a new translation'.  So there.  :P

The next bunch of books were all from Amazon.  I was ordering a copy of Kangaroo Dundee by Chris 'Brolga' Barnes for my mum for Mother's Day (she LOVES Brolga - he's a strapping great Australian who's devoted his life to raising orphaned kangaroos out in the bush, who wouldn't fall for him a bit?) and it seemed like a good time to pick out a few things for myself as well.  It's been ages! 

As you know, I've subscribed to a bunch of brilliant BookTube channels recently, and Sarah Churchill had good things to say about Trouble by Non Pratt (great name!) in her February wrap-up video, so that went straight into my basket.  Mercedes (MercysBookishMusings) raved about The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé, and then Hanna mentioned it in her Spring TBR too, and it was one of the longest-standing books on my wishlist, so in it went.  Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, about two boys who accidentally unleash an army of 6-foot, hungry, horny praying mantises, just sounds so bizarrely brilliant that I had to buy a copy!  Project X by Jim Shepard is about two misfits planning a school shooting at their high school.  Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford sounds a bit like Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story, about a kid waking up in a psychiatric ward, convinced he shouldn't be there and that everyone but him is crazy.  Aaaand lastly, a book I've had my eye on for a long time, The Pleasures of the Damned, a huge book of Charles Bukowski's poetry.  Every time I see it in a bookshop it's always battered and the spine is always broken where people have read it in-store, so I was very happy to find that mine arrived fresh and pristine so that I can make my OWN mark on it as I read!

Next up: my current batch of library books.  Mum and I have taken to walking to our new library every other Monday or so, so I've had plenty of chance to browse!  I've had Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson out this month, but I've already finished that and taken it back; I'll talk about it a bit in my end-of-the-month wrap-up and there's a full review on the way too.  I LOVED IT!  When I borrowed that one, I also picked out Serial Killer Investigations by Colin Wilson, which is a 'popular true-crime'-type look at forensic investigations and the development of criminal profiling, as related to lots of high-profile cases through modern history.  It remains to be seen whether I read that one, but it sounds interesting so I thought I'd include it anyway! 
I found a copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs on the fiction shelves, and the sequel, Hollow City, was on the 'New Books' shelf, so I borrowed both of those.  Chuck Palahniuk's Doomed is the sequel to Damned, which I already own and plan to read very soon, so I picked that up because ALL THE PALAHNIUK LOVE.  I was extremely impressed to find that the New Books section also included The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, which had only flown onto my radar the previous day.  Aaaaand finally, I spotted Lisey's Story by Stephen King.  Chris, BookTuber and all-round sweetheart at The Reading Rhodes, frequently mentions this as pretty much his favourite book ever, so I thought I'd give it a go!  It's a chunky book, but King's usually pretty well-paced so I hope to get to that one soon as well.
That's the books over, but once again a handful of DVDs have also been added to my collection this month, so I thought I'd share those too!  First up is one of my absolute new favourite movies, Chatroom, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Matthew Beard.  It's about a depressed young man, William, who sets up a chatroom and befriends four other local teenagers, only to find himself being seduced by how easy it is to manipulate people online; he takes particular interest in vulnerable fellow depressive Jim.  It's really cleverly done - the chatrooms are depicted as actual rooms off a kind of vast hotel corridor - and the two lead actors are absolutely superb.  I was on the edge of my seat by the end, and I cried at least twice. 
I've wanted to see Kick-Ass for a while, so when I spotted that for £5 at Tesco I brought it home with me.  Catching Fire was a pre-order from back before I saw it at the cinema at the end of last year.  I've absolutely loved the second series of Bluestone 42 (THAT ENDING THOUGH!) but never watched the first, so I bought that from Amazon at the same time as the book order; I also bought It's Kind of a Funny Story, based on the Ned Vizzini novel, because I've heard it's fantastic and it'll be a good prompt to bump the book up my to-read pile.  And finally, I bought Saving Mr. Banks, mostly because all the footage I saw from it during Awards Season this year has made it look so funny and whimsical, I couldn't resist.  Besides, Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks... can't go wrong there!
I actually wanted to end this post with a photo of my awesome new Disney colouring book (with a box of shiny new coloured pencils AND A TWIN PENCIL SHARPENER), but since the photo keeps uploading sideways no matter what I do, that's not happening.  I would like to say that yes, I'm nearly 27, but in my defence, colouring is supposed to be very therapeutic for crazy people.  My 23 year-old sister is very jealous of my Disney swag, and it also prompted a flurry of recommendations and colouring appreciation on Twitter, so... clearly I'm not alone.  Since I can't share that with you, I'll leave you with this video instead.  It's an 'After Ever After' take on four Disney movies.  In song.  By one guy.  And it's amazing and I've been singing it all day.  Seriously, watch it.  It never gets old, and I think the Jasmine and Pocahontas sections are a particular brand of genius.  :) 

