Monday, March 30, 2009

The Reading Week

Sigh ... be still, my beating uterus. I love that photo of Patrick. It makes me want to go out and have lots more babies. At 37, of course, that's unlikely, but still ...

Um. Right. Books.

So, it's time for's weekly What Are You Reading on Mondays event.

This is my offering:

I actually had a relatively productive week last week. I finished Mrs Dalloway last weekend, Handle With Care during the week, and Austenland on Saturday night.

Loved the first, felt meh about the second, and really didn't like the third. Reviews are below. :)

On the cards for this week is The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is shaping up pretty well so far, and ... oh. That's all I have. You know, that's why I'm finishing books _ because I'm reading them one at a time, instead of having three or four on the go at once.

Which is a very, very unnatural position for me to be in and I wll see what I can do about rectifying it. We did go to the library on Saturday, and even more unnaturally for me, I only got out four books.

Of those, I'm eyeing The Night Watch _ Russian vampires, I believe.
We'll see ....

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reading Dewey's Books _ mini-challenge

Jodie at and I teamed up for this challenge.

Here's Jodie, talking about the play, The Barber of Seville, which she chose because it had been several years since she read a play:

1): You chose to read a play, and it was the Barber of Seville
Can you talk a little bit about why you chose that particular form, and why that play?

Well I decided to read something from the 18th century to tie in with maree’s book choice. When I started investigating Restoration theatre it seemed that most of the plays had been discarded by the modern dramatic community. Even Voltaire’s plays got a rough ride and most of the plays from that period were seen as very much of the period, with little relevance or interest for a modern audience. Beaumarchais Figaro trilogy was one of the few exceptions and Beaumarchais himself sounded like an intriguing person so I started in on ‘The Barber of Seville’.

2): I find in my experience that I prefer to see dramatic works performed. How did it differ, reading a play, to watching one being acted out? Did you get a good sense of the storyline? The action? The comedy/drama?

I haven’t read a play since I was in college (that’s sort of 16-18 in the UK) and I’d forgotten how much fun it is. Plays are quick to read, you can dash through them without giving the text all the dramatic inflections and pauses it would have on stage, but you can still get a good sense of the plot and the comedy. I also like that you can spend as much time exploring areas of the text, whereas with plays on the stage your thoughts go with the action.

I think plays involving sword fights don’t do so well with me when I’m reading plays instead of seeing them because I’m used to reading highly described fight scenes in novels. Comedy can date but one good comic line can conjure a vivid moment while stage directions do nothing for me.

3): Would you read more plays from the same era, or seek out dramatisations of them?

All the way through the Barber of Seville I’d catch myself hearing the inflections a modern cast would give to the words so I’d love to see a drammatisation of this play. The forward says the play is often dramatically altered for a modern audience with scenes and poems slashed right out. I’m also looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. I might look out some of the other plays that have continued to be thought well of, but I’m not sure about those that have become historical curiosities.

4): Can you give us a run down of the plot of the play?

It’s a simple comic plot. Count Almaviva has fallen in love with a girl named Rosine but her guardian Barthollo hopes to marry her so he whisks her away to Seville and hides from the world. The Count tracks them down and tries to work out how to win Rosine. While doing so he encounters his old servant Figarro, newly a barber in Seville. They hatch plan to save Rosine from a forced marriage, and this plan involves false names, play acting and trickery. In the end Barthollo is confounded and the Count and Rosine marry thanks to Figarro’s endeavours.

5): And finally, did you enjoy it?

I did enjoy it. I was rooting for the Count and Rosine, just like the author wants. Figaro is a fun trickster character, although his schemes are not the most elaborate I’ve ever read.

And here are mine:

The book I tackled for this challenge, was Travels Through France & Italy, by Tobias Smollett, a collection of letters by Smollett from the 18th century. Smollett, a doctor, took his family touring after the death of their teenaged daughter, Elizabeth.

1): You chose to read some non-fiction, a book of letters called Travels through France and Italy. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose that particular non-fiction, and why that book?

I chose non-fiction, because I don't read a lot of it, and I chose this book, honestly, because it's been sititng on my shelves for a few years. It's all letters, which is a style I almost never read, so it fit the challenge parameters' pretty well.

2): What was the last non-fiction book you read before Travels through France and Italy and when did you read it? Why is non-fiction something you don’t read much of?

Um ... it was Up Till Now, William Shatner's autobiography. I don't know why I don't read more non-fiction. I don't go out of my way not to read it, it's just that there are so many novels in my way!

3): I hear that the author finds fault with quite a lot of things. Did you find the author very cynical and if so was his cynicism amusing, distracting, powerful…?

