Monday, 30 June 2014

what I've read this month (June)

Halfway through the year now, and I don't think I've made much headway on my new year reading resolutions. Oops. On the plus side, here's what I have read this month:

Click to see the my review.
  1. Wesley Chu The lives of Tao
  2. Kate Manning The Notorious Life of Madame X
  3. Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki 
  4. Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown 
  5. Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland, with Love 
  6. Dubravka Ugresic, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
  7. Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
  8. Octavia E. Butler, Kindred  
  9. Glyn Iliffe, Adventures of Odysseus: King of Ithaca 
  10. Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, illustrated Jim Kay, A Monster Calls 
  11. Patricia Ferguson, The Midwife's Daughter

It's difficult to decide what my favourite book is this month, I've read some really good ones. It's a close call between My Notorious Life by Madame X and Kindred, but I think Octavia E. Butler just scrapes the win with Kindred. It's a novel that I know is going to stay with me, as it is just so emotionally raw. If you're looking for some historical fiction, either of these books would suit you. Both deal with harrowing topics, backstreet abortion and slavery receptively. 

If you're interested more in mythology, I'd have no hesitation recommending The Gospel of Loki and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. The first is a fantastic, chatty introduction to Norse legends and the second is inspired by Slavic folktales.    

Friday, 27 June 2014

Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd & Jim Kay, A Monster Calls

Whilst picking up The Chaos Walking Trilogy from the library (see my review here) I spotted A Monster Calls on the shelf.
Jim Kay, illustrated, YA Fiction, cancer, death, Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls, pictures, inside, review, photograph, book, graphic novel, grief, bereavement, yew tree

The Plot: Conor's mum is dying. One night a monster comes to call, he will tell three stories and in return expects Conor to tell the final tale.

Rating: «««« (4/5)

Siobhan Dowd dies of cancer before completing this story, so the novel was completed by Patrick Ness. This gives the novel added poignancy, and the narrative is sad enough as it is. I'm not ashamed to admit I had a little cry.

More pictures under the jump:-

Thursday, 26 June 2014

skilful openers

These aren't necessarily the best first lines in books ever to be written, but I still think they're pretty accomplished and make you want to read more:

quotes from books, first lines, inspirations, quote, author, contemporary fiction, modern, best, list
"5th, I know that woman. She used to live with a flock of birds on Lenox Avenue. Know her husband, too. He fell for an eighteen-year-old girl with one of those deepdown, spooky loves that made him so sad and happy he shot her just to keep the feeling going." 
Toni Morrison, Jazz 
quotes from books, first lines, inspirations, quote, author, contemporary fiction, modern, best, list
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
-          Gabriel García Márquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude   
quotes from books, first lines, inspirations, quote, author, contemporary fiction, modern, best, list
"Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw’, that shadowy dark crack running down the middle of life, exist outside of literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs."
-          Donna Tartt, The Secret History 

quotes from books, first lines, inspirations, quote, author, contemporary fiction, modern, best, list

 "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The first time I saw her it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily."
-Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl 

What do you think of my choices? Do you have a favourite opening line? 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred

After reading Wild Seed in April I've been on the hunt for some more Octivia Butler. My local library is sadly lacking the patternister series, but they did have Kindred. 

The Plot: Dana has just moved to a new house with her husband, whilst unpacking boxes she begins to feel nauseous and dizzy, her home disappears and she finds herself by the edge of a river. She has been transported to nineteenth century Maryland, an extremely dangerous place for a black woman. Luckily, just as she is threatened with a gun, she returns to her apartment, but this sorjourn is the start of a terrifying pattern where she is thrown between the two time periods, and endangered in both.

Kindred, science fiction, historical fiction, slave narrative, Octavia E Butler, paperback, review, plantation, slavery, summary, plot, read, book
ISBN: 9781472214812
Rating: ««««« (5/5)
Full review after the jump:

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

I went through a stage of reading lots of Chuck Palahniuk novels back to back, until I got burnt out and forgot about him. Last month, when I was feeling mainly underwhelmed about my reading selection I thought it was about time I gave him another go, so promptly ordered Invisible Monsters from the library. Of course it took a little while to arrive.

