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Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

Is August over yet??

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

Hello, my friends. Please excuse the plaintive tone of my title, but August and I aren’t getting along. At all.

Those of you who have been keeping up with my blog will know that I’m feeling a bit stretched this month. Lots of stuff going on. I was doing really well with getting up early to work on my novel for a half hour every morning and doing my studying in the evening. Last week, I had a bit of a panic (as you’ll know from Wednesday’s post) and have decided to stop writing in the morning and to study instead.

This worked very well until Thursday.

Thursday, I started feeling dizzy and feverish so I decided to stay at home from work. I thought that I was feeling unwell because I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for the past few weeks and it finally caught up with me. Surely a day in bed would revitalise me and I would be back to work and study as usual the next day.

Alas, my bloggy brethren. ‘Twas not to be.

I woke up the next morning feeling worse. There was nothing for it but to head off to the surgery to see what could be done. The good doctor told me that I have an upper respiratory infection which was triggering my vertigo.

Fun stuff.

She gave me a course of antibiotics and something to quell the dizziness. So, I’ve spent the past couple of days feeling drugged and apathetic.

Not to worry, dear friends, but I’ve had this for company:

LM2 London market insurance principles and practices. Written and edited by Satan.

LM2 London market insurance principles and practices. Written and edited by Satan.

And I bet you thought I wouldn’t have a book to discuss.

Anyway. I’ve been taking my antibiotics and have been feeling marginally better. (Did I mention that my exam is next Friday???) Strangely enough, I feel that the material I’m studying is finally sinking in so I feel that I’ll do ok. I’m just being dramatic.

Speaking of drama, I have to tell you a quasi-related story. I was at the pharmacy waiting for my feel-better pills and I noticed a shady looking character who was wandering around. I couldn’t tell if he sounded drunk or just thick (it’s a mean thing to say but he was being needlessly rude to the staff). He was shuffling around aimlessly after one of the staff promised to help him after she’d put my prescription in.

I sat down to wait on the other side of the room from the counter and noticed him perusing the shelves. As I watched, he took out a little plastic shopping bag and started filling it full of stuff from the shelves.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you are absolutely certain that you can’t be seeing what you’re actually seeing? Where you’re frozen to the spot because surely there’s a reasonable explanation for what’s happening? Sadly, this was not the case.

Once it sunk into my thick skull that the guy was aggressively shoplifting whatever would fit in his bag, I looked to the staff to see if anyone had noticed and prepared to make my way to the counter if they hadn’t.

One of the staff had noticed and the man was subsequently confronted by a dainty, 5 foot-nothing woman. Ok, she was probably taller than that but he looked quite imposing as he tried to push past her. She wasn’t having it and at one point they were facing off right in front of me.

This is how I felt:

Unfortunately, my brain had switched itself from ‘feisty’ mode to ‘self-preservation’ mode. My first thought was that if the guy started swinging, he wasn’t going to hit this ballsy little woman. He was going to hit me. I was also thinking that if he was willing to steal in the broad light of the morning, he must be prepared to defend himself in some way and I wasn’t willing to be in the cross-fire and possibly get stabbed over some stolen boxes of decongestant.

Luckily, the situation was quickly diffused. The bag was handed over to the staff and the would-be shoplifter was ejected from the building.

I went home and crawled back into bed, which is where I’ll be if you need me.

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Wednesday catch-up

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2013 at 6:56 am

Soooo, this is awkward. It’s Wednesday and I don’t still don’t have a book to tell you about. Do you know what this means? It means that I’ve been reading THE SAME BOOK for OVER a week!! Oh my days…

Luckily, I’m not behind on my Goodreads goal of reading 61 books this year. In fact, I’m still 11 books ahead of  schedule so we don’t have to panic. Yet.

Anyway, not having a book to talk about means that I’ll just have to talk to you about me. (Sorry…)

Something cool happened last Wednesday that I completely neglected to mention to you. I met one of my Goodreads friends, in person, for lunch! We struck up a friendship on Goodreads and it progressed to the point where we exchanged email addresses and would talk about our writing. It was really exciting having another writer that I really connected with and we bounced ideas off of each other. After getting to know each other through email and eventually facebook, we finally swapped writing. I can’t begin to tell you how huge of a step this was for me. Until that point, I hadn’t let anyone I wasn’t married to read my writing.

