Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Samhain, All Hallow's Eve and R.I.P. Challenge wrap-up

Happy Celtic New Year! :-)

Samhain is a Celtic festival that marks the end of summer and the beginning of the long cold season. It's all about the final harvest, preparing for winter and also about the dead. It was thought that the line between the worlds was especially blurry at Samhain and that magical things could happen.

I like thinking of Samhain as the start of a New Year and in the past we have marked this holiday in various ways. My favorite I think was a ritual of letting go of our baggage so that we could more forward. This involved writing what we wanted to get rid of on pieces of paper and throwing them into our fireplace. A bonfire would have been better but hey.

Halloween is the modern, secularised version of this old festival and I love the modern traditions too. Pumpkins and candy and scary things. And lovely little children going from door to door. What's not to love?

I already had some trick-or-treaters knock on my door on Saturday. I'm not sure they counted as lovely littel children, they were boys of about 12 or 13, they were not dressed up and they carried plastic chopping bags. They were going on holiday apparently and had to collect their candy a few days early. Lucky for them, I had just bought mini chocolate bars that morning. I forgot to decorate the house with all the spooky stuff I bought though. Ah well, you can't do it all, eh?

I can't say that I've been in the mood for much spooky reading this year. I think it has something to do with the fact that it's been around 20 degrees here lately, which really doesn't correspond to the atmosphere in which I wish to read my spooky books, i.e. in cold and rain and wind. While cozy inside obviously.

I did read some things that qualified for the R.I.P. VI challenge that Carl hosts each year:

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I'm not doing so well with reviews, but they'll come soon. In a nutshell: I loved The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley because I love, love, love Flavia de Luce; I'm enjoying the Sookie Stackhouse series; I didn't finish either Soulless or A Discovery of Witches, which is a surprise to me.

I love the R.I.P.  challenge but I didn't really give it much attention this year and now I regret it. I should have taken the time to curl up on the couch with a Wilkie Collins or some ghost stories. I'll have to remember that for next year.

Anyway, Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

I don't know what to do about this review now. I read most of One Day in a state of love and admiration and the feeling that finally, at last, there is a book that understands my generation. I always looked for such a book but could never find one where the atmosphere was spot on. I found what I was looking for in One Day, not because of the story itself but because of the way the characters thought and acted and felt. I could see myself in this story like I've never been able to see myself in any other piece of writing.

First of all, they were lost for a really long time and I think that's one of the things that there is so much of. Because we don't have the obligations - legal or societal - to settle down at 20 we are allowed this period of discovering ourselves, of wandering, of not knowing where we're heading. It's easy to wake up around 30 years old and realize that this isn't where you want to be at all.

Then there's the way they're always just playing at stuff. Dexter is obviously always playing, at being cool and famous and young. But Emma is too, never quite belonging, never quite believing that she's up to the task.

This passage really rang true for me: Emma is on her way to an interview in a publishing house and she's accompanied by an aquiantance from college who got her this interview:

"They ride the next twenty storeys in silence. Beside her Stephanie Shaw stands smart, petite in a crisp white shirt - no, not a shirt, a blouse - tight black pencil skirt, a neat little bob, years away from the sullen Goth who sat next to her in tutorials all that time ago, and Emma is surprised to find herself intimidated by her old acquaintance; her professional demeanour, her no-nonsense manner. Stephanie Shaw has probably sacked people. She probably says things like 'photocopy this for me!' If Emma did the same at school they'd laugh in her face. In the lift, hands clasped in front of her, Emma has a sudden urge to giggle. It's like they're playing at a game called 'Offices'." (pp 237-238)

Oh, how many times I've felt this way! All those board meetings with a bunch of men in suits and now all these other meetings with public servants, so more men in suits. And women too actually, and all of them, irrespective of gender, seem to take themselves way too seriously. All those years ago, when I was young and ambitious, I would be asked to do things like meet with the company president and I'd think, 'but it's only me, why would you want to listen to me'. But I looked like I should know.

I guess the book made me think about how my outlook changed over the years. When I was younger; I would dress the corporate part but didn't believe that I belonged in that world, that I knew anything. I felt like I was faking it. Now, I dress and I act like me - no more suits, no more corporate behaviour - I'm the same person at work and at home and so much happier. Not everyone likes this, but I feel that I'm true to myself wherever I am and that's important to me.

I loved the way One Day was structured, I loved the writing, I loved the characters. I loved it all the way up until the ending and then I stopped. I hated the ending. (***SPOILER ALERT - HIGHLIGHT THE FOLLOWING LINES TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING***) I don't see why things had to be that way, I don't see how it made the story any better. In fact, I think it would have been better if Emma and Dex either ended up with each other period or if they ended up with other people and never got to find out if they would have worked or not. To me, that would have been more realistic and would have left the story as about two regular lives. I think the dying was too much. (***END OF SPOILER***)

So in the end, it's not one of my favorite books but I certainly loved reading it. Oh, and I think it'll make a great movie, can't wait to see it!

