Thursday, December 30, 2010

For Review: Less Than Zero ~ Bret Easton Ellis

Less Than Zero is a delicious little debut. I've read several of Bret Easton Ellis' novels, and it's interesting to only go back to his first one now.

Less Than Zero follows Clay on his Christmas holidays back from college. The result is a much more violent, much more dangerous, much more graphic Skins episode; if sex, drugs and violence aren't your ball game then there's no sense in even going there. But I dare you.

It's obvious that this is Ellis' playround. From this little debut of only 200 pages, it's easy to see Ellis' genius begining to unravel. There are scenes that are a precursor to American Psycho, characters that float about in Rules of Attraction, and a fear that strikes again in Lunar Park. Not to mention the Imperial Bedrooms sequel.

As a fan of the man, it's just such a delight to read through and to know that from this little book came so much more. Basically, read it. It's only small, and if you just want a taster to see if Ellis is for you, this is perfect.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For Review: The Help ~ Kathryn Stockett

Rarely do I find myself involved in bestseller hype. In fact, more often than not I will point blank ignore anything on the top twenty. But there were so many glowing reviews of The Help, and it sounded so fascinating that I couldn't help myself. I wasn't disappointed.

The Help follows the stories of Minny and Aibileen, two coloured helps in Mississippi in the 1960s. That says it all really - no more additional information is needed to describe the lives of these two women. They befriend Miss Skeeter, a white woman in her early twenties who grew up with her own maid. Southern USA 1960s and times are changing. Rosa Parks takes a seat on a bus and Martin Luther King has a dream. Skeeter, unlike her League friends, wants to take action in favour of the equality of blacks and whites. She begins to write a book full of interviews from coloured helps discussing what it's like working for their white families.

The Help details both the horrible and the lovely stories these maids have to tell. My heart was instantly on the sides of the endearing and very real help; it's impossible not to feel outraged for these women. But it got to the point where I was judging the white women. Stockett tactically guides the reader to make up their own ideas and opinions, and personally I soon discovered that I was being prejudiced against the white women. I had picked out bits and pieces of information and hear say, taken the side of the black help, but had become just as guilty of being racist - to people my own colour of skin. Half way through the book, revelations with Miss Celia had me feeling very ashamed and embarrassed at my unfounded preconceptions. I deserve a tap on the wrist for that one.

But that's why The Help is so clever - the thoughts and feelings of black and white women are offered in a variety of shapes and forms. Why? Because we're all different, but we're all the same. Not only did these black women have to deal with and accept their place in society, but they lived multifacted lives the same way any person does. Race was just one of the burdens they had to bear. Domestic violence, retirement, health and pregnancy are just some of the problems these women had to tackle - hard enough as it is, never mind without the options available to their white counterparts. The Help became about so much more than mere black and white and the lives of all the families featured in the novel were instantly understood.

As such, The Help is a colourful motley of emotions. Laughter, sadness, fear, love; all those things that make us human. There wasn't any character that I couldn't care for, or feel some degree of sympathy for - even those that I severely disliked. A brave story, and beautifully told, The Help restores some faith in humanity.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Have yourself a fantastic Christmas! Enjoy the celebrations, however you choose to party! xo

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Murakami Challenge 2011

As if my own Victorian literature challenge and the Narnia read along weren't enough for next year, I've spied the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge. The minimum is to read just one book by this author, which is a nice little way to get new readers involved.

I'm a big Murakami fan, and I've read several of his books already, but I've got several still sitting on my bookshelf. So I think I'm going to enter at the Sheep Man level - to read 3 books.

I'll be reading:

A Wild Sheep Chase
The Elephant Vanishes
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

So excited!~

P.S I made it to Germany! Christmas time!

Monday, December 20, 2010

For Review: Chocolat ~ Joanne Harris

Chocolat is the perfect December read. When it's been -15 outside, serious snow, I've been curled up on the sofa under layers of quilts with a huge cup of tea and some tasty chocolate. Excellent times. Chocolat was perfect company - rich, delicious and very comforting.

Vianne Rocher arrives in the little French village of Lansquenet and opens up La Celeste Praline; temptation in the form of chocolate. She creates and sells exquisite chocolate delights, while also running the place like a cafe - mocha choca yummyness and thick hot chocolates. Mmm. Sounds like a dream!

