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Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Screw Statistics, I Like the Flags

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Hello there, my friends. So, I haven’t finished a book lately and I’m wondering how I’m ever going to catch up. I’m only almost halfway through Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Such. A. Long. Book.

It’s really good, though. It’s one of those that would be un-put-down-able, except that I have to do things like eat, sleep, work and sustain relationships with human beings. And as much as I love to read, I’m not sure that I could read 880 pages in one sitting.

But, hey. It’s not a race is it? As long as I have other things to talk to you about, I don’t have to finish two books per week.

So, as I sit here with my strawberry/rhubarb peel-off face mask contorting my face and destroying free radicals, I’m going to talk to you about something that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Yep, you guessed it. The WordPress statistics page. (Wait…you didn’t guess that?)

Now before you start rolling your eyes and huffing and puffing, let me assure you that it’s not vanity that has prompted this discussion. I’m not about to proclaim my awesomeness by showing you how many people love me because I don’t actually care about the numbers. For those of you who don’t have a WordPress blog, I’ll tell you that WordPress gives us our very own statistics page which features a map and flags. WordPress compiles all of the views of your blog by country.

I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting this is to me. No, I’m not joking.

When I was a little girl, my parents got this huge atlas from National Geographic and I loved that thing so much. I would look at the world and plan all of my trips. Oh it was wonderful! I also went through an artsy stage of my life in my pre-teens when I used to draw a lot. I had this great idea once to draw a map of Africa and then draw the flags on each country so that they fit within the borders. I loved that picture so much and then I started doing Europe but then I got distracted and never finished it. Much like I’m doing now…

Anyway, I love maps and I love flags. I love that a group of people can be united under one piece of fabric. I must admit that whenever I see someone waving around the flag of their country, I feel a tiny bit jealous that it’s not my flag. (Unless it is my flag and then it’s ok.) So yes, I suffer from flag envy. I want all of them to be mine. Mwahahahaha!

Ok, so back to my statistics. Here is what my all-time statistics page looks like as of today:

Stats 28.09.13

Just look at all of those flags!!!! I was ridiculously excited to see this feature when I first started my blog. My husband sometimes gets random texts from me saying things like “I’ve got Viet Nam!” or “Sri Lanka is mine!”.

Please take this moment to feel a little bit sorry for him while I go peel off the strawberry/rhubarb mask.

Ok, I’m back and feeling refreshed. And tingly.

Where was I? Right, flags. Now, there are quite a few countries represented where I actually, physically know someone who lives there. There are also a few countries here who are represented by people I’ve met on my bloggy travels. But there are a few that I’m reasonably sure that I don’t know anyone either in real life or in the blogosphere. I find that fascinating.

I guess this was a really long-winded way of me saying that whatever country you are in right now, thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate you.

Deadlines and Stationery

In My Writing on September 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Hello there!

Apologies for my absence, my blogging friends. I’ve had a busy week. My office has moved, so I’ve been super busy at work. I’m also still getting used to the new office. It’s nice, but it is in a different part of the city (although very close to the old office) but I’ve had to find a new route into work. It’s a bit refreshing as it feels like I’ve got a new job. A change of scenery is a good thing.

I was also away for the weekend.

All of this means that I haven’t really had much time to read. Quelle horreur! Therefore I have no books to talk to you about.

I have, however, managed to make some time to write. It’s difficult because I have to get up earlier to get to the new office, which means that getting up half an hour earlier means that I would have to get up an hour earlier if I want to write. I’m not a morning person so please be assured that this feat of will-power and self-discipline is just not possible. I’ve promised myself that I will absolutely make time in the evenings for my writing. So far, so good. (Except tonight because I’m writing this post. Look, people. I’m not a machine!)

In the spirit of encouraging myself to work harder and make more time for my writing, I’ve decided that I need some goals. Obviously, that means that I’ve had to pay a visit to the stationery shop.