Aaaand that's everything I bought (and borrowed) this month!  I'll be posting my March reading wrap-up tomorrow, hopefully, and I've got a review of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson on the way as well, so... yeah, looks like the blog is back in business, for now at least!
Did you buy any new books this month?  Which are you looking forward to most?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Note of Madness, by Tabitha Suzuma (4.5*)

(The Bodley Head, 2006)

"He was humming along to the radio, making coffee, kicking Harry's washing out of the way.  Everything seemed so normal - he seemed so normal.  If anyone came in right now they wouldn't suspect anything was wrong.  Yet his mind seemed to be fragmenting, like a mirror spiderwebbing with cracks.  He felt as if he were at some kind of junction; what he did now could have huge repercussions - should he try to hold on or just let himself fall apart?"

Having been blown away by Tabitha Suzuma's sensitively-handled novel Forbidden - about a brother and sister who fall in love - I did what any self-respecting book fiend would do: I hopped straight on the internet to find out what else she'd written.  Imagine my delight when I stumbled across A Note of Madness and its sequel, A Voice in the Distance, about a promising young pianist and his battle with bipolar disorder.  Not only is mental health one of my pet subjects, for obvious reasons, but the premise also reminded me of K.M. Peyton's Pennington novels, about a young rebel who happens to be a superb pianist, which I fell in love with in my early teens.

So, nostalgia aside, back to this novel.  Flynn Laukonen and his friends Harry and Jennah have grown up together and are now all students at the Royal College of Music in London.  As one of only two brilliant pianists at the College, it is Flynn who is really admired as one of its rising stars.  Unfortunately, the pressure on him to perform, coupled with his ongoing rivalry with fellow pianist Andre, triggers a break in his mental health, and as he cycles between manic periods of high creativity, boundless energy and deep understanding of music, and crashing lows when he barely gets out of bed except to go to the bathroom, Harry takes the brave step of calling in Flynn's doctor brother Rami to help.

I thought this was a very truthful novel in terms of the experience of bipolar disorder; as I said in my February reading wrap-up, great swathes could have come straight from my own life.  The overzealous good humour, compulsive drive to create and the appreciation of sensory pleasures, the reckless disregard for property and societal expectations, the crushing periods of existential despair and seething hate, the sudden disappearance of cognitive ability and the loss of concentration (which is why things go so quiet around the blog when I'm in a bad way) - I've been there, and it felt so... not reassuring, exactly... maybe comforting?... to have someone write about these feelings and crises so beautifully.  It's always interesting to read mental health-themed novels, especially by people outside of that sphere of experience (I assume), to see if they've done it justice, as it were.  Tabitha Suzuma gets plenty of author brownie points from me for getting it right.  She also gets bonus points for not taking the novel quite where I expected it to go; she sidesteps the more tense but also highly melodramatic climax I'd been anticipating, which was simultaneously slightly disappointing but also more realistic, so I was happy on balance.

Admittedly, her story doesn't touch on many of the more mundane aspects of life with a mental disorder, particularly with regards to treatment.  By writing Flynn's brother as a doctor, Suzuma keeps her plot tight and opens the door for an examination of the different aspects of their relationship as Flynn's mental health deteriorates, but she also gives herself a convenient escape from some of the more traumatic consequences of a diagnosis like bipolar.  For example, Flynn's late-teen age group gives his friends the maturity to give him support instead of ridicule, something I found at university but not at school; a younger character might not have been so lucky.  Likewise, Rami's occupation and his ability to pull strings at the local hospital means no presenting to A and E when things get dire, no lengthy waits for appointments, no trekking painfully slowly from GP to Pathfinder nurse to consultant and back again in the quest for help.  When things get out of hand Rami's always there, so Harry, Jennah and even Flynn's parents never really have to deal with him in crisis.  Still, as I've already said in that February mini-review, this would have made for a rather dull novel, and what's more important is how skilfully Suzuma portrays these characters and this illness for a young adult audience as part of a compelling story.  For me, she did a brilliant job, which definitely gets her off the hook for overlooking a few of the more boring details.

