Monday, August 30, 2010

What I'm reading and doing ...

.. I was going to write a slightly profound and possibly pompous blog post, but it's after midnight and my eyes are crossing.

Here is (hopefully) my reading/other hobbies week. We have ... four books; two Empire magazines; one cross stitch project and one jigsaw puzzle (that I haven't started because it's tucked away in my bedroom to keep the pieces away from little hands ...). The bonus there is I've seen both the movies on the magazine covers. But yes. This is (fingers crossed) - my week ... :)

Chloe, clearly, thinks I'm insane: (I have a feeling she's not alone)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Two very short reviews

Mostly because I'm too lazy to make thinky thoughts right now, and I want to get these out there.

Scandalous by Tilly Bagshawe

Fun, bubble-light novel about revenge, sex and ... physics.

Sasha Miller is a bright young Cambridge student who gets taken advantage of by her womanising professor, who then steals her physics theory and passes it off as her own.

Revenge, sex and shenanigans ensue...

6/10 Leaving work 30 minutes early

The Enchantment of Flesh and Spirit: The First Book of Wraeththu by Storm Constantine

I've actually had this on my radar for a few years, and picked it up a while ago to co-read with a group of friends. We're working our way through the second book now, but we're the laziest book group ever.

Anyways ... Enchantment is ... interesting. It's set way in the future, when humans (young males, specifically) have started to mutate into Wraeththu - who are, of course, impossibly beautiful.

It feels first-bookish (which it is), and like Constantine is working out ideas and theories that will solidify later on. I'm partway through book two now, and she's hitting her stride a bit better, although overall, I prefer her Grigori trilogy.

Pellaz - a young man working on his family's farm - is drawn away by Cal, a compelling, mysterious Wraeththu. Pell becomes Wraeththu, and ... erm. A whole new world opens up ...

7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

12-month diversity classic challenge

ETA: I reviewed this list, and I diversity-failed. I only have one woman writer on there. So I opened up the floor to my twitter feed for suggestions, and have revised the list.

So I've done this challenge a couple of times before, just for myself, and I've never actually completed it.

And I was talking to the awesome Eva from who mentioned diversity, and that got me thinking.

I opened the floor up for suggestions, here and on twitter, and this list is the result (side note: if anyone feels like making up their own list and joining me, for a book a month, then please do! The more the merrier!)

#diversityclassics reading list: (new and improved ...)

September – Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

October – The Matriarch by Witi Ihimaera

November – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

December – The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

January – Maurice by E M Forster

February – Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

March – Love and Rockets by Gilbert Hernandez

April – Maus by Art Speigelman

May – The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

June – Waiting by Ha Jin

July – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

August – Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

That's better. #diversityclassics

September to December's books fit in with my book-buying ban, because I already own them.

Wish me luck! :D

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Trespass: review

I'm a bit out of practice with longer reviews, and I was tempted to tack this on to a panel of shorts, as I have two other reviews to write, but as it's long-listed for the Booker, it deserves a little bit more than that.

Trespass opens with a young girl on a school picnic making a gruesome discovery in the French countryside. It's an intriguing prologue, and the book goes back in time to trace the events that led to the discovery.

High up in the French hills sits the Mas Lunel – the family home of Aramon and Audrun. Aramon still lives in the Mas; in decrepitude and squalor; while Audrun lives in a cottage on the boundaries of the Mas' land – unwillingly bound to her brother, and to the house that she used to love.

In another part of France, Veronica Verey and her lover, Kitty, are working on a gardening book and living a relatively peaceful life, until Veronica's brother, Anthony comes to stay, from London.

Anthony is a once-famous antiques dealer, who has been hit hard by the recession, and he's looking for change, and purpose. He determines that he's going to buy a house in France, and one of the first ones he looks at is the Mas Lunel ...

What intrigues me about Trespass is the fact that I really didn't like any of the characters particularly. Usually when that happens I won't finish the book, because if I can't engage with the characters, then I can't engage with the story, but I had absolutely no trouble finishing Trespass at all.