Is that not obvious? Hmmmm… It will be once you get a look at this baby:

Writing Diary

 

Yes, I bought a new diary. It’s a weekly diary which allows me to make weekly goals and each day I write an entry about what I wrote that day. I’m not going to show you a picture of that just yet because I just got it yesterday and I don’t want you to be underwhelmed.

Anyway, on to my writing. I’ve been rewriting my Chapter 1 for ages. I wasn’t very happy with the ending of it so I’ve written alternate endings in order to see what will work the best. I think that I’ve got it now. It will still need a bit of editing as I’m really trying to hone my style. I also tend to scrimp on description so I’m working on that as well. It would seem that people aren’t able to see the things in my head unless I put them ALL on paper.

My protagonist is a young girl and my husband pointed out that a kid that age wouldn’t phrase things the way that I do. Apparently, I like big words and my writing tends to be a bit formal. He made quite a few interesting and helpful points that I’m trying to incorporate into my work. I think that I’m just about ready to move on to Chapter 2 now.

At some point I’m going to read my work out loud. I always feel pretty silly doing it at first, but it’s really helpful, especially with dialogue. Reading it out loud is the best way to make sure it flows.

I’m quite excited about my story and would like to work on it more that I do. (Darn that full time job!) I’ll have to content myself with chipping away at it a bit at a time. I’ll be interested to see how well I can stick to my deadlines. I’m going to do my best!

What about you? Do you set deadlines? Do you edit as you go or do you write now and edit later?

Heart-Shaped Box

In Book Reviews on September 18, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Heart-Shaped Box

Gollancz 2007

He put the box on the shelf, in the back of his closet, and decided to stop thinking about it.

Nutshell blurb: Jude is an aging rocker with a collection of morbid items. He bought a dead man’s suit online for a laugh only to find out that the consequences weren’t that funny.

Jeepers. This was a really good read. It was difficult to put it down when I needed to. This was one of those books that tempted me to stay on the train past my stop during my morning commute. (I was a good girl, though, and didn’t let it make me late for work. *sigh* It’s hard being responsible.)

I didn’t find the main character likeable AT ALL. However, I was intensely sympathetic to his plight and didn’t want bad things to happen to him or the people around him. That’s quite a delicate balance to achieve as a writer and I was seriously impressed by Mr. Hill’s mad writing skillz. There were a few times when I thought that I had figured things out only to have some new development that would throw me for a loop. Seriously, people. Skills.

There were a few things that didn’t make sense to me or weren’t explained thoroughly, such as the significance of the box the suit came in being heart-shaped. Perhaps I missed something, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t explained. I also didn’t understand how the ghost came to be as he was. I’ll leave it at that so that I don’t spoil it for you, but it wasn’t clear to me.

These things didn’t really matter in the scheme of the story, though. It was well written, fantastically creepy and full of suspense. I usually have two books on the go; one for home and one for my commute and this was my commute book. I was so transfixed that I read it at home as well in my travels and it was time well spent. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work in the future.

A Blight of Mages

In Book Reviews on September 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

A Blight of Mages

Orbit 2011

Or perhaps what I’m hearing is the rest of my life ticking into oblivion, into obscurity, into nothing but eventual, echoing silence.

Nutshell blurb: Barl Lindin is an unranked mage who longs to be more than society will allow her to be. She wants to attend the College of Mages but is denied entry due to the low standing of her family. Thus thwarted, she sets into motion a series of events that will rip apart her country and create a new one.

I would like to start by saying that if you are interested in this book, you should probably start with the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series. (The Innocent Mage and The Awakened Mage. I originally bought these books because I liked the covers and thought that they would look good on my shelves. I don’t know why that’s relevant. Anyway, they’re awesome.) This book is the prequel to those and you might get a bit confused at the end which would be pretty annoying.

So, back to what I thought about it.

This book left me breathless and did not disappoint.

The characters are so well written. The main character, Barl, was insufferably arrogant and self-assured, but she was written in such a way that I wanted her to succeed. I loathe arrogance, so it is a testament to Ms. Miller’s writing skill that she was able to make me feel sympathetic toward this person that I probably would have hated if I knew her in real life. In the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series (which takes place several hundred years after this story, and no, this isn’t going to be spoilerific) Barl is worshipped as a deity, so it was interesting to read her story and find out how un-goddess-like she actually is.