Bottom line: This is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in mental health, for teens looking for an accurate depiction of bipolar symptoms and its effects on mood, college work and general living, and for readers who fancy an unusual British contemporary YA to fly through this summer.  There's some music talk, a dose of humour, strong friendships, a little romance and a pinch of family drama, something for everyone really.  I'm looking forward to reading the sequel very soon!

Notable Quotables:
  • "Each note was more poignant than the last, more exquisite, until you didn't feel as if another could surpass it and then one did and it was utterly overwhelming, so much so that your chest ached and your eyes stung and your whole body felt as if it would burst."
  • "The weather had been glorious all day and the golden light outside promised a magical sunset.  He thought of the couples and families strolling in the park, enjoying the late-afternoon sunshine, and was filled with an inexplicable sadness.  The light would be shimmering on the Serpentine, the raised voices of children echoing from a distance.  The leaves on the trees would be stirring in the breeze, the sunlight flooding the grass with golden confetti, the sky a deep, painful blue.  The thought of going to the park was inconceivable - the sight of such aching beauty would infuse his soul with pain."
  • "Flynn felt himself begin to shake...  It clung to him, an invisible cloak of agitation and self-destruction that sent acid fury shooting through his veins... There was fire burning through him, creating an overpowering urge to scream, kick, yell...  He couldn't talk without wanting to shout.  Couldn't move without lashing out."
  • "I can't.  The two words seemed permanently lodged inside his head.  I can't play tomorrow... I can't go to the rehearsal, I can't tidy the flat, I can't go for a run and I sure as hell can't practise."
  • "Flynn pressed his hands against his face and felt hot tears trickle between his fingers.  He wanted everything to go away.  He wanted everything to stop.  As long as he lived, he would never escape himself.  How much more could he endure?  Another fifty years, another sixty?  How could he endure the weeks, the months, the years, when he couldn't even get through the hours?  It was only a matter of time.  Only a matter of time before he reached the end of his tether and found himself incapable of carrying on for another day.  He would not make it through a lifetime.  Not like this..."

Source: I bought this book from... Amazon Marketplace?  I think.  It's been a while!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Three songs about BOOKS!

First, there was Julian Smith and his instantly catchy I'm Reading a Book.  Now known by kids everywhere as 'that song my English teacher plays in class to make books sound cooler', judging by the comments underneath the video.  :)

Next, for the literary reader and discerning lady book shopper, came the ingenious B*tches in Bookshops, brainchild of Annabelle Quezada, who stars in the video alongside La Shea Delaney.  Any song with the lyrics "You use a Kindle?  I carry spines / Supporting bookshops like a bra - Calvin Klein" was always going to be a winner for me.  Bonus points for the Beauty and the Beast moment in the middle!

And finally, a new contender to the throne of catchiest bookish song!  The lovely Carrie Hope Fletcher penned Boys in Books are Better.  Well, duh, you might say, but this little musical romp through the men of Twilight, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice is fantastic and funny and SO GOOD for singing along.

Which of these is your favourite?  Have I missed any other great book-related songs?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Kiss Me First, by Lottie Moggach (4*)

(Picador, 2014)

I'd had Kiss Me First on my radar since before the hardback was released, so when I spotted the new paperback in Tesco last month I snapped up a copy and dived straight in.  It's about a reclusive young woman who joins a strange philosophy website and, having 'proved herself' during debates on all kinds of topics, is chosen by the charismatic website founder to help him in a special project.  A friend of his, an older woman called Tess, wants to end her life, and to avoid upsetting her friends and family, Leila is going to take over her online accounts for a time before slowly reducing her social media presence to nothing. As far as her loved ones are concerned, the naturally flighty Tess will be moving to a little island off Canada to start an idyllic new life as an art tutor.  In actual fact, every photo, every update, every detail of her beautiful new home has been created by Leila using the reams of information she's carefully collected from Tess during the preceding months.  So far so intriguing - until Tess's old flame, Connor, gets in touch and Leila finds herself falling in love with him...