From my perspective, he complained about eeeeeeeeverything! Honestly, I only made it to his eighth letter before I had to give it up. It was depressing to read, and as I told you in one email, it made me want to go out and eat rocks.
I actually found him quite tedious to read. I also would have liked to know who he was writing to, but that's not mentioned anywhere in the letters nor in the introduction, and there's no appendices, or notes, which I think would have helped my understanding, if not my enjoyment.

4): Have you visited any of the places mentioned in the book? Based on the descriptions the author gave do you think you would have preferred to visit any of them in the 18th century?

I've never travelled far from home, although I would love to visit France and Italy one day, which is another reason I chose this book. However, based on the letters I did read, I'd much rather visit them now, than then.

5): What other non-fiction books are on your TBR list?

I had to check, but I have Fernleaf Cairo, by Alex Hedley, about the experience of New Zealand soldiers in Egypt in World War II, and a trilogy of books by H V Morton, which were given to me by an old priest many years ago, who was a friend of my father's. I've kept them for sentimental reasons, and I'm trying to read more of my own books this year, so they've gone on that list. They are In the Steps of the Master, In the Steps of St Paul and Through the Lands of the Bible.

6.) Did you enjoy this book and has it made you want to read more non-fiction?

I can't say I enjoyed the book. I didn't even finish the book! But I always want to read more non-fiction. I find the world fascinating. :)

Short Story Weekend

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

You know, I only remembered it was Short Story Weekend at something like 5pm today _ Sunday.

So I picked up my copy of The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and headed outside to read the first story. Why outside? Well, it's autumn here, but today was warm, and had one of those winds that makes you feel like you're about to go on a long journey, or see faeries at the bottom of your garden. So I settled in a sheltered, sunny spot, and read the first story _ the titular story of the collection.

And it was magical. Set in the same world as Clarke's debut novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, it takes place in the village of Grace Adieu. Three young ladies of the town _ Mrs Field, Miss Parbringer (Mrs Field is Miss Parbringer's stepmother) and Miss Tobias _ are great friends, and spend all their time together.

It's hard to get hold of the substance of The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and I have this terrible urge to just throw out random words, after which you would have to imagine exclamation marks.

The story does make me wish we had more of Clarke than one great novel, and one short-story collection, because she is remarkable. I have a weakness for names, and I do love the names in here _ the name of the village and, especially, the name of the house where Miss Tobias is the governess: Winter's Lament. Her ability to tell a story _ long or short _ just leaves me wanting more.
It's hard, in a short story, to give a sense of depth, and history and magic, but Clarke is some kind of storyteller, because it has all of these. And the perfect day to read it? A windy day, where the wind is whispering of journeys, and faeries, and the Raven King ...

A review, and an award

Austenland, by Shannon Hale

I was looking for something lighthearted after Handle With Care, and Mrs Dalloway.
But you know, something enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, Austenland didn't really live up to what I hoped it would be.

Jane, a 30-something New Yorker is obsessed with the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice _ and Colin Firth's Mr Darcy in particular. She believes it what keeps her from foring a real relationship, and so when an aunt leaves her a holiday to Austenland _ a kind of theme park/performance home stay in Britain _ Jane takes it to try and deal with the obsession once and for all.

And so begins nearly 200 pages of vague waffling. Honestly, if the book had been longer, I wouldn't have bothered finishing it. The only reason I did was because it only took a couple of hours.

And ... is it me? I seem to be saying "I don't get it" in my reviews an awful lot lately. But I don't get it. I mean, I kind of get the whole Colin Firth/Mr Darcy thing, but I got almost no sense of Jane at all. And Pembroke Park, where the Jane Austen experience happens?
Totally don't get it at all.

Actors fulfill roles of archetypes in Jane Austen novels, and provide a bit of a thrill for the holidaymakers _ usually women looking for their own Darcy.

Jane has a fling with a garderner, waffles over the Darcy character for a bit ... and goes home.

And I'm sorry, but STOP calling the author "Austen!!!!!!!!!!!" That really grated on me the whole time. Who refers to authors by their surnames? Really? Call her Jane Austen.

So two books in a row like that have made me a mite grumpy. I have now started The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and so far, so good.

Now for the award :)

Gavin at very kindly gave me this award, that I keep forgetting to blog about.

Here's the deal:
If you wish to spread the sisterhood spirit:
1) Post the award on your blog.
2) Remember to link to the person who gave you the award.
3) Give the award to up to ten women who show great attitude and/or gratitude.
4) Link their blogs to your post.
5) Let them know you have given them the award.

I'm touched, and I do love getting awards, and suchlike, but I really, truly suck at passing them on. But since I suck at passing these things on ... if you read here, consider yourself part of the sisterhood :)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekly Geeks

That photo on the left indicates that my life just got a lot more interesting _ Patrick has learned to climb.