What did you think? If you haven't read One Day yet, did the ending ever totally ruin a book for you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

My week of reading

I actually had a week of reading as I was off sick. In fact, I'm still off sick until Thursday and hope to get even more reading in. :-)

Being sick is no fun of course and it was even worse than usual because Shane had the stomach flu at the beginning of the week and Joe had the stomach flu at the end of the week. I'm sticking to the good old regular flu so far, thankfully.

What did I do? I watched a lot of crap TV, which is what you're supposed to do in these situations, right?

And I read. Reviews will come later on, but I'll already say that I admit defeat when it comes to A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I kept thinking of other things I needed to do while I was reading it and eventually I just switched books. I read Holes by Louis Sachar and One Day by David Nicholls instead. A much nicer experience.

Now I'm on Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I've been dying to read it since I saw the musical in London at the beginning of October. Have you read it? What did you think?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

More mini-reviews - Japan, female bonding and steampunk

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
This book was utterly predictable, but maybe that's what made it such a comfort to read. I loved this story of female bonding, the friendship between five women who live in the same neighborhood, their trials and experiences that take them from young age to old. To have a night off from family and home once in a while, the ladies form a book club that one of the husbands calls Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. But their friendship isn't limited to these meetings, they are there for each other through everything - and I mean that, since the author includes pretty much everything that could happen to people in the story lines. :-) Very enjoyable book that made me feel warm inside.

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
This is the only book that I managed to read in Polish this year, how appalling. My Mom gave it to me, otherwise I probably would never had picked it up. This is a story of Japan during and after World War II and is incredibly interesting from all kinds of perspectives. First of all, obviously from the historical perspective. My reading on World War II is limited to the European point of view, maybe sometimes the American. I enjoyed learning about this period of time in Japan (just like I enjoyed reading about the war in Hong Kong in The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee), I knew close to nothing about it. Aside from wartime reality, the book has so much interesting detail on Japanese culture, including on sumo wrestling and on traditional Japanese 'Noh' theatre and the art of making the masks the actors wear on stage. I found these truly fascinating. The story read like a soap opera, every tragedy that could befall the characters did so at some point, just like in Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, but I enjoyed the book anyway.

Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter
The fourth installment in the Gallagher Girls series was just as much fun. Things are getting darker and darker for Cameron as she tries to cope with spy school, boys and trying to hide from the evil terrorist organization that is after her. And her favorite teacher might be involved too, how can she trust anyone? Great series for when you're in the mood for something light but original.

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
The latest book in the life of Becky Brandon, nee Bloomwood. Becky's daughter Minnie is now two and quite a handful with a will of her own and a taste for the expensive. Becky's having some trouble controlling her and also finding time to plan Luke's birthday party (on a budget!) and trying not to indulge in shopping (she's on a budget!). the usual hilarity results. I know that some people are annoyed by Becky, but I love her voice, maybe because I can relate to her shopping mania. :-) This was a perfect summer book!

Soulless by Gail Carriger
This is my second DNF (did not finish) of the year, I just couldn't get into it. I had such high hopes for this story about an Italian lady without a soul, vampires and werewolves living in Victorian London. But halfway into the book I didn't care what happened to any of the characters and I couldn't force myself to read it any more. Maybe because I don't like the Victorian setting in general? This was my first book in the steampunk genre, I'm now undecided about whether to try another or accept that the genre is not for me...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Whose Titles Or Covers Made Me Buy Them

My friend Larissa, who recently started blogging over at Like People and Butterflies, reminded me how much I liked participating in memes when she started participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I love lists so going back once in a while sounds like fun.

My top books whose titles or covers made me buy them:

1. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, believe it or not. It had just come out, I knew nothing about it, but I loved the title. It's now one of my favorite books of all time. 'Nuff said.

2. When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. I bought this for my husband because of an inside joke. Apparently it's only mediocre, unfortunately, though I haven't read it myself yet.

3. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. Covers don't usually grab me like titles do, but oh my gosh this cover is soooo pretty! With glitter! :-))

4. The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I was just getting into YA and couldn't resist this title. It's great, no?

5. I Can Make You Thin by Paul Mckenna. How could I resist a title like that? That effect is what Mr. McKenna must be counting on of course. Now if only it did what it says on the box... sigh.

Umm... I only have 5... can I still participate? ;-)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Irish music, Ethiopian food and Hello Dolly

I've seen many bloggers - including, Trish, Kailana and Erin, who are among my favorites, keep track of their goals, their progress and their moods through weekly updates.  I love reading them and it looks like they come in useful. They must put things in perspective a bit, which is definitely something I can often use. I'll think I'll try adding this weekly feature each weekend.