It turned out that she was visiting London last week. Of course it coincided with what is turning out to be the busiest part of my year, but we managed to coordinate schedules and have lunch. It was so much fun! I wished that I could have met her in the evening and had more time to talk, but I’ve really been pushing myself to study every night so we had to settle for lunch. But, even so, it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and I’m really glad we both made the effort to meet up.

So, I’ve been studying like a crazy woman and none of it feels like it’s sinking in. There’s so much information in a such a small amount of time. Nine days until the exam. Yikes! I’ll be taking my exam at the same time with two of my colleagues and we’re all entering panic mode. One of them quizzed me on some of the information yesterday and I drew a complete blank. Not to worry, though. Four out of the nine days include a weekend, a Bank holiday and a study day. I should be ok.

I guess that’s every thing.

Before I sign off, I wanted to give a shout out to a few other bloggers I’ve been following. I’ve really been loving the atmosphere here on WordPress and have met some of the nicest people. So here are the top 6 people who have commented on my blog:

H. Anthe Davis http://warofmemory.wordpress.com/

ManofYesterday http://manofyesterday.wordpress.com/

Claudia McGill http://claudiamcgill.wordpress.com/

Revolution For Breakfast http://revolutionforbreakfast.com/

Erica Dakin http://theftandsorcery.wordpress.com/

Lindseysurratt http://swimlindsey.wordpress.com/

Please check out their blogs. They are readers, writers, poets and just really nice people. Oh, and they’re actually talking about books/writing. *Hangs my head in shame*

I guess now we’re all caught up. I will definitely have a book to talk about for Sunday. Thanks for sticking with me through these difficult times.

 

My Saturday of Culture and Geekiness

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2013 at 6:00 am

So, I don’t actually have a book to talk about this Sunday. Again. I’ve got about 2 weeks until I take my exam for work so, as I mentioned last week, that’s where all of my energies are focused. Urgh…

Anyway, I took an afternoon off from studying on Saturday to spend some much needed quality time with the hubs. We ventured into the vast wilds of London in search of culture and unadulterated geekiness.

Our first stop was the National Gallery. If you aren’t familiar with it, here it is: April-London 005

(I didn’t take this picture yesterday, by the way. We go here often. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell you that, but there you are.)

Here’s the view if you’re standing with your back to the National Gallery: April-London 001

We like to visit every now and then when we feel like we need some inspiration. There’s some really cool stuff in there. This time I felt like the impressionists were really speaking to me. Not literally, just so we’re clear. I just really felt drawn to them. Perhaps that style of art represents what my life is like at the moment: messy but beautiful.

I feel that I have to tell you that I know next to nothing about art. I like looking at it, but I don’t have anything profound to say about it. So, I bought postcards of these paintings to remind me of a couple that really moved me.

The Boulevard Montmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro (From National Gallery website)

The Boulevard Montmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro (from National Gallery website)

A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh (From the National Gallery website)

A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh (from the National Gallery website)

After the National Gallery, we went to Forbidden Planet which is my most favourite shop in the whole world. It’s full of wonder, geekiness and so much win! We probably spent as much time there as we did in the National Gallery. No, I’m serious. We perused shelves full of comic books, many of which I’ve earmarked for Christmas. Then on to the books. *sigh* The books.

The past two weeks I’ve been such a good girl, studying hard like I should, but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss reading books for fun. Half an hour before bed each night is not even close to being enough time to read!  I’m suffering from withdrawal and an intense envy every time I see someone reading a book for fun. I must soldier on. Only two more weeks…

I’m sure that you can imagine, given the above information, how sad it made me to walk through the shelves and look at all of the books that I won’t be reading in the next two weeks.

Poor me.

However, I did treat myself to a sliver of awesomeness to dull the ache. Feast your eyes on this!

Jake and Lady Rainicorn

 

Now my oyster card can travel in style! (For those of you unfamiliar with the oyster card, it’s how we Londoners get around on the buses and underground.) I would have preferred a card featuring Lumpy Space Princess, but alas, they didn’t have one. This one is really amazing, though, as I do love Lady Rainicorn and it makes me smile every time I use it.