For the Weekly Geeks, we're rewinding, and doing a spot of community building at the same time.

You can find the explanation here:

You know, last time we did this, I could link my reviews in a single post. Now, of course, I have too many. Feel free to browse the archives, to see if I've reviewed anything that you have, and I'll link to your reviews on the relevant post.

From memory, most of them are tagged review, but I may have forgotten the tags on some of them.

Happy Weekly Geeks!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult _ Spoilers abound

More spoilers than Spoiler holiday on Spoiler island. So stop RIGHT HERE if you haven't read Handle With Care yet and you're planning to curl up with it for the weekend.

You Have Been Warned.

Okay. You know, I don't like to know that I"m being emotionally manipulated when I'm reading. I know it happens, it kind of has to sometimes, if the author wants you to engage with their story and feel compassion and empathy and such with their characters.

But I REALLY prefer it when I don't notice. But with Jodi Picoult, especially with this, her latest offering, it's more like being hit over the head with the Emotionally Manipulative Blue Cod than having it sneak under your skin, and get into your heart that way.

I haven't read a lot of Ms Picoult's books, and she writes well enough that when I am reading one, I can finish it in a few days with little struggle. Her characters are well-realised, and very human, and deeply flawed. And I like the way she tells the story from different perspectives, so we get to see inside more than one person's head.

But. Here come the buts.
The last novel by Ms Picoult I read was My Sister's Keeper, about two sisters, one healthy, one sick. There's a family, and a court case and _ REALLY BIG SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER COMING IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK STOP READING NOW _ at the end of the book one of the sisters dies.

Now. Let's consider Handle With Care. Two sisters, one healthy, one sick. The major difference here is the disease, which is Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, rather than cancer.

Then comes the court case. With me so far? Good.
Know what happens next? Exactly. And I could see it coming. I knew it was coming. But I was really, really let down when it did happen.

Here's the thing, and I know I'm jumping around a lot. The story made no sense to me.

Charlotte O'Keefe initiates a wrongful birth lawsuit against her obstetrician _ who is also her best friend _ when she discovers that Piper maybe, just maybe should have diagnosed her daughter Willow's condition earlier. If the OI had been diagnosed when Charlotte had her 18-week ultrasound, she could have made the decision to have an abortion. Except that Charlotte's a practicing Catholic, which is only one of the things in the book that really confused me. By the time Willow's OI is diagnosed, when Charlotte is 27 weeks pregnant, she won't even consider a late-term abortion. And, from what I could gather from the story, it would be almost impossible to diagnose it at 18 weeks.

And the lawsuit is basically saying to Willow _ who is six, and incredibly smart _ that Charlotte didn't want her, when clearly she loves her and in every other way fights as hard as she can for her. Charlotte says that's why she initiated the lawsuit, to give Willow more opportunities than she would otherwise have in an ordinary family, struggling to get by.

Oh. This is making me tired!!!
Let's sum up:
Willow has OI, Type III, which is severe, but not fatal.
Charlotte, her mother, initiates a wrongful birth lawsuit against her best friend and obstetrician _ barely seeming to think about it before starting with it.
Willow has a big sister, Amelia, who is messed up in all the possible ways that a 13-year-old can be messed up. Throughout 3/4 of the book, Amelia is the one I feel the most sorry for. Every time someone says ''your daughter'' to Charlotte, she immediately thinks of Willow, and I swear, a couple of times, she has to be reminded she even has another child.
Sean, Charlotte's husband, disapproves strongly of the lawsuit and starts divorce proceedings.
Amelia dyes her hair blue, starts throwing up her food, stealing, and self-harm.
Piper Reece leaves her practice, and takes up interior decorating.
Charlotte and Sean get back together.


After a lot of emotionally manipulative bollocks lathered on with seven spades, Charlotte wins the lawsuit, and is awarded $8 million in damages. For a medical problem that the most uber-expert either lawyer in the case can dig up says even he would have trouble diagnosing at 18 weeks gestation.

Grrr. Grrr
AND THEN! After Amelia's problems are dealt with _ very speedily _ by sending her away and having her come back "normal", and an artist, Willow falls through the ice on a pond near their house, and drowns. Charlotte puts the check _ that they've never cashed _ in her coffin.

The end.


Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I finally finished one of my monthly classic reads. I believe The Jungle Book is up next, but for now, Mrs Dalloway.

I loved it. I know that a lot of people have trouble with it, and I didn't entirely understand all of it, but I loved it all the same.

There's no real plot, or story to hang the structure on, as it's stream-of-consciousness, but the structure holds up really well.

The narrative starts with Mrs Dalloway, preparing for an important party. She goes out to buy the flowers, and the narrative flits to Septimus Smith, suffering from shell-shock, after World War I _ the novel is set in about 1923.