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters, review, plot summary, transgender, model, literature, American, book, paperback, photograph,

The Plot: Successful model Shannon has been disfigured and left unable to speak after been shot in the face. Whilst in recovery Shannon is befriend by Brandy Alexander, who is one operation away from completing her gender reassignment surgery. Together with malleable Seth Thomas, the three go on a cross country road trip, funded by stealing prescription medicine from high-end estates. Unable to talk, Shannon recollects on her upbringing, seething on her parents preferential treatment towards her brother, and plotting revenge on fellow model and frenemy Evie.

Rating: «««¶¶ (3/5)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Dubravka Ugresic, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

I picked up Baba Yaga Laid an Egg as I have gradually been making my way through the canongate myth series. Canongate have commissioned popular and critically acclaimed authors to retell myths from all over the world.  
Baba Yaga. picture source 
My knowledge of Slavic folktales is pretty limited, though I am familiar with the folk villain/heroine Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is an elderly female witch who lives in a hut that stands on chicken's legs. She flies through the air using a mortar and pestle. Baba Yaga is usually the malefactor of the story and often attempts to eat the hero/heroine, but occasionally she helps the hero/heroine on their quest.

The Plot: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is divided into three sections ( the number three been a common motif in  fairytales). The first tells the story of the relationship between the author and her mother. The mother is suffering from aphasia and dementia, and has become difficult. The author has her own troubles, a clingy fan and a dissatisfying trip to Bulgaria. The second, and longest story, concerns a trio of octogenarians who are on the holiday of a lifetime at a spa. Kukla, thrice widowed has given up on men, Beba is incredibly financially lucky but estranged from her son and Pupa a cantankerous woman, who once fought as a partisan and now spends her time with her legs in a giant fur boot,  waiting to die. The third segment is a faux-academic and feminist tirade examining how the previous stories relate to the cannon of Baba Yaga myths.

baba yaga laid an egg, Dubravka Ugresic, Slavic fairytales, Cannongate, myths, legends, folktale, review, UK edition, book, literature, photo, photograph, Baba Yaga, witch, Russian, Bulgaria, Croatia
Rating: «««« (4/5)
Full review under the jump:-

Thursday, 19 June 2014

alphabetised list of all my book reviews

Wimpole library 

I've just created a new tab with an alphabetised list of all my book reviews.

Click under the blog banner 'alphabetised list of book reviews' or see here

Hopefully this will make books easier to find and make my achieve more accessible. There are currently 56 reviews listed, colour coded by genre. Please take the time to explore, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wrest Park library 

Whilst your at it, why not check out some of my other tags? Trips  includes all my visits to historical properties throughout the UK and as more pictures of the places in these pictures. Or maybe have a quick look through Home Baking, all my recipes are vegetarian, and most are gluten-free.  

Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland, With Love

I think I stumbled upon From the Fatherland, With Love during a search for speculative fiction. It instantly appealed as it is set in Japan and North Korea and the initial premise sounded both promising and believable.

photo, photograph, book cover, paperback, UK edition,  Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland with Love, Japan, speculative fiction, North Korea,

The Plot: Japan's economy is devastated, there is mass unemployment and people are living in makeshift camps in public parks. Young men who have been in either the perpetrators or victims of violent crimes congregate in abandoned warehouses in Kyushu. They posses a unique set of skills, some are expert bomb makers, one can decapitate animals with custom built boomerangs, another boy breeds poisonous insects and frogs. Japan teeters on the edge of complete lawlessness, and North Korea seeks to take advantage. A small team of North Korean forces invades the city of Fukuoka, if they are successful  a further 120,000 troops will follow.

photo, photograph, book cover, paperback, UK edition,  Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland with Love, Japan, speculative fiction, North Korea,

Rating: ««¶¶¶ (2.5/5)
For my review see under the jump:-

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Baba Yaga

"Baba Yaga lives in a forest [...] in a cramped little hut that stands on hen's legs and turns around on the spot. She has one skeleton-leg [...] dangling breasts that she dumps on the stove or hangs over a pole, a long sharp nose that knock against the celling [...] and she flies around in a mortar, rowing her self through the air with a pestle, wiping away her traces with a broom."  
- Dubravka Ugresic, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

I ordered The Coldest Girl in Coldtown after reading a kindle sample last month, and it lived up to my exceptions. Trash is the best way, a proper guilty pleasure read.