It was a lovely way to while away a Saturday afternoon.

Hopefully I will have a book to talk to you about on Wednesday. I’m halfway finished with one, so the outlook is positive.

Anyway, I must go study.

Alif the Unseen

In Book Reviews on August 14, 2013 at 7:18 am

Alif the UnseenGrove Press 2012

I’m pleased to tell you that I have a book to talk about today. Wooo! It means that I blew off studying last night to finish this book, but considering how tremendously craptacular my day was yesterday, I chose to read instead of study. So there.

Anyway, on to the book.

Nutshell blurb: Alif is a computer geek who is given a mystical book that takes him in between two worlds. He has to fight forces seen and unseen as he tries to get his life back and get the girl.

Overall, I loved this book. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. It was enchanting and well worth blowing off studying for.

There were a few things I didn’t like so I’ll start with those.

“These are not the banu adam you’re looking for,” he said.

I’m totally ok with references to other works (as long as they’re nice) and I feel that it’s ok to give djinn the power to perform Jedi mind tricks. However, I feel that if one is going to do that, one should do it with a hint of irony and at least reference the source. When I read that line, I acknowledged that it was there and read on to see if the characters would. One of them giggled, but it was unclear if it was at the Star Wars reference or the silliness of the situation.

This is a small thing, but I am always very aware of the authorial voice as it has the power to rip me out of my immersion. If I think for a moment that the author is taking him/herself too seriously, it jars me right out of the story.

Consider this excerpt:

“…I mean, look at all the eastern writers who’ve written great western literature. Kazuo Ishiguro. You’d never guess that The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go were written by a Japanese guy. But I can’t think of anyone who’s ever done the reverse – any westerner who’s written great eastern literature. Well, maybe if we count Lawrence Durrell – does the Alexandria Quartet qualify as eastern literature?”

“There’s a very simple test,” said Vikram. “Is it about bored, tired people having sex?”

“Yes,” said the convert, surprised.

“Then it’s western.”

This little conversation made me stop reading the book in order to sort out my feelings here. The characters in this exchange are basically saying that people aren’t meant to be adaptable and shift from one culture to another, but that people from the east do it better than people from the west. I read in the front that Ms. Wilson is a westerner, from New Jersey, but she’s writing a book that takes place in the Middle East.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but what is she saying about her own work? Is she being incredibly humble and self-deprecating and including her work into the category of not being adaptable and well-written or is her ego soaring into the heights and she’s trying to let us know that she’s the one western writer who has accomplished what others haven’t? Perhaps this is something that my mind fixated on and that I’ve made something out of nothing. The point is: I stopped reading the book to think about it. 

So, on to the things I loved about it.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that it’s a tricky thing when an author writes a main character who is the opposite sex. It’s very noticeable when it’s wrong, not to mention extremely offensive. There are a few writers whom I have in my sights because of their shocking portrayal of women. I’ve read a few horrible portrayals of men at the hands of female authors as well, so ladies, you aren’t exempt.

In this book, I felt like the author was spot on with the main character, Alif. The mistake that women seem to make when writing men is that they idealise them; they make them either flawless or horribly evil and there doesn’t seem to be much in between. Alif is definitely flawed and not always brave, but he’s loyal and determined to fix his mistakes. I found him to be quite likeable and sympathetic.

My inherent femaleness prevents me from being the best judge of whether or not he’s an authentic character. But I liked him, so that’s good enough for me.

The female characters were interesting as well. My knowledge of Middle Eastern women is pretty much non-existent so I have to believe that Ms. Wilson has done her research in this department. I know that we westerners tend to have a view of Middle Eastern women as being meek, submissive and without voices. That they are forced to cover themselves in veils by domineering men. Living in a multi-cultural city with a huge Middle Eastern population, I’m learning that a lot of what I thought about people from that part of the world is wrong. It was nice to see strong women who weren’t being pushed around by men, but who were culturally different from me. I always seem read about the bad parts of Middle Eastern culture, but rarely have I seen anything that celebrates it.

One thing that I didn’t like was that there is a character in the book, known as ‘the convert’ and that is how she is referred to throughout the book. I was a bit annoyed that she was never given a name. It wouldn’t have been bad if she had been a throw away character that had a small part, but she was in a large part of the book and played a pivotal role.