But Cure Reynaud, from his church across the square, considers Vianne as a threat to his authority and to the ways of his flock. Her Grand Festival Du Chocolat coincides with Easter and Reynaud is keen to make sure that Vianne doesn't meddle with his flock any further. Reynaud's chapters are fascinating; he narrates mostly from the beside of the pere before him. His struggle with temptation and his inability to fully understand it is very interesting to read. Rather than accept his feelings for Vianne, he turns it into hate and seeks to destory her, since he can't have her. Rather than accept that perhaps he isn't the most convincing and honest priest, Reynaud blames his congregation, focusing on their sins rather than admitting his own. It's a thoroughly interesting blame game. Reynaud's chapters were quite possibly my favourite in the way that they drove the plot forward and kept up the momentum of the novel.

Vianne's chapters are just delicious. The sentences are a delight to read, and even more so to speak out loud. I know there are lots of people out there who would disagree, calling it dense, overwrought, etc. But I love that. It's really delectable. I struggle to think of the book in terms of anything other than relating to food, or chocolate. This is the first of Harris' novels that I've read and while this style certainly fitted the story and the quaint little village, I wonder if she continues much the same in her other novels. Maybe I should find out?

Despite the beautiful language, Harris has real difficulty in being consistent with tense. She switches from present to past to present to past with no reason whatsoever. Sometimes it changes within a chapter, other times a sentence can have a 'was' and an 'is'. It's really frustrating. Again, it might be something I'm super sensitive to since I can be guilty of it myself, but it really jarred the flow of narrative.

Otherwise, Chocolat was a lovely and very cosy read. Like I said, perfect for a winter cuddle.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best of Reads 2010

1. Best Book of 2010?
That's a tough one! I read so many incredible books this year. Though...I think the winner has to be The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. That book was sensational.

2. Worst Book of 2010?

It. It's wrong, very mediocre and not scary in the least. I won't be touching Stephen King again in a hurry.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? 
The Old Man and the Sea. I'd never read any Hemingway before and I know that several people are very into him, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, they were hugely unfounded. Hemingway is too blah and too empty for me.

4. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010?

I had a copy of Empire of the Sun on my bookshelf and it happened to fit in with one of the challenges I did this year. I knew nothing about it, but thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to reading more JG Ballard.

5. Book You Recommended To Most People?

Probably Death of a Ladies' Man by Alan Bissett. I've found myself constantly telling recommending people to read it. It's a fanastic read, I love the characters, and there's some crazy format editing going on too, which I love.

6. Best Series Discovered in 2010?

I don't do series. They're a very YA thing, and we all know that I don't do YA.

7. Favourite New Authors You Discovered?

Hrm... Tolstoy and Steinbeck were new to me this year, and I'd definitely love to read more of their work. Annie Proulx might be a favourite though because I've got Shipping News lined up to read very soon.

8. Most Hilarious Read of 2010?

Anna Karenina was hilarious. Really, I don't think I've laughed so much at a book. That man has himself some wit. I also laughed a lot through Boyracers; Alan Bissett's portrayal of teenage times in Falkirk is just so true it's hilarious.

9. Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book?
Snuff. It's a short book, but I read it all in one sitting. There's just no way I could put it down without being desperate to know what would happen next. Twisted, but so much fun. Good ol' Palahniuk.

10. Book You Most Anticipated?Tell-All and Imperial Bedrooms were both super anticipated this year. Two of my favourite authors with new books in the same year? Whoo!

11. Favourite Book Cover?


12. Most Memorable Character?
Niko, from Lars Husum's My Friend Jesus Christ. He's a complex guy, complete with emotional luggage and he undergoes such an interesting transformations throughout. Yup, definitely Niko.

13. Most Beautifully Written Book?

Hymn California by Adam Gnade. The whole thing is just so delicious. Savour every sentence!

14. Book That Had the Greatest Impact?

Prozac Nation really struck a personal chord with me. But otherwise, The Grapes of Wrath really took me on a trip; the images and ideas from that book have really stuck with me. It's an important novel.

15. Book You Can't Believe You Waited Until 2010 To Read?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Catcher in the Rye, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Kind of gutted that I didn't read these in my teenage years. In hindsight I know they would have been huge influences for me.

Wow, that was fun! Another year where I've been pretty lucky in my pickings. 2010 has been a literary rollercoaster. Uh huh! Bring on 2011!

Take the survey over at The Perpetual Page-Turner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Narnia Read-a-Long 2011

Everyone's read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. If you haven't, then you've read the graphic novel, or you've seen a film version. Chances are you know who Aslan is, and if not, you probably have a vague idea of the story.