It's not a particularly happy or uplifting book, and I had such a visceral reaction reading it at lunchtime at work one day, that I spent the rest of the day in an absolute funk. Trespass isn't a particularly happy book, but it is a good one. I'd find myself getting lost in it and being mildly surprised that I wasn't somewhere in the French countryside, but in the cafeteria at work.

Trespass is one of those novels that come back to you at random times – certain scenes are recalled with unexpected sharpness and I find myself randomly wondering about the characters. Which, given that I didn't feel particularly engaged with any of them, or found them relatable, is a real testament to the strength of the story and to Tremain's writing.

I'm interested to read the other books on the Booker long-list, to see how well Trespass stacks up against the competition ...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the non-buying of books ...

So ... those are my bookcases. Some of my bookcases. There's more, but taking pictures involves moving boxes, and I couldn't be bothered.

Anyway ... I've developed a really bad habit lately of buying books. And that may not sound all that bad, but books are expensive here. Plus, I have all of these books already and I've only read 19 books this year.

The other picture there – of the pile of books on the bed? Those are the books I've bought so far this year (I took the picture before I bought Kraken) and I haven't read any of them. I mean – I've read some of them in the past, like To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Princess Bride, but certainly not since buying these particular copies. As for the rest – there are some very interesting-looking reads in that pile.

So. This is what I'm going to do: No buying books – of any kind – until after December 31. No new books. No secondhand books. No 50c withdrawn books at the library. Because that defeats the purpose of a book-buying ban. And I could say 'but a 50c withdrawn book from the library doesn't add much ...' but it does. It adds another book to the pile of books I'm already not reading.

And I have some amazing books there, just waiting. I'd do a library ban, but that's really not going to happen, so I'll stick with a book-buying ban, with Mockingjay being the one and only exception I can make for myself between now and December 31.

I'm still reading American Gods and The Two Towers. I still have Horns by Joe Hill and Gone with the Wind on the nightsand as well. And oh, so many more books ...

I bought Kraken, and that's my last purchase for the year. As an example of how expensive books are – Kraken was $40. So was The Passage. That's a lot of money to be spending every week on books that I'm just stacking up on my nightstand. On average, standard paperbacks are about $25. That adds up. And I love books, love new books; love discovering new authors and great reads.

But I also love finding buried treasures. And I have so many treasures already on my shelves, just waiting to be unearthed.

Now. On a completely unrelated note, although it's still about books, so perhaps a slightly related note, I'm planning on doing my classic-a-month challenge that got me into book blogging in the first place. I don't really have a list in mind yet, but I was talking to Eva from about it and she mentioned something about diversity, which got me thinking.

So what I'm after, followers, readers and commenters, is suggestions for classics from around the world – any culture; any genre; fiction or non-fiction. I'm looking to expand my literary horizons.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The City & The City

Jodie at and I recently read China Mieville’s The City & The City, and had a very interesting discussion via email about the book.

Our back-and-forth is here. Warning for spoilers for the book, although I don’t think they’re too bad:

J: 'The City and The City' is a book that combines the crime genre with sci-fi. Did you enjoy the mix and di you think it felt like a natural partnership?

M: Yes; I did. Although on the surface they're not genres you would expect to fuse well, I thought Mieville did an excellent job.

M: I found the book a little hard to get into in the first chapter, but was glad I persisted. How did you find it in the early going?

J: I found the opening chapters easy to get into, but struggled later on. I think because the first few chapters are about easing you into sci-fi, via what at first feels like a setting in our ordinary world. It even felt kind of familiar as a piece of sci-fi, because I've read a couple of books where bits of the crime genre mix with sci-fi.

Once we got into the depths of unseeing and what that means I had to concentrate really hard to keep up with the logic and then at the end I was totally lost for at least a chapter.

M: I could see that. I had to really focus in the early going until I got into the swing of it with the seeing/unseeing. Once I had a handle on that, I was away.