One thing that makes Ms. Miller’s writing so appealing (at least to me) is that she isn’t protective or precious about her characters. She puts them through hell. ALL OF THEM. No one is safe in her books. She’ll let you spend time with a character and get to know him or her. You’ll read a bit of back story and think, Oh cool. A new character that is going to be integral to the conflict resolution. And then she’ll kill them off or have them transmuted into some kind of monster and you’ll never hear from or about them again. At first you’ll be angry and scream “Why Karen? Why did you do it?” but then you’ll realise that it’s for the greater good and that the story is better because of it.

My one criticism of this book is that I think that it should have been split up into two books. This book was an eyebrow-raising 660 pages and I felt that some of the details were left out. For example, two of the central characters fall out with each other, as in ‘I never want to see your stupid face again’ falling out, but then we flash forward a couple of weeks and their friendship is semi-mended with no explanation of how that came to be or who caved. There’s also a really harrowing journey through some mountains where people get mauled by bears, bitten by snakes and fall off steep ledges but we’re told about it in flashbacks. It’s a pretty important journey and I felt that more attention should have been given to it. Given Ms. Miller’s love of the two book series, this would have been perfectly acceptable.

At any rate, I loved it and will eventually buy this book. I also plan to read her Fisherman’s Children series (The Prodigal Mage and The Reluctant Mage) that is a sequel series to her Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series (that I also plan to reread).

As an aside, I’ve also read the first book of her Godspeaker series, Empress, and well…hated it. I’m only saying this because if you’ve read and disliked any of the books in that series, don’t let that deter you from reading her Mage books. They are written in a completely different style. If I had read Empress before the Mage books, I would never have picked up anything else by her and would have missed out on some really great stories.

As always, I would love to know what you thought of any of her books.

Take care and see you next time!

Hunger

In Book Reviews on September 11, 2013 at 6:43 am

Hunger

First published in the USA 2009 by HarperTeen
First published in Great Britain 2010 by Egmont UK Limited

Nutshell blurb: The adults have all disappeared leaving everyone under the age of 15 behind. The kids who survived the first book now face a food shortage. They also have to contend with the fact that some of them are developing strange powers.

This is the second book in this series (you can read my thoughts on the first one here).

The first book deals with the fact that everyone over the age of 15 had disappeared leaving kids behind in a small town in California. Being kids with no adult supervision, they made the mistake of not planning ahead with their food. They ate all of the candy/ice cream/junk food and let a lot of fruit/vegetables/meat go to waste.

In this book, those consequences kick in as they now have to ration what they have left. The kids that are left are separated into two factions; those who live in Perdido Beach and those who live in Coates Academy. These factions do not get along and are being broken down further into kids who have strange mutant powers against those who don’t. Throw a nuclear power plant and some mutating animals/insects into the mix and you’ve got a really exciting story filled with peril and action.

This series is YA and it recommends that the reader be 12+ due to “scenes of cruelty and some violence” but that doesn’t mean that it’s a light and comfortable story for adults. These kids deal with some heavy problems, only without the benefit of adult supervision.

One of the problems is that the town is being run by a 15 year old. He’s managing over 100 kids who have no discipline and no desire to harvest food that is growing in the surrounding area. Some of the kids get into alcohol or drugs and one of the girls has an eating disorder even though they are on the verge of starvation.

This book also comes closer to explaining why it all started.

I love this series. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I find it fascinating to imagine how people would survive in a post-apocalyptic world with limited resources. It’s especially interesting to imagine how kids would survive. In this book, they don’t always make the right decisions (even the main characters) but they do the best they can. Some of them try to do things to give their world some semblance of normality, such as creating currency.

There is a lot of action and even though it’s YA, Mr. Grant doesn’t pull punches. People get hurt. People die. There are lynchings. The only real defining characteristics that make it YA to me are the fact that there is no sex and no swearing.

It’s a fantastic series (so far) and I’ll be getting the third book the next time I go to the library.