So what happened during this past week?
  • I had two Hello Dolly rehearsals, which I tried to enjoy though I was sooo tired from my week in London. We did a lot of the choreography which I love. Rehearsals are becoming more intense and more frequent now, Sunday rehearsals start this weekend. Show's on in the third week of November, so soon!
  • I went to a birthday dinner for one of my best friends. We went to an Ethiopian restaurant - has anyone else been to one? The food is served on big sharing platters and you eat with your hands, by scooping the food with pancakes. I imagined that the food would be more hand-friendly, but it's things like spinach in a sauce or minced beef in a sauce so quite difficult to eat without a fork. The flavors were nice enough, but I gotta say that I didn't enjoy eating with my hands. How closed-minded of me!!
  • We went to a concert by traditional Irish band Altan, who by some sort of fluke of the universe happened to be playing in our local, small cultural center. I'm glad they agreed to the gig, it was fantastic.
  • Work has been pretty crazy, but that's a given by now.  No point dwelling on it over the weekend anyway!
  • I got my wisdom tooth pulled and my cheek is now swollen and bruised. :-(
  • I've been reading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I'm finding it enjoyable but not gripping. I wanted gripping.
And looking forward to next week:
  • Two more Hello, Dolly rehearsals! I really need to learn my lines now...
  • Joe has an evening rehearsal with his band Shantalla, so I'll be able to spend an evening with a book or a movie... Hmmm, I wonder if I can rent Something Borrowed yet!
  • I'll continue with A Discovery of Witches, but I'll also try to make some progress with Gigi by Colette, which I'm reading for the challenge I'm doing with Alex from The Sleepless Reader.
I'll leave you with the promotional video for Shantalla's new CD, Turas, which means 'journey' in the Gaelic language - hope you like it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Better Late Than Never - R.I.P. VI Challenge

I meant to join this amazing blogging event when Carl first announced it, but it kept slipping into the future and then I figured I was too late. Until I read Iliana's post, she's just joining now too! :-)

So here we go again, I'm signing up for the R.I.P. VI Challenge - and I'm so happy to be doing so, I've never missed a year since I started blogging.

The R.I.P. Challenge is all about reading creepy, mysterious, scary books through September and October. The challenge appropriately ends on October 31. There are many levels so that anyone can take part, no matter how much time to read they have.

I'm doing Peril the First, which requires four books and I'm already on my fourth book that qualifies since the beginning of September. :-) Here are my choices:

Completed: 3/4 by 31 October 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some thoughts on Sookie Stackhouse

I'm back from a week in London, where I went with work for WorldSkills 2011, which is actually a really cool event, basically like the Olympics but for skills. Everything went and well and I got to see three shows in the evenings (hmmm, maybe I should do a separat post on how fabulous they were?), as well as catch up with friends, so I feel like I got the most I could out of the week.

Now it's time for more catching up... I wish I was better at keeping up with reviews and updating this blog and reading all your blogs, but life is hectic. What can I say?

A large chunk of my reading time over the past months has been spent with the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. There were books that I enjoyed more than others, but in general I'm liking this series a lot. Sookie is sassy, witty, intelligent and oh-so-real, I'd like to know her in real life, I think. Although if she comes with all the monsters attached then I might change my mind! Since the last book in the series that I talked about here, Living Dead in Dallas, Sookie has had about a million adventures. Lots of things around her have changed, people (and un-people) have come and gone, but she has remained the same old Sookie. She evolves and grows, but stays true to herself.

In Club Dead, Sookie has trouble with steady vampire boyfriend Bill -can he be trusted or should she dump him?

In Dead to the World, Sookie finds herself helping Eric, the powerful vampire she never really had time for. Thing is that he's lost his memory after some particularly powerful witches appeared on the scene and he really does need help. This was my favorite of the series so far... I loved the Eric/Sookie dynamic and I loved the introduction of witches and magic. It gets more and more like Buffy with each book! ;-)

In Dead as a Doornail, Sookie's focus is on her brother Jason, a new were-panther who seems to be a target for someone deadly. We get more insights into the were community in this book, makes for very interesting reading!

In Definitely Dead, Sookie goes off to New Orleans to clean out her cousin Hadley's appartment. Hadley had been a vampire and had been murdered. She had also been close to the local vampire queen so now Sookie has to deal with her too. And with more witches as well.

I don't want to give details not to spoil anyone's fun... But the stories are engaging and the characters are fun, I'm enjoying the books. I want to watch the TV series too, but was told that it doesn't follow the chronology of the books so I prefer to read them first!