This is definitely meant to be a thriller, about obsession and ethics and our online lives.  It didn't really play out as a thriller, in the end - the middle section definitely dragged a bit - but it's still a fascinating read.  The sheer scale of attempting to take over someone's online existence was mind-blowing; Leila literally has to piece together Tess's entire life, covering every eventuality and every friend or family member who might get in touch, in order to avoid suspicion.  It was actually frighteningly plausible, watching this very naïve girl getting sucked into her own fantasy, creating a whole new daily life for Tess in Canada in order to email and update Facebook convincingly, even orchestrating fake answerphone messages to Tess's mother when she knows there'll be no one home to pick up the phone.  I watched her getting more involved with Connor, feeding her own personality into their correspondence until she's sure he's in love with Leila, not Tess, and wanted to shake her and scream, "THIS ISN'T GOING TO GO WELL FOR YOU, YOU IDIOT!"

And it doesn't.  Of course it doesn't.  You know from the beginning that things are inevitably going to go wrong - particularly due to repeated mentions of police investigations early on - but I didn't quite put my finger on how things were going to play out until I got there, which was refreshing.  The novel is told via a kind of after-the-fact account being set down by Leila after the Tess furore has died down.  She's in a hippy camp in Spain trying to trace Tess's movements after 'check-out' (the day the online accounts were officially handed over), and this was where the novel dragged for me.  The actual mechanics of the deception, and its impact on Leila's life, is interesting and compelling, but her meandering around the hippy camp befriending travellers and trying to get a positive ID on Tess from people who had visited the previous summer... not so much.  I just wanted to get back to the main story!  That said, it does all tie together in the end, more or less, so I understood why the 'present day' narrative was there too.

My other major gripe with the book, and in particular with Leila, was her sheer ignorance of the world.  I mean, I understand that her character is very much of our generation; she spends most of her time online, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, and doesn't have any friends thanks to a lengthy spell in which she cared for her dying mother full-time.  I get that.  I think most of us can relate to her in some way, because the internet is ever-present in our lives.  But she's just SO ignorant.  I mean, online life can be limiting in many ways, but what the hell has she been doing on there?!  I don't know about all of you, but I spend a lot of time article hopping on newspaper websites, for example.  Discovering new music via YouTube.  I learn things about the world, about history and culture and modern life, from the internet.  Leila, on the other hand, has never heard of Virginia Woolf or The Stone Roses, and doesn't know what a didgeridoo is.  She has no concept of modern vocabulary despite apparently spending her life in the world of hashtags and urban slang.  She's never read newspapers or been to Topshop.  She's literally the most clueless 20-something I've ever come across, fictional or not.  She's meant to be an internet-dweller, not a hermit in some cave up a mountain somewhere!  I thought that aspect of her character was a bit too unbelievable.

What I really liked about the novel was the way it made me think about so many different issues, from so many different angles.  The website Leila joins, Red Pill, is a philosophy website for debating and ethical thought, and several examples crop up in the novel even before the founder, Adrian, selects her for The Tess Project.  In a lot of ways the entire book is a study in the ethics of suicide, of the right to die with dignity, of ownership over one's own body, and it definitely throws up all kinds of angles for the reader's consideration as well as Leila's.  This might sound heavy-handed but it's really not - it's just one of those novels that effortlessly makes you ponder life, the universe and everything as you read. 

Final thoughts?  I really enjoyed this novel, and definitely appreciated the fact that it found a new and unique angle from which to tackle the darker side of the immersive and occasionally all-consuming online life that so many of us lead these days.  It didn't blow me away and keep me hooked quite as thoroughly as I'd hoped, but it was a fascinating read and still managed to deliver one last little gut-punch near the end just when I was least expecting it.  More by Lottie Moggach, please!

Notable Quotables:
  • "I was, at that moment, perfectly happy.  The best way I can describe it is feeling I was in a space that was exactly the right size for me."
  • "I believe that deciding upon the time and place of your death is the ultimate expression of self-ownership...  Life is about quality, not quantity, and it's up to each individual to judge whether theirs is worth living or not."
  • "I thought about suicide all the time.  I thought it was the answer - literally.  I used to sit in my room and imagine I had this calculator and I would type in all these details of my life and then I would press the 'equals' button and the word SUICIDE would appear in the panel, in those red LED letters."
  • "Whatever this thing was in my head, it would be there for ever.  Therapy's bullshit, labels are bullshit.  The other day you were saying something about 'beating' manic depression, like it's a dragon to be slain or something, but I don't feel like that.  It's this thing that is part of me, ingrained into my character, and I will have to live with it until I die.  There's no way out.  This is it.  I read this quote once from this woman which was 'No hope of a cure, ever, for being me', and that's exactly how I feel.  Every day, when I wake up, I have to make the decision whether or not I can bear to live with that..."