From there it goes to Septimus' wife, to Mrs Dalloway's one-time love, back in England briefly, and to various other characters.

I'm probably not selling it very well, but Woolf seemed to have a real gift for sketching the inner workings of people's minds. You feel as though you're inside their heads with them as they go about their day.

I just _ I don't know. I just really, really enjoyed it. But I've also read Woolf's diaries, and I wonder if that helped a little, because she does talk about the process of writing Mrs Dalloway in one of them.
Actually, if you can't fathom the idea of Mrs Dalloway, then I can definitely recommend the diaries. They are fantastic reading.
Also, according to Wikipedia, March 28 is the day that she died:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

April mini catch-up challenge

Can anyone tell me how to make this a sticky post? Using small words, and possibly a powerpoint demonstration. I have no idea.
Okay. This is the official post for my mini-challenge for April. I notice that I have quite a few playing along (yay!) so if you are, leave a comment on this post with a link to your own list.
The rules, such as they are is to read up to four books in up to four challenges with specific subjects you're involved in.It'll run from April 1-April 30.
Mine is:
For the Dream King challenge, I'll read Smoke and Mirrors.
For the Art History challenge, The Agony and the Ecstasy
For the Dewey challenge,, by Geraldine Brooks.
For the Once Upon a Time challenge .... Dreamhunter, by Elizabeth Knox.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The reading week

Whoever said that being a mother means watching your heart walk around outside your body, had it spot on.

Please excuse the crazy hair _ he likes to put his breakfast through it _ not a very effective styling agent, I have to admit, but Patrick seems to like it.

Anyway. On to What are You Reading on Mondays? hosted by where we talk about what we have read, and what's coming up.

Believe it or not, I finished two books last week. Well. At the weekend.
I read Wyrd Sisters by Sir Terry Pratchett (review below) and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, my March classic, and the first one I've finished this year.

I loved it. I loved the language and I just wanted to ... fall into it and roll around for a bit, the way you do when there are lovely clean sheets on your bed ... or is that just me?

I'm still reading Travels Through France and Italy for the Try Something New mini-challenge, and I accidentally started Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult. It's not my fault. My co-worker who helps handle the book cupboard at work with me is on holiday. So it's left to me to open all the packages, with all of the lovely books.

So I tripped, and came home with five books, just today. I came home with Handle With Care last week, promising rashly to read it quickly.

Um. Probably something else as well, for the Once Upon a Time III challenge.

That's all, move along, nothing to see here ...

Wyrd Sisters _ review

Hey, look at that! I finished one already! Okay, I started it last Thursday, but that's the small print.

And to our left, we have Marx (black and white, although you can't tell there) and Sam, a ginger tabby who moved in with us one day, from the next door neighbours. Marx I got as a kitten from the SPCA, many, many years ago now. As you can see, they've both forgotten their traumatic early beginnings.


Wyrd Sisters by Sir Terry Pratchett:

Ah ............ it's back. I have my reading mojo back. Thank you, Mr Sir Terry Pratchett.
I started Wyrd Sisters on Thursday, and finished it Sunday morning.

It's ... you know how you read a book and it's so good you just want to read bits of it out to people, rather than write a review? Exactly.

The very first page made me laugh out loud. Specifically, this bit:
"As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: 'When shall we three meet again?'
There was a pause.
Finally, another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: 'Well, I can do next Tuesday'."

And it gets better from there.

I'm reading all of the Discworld novels for the first time. I'm reading them in order, because I'm sort of built that way. I like order, sometimes. And I'm beginning to suspect that Mr Sir Terry Pratchett might be something in the way of a genius.

There's just so much! There's Death, and ghosts, and kings and witches (of course) and ... oh .......... everything!!! But it's never in danger of falling apart. The whole thing hangs together really, really well.

And it's incredibly funny, and sad all at once somehow. And moving, and Shakespearian and ... I have no more words.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

April mini catch-up challenge

Callista at very kindly made this button for my mini-challenge.
Don't forget to save it to your own computer if you're playing along.
Thanks Callista, it looks great. :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I mean, there's my pile for the Once Upon a Time III challenge. There are 27 books and here are the titles:

Acacia by David Anthony Durham
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke
Smoke & Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C Bunce
Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox
Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers
Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint
Yarrow by Charles de Lint
Stormwarden by Janny Wurts
The Keeper of the Keys by Janny Wurts
Shadowfane by Janny Wurts
The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee
The Priests of Ferris by Maurice Gee
The Motherstone by Maurice Gee
Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee

I won't be reading all of them obviously. I'm already reading Wyrd Sisters, so I'm off to a flying start. I'm doing Quest the First, which is five books. Almost-one down, four out of 27 to go.