J: Q.) Did you feel an emotional connection to any of the characters?

M: Hmmm ... I'm not sure that I did. It's a very cold book in a way. I liked the main character (lol I've forgotten his name) but I'm not sure how much he engaged with me. I felt sorry for the parents of the murdered girl, coming into a world with very different rules to their own, but even then I felt a slight remove. If anything, I felt the most empathy for the member of Breach that the main character interacted with the most. I'm not sure why.

J: No I had a very similar reaction (and what was that main character's name? - Googles...) Oh right Borlu! I kept thinking Blomkvist and then Wallander (but I knew that wasn't right) - kind of think that shows that the main detective was really just your standard detective, interchangeable with many others, although he wasn't a drinker,smoker type - more a heavy thinker, emotionally unattached type. And I think you're right that his not having a family and his relationships with two women not being given much significance contributes to the emotional distance between him and the reader.

I had more of an emotional reaction to Corwi and Dhatt. I wondered how their lives would be changed by this whole event. When we started out wondering if Corwi would turn out to be evil I kept hoping she wouldn't, because she was pretty much the best character.










J: Ok can we address the crazy ending again (obsessed). How 'believable' did you find the solutions to the crime in terms of the world Melville had set up?

M: I was glad that Corwi didn't turn out to be a baddie, too.

In terms of the world Mieville set up - I don't know that he could have ended it any other way. Borlu had basically worked himself into a corner with the case, and with Breach. It's like that's the ending the book was working towards the whole time, but I did get confused with the sudden entrance of big business after no mention of them at all. Like there were conspiracies on top of conspiracies, and then bam! It was almost a deux ex machina. Almost, but I think Mieville handled it well.

Borlu was slightly ... unreal to me? No family to speak of; he's almost a cipher in a way.

M: What did you think of the splinter groups, or terrorist cells, or ... freedom fighters? I have to admit, I got a little confused with them as well, and it took me a chapter or two to settle into it. Hmmm ... my overriding feeling seems to be of confusion. I wonder if that was intentional on Mieville's part? You certainly have to work for the story.

J: Yep I think you're right, not much else he could have done. He sort of worked it to its logical conclusion and nothing but a 'surprise, this is a stupid twist, but it let's me do something different' moment would have been able to change it.

So much confusion. I must have read that bit with the business involvement five times and I still don't get it totally. Maybe that was his 'surprise - nonsensical twist' moment actually, but he did mostly carry it off well (probably because the evil business goes away and the storyline switches back to a more personal, small scale evil doer). I think the book could have reached the same conclusion without the business involvement if Melville had tweaked some of the details a little bit, but I'd really like that so I could feel smart for understanding everything ;)

In the end I settled on the terrorist groups/freedom fighters being kind of satirical and a comment on our world. Like the crazy Ul Quoma nationalists who wanted to claim everything for Ul Quoma, reminded me of some racist groups. I'm not sure though, because Melville is so adamant that his cities do not symbolise split cities like Berlin, but instead exist in the same world as such cities (and are seperate places, not one split location, but that's another matter). I actually wonder if he's satirising the world he's constructed? Like the views of the more extreme groups, show how ridiculous the unseeing situation of Besz and Ul Quoma is? Thoughts?

And yes they were so hard to understand. You just get your head around unseeing and two seperate cities existing around each other, then you have to accomodate the views of people who see it all differently (the Besz group who sort of wanted breaching to be legal, because they don't believe in seperatism). Agree Melville makes you work hard for what you get. Worth it do you think? Can I just ask if you think there's more Melville in your future?

M: Yeah - I still don't understand the big business thing entirely either. I'm all for clever books that make me think, but I like to be able to understand what I'm reading - lol.

I agree - the case could have been resolved without the sudden introduction of big business into the world, which really just muddied the waters even more for me.