The Plot: Vampirism is regarded as an infectious disease, those who are bitten are quarantined in Coldtowns, and have the choice of either drinking human blood and completing the transition, or resisting the urge for eighty-eight days and remaining human. Either way, they're trapped in the Coldtown. When Tana wakes up after a party surrounded by her dead friend, she knows vampires were the cause. After rescuing her infected ex-boyfriend Aidan and a crazed, chained up vampire called Gavriel, the three make their way to the nearest Coldtown. Tana, Aidan and Gavriel enter the town each with their own agenda and a shaky alliance.  

novel, Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, vampire, YA Fiction, review, book, American literature, if you like Twilight,

This will no doubt be popular with the Twilight crowd, but in my opinion it's a better book. Tana is a better heroine by far than vapid Bella. Though of course, there is the now obligatory love triangle between Tana, Aidan and Gavriel, it's not the main event of the story, the danger of Coldtown and the desire for vengeance gives the plot the twist and turns. 

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Clink, Brixton

A few weeks back me, my mini sister and her boyfriend went for lunch at The Clink. The Clink is also a charity, working to rehabilitate offenders, the restaurant is located inside Brixton prison and all food is made and served by current prisoners.

The aim is to teach offenders skill and give them work experience to hopefully reduce re-offending rates when they leave the prison system, and so far they've had a lot of success. In the UK the 46.9% of adults who leave prison re-offend within the first year, but for those who have worked in The Clink only 6% have re-offended (statistic from here).
picture source 
The Clink charity is undoubtedly doing some great work, but unfortunately our experience at the restaurant wasn't the best. For my full review, see under the jump:-

Friday, 13 June 2014

gluten-free hazelnut and carrot buns

It's been ages since I've baked as our scales broke, but after getting a new pair I was ready to get experimenting again. Even with fully operational scales I still winged it with this recipe, I just added more ingredients until it looked right, and lucky it worked. These buns didn't last 5 mins.

As there was only two of us in I made a reduced amount of mixture, making only 6 buns. Of course the ingredients can be doubled if you need more. 

recipe after the cut:-

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

useful resources for writers

Having a stroll around the internet I came across a few really useful websites for writers, I've saved them for my own reference, but thought I should share.

1. One Look Reverse Dictionary. You describe an idea and this dictionary supplies the appropriate word that encompasses that concept.

2. Tip of My Tongue Inputting partial words and meanings, this handy search engine helps you find the word you can't quite remember.

picture source
3. (just for fun) Test your Vocab. Using three quick and easy tests this site calculates the size of your vocabulary and can be used by both children and adults.

The average for adult native English speaker is between 20,000 and 35,000 words. My score was 30,900 and I was a little disappointed- I'm going to try and make the effort to look up words I don't know when I'm reading.

Another surprising fact I learnt after taking the vocab quiz, is that, on average, adults learn one new word a day, until middle-age when vocabulary growth basically stops.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Joanne M. Harris, The Gospel of Loki

I've given myself the challenge of learning more about Norse mythology, as I think I'm fairly clued up about Greek and Roman god and goddess but my knowledge of the Norse pantheon is sadly lacking. So I was very excited to find out that Joanne Harris' (author of Chocolate) new book was going to be The Gospel of Loki, feels like I've had to wait for ever for my library to get it in.

ISBN; 9781473202351,Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki, Norse mythology, gods, trickster, book, review, fiction, hardback, UK edition
Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki. ISBN:9781473202351

The Plot: Loki, the trickster and Father of Lies, feels like he has been hard done by in the official record of events and wants to put across his own story. Ostracised by Odin, Thor and the other gods (aka the Popular Crowd) like a high-school misfit, Loki is out for revenge. He aligns himself with Gullveig-Heid, the Sorceress, and ushers in  Ragnarok, the end of the world and the death of the gods.