I like that this book made me think about so many different things. I had actually read a review about it on someone else’s blog and she didn’t like it. I almost took it back to the library (twice) because of the things she said about it. I’m really glad that I didn’t and that I decided to read it because it was different from anything else I’ve ever read.

Have you read this book? If so, please tell me what you thought of it. I would love to know!

There’s no time!

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2013 at 6:00 am

Soooooo, it’s Sunday morning and I don’t have a book to write about. This never happens! I can assure you that it isn’t because I’m being lazy; I just haven’t had the time to read for enjoyment.

As it turns out, August is going to be a super busy month. I’m studying for a qualification at work (I take the exam on August 30) and we’re trying to find a new flat and need to be out of our current one by the first week of September. There is so much stress involved in these two topics.

If you are an estate agent, you might want to stop reading this and move on to a different blog. I will not apologise for the things I may write.

 

Flat-hunting pushes me to the brink of my sanity as estate agents  vie to see who can screw us over the most. I’m convinced that Aunt Josephine from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was modelled after me given her love of grammar and hatred of realtors. I would totally support a Hunger Games– style event for estate agents.

See what I did there? I managed to fit in two literary references into this post. I guess it’s not a complete waste then.

As I was saying, I’m also studying for an exam I have to take through work at the end of the month. This means that most of my free time has been taken up with my nose in a study guide. This includes my commute. This past week has made me realise just how many books I read on the tube, which is why I was unable to finish a book in time for this post.

I could talk to you about the LM2 London market insurance principles and practices, but I don’t want you to unfollow my blog.

I had thought about talking about a book that I’ve read in the past, but that feels like cheating. I want to give you new material and fresh thoughts about it that are hot off my brain. (That phrase doesn’t really work, does it?) Hopefully I’ll have something for you on Wednesday so that you don’t have to put up with my ramblings. I can’t make any promises though.

It’s interesting to note that being this busy has actually made me write my own novel even more. You see, I’ve felt super motivated all week and even with all the studying and flat-hunting I have to do (I’m on a super-strict schedule) I keep remembering a motivating statement that I’ve read in several places about making time for writing. There are so many people who say that they want to write but that they don’t have the time, but if something is important to you, you’ll make the time to do it.

With that in mind, I’ve been getting up an extra 40 minutes early each morning. I spend 10 minutes getting up and organised (starting the computer, making myself a cup of warm lemon water, etc…) and then from 6 – 6.30am I write. I don’t allow myself to do anything else. No internet, no waffling. Just extremely focused writing for a half hour.

It’s been a magical experience. I’ve designated Friday as a free day where I can decide whether or not to get up early so that I don’t burn out. I’m allowed to not study that day, as well, if I wish.

I did really well this week and am actually quite proud of myself for sticking to my schedule. We’ll see how next week goes.

Sadie Walker is Stranded

In Book Reviews on August 7, 2013 at 6:00 am

Sadie Walker is Stranded

Headline Publishing Group 2012

This is the follow-up to Allison Hewitt is Trapped. It takes place after the initial zombie outbreak and it features a different cast of characters.

Nutshell blurb: The city of Seattle has been walled up to protect the inhabitants from the zombies that roam outside. The wall becomes breached, forcing Sadie, her nephew and her friend to flee.

I absolutely loved the first book but this one fell flat for me. I didn’t like Sadie AT ALL and I found that there were far too many references to other books, films, tv shows and various aspects of popular culture. I understood most of them but the generations after me are unlikely to know what the heck she’s talking about. It’s pretty annoying and gets old after a while.

The action is fantastic and it’s an exciting story but characterisation is everything to me. It’s not good to wish for the main character to get eaten by zombies.

The main character continuously makes stupid decisions but tells herself that she’ll never make the same mistakes again. But she does. She makes the stupidest decision at the very end (which I won’t spoil for you) and nobody calls her on it. If I lived in a zombie-filled world and one of my camp-mates made this decision, I would consider killing him/her if I ever saw him/her again. But no one seems to care that she did what she did. It’s incredibly frustrating to read things like this.

She’s also very helpless and relies on others to continually save her.