Oh! And I decided to do the Short Story Weekend, hence the inclusion of The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and Smoke & Mirrors.

Wish me ... something.

Weekly Geeks

The Geeks are travelling back in time this week, with these ponderables:

Let's take a magical history tour this week, with a focus on Historical Fiction. That is, contemporary novels with a historical setting. I like to give choices, so here they are, pick the question(s) that appeal to you:

Is there a particular era that you love reading about? Tell us about it--give us a book list, if you'd like. Include pictures or some fun facts from that time period, maybe link to a website that focuses on that time. Educate us.
Um. Hmm...
I do like historical fiction. I prefer ancient history to more recent fare, I think. One of my favourite series is the Masters of Rome, by Colleen McCullough. It begins with The First Man in Rome, in 110BC and the series goes from there to the last book, Antony and Cleopatra.
It's everything that historical ficiton should be: well-researched, well-written, satisfying to read ... my brother, who mostly reads science fiction, pinched the first one from me on a family holiday and loved it.
It covers such a massive time scale, that I'm just going to link to the Wikipedia article about the series, but it looks to be a decent jumping-off point:

Do you have a favorite book that really pulled you back in time, or perhaps gave you a special interest in that period? Include a link to a review of it on another book blog if you can find one (doesn't have to be a Weekly Geek participant). Um. I can't really think of anything. For all of my declarations of liking historical fiction, I haven't really read a lot lately. I think the last one was The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, last year. Oh no, wait _ The Heretic Queen, by Michelle Moran, which I only liked, even though I love me some Ancient Egypt. What I would like to find is a really well-written novel set in Ancient Egypt. Or ancient anywhere. I think the Masters of Rome series made me a bit picky.

A member of your book group, Ashley, mentions that she almost never reads Historical Fiction because it can be so boring. It's your turn to pick the book for next month and you feel it's your duty to prove her wrong. What book do you pick? Boring, eh? She's obviously never read Phillippa Gregory. I'd give her Wideacre, and bucket of ice to stick her head into when the action heats up a bit too much. Heh.

If you're in agreement with Ashley on this one (or even if you're not):Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to browse through this week's WG posts, and by the end of the week, pick a book from one of the posts to read. Report on which book you picked, linking to the Weekly Geeks post where you found it.
I'm interested to see what other Geeks come up with. :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

My very own mini-challenge

I am, as I have mentioned before, well behind on my challenge reading. So, naturally, I joined Carl's Once Upon a Time III. As you do.

So. For the month of April I'm having/hosting (it'll be having if no one else will play with me; hosting if they do) a catch-up.

I have three no, four challenges now that have specific subjects. Well three. I don't have books for Carl's challenge yet.

BUT I do have books for Dewey's challenge, the Art History challenge, and the Dream King challenge.

So, for April I'm going to read four books, one from each of those challenges.

For the Dream King challenge, I'll read Smoke and Mirrors.

For the Art History challenge, The Agony and the Ecstasy

and for the Dewey challenge,, by Geraldine Brooks.

For the Once Upon a Time challenge .... Something, by Somebody.

Feel free (pleasepleaseplease) to play along. I can't make buttons or anything, but if anyone out there has mad artistic skillz, you have my full permission to use any cat photo I've posted here.

The rules, such as they are is to read up to four books in up to four challenges with specific subjects you're involved in.

It'll run from April 1-April 30.
There are no prizes, except you know, bragging rights, or something.

Ahem ... please play with me ....


Look at this: and tell me, please, how I'm supposed to resist that, with Carl bandying about lovely words like "challenge" and "journey" and "Charles de Lint" and that gorgeous button?

Exactly. I'm joining another challenge.

Actually, I joined this challenge last year, but failed so spectacularly I'm surprised I didn't end up here:

However, failure has never stopped me before, and therefore it is not going to stop me now.

Take that, failure!!!!!

Plus also, and this is kind of weird, and maybe spooky, I've been thinking lately that I'd like to get back to reading more fantasy again. Once upon a time (ha! see what I did there?) I read absolutely tons of it. But this was in an age where almost all fantasy novels were quest-centric and male-dominated. After the dinosaurs died, that began to pall on me a little bit, and I began seeing other genres behind fantasy's back.

But every so often a novel, or a series, would get under my skin again, and I would recall the giddy heights of our golden days.

Um. Anyway.

One of the options is to just take a journey, to start with just one book. Which is excellent advice, so of course, I'm not going to take it. On the other hand, I'm not going for the full immersion experience either. I know SOME of my limitations.

So. Quest the First, I think. Which involves reading five books over the three months of the challenge, in any of the challenge genres.

Now as to what I want to read ... well, there's the rub. I've checked my local library list, and it doesn't have Mr de Lint's latest. Nor, I know do either of the bookstores here. Sigh.