Rating: «««« (4/5)

For my full review, see after the jump:

Monday, 9 June 2014

Wesley Chu, The Lives of Tao

On the hunt for new authors, Wesley Chu's The Lives of Tao was one of the book I downloaded as a kindle sample. (for a full list of samples and mini reviews see here). Not wanting to part with my hard earned cash, as I wasn't sure I'd like it, I borrowed The Lives of Tao from the library.

The Lives of Tao, paperback, Wesley Chu, Asian-American author, science fiction, aliens, review, novel, spy thriller

The Plot: A civil war is raging between the peace-loving Prophus and the ruthless Genjix, and as both rival factions use humans and animals as hosts, the war is threatening the survival of Earth and humanity.

Rating: «¶¶¶¶ (1.5/5)

Full review under the cut:-

Friday, 6 June 2014

Kate Manning, My Notorious Life by Madame X

I picked up My Notorious Life by Madame X in a huge library haul the other week, and I'm so glad I did. It's been a while since I've been really enthusiastic about a novel, last month's reads were all a bit meh, but this novel was gripping. I stayed up late and got up early to read it, plus my mum kept stealing it for herself.

photo, photograph, feminist fiction, feminism,  book cover, historical fiction, My Notorious Life of Madame X, Kate Manning, Axie Muldoon, backstreet abortion, nineteenth century, 19th, pro-choice, American literature, review, book
The Plot: Axie Muldoon is the feisty daughter of Irish immigrates, growing up in poverty in nineteenth century New York. Rescued by a philanthropist, Axie and her siblings are sent West to be adopted by childless couples, but when the family is split up Axie returns home without her brother and sister. Back in New York Axie is taken in as an apprentice by a doctor, who teaches her the trade that will one day make her notorious.

Rating: ««««« (5/5)

If you enjoy historical fiction or would like to know about the history of abortions and contraception in America I highly recommend you pick up My Notorious Life of Madame X. Though a work of fiction, it is partly based on the life of Ann Trow Lohman, also known as Madame Restell, who practised midwifery for forty years. 

If you're looking for the next novel for your book club, this is it. Madame X is a book that you can't wait to talk about and it is guaranteed to provoke a reaction. 

For my full review see under the jump *warning may contain spoilers*

Thursday, 5 June 2014

writing is editing

quote, Chris Abani, writing, literature, inspiration for writers, Nigerian author, poet, writing is editing

"People think that writing is writing, but actually writing is editing. Otherwise, you're just taking notes"
-Chris Abani, taken from an interview with Sampsonia Way


On the way back from Petworth we stopped at Wisborough, a charming village that was the epitome of Britishness, cricket on the green, church on the hill and traditional pubs

Wisborough, village, quaint, photo, photograph, charming, small, photo, photograph, traditional, cricket, church Chapel, St Peter Ad Vincula, old, butts works

More photos after the cut:-

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Petworth (inside)

Petworth has been a family home for over 800 years, and part of it is still home to the Wyndham family.

Petworth House and Garden, inside, interior, visit, review, National Trust, history, UK, England, Sussex, historical property, old building, culture, day trip, photo, photograph

When it was first built by the Percy family it was intended for only occasional use, as the family seat was in Northumberland, however in the 1500s it became their permanent home after Queen Elizabeth I became suspicious of their relationship with Mary Queen of Scots.

More pictures of the inside of Petworth under the cut:-

Monday, 2 June 2014

Petworth (outside)

The day before my 26th birthday I quickly ordered a new National Trust young person membership, as they are a fraction of the price of adult membership, but only available up to the age of 25. This sneakiness means I'll be able to enjoy plenty more day trips on the cheap.

On Saturday we went on a 2 hour journey over to Petworth over in West Sussex.

photograph, photo Petworth House and Gardens, review, visit, National Trust, west Sussex, historical home, building, 17th century, property, Percy family, England,

Petworth is a huge 17th century manor house set in 700 acre deer park. It was owned by the Percy family then the Seymours and finally the Wyndham family before been given to the National Trust to avoid death duties (though some of house is still occupied by the Wyndhams)

more pictures after the cut:-