For some time now I've wanted to read the Chronicles of Narnia. There's a set of the books in my family home, and I always look at them, telling myself I'll get to them, and I never do. This is where She Is Too Fond of Books has come in handy!

Whitney is hosting a 2011 Narnia read-a-long and I'm really excited about joining up and taking part. I've never done a read-a-long before because I like to work at my own pace, but she's paced these very nicely so I think it'll be fun!

Read the Chronicles of Narnia between Feb 6th to May 15th, giving two weeks per book. Perfect.

Why not find out more and join the party?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

World Book Night

World Book Night is quite possibly the most exciting idea that anyone has ever had.

Here's part of the launch annoucement:

20,000 passionate book lovers will give away 1,000,000 books on the inaugural World Book Night

The countdown begins. World Book Night will take place on Saturday 5 March 2011 and will be broadcast in partnership with BBC Two. This dynamic and unprecedented industry-wide initiative to celebrate adult books and reading will see one million free books given away on World Book Night by 20,000 passionate readers to other members of the public across the UK and Ireland. World Book Night will take place two days after World Book Day, the established nationwide reading campaign.


From..., 2 December 2010, members of the public are invited to apply to be one of the 20,000 givers of 48 copies of their favourite book chosen from a carefully selected list of 25 titles. Most givers are expected to be passionate readers who will take pleasure in recommending a book they love to other readers. However, World Book Night will also encourage givers to pass the books on to others who either may be reluctant readers or who are part of communities with less access to books, bookshops and libraries. 960,000 books will be distributed by givers and a further 40,000 will be distributed by WBN to people who might not otherwise be able to participate.

Isn't that amazing? I signed up right away, after choosing from the twenty five titles up for grabs. So take a look over at the World Book Night website and get signed up! Fingers crossed for everyone - would be incredible to get a chance to take part in this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For Review: Audition - Ryu Murakami

I'm a huge fan of Asian horror. It's probably Battle Royale's fault. Or maybe it's Pokemon's fault, for getting me into the huge and amazing thing that is Japanese and Asian animation and cinema.

Either way, Audition is one of those horror thrillers that I haven't actually watched yet. Mostly, this is because the DVD cover features a woman with a hypodermic needle. My boyfriend has a needle phobia, so it never made it off the shelf and into my DVD player. My copy of Ryu Murakami's Audition is just too cute to ignore!

Audition is a sit down and read and enjoy all at once kind of book. It's a short 200 pages, but I barely noticed the pace I was flicking through. Following the death of his wife, Aoyama's son suggests that he should get remarried. Aoyama's in his forties and feeling out of touch with the dating game, so his friend decides to stage auditions to find a wife. The result is the stunningly beautiful and charming Asami.

But surely she's too good to be true? Correct. No woman can be that gorgeous and that strong without some serious flaws. What are they? You'll need to read it to find out, but it's an addictive little story and it'll be over in no time. Short, but very sweet.

Monday, December 13, 2010

For Review: Hating Olivia ~ Mark SaFranko

Hating Olivia was impossible to resist: the premiss of the novel is exactly the kind of scenario that I love to read and write about - two lovers consumed and destroyed by their infatuation. Max meets Olivia - beautiful, intelligent, wild, enigmatic. The result is a quickly intense and very sexual relationship. But do these things last forever? Of course, not. Tensions pull them apart emotionally, but no physically, and their happy nest detiorates swiftly.

I do love these kinds of stories. There's something very romantic (in a tragic sense) about Hating Olivia. SaFranko paints a fantastic picture of infatuation and lust. He does so rather graphically too, and I admire the sexual honesty and realism surrounding Max and Olivia's relationship. There's nothing ethereal or dreamy about Max and Olivia - it just is what it is - sex, arguments, dreams, realism. Turmoil, is the word that comes to mind.

Initially, I was beginning to get tired of reading about characters like Olivia. Maybe it's just bitterness, but there are too many women in literature who are stunning and amazing and everything a man could want. But as the book progressed, it became increasingly obvious that there are murky depths to Olivia's character. She's complex, confusing and very difficult to deal with and while I too hated her at points, I was often very sympathetic towards her. As for Max, I very much felt the frustration that his friends and colleagues did regarding his relationship with Olivia. Hate to love and love to hate her.