Okay. Much as I hate to do it this way _ I like things to be allatonce _ I'll be back with a list, or a group, or a mongoose.


Monday, March 16, 2009

The Reading Week

How cool is this? J. Kaye at has started a weekly event: What Are You Reading on Mondays? (It's Tuesday, but that's splitting hairs).
And you know, I already do my reading week post on Mondays (or Tuesdays) so I'm joining in the fun. :)

In the past week I finished ... um ... oh! After the Funeral by Agatha Christie, and Q & A by Vikras Swarup.

On this week's menu is Travels in France and Italy by Tobias Smollett; my Try Something New challenge read, and Mrs Dalloway my March classic. And probably something else _ something lighter, but I'm not sure what yet. Either a library book or a review book for work, though, both of which are starting to pile up a little bit.

After my fairly recent non-reading week, I feel as though I still haven't quite got my mojo back, even though I'm reading again. I miss my mojo :(

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Q & A by Vikras Swarup

This is my Leo, who disappeared about two years ago. I still miss the grinchy, loving ball of fluff. :(

The improbably named Ram Mohammed Thomas has just become the first big winner on India's new quiz show: Who Wants to Win a Billion. Unfortunately, people think he has cheated _ what could a lowly bar man possibly know to win a billion rupees?

What indeed.

At the beginning of the book, Ram is being interrogated by the police, being pressured into admitting he cheated. It turns out that the somewhat dodgy producers of the show don't actually have a billion rupees right then and there and weren't anticipating a big winner when the series has just begun. So it's in their best interests to prove that Ram cheated.

He is in for a very long night, when a young woman, a lawyer, arrives at the station to rescue him.

However, she needs to know the real story if she's going to go into bat for him. Armed with a DVD of the show, Ram takes her through each question _ how and why he knew each of the answers.

Q & A is excellent. Divided into chapters denoted by the amount of money on the line at the time, we hear about snippets of Ram's life _ what he was doing and where he was at the time he inadvertently learned the answers to the questions. The book is set in part in Mumbai, Agra, and possibly Delhi, although I admit my timelines did get a little skewed as the chapters aren't linear. They go back and forth from Ram's very early childhood and dreams abot his absentee mother through to the present.

We learn a lot about Ram's background but not really a lot about Ram himself. He's almost a cypher in a way _ a shadow of sorts as he goes from terrible orphanage to working for a fading Bollywood star, to being a "guide" at the Taj Mahal.

There is terrible poverty, and shocking suffering, but one thing that does come through from Ram's character is his determination to make things better for himself, to get the girl of his dreams and to live on his terms.

And there were a couple of very satisfying twists at the end.

The story is extremely well-told and in the copy I have from the library there are questions of the author at the back; for book clubs, I assume. I didn't read all of them, but skimmed them very quickly. One fact did stand out: apparently Vikras Swarup didn't tell anyone he was writing a book. He pretty much toiled away for two years in secret.

And wow ... what a book.

Very, very highly recommended.

Also reviewed here:

Weekly Geeks

We have JD today; another infrequent visitor to Just Add Books.

On to the Weekly Geeks:

Worst movie adaptations: The recent release of Watchmen based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore got me thinking about what I thought were the worst movie adaptations of books. What book or books did a director or directors completely ruin in the adaptation(s) that you wish you could "unsee," and why in your opinion, what made it or them so bad in contrast to the book or books?

I'm fairly easy-osey about movie adaptations. I can usually see, narratively, why a film has gone in a different direction from the book. Or, if the adaptation is very different (Slumdog Millionaire, for example, apart from the basic plot structure deviates greatly from Q & A but is still very well done) but I still enjoy the movie, then I'm right there.

What I am going to talk about is the TV adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's novels: Evil Under the Sun. I'm not talking about the most excellent _ and bitchy film _ starring Diana Rigg and Peter Ustinov, but the more recent version, with David Suchet.

Who, I think, is an excellent Poirot. But the writers made completely unnecessary changes to the story, which really didn't do it any favours and put me off a little bit.

In Evil Under the Sun, Poirot is on holiday at a posh seaside hotel. There are Undercurrents (as always) with a glamourous actress flirting shamelessly, a young married couple apparently on the rocks .... so, so many things.

Then the glam actress is murdered at an isolated cove and the game, as they say, is afoot.

What they changed for the TV show, for no reason at all, was Poirot's reason for being at the hotel. Instead of just being on holiday, it's suddenly a health spa.

Which, for Poirot, is very out-of-character. Plus, the writers added his secretary Miss Lemon, and Captain Hastings, who are not in Evil Under the Sun and don't really add a lot here.

The structure of the original is such that the changes were, as far as I could see, unnecessary and puzzling.