The nationalists were extreme, and their enterprise (that's not the right word, but I can't think of it) is basically futile. Turning it around on himself? Like ... 'yes I know this construct is ridiculous, but this is what I have to work with so I'm going to play with it a little' ... hmmm ... maybe. Or he's going 'okay, I created these worlds and now I have to make this overlapping cities/seeing/unseeing thing work, and make it believable. OKAY. PAY ATTENTION.' And then somehow he pulls it off.

I think, ultimately - ridiculous insertion of big business aside - the payoff of The City & The City was worth it. It's a smart read, and I like books that don't assume the reader is an idiot from the outset.

I've read Un Lun Dun by Mieville, which I LOVED and I always recommend to everyone, so he's definitely on my want-to-read list. I'm also very excited for Kraken - his next novel. How about you? More Mieville?

J: I have Kraken, but I'm a bit discouraged now because I've seen some really unhappy reviews from people who really like sci-fi. But it sounds like such a good premise (giant squids, awesome). Also it's huuuuuge. Maybe I'll try it in a couple of months.

I keep hearing such good things about Un Lun Dun and it plays with language right? Love that. Wonder if the library has it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I am thisclose to finishing The Enchantment of Flesh and Spirit, Book one of the Wraeththu by Storm Constantine. Like, I have about 25 pages left to go. \o/

After that, I'm thinking back to American Gods - my readalong has been an epic fail, but I'm still going to finish the book, because I love it so much.

I have For the Win! by Cory Doctorow on the go as well - it's a review book for work. I've never read Doctorow and I'm only 20 or so pages in, but I'm enjoying it so far. :-)

I took pictures of my bookcases yesterday, with the intention of doing a post about Why I'm Having a Book-buying Ban ... obviously I haven't done the post yet, but it's on my list ...

South Pacific Book Chat!

Twitter is a wonderful thing. I was an early Twitter-mocker, as I'm sure many people were, but now I think it's the greatest thing ever.

The LOTR readalong (at which I failed badly and I still have a bookmark in The Two Towers ...) came about because of discussions on twitter, as did many other discussions, readalongs and events, I'm sure.

I live in New Zealand, as most of you know, which means I have the Timezone of Nightmares for things like book chats. I was talking to Marg of and on twitter, and we formulated the idea of a South Pacific Book Chat.

The idea is that anyone can play, but it's going to be at a time conducive (I hope) to those living in the South Pacific.

I'm a night owl, so it will start at 11pm, NZ time on Thursday, August 12, (if you want to figure out your time go here: It's about 8pm in Japan and 9pm in Australia (though apparently not all of Australia ... time zones hurt my brainz).

The first #spbkchat (this will be our hashtag :-) ) that will be hosted on Twitter [thursdayaugust12] will be open slather for topics, and at the end of it, we'll choose a topic for the next week's chat, and go on from there. The plan is to make it a weekly discussion. If you're on twitter, absolutely feel free to drop in and weigh in. The more the merrier!

NB: We're doing 11pm-1am NZ time for the first one this Thursday, but it's a trial time. We can talk about moving it back an hour for the next one. :-)

I hope this all makes sense ...

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I have actually finished a couple of books in the past two weeks. Which, for me this year, is a bit of a record.

I read Trespass by Rose Tremain, which has been long-listed for the Man Booker prize, and Scandalous, by Tilly Bagshawe. Very different reads, obviously, but both enjoyable in their own way. Watch for reviews (or short reviews) this week.

Because of my tendency to become easily distracted, I've fallen seriously behind on my very own American Gods readalong. I'm still reading it, but have let other books get in my way. Specifically, at the moment, The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, the First Book of Wraeththu by Storm Constantine.

I read her Grigori Trilogy several years ago, and the Wraeththu series has been on my list for a long time. I'm not very far in, but I am enjoying it so far.

Also, Jeffrey Deaver. I have his latest Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Burning Wire, out of the library. It's a Hot Pick, which means at our library, I only have seven days to read it. I'm possibly not going to make the deadline ...

I also still have Gone with the Wind, Horns, and The Two Towers on my nightstand.

And my book-buying ban? I bought The Passage ... so that starts now – lol.

Happy reading!