This really was a read that was difficult to put down - I devoured the book just as Max and Olivia devoured each other. Despite being driven slightly loopy by SaFranko's tense changes (which made no sense and happened by accident for no reason) Hating Olivia was an intense snapshot of love. The end of the novel surprised me in that it just seemed to fade, but I suppose that's true to how relationships work. All the drama happened when Max and Olivia were together but when it's over, it's just over. Read it.

Many thanks to Harper Perennial for providing this book.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hard Times

Anyone who doesn't know that the entire world is lacking in money right now must have been locked in a sound-proof cupboard for the past couple of years.

Myself? I'm contracted to work 9 hours a week. Yup, that's all. I take overtime here and there when I can get it, but lately it's not been very forthcoming (ie, one very poor young lady). I've spent a ridiculous number of hours trawling the internet for a job that a) provides pay b) is interesting and c) isn't a waste of time. There are no jobs.

So I've fiddled about with Amazon Associates, figuring that while I'm putting so much effort into my blog I might as well make some money from it. As you can tell, there is no such thing here. I gave up. Then I stumbled upon a chance to run my own internet business. Okay, great. Basically, I make a website, you guys read it, you guys follow links, you guys buy stuff, I get money, I buy food, I am happy. Simple, right?

I'm not sure. I'm dithering. I don't want my readers to feel like they're being pressured into buying anything, and God forbid my site should hit people in the face with advertisements. But I really need money (as in, scrapping the bottom of the barrel/bank account) and I'm at my wit's end.

I've not even had this little baby going for a year yet, and I'm ridiculously fond of it. I'm so glad I started up here, and I'm so proud of how far it's come. But where does it go now? Help?

Literary Bugs

What is one of your literary pet peeves? Is there something that writers do that really sets your teeth on edge?

Obviously I have no time for sloppy editing. It's not always the writer's fault, but these things really should be creased out before publication.

What bugs me? Pages and pages with no paragraph breaks. He saids, and she saids. A really good writer will be able to give dialogue without tags. But the master of all annoyance?

Exposition, aka The Information Dump. It's not something I've encountered too often, because I'm very particular about the merit of the books I read, but when it there it makes me cringe.
For example:

'Hello Darren. So nice to see you again. I love to go to dinner with my family.'

'Me too, Lisa. It's a shame we haven't seen each other in three years.'

'Yes, since Mum died things have been really hard.'

'I'm sorry I had to move country and move away from you.'

'That's okay. I needed to relax after I was in rehab with my drug addiction anyway.'

'I'm glad you aren't taking cocaine anymore, Darren.'

Who actually talks like that? Brother and sister don't need to divulge in stupid little details because they know it all already. I don't want to hear things that are dumped just for the benefit of the reader. Let me figure it out for myself.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Because I'm Listilicious

So far this year I've read 53 books, which doesn't include my little dip into Nietzsche. It's a pretty good count, I reckon, considering I've written in a novel in that time. That, and I dedicated a month to Anna Karenina.

Outdo Yourself Reading ChallengeThe 100 book challenge is very tempting - but I have no idea where my life will go in 2011. Seriously, I'm seeking a job (desperately) and who knows what I might find, or not find. So, the Outdo Yourself challenge, hosted over at The Book Vixen, seemed like the perfect idea!   

Think 75 is a nice number to aim for next year, so that's what I'm going for:
I'm on Fire - 16+ books
Might be biting off more than I can chew - but it's kind of exciting!

Monday, December 06, 2010

For Review: It ~ Stephen King

There's going to be a rant. But first...

...As some of you may very well know, I have coulrophobia. My fear of clowns causes me to cry, scream, or have panic attacks. True fact. So what do I do? I figure I should read Stephen King's It. I'd never read any Stephen King and decided that I should read It if nothing else. I'm not a horror reader, and I hate clowns. Perfect way to get over fear and prejudices.

My decision is that King isn't the worst writer out there, but he isn't the best. He's alright. Bit better than mediocre, perhaps. He spins a good yarn, at least. So as far as story tellers are concerned, he's doing a decent job. It was so-so. I have no strong feelings about it.

But then I got to page 1130 (out of 1376) and had to stop. King had taken it too far, and it just got absurd. Give the type of story we have (crazy clown going round murdering kids) there was obviously going to be some bizarre goings on, but it wasn't this that bothered me. What really angered me was a revelation towards the end. No to spoil anything, but it was disgusting and completely unnecessary. But what's it all about?