Um. Happy Weekly Geeks everyone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Weekly Geeks _ when a quote is not a quote:

When it is a poem

No Ordinary Sun, by Hone Tuwhare:

Tree let your arms fall:

raise them not sharply in supplication

to the bright enhaloed cloud.

Let your arms lack toughness and

resilience for this is no mere axe

to blunt nor fire to smother.
Your sap shall not rise againto the moon’s pull.

No more incline a deferential head

to the wind’s talk, or stir

to the tickle of coursing rain.
Your former shagginess shall not be

wreathed with the delightful flight

of birds nor shield

nor cool the ardour of unheeding

lovers from the monstrous sun.
Tree let your naked arms fall

nor extend vain entreaties to the radiant ball.

This is no gallant monsoon’s flash,

no dashing trade wind’s blast.

The fading green of your magic

emanations shall not make pure again

these polluted skies . . . for this

is no ordinary sun.
O tree

in the shadowless mountains

the white plains and

the drab sea floor

your end at last is written.

Info about Hone Tuwhare can be found here:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Weekly Geeks - quote six

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox: "Breath stood at each soldier's lips like a phantom sunning itself on the threshold of a tomb"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weekly Geeks _ Quote five

The Scarecrow by Ronald Hugh Morrieson: 'The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut.'

Information can be found here:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quote 4

The Flight of the Conchords: (technically speaking not a New Zealand series, but starring New Zealanders and chock-full of Kiwi humour, so how could I not?)
From episode five of series one:
Murray: Jemaine?
Jemaine: ...Present.
Murray: Bret?
Bret: Yep.
Murray: And Murray... yes, present, thank you... I'm always here anyway, I don't know why I bother with my line.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekly Geeks _ Quote three

3) Once Were Warriors: Beth Heke (Rena Owen): Our people once were warriors. But unlike you, Jake, they were people with mana, pride; people with spirit. If my spirit can survive living with you for eighteen years, then I can survive anything.

Info here:

And also this _ I'm sure you'll thank me for getting this stuck in your head:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weekly Geeks _ Quote two

Quote the second is from Kiwi film Goodbye Pork Pie:
''I'm taking this bloody car to Invercargill boy!''
Synopsis can be found here:
It's a bit of a Kiwi classic, and very funny, if you can get your hands on a copy.
Interesting tidbit I picked up from watching a documenatry about cinematographer Alun Bollinger: the mini is yellow because both Bollinger and co-writer Ian Mune are red-green colour blind. Meaning the car had to be a colour they could see in wide shots.
Amazing what sticks in your mind.

The Reading Week

What the - a dog? Yes indeed. My former dog, Bailey, who went to my ex-husband when we split up. It was even in the separation agreement, which struck me as funny. As if I'd stop her from living with the one person she was convinced got up and put the sun in the sky every morning. She's a Ridgeback cross, and not a dingo, although the resemblance is striking. As far as I know, she still lives with my ex, happy as well, a dog with a squeaky toy.
Anyway. Reading.
It's a bit of a patchwork this week.
I've started Mrs Dalloway, March's classic, and I'm really enjoying it but have to dip into it in small quantities, because the language is just so rich.

Also on the go is Q & A by Vikram Sawrup, which I'm resting for a day or so, because I had a very strange dream after reading it wherein I was eating from a vivid blue barbell made entirely of icing. And a co-worker of mine _ who happens to be a Fijian Indian _ had cleaned my house. I don't even want to know what that says about me.

So. Back to Agatha Christie and After the Funeral. Also on the list for this week is Travels in France & Italy, my Try Something New mini-challenge read.

Um. Starlight and buttercups, everyone.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Weekly Geeks

One of my favorite Weekly Geeks last year was: A Quote a Day. This will have you pulling books off your shelves and Googling for your favorites. It also means a post a day for the next week - or as many as you can do. Quoth Dewey:
You may want to come up with a theme, such as favorite passages from books, author quotes, political quotes, quotes about books or reading, humorous quotes, whatever. Or you may not want a theme at all; maybe you just want to gather up seven assorted quotes that appeal to you. You may want to start each of your posts of the week with a quote, or you may want to give quotes posts of their own in addition to your regular posts. It’s all up to you!Signing Mr Linky this week means you’re committing to posting a quote each day for a full week, starting on the day you sign up. You can postdate your quote posts so they appear automatically if you can’t get to your blog each day.

This was one of my favourite Weekly Geeks, too. I did cats last time, and it took me a while to come up with something for this one. But I decided to go the Kiwi route this time; all of my quotes will be from New Zealand books/films/TV shows.

Starting with one of the most well-known TV quotes. From our very own long-running soap opera, Shortland Street _ explanation here _ this is from the very first episode.