Source: I bought this book from my local Tesco.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

TTT is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.
I know I'm a day late, but I started thinking about this prompt this morning and decided to do it anyway!  These are all authors I AM interested in reading, and I have at least one book by each of them on my TBR shelves, but for some reason I just haven't quite managed to pick any of them up yet.  Last year I read quite a few authors I'd been wanting to try for a while - Lionel Shriver, Rainbow Rowell, Wilkie Collins, Neil Gaiman, Ira Levin - and really enjoyed them, so maybe I'll get to at least a few of these this year and discover a new favourite or two!
King of the quirky-teen YA novel!  He's taken a bit of a bashing around my blogroll recently, but I still want to read his books.  I'm not a die-hard Nerdfighter but I've seen some of his videos on YouTube and I like his sense of humour.  I have Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines (which I just bought last week) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan) on my TBR shelves.
She was always a bestseller at the shop and has a prolific backlog, but some of her novel synopses just sound so melodramatic and manipulative (My Sister's Keeper, I'm looking at you).  One or two have piqued my interest though - at the moment I have Nineteen Minutes, about the aftermath of a school shooting, pretty high up on my TBR shelves.
I now have three of his novels in my collection but haven't read any of them, despite hearing nothing but good things.  Charlotte bought me The Illustrated Man for Christmas, I bought Something Wicked This Way Comes last year, and I've had Fahrenheit 451 forever.  The latter is one of my twelve TBR Challenge books, so hopefully I'll finally read it in 2014.
I must admit, a lot of her books don't appeal to me very much, because I'm not a big reader of historical fiction and am often left unsatisfied by short stories.  Room, however, sounds fantastic, I've had it in hardback for years, and it's another one of my TBR Challenge picks for this year.
Another one of the big guns on this list.  I think I have two or three of Vonnegut's novels, including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, but I've never felt like picking them up to read.  Maybe it's because I don't know much about the plots or subject matters, so there's nothing drawing me in when I'm looking for my next read?
She's flippin' everywhere at the moment thanks to City of Bones hitting cinemas and now the DVD shelves, but I still haven't read any of her books.  I have City of Bones, however, and thanks to my 'read first, watch second' rule I'll definitely be reading it soon.  My sister has the rest of the Mortal Instruments series AND the new film, so I'm all set if I like the first novel!
I've had Lamb for years and am constantly stumbling across Moore fangirling around certain corners of the blogosphere (waves in Alley's direction), but I've never QUITE managed to actually read him.  Again, he's made it onto this year's TBR Challenge list, so fingers crossed this will finally be his year.  If I like him I'll definitely be buying up a chunk of his backlist, because all his books sound so funny!
I already had Heart-Shaped Box on my TBR shelves because it sounded cool and it has a really great cover design, but now that I know he's Stephen King's son AND there's a lot of buzz around Horns and NOS4R2 I definitely need to get reading and see how I get on with his books.  Also, I went to look for the proper title for that last one and suddenly got the 'Nosferatu' thing.  *slow clap for Ellie's slothlike mental joining-up skills*
I don't have much interest in his steampunkier side, but I definitely want to read the Uglies novels, of which I THINK I now have three out of four.  His name crops up a lot around the blogosphere and on BookTube, and this series in particular seems to have an interesting premise and be generally well-liked, so I really think it's about time I found out what all the fuss is about.
I don't know why, but even seeing Murakami's name on a book intimidates me slightly.  I read a few of the very shortest stories from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman in a magazine, bought the book IN HARDCOVER, then didn't read it.  I bought Norwegian Wood for a LT readalong, then never read it, despite everyone saying how brilliant it is.  I have both, though, so eventually Murakami's time will come and I'm sure I'll be kicking myself for not reading him earlier!
Aaaaaand those are my ten.  Any advice on which of these I should hit first?  Which popular authors have YOU yet to read?  And as always, if you have a TTT post up already, feel free to share the link in the comments so I can return the visit!