I would not normally do a blog post about a book when I don’t have many nice things to say about it, but I will in this case. The author has committed a cardinal sin in my eyes and I feel compelled to point it out in the hopes of convincing my writerly friends to not commit this crime.

Please repeat after me: We DO NOT talk trash about another author’s writing in our own work.

Of what do you speak, you might ask?

Well, I’ll tell you. There’s an entire conversation where the characters discuss (and bash) Twilight.

Now, I know that it’s super-cool to not like Twilight or anything by Stephanie Meyer and that there have been flame wars all over the internet as to whether or not it’s “good”. But does that really matter? Are we all not entitled to like or dislike a book according to our own personal tastes?

There’s a pettiness and arrogance to immortalising your hatred of someone else’s work in your own novel. You’re pretty much letting the world know that you think that you’re more talented and that your story is better than that of the person you’re slating. That’s not cool or edgy. It’s just kind of mean.

I was really disappointed when I got to that section. I feel that Ms. Roux’s writing is quirky and fun and that it can stand on its own without needing to bash another author’s work.

Why did you do it, Madeleine? Why????

It completely coloured my perception of this book. From that point on I felt that I was reading the work of a bully; someone who tears others down to make herself look better. Is she really that kind of person? I don’t know, but it really struck a chord with me. I’m not sure if I will read the next one when it comes out.

Therefore I urge you, my friends, don’t do this in your writing. Be supportive of other people, be constructive in your criticism and be nice. Most importantly, if you don’t have anything nice to say…

Wool

In Book Reviews on August 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

Wool

Arrow Books 2013

The children were playing as Holston climbed to his death…

I rarely ever read books when they come out. It’s not a fully intentional thing, although I do tend to avoid things that are surrounded by too much hype. I guess I just don’t like to be told what to read. Taste in books is a very personal thing and I guard it jealously. This means that I avoid any book I see advertised on billboards or on bestseller lists, almost defiantly. I may read one of these books once the hubub has died down, as long as it has an interesting premise. Does reading something after it’s cool make me some kind of literary anti-hipster? I don’t know. Let’s not start with the name-calling.

I’ve always liked doing my own thing independently from what the crowd is doing, but I will admit that sometimes I take it a bit far. I didn’t start watching the X-Files until the re-runs started playing because I couldn’t stand that everyone was making such a fuss over it. Turns out that it became one of my favourite shows. So yeah, I need to work on this little quirk of mine.

I’m telling you all of this because I hesitated when I found this book in the book store. I first saw it advertised on the underground during my daily commute and immediately dismissed it and moved on with my life. Then I saw a couple of threads about it on Goodreads which I didn’t read because I knew that they would be spoilerific. (It doesn’t matter if I don’t intend to read a book. I hate spoilers.) I did read the premise of the novel and I didn’t want to want to read this book. Given my intense love of dystopia, I decided to get over myself and give it a shot.

Thank goodness for my sudden onset of common sense!

Nutshell blurb: The atmosphere of Earth has become so toxic that people now live inside a silo that goes deep underground. Occasionally, people are sent outside to clean the cameras that transmit images of the outside to the people who live inside. The cleaning is a death sentence reserved for criminals although sometimes people volunteer. These are usually people who have gotten too close to the truth.

As awesome as I thought this book was, I almost put it down at one point. The first 40 or so pages gripped me completely. Was Holston really climbing to his death or would he be saved at the last minute? What’s this book about? OMG WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN???

And then we switch to a different PoV for nearly 100 pages and it sent me straight to Dullsville. Population: Me. Why are we following this person? Where is this story going? I found it to be incredibly tedious and I wondered if I could be bothered to finish it.

If this had been a library book, I might have put it back in the bag to go back. But, I bought it and I felt compelled to soldier on.

I’m so glad that I did.

Once we actually got to the main character’s PoV things improved drastically. The action picked up as did the suspense and I zipped through the rest of the 500+ pages in no time. (It helped that I was on holiday as well.)

The main character was interesting as were many of the secondary ones. The problems they faced were intense and left me desperate to know what was going to happen.

Once I got further into the book, I realised the relevance of the part which I thought was dull and when I read the book again (and I’m sure that I will at some point) I don’t think that I’ll find it as boring.

I’m definitely glad that I stuck with it and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

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