Head nurse Carrie Burton (Lisa Crittenden) scolds Dr Hone Ropata (Temuera Morrison) on his first day:
"You're not in Guatemala now, Dr. Ropata!"

Ah ... memories. :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

I got so bogged down in the damn Twilight series, that I needed a breather-read. Enter Agatha Christie, my main go-to author for those times when I just don't know what to pick up next.

I was originally going to read After the Funeral, which was the third novel in the omnibus after Death on the Nile (read it fairly recently) and Towards Zero, which I hadn't read for some time, so I started there.

It has the usual Christie mystery elements: a group of people at an isolated country house; underlying tensions and out-and-out arguments before one of them is murdered.

There's quite a bit more set up than usual in Towards Zero, but it adds nicely to the atmosphere of fear and menace that permates the whole story.

Towards Zero isn't a Poirot, or Miss Marple mystery, but it does feature Poirot stalwart Superintendent Battle, on holiday in the area of the murder.

That's all very vague, isn't it? Sigh. An old woman is brutally murdered during a visit from various friends and family members. There's Nevile Strange, and his second wife, Kay. Nevile's first wife, Audrey, is also visiting; leading to some natural tension. Thomas Royde, a family friend, is also staying at the house. At the hotel across the river from the house _ Gull's Point _ is Ted Latimer; a friend of Kay Strange.

There are Signs and Portends and Undercurrents before the murder and even after the tension is still ratcheted up nicely.

And yes, I was surprised all over again by whodunit. I love it when that happens.

The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy

Do you ever read a book, and then find bits of it slip away almost as soon as you've closed the cover?

Like, you have to stop and think for a minute _ what was that book about? who were the characters? It just doesn't stay ... vivid.

I felt that, a little bit, about The Magician of Hoad. I finished it yesterday and I still have to stop and think a little bit when I think of it. There's a lot in it _ it's a standalone fantasy novel, which can be a tricky prospect _ and it takes me a second to remember the characters, and the storyline and ...

In a nutshell (help, I'm in a nutshell) it's about a boy who Doesn't Belong. Heriot hasn't found His Place in the World Yet. So far, so ... old-school. And don't get me wrong. I enjoyed The Magician of Hoad. I enjoyed reading it; Margaret Mahy is an excellent storyteller. It's just ... I think she's told better stories than this.

Anyway. The King needs a new Magician. His old one, after stealing Heriot's powers when he was a boy, leading to crippling fits, is waning. So the King latches on to Heriot to be the new Magician of Hoad. Heriot is reluctant, but it turns out you really can't fight fate.

His story becomes inextricably linked with that of the Hero of Hoad; the King's third son, an urchin from the streets of Diamond (basically Hoad's capital) and a young woman from a distant kingdom. There's no central event in the book, just Heriot growing up, and growing into his powers, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The story rolls along at a decent pace and is extremely readable. It's just a little bit insubstantial.

Mahy is best known here for her children's and Young Adult storybooks and novels, and The Magician of Hoad sort of wobbles on the cusp between Young Adult and ... um ... Adult? fantasy. It's fine, but she has written better. Check out The Catalogue of the Universe, The Changeover, or The Haunting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.
What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

Oops, I answered that wrong. Uhm ... one book on my should-read list is A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. I have it, and I admire it greatly. It's on my classics list for the year, so hopefully it's one I can cross off.

I haven't done BTT for a while, but if there is one thing I do *heart* it's a list. I've let my Wednesday Wants slip lately, but here are the books I've added to my List (ie: a red indexed notebook that I've had for a very long time):

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney (aka Graham Joyce)

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

And here is my trusty notebook:

Not much to look at, but really, really handy. :)

What to do When Someone Dies - review

Nicci French is the pen-name of a husband-and-wife team, but for the purposes of clarity (mine, mostly) I'm going to use the singular when talking about the authors.

What to do When Someone Dies begins with police officers on Ellie Falkner's doorstep. Her husband Greg has just died in a car accident. With a woman passenger that Ellie knows nothing about.

Nicci French does a fairly nice line in women-in-peril-but-no one-believes-her thrillers, but it's definitely a mistake to read too many all at once. However, they're pacy, well-written page turners.

But. What to do When Someone Dies gets bogged down for half the book in Ellie's grief. Which is understandable, and the kind of thing that happens in real life. But this isn't a grief handbook. It's a thriller, apparently, meaning that tragic deaths need to be handled a little ... callously to keep the action moving.

After nearly 200 pages of wading through Ellie's mad despair, it was a relief when things finally started happening _ things that were originally borne out of Ellie's mad despair but that should have started happening 100 pages before they did. However, they were finally starting to lead somewhere.

To be honest, the only reason I didn't give up on the book at the halfway mark was the quality of the writing. Page-turner is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days, but it applies here.