Beverly. Beverly is an eleven year old girl in this novel and is presented as being rather innocent and naive the whole book through (until revelation point - which therefore doesn't even make sense). But King has sexualised her the entire time. The revelation was the breaking point. If I remember anything from this book, I remember the way he described Beverly - the colour of her underwear, the clothes that she wore and how they fit her, the accessories she had on, and the way her blouse suddenly decides to start popping open a lot now that she's growing boobs. It's quite frankly quite disgusting. Fair enough, maybe sexualise her from one of the boy's POVs, but even Ben with his undying love for Beverly doesn't go that far. It's ridiculous. He doesn't go into similar details with the boys, just perving over Beverly. It's unnecessary and it made me mad.

So I'm only a couple of hundred of pages away from the end and I have no intention of finishing. I can't be bothered. Don't really care much about the characters and I'll be damned if I have to read King go into any more sexy detail of an eleven year old girl.

More to the point - none of the kids in this book even seem like they're eleven/twelve. They seem much older, but I think the age thing was only so the whole 'innocence/imagination of childhood' could be pulled off, for plot's sake.

It isn't even scary. I felt mildly uncomfortable at points, but only because I had in mind Tim Curry's Pennywise from the film (SCARY!)

Well, I tried. But Stephen King isn't for me.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Poems, Poems, Poems

This week's Literary Blog Hop at the The Blue Bookcase asks:

What is your favourite poem and why?

The question brings several poets to mind: Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, John Donne, Richard Lovelace, and all the greats. I run my 'Poem of the Month' feature to share some of my favourite poems, and you can check them all out with this link.  Not enough people read poetry these days, and it's a huge shame. Even on my creative writing course, students laugh about not knowing the difference between free verse and blank verse, like poetry's just a silly little something that they should know nothing about. It angers me because, for a creative writing course at least, it's ridiculously ignorant.

Anyhow, that's not answering the question. The poem I'm choosing as my favourite for today (because most favourites change, right?) is a ballad that my mum used to read to me often as a child. I love ballads - a story, huge characters, an adventure and some good old-fashioned tugging at the heartstrings. Mum couldn't read this to me without tears in her eyes, and now I can't read it without crying. I can't even think about it without getting teary eyed. It's just beautiful - everything a good story and a good poem should be.

Beth Gelert
-William Robert Spencer

The spearmen heard the bugle sound,
And cheerily smiled the morn;
And many a brach, and many a hound
Obeyed Llewellyn’s horn.

And still he blew a louder blast,
And gave a lustier cheer,
“Come, Gelert, come, wert never last
Llewellyn’s horn to hear.

O where does faithful Gelert roam
The flower of all his race;
So true, so brave – a lamb at home,
A lion in the chase?”

In sooth, he was a peerless hound,
The gift of royal John;
But now no Gelert could be found,
And all the chase rode on.

That day Llewellyn little loved
The chase of hart and hare;
And scant and small the booty proved,
For Gelert was not there.

Unpleased, Llewellyn homeward hied,
When, near the portal seat,
His truant Gelert he espied
Bounding his lord to greet.

But when he gained the castle-door,
Aghast the chieftain stood;
The hound all o’er was smeared with gore;
His lips, his fangs, ran blood.

Llewellyn gazed with fierce surprise;
Unused such looks to meet,
His favourite checked his joyful guise,
And crouched, and licked his feet.

Onwards, in haste, Llewellyn passed,
And on went Gelert too;
And still, where’er his eyes he cast,
Fresh blood-gouts shocked his view.

Overturned his infant’s bed he found,
With blood-stained covert rent;
And all around the walls and ground
With recent blood besprent.

He called his child – no voice replied –
He searched with terror wild;
Blood, blood he found on every side,
But nowhere found his child.

“Hell-hound! My child’s by thee devoured,”
The frantic father cried;
And to the hilt his vengeful sword
He plunged in Gelert’s side.

Aroused by Gelert’s dying yell,
Some slumberer wakened nigh;
What words the parent’s joy could tell
To hear his infant’s cry

Concealed beneath a tumbled heap
His hurried search had missed,
All glowing from his rosy sleep
The cherub boy he kissed.

No hurt had he, nor harm, nor dread,
But, the same couch beneath,
Lay a gaunt wolf, all torn and dead,
Tremendous still in death.

Ah, what was then Llewellyn’s pain!
For now the truth was clear;
His gallant hound the wolf had slain
To save Llewellyn’s heir.