If you’ve read these books, I’d love to know what you think. (No spoilers, please!)

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

In Book Reviews on September 8, 2013 at 6:00 am

Wicked

Harper Collins Publishers 1995

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be this: Trippy.

I had so many conflicting feelings about it. And before you ask, no, I haven’t seen the play. Nor have I read The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

I picked up this book because I think it’s interesting to see things from the villain’s point of view. I’m not actually sure what I was expecting when I started reading this, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.

There were times when I couldn’t figure out whether or not I liked this book. It left me feeling both frustrated and enchanted at the same time.

Nutshell blurb: The story follows the life of Elphaba, aka The Wicked Witch of the West, from her birth up until the point where Dorothy flings a bucket of water onto her.

So here are the things that I didn’t really like about it.

The first thing I didn’t like is that the beginning of the book is from the pov of her parents before our protagonist is born. And then we move on to her years as a toddler. I find this to be an exceptionally tedious device. I want to jump right in with the main character. I don’t mind a little bit of back story. She was born green and had pointy teeth. Her first word was “horrors”. That’s all very interesting, but I need to feel that a story is going somewhere. We spend almost a fifth of the book with her parents.

The second thing I didn’t like was that I didn’t feel much of a connection with any of the characters until really late in the story when I finally got a sense of who Elphaba really was. There were a few times when I questioned whether or not I wanted to finish reading it and a few times when I almost put it down.

The third thing I didn’t like is kind of an extension of the first. Remember when I said that I need to feel that a story is going somewhere? Once we reached the halfway point, I had some serious questions as to where the story was going. I don’t like it when stories are predictable, but I feel like there needs to be some goal that the main character is trying to reach. It was very frustrating to have no sense of what Elphaba was trying to accomplish at certain points in the book.

Now on to things that I liked about it.

It was an incredibly complex world with a lot of political intrigue. I mention this not because I’m particularly interested in political intrigue, but because the assumption might be that as this story is based on a well-loved children’s story, it might be light on the details. However, this world is vast and interesting with characters that aren’t fully good or fully evil.

Another thing I liked was that Elphaba really became human to me in the latter part of the book. She wasn’t evil, but she had a very strong sense of justice which made her do things that were evil. You could totally see why she did them though. She had a good heart but continually failed at things that she tried to accomplish which made it easy to relate to her. But then sometimes her motives were unknown and downright creepy. I mean, what would possess someone to sew wings onto monkeys?

One thing I’d like to point out is that it would be easy to think that it’s a YA book, but I think that it’s most certainly adult material as it’s got a bit of sex and a hint of bestiality in it. (Yes, it really does.) From what I’ve read of the reviews, a lot of people bought this book because they saw the play first. These are the people who seemed to be most disappointed with it.

I think that you’re going to have to make your own minds up about this one, my friends. I ended up giving it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads just because it has baffled me so much. I waffle back and forth as to whether or not I liked it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I finished it, so I’m leaning towards liking it. It’s not one I’ll read again, however.

Have you read this book? I would love to know what you thought about it.

Redshirts

In Book Reviews on September 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

RedshirtsGollancz 2012

John Scalzi had me at his dedication to Wil Wheaton.

To Wil Wheaton, whom I heart with all the hearty heartness a heart can heart.

Thus began an entire novel of complete silliness and whimsy. Right up my alley.

As the title suggests, this book follows the plight of the Redshirts. For those of you who haven’t watched any Star Trek at all (shame on you, for one thing), the Redshirts are the throw away characters who accompany the main characters on away missions and always die. You can always tell who it’s going to be. You’ll have the captain, the science officer, maybe the chief engineer and then there’s Ensign Bob Smith and you know right away that Ensign Smith won’t be making it back to the ship.

Actually, Eddie Murphy explains it much better in Boomerang:

You get the idea. And just so we’re clear, this book does not take place in the Star Trek universe.

So the premise of this book is that the demise of Redshirts aboard the Intrepid has gotten out of hand to the point where they start noticing that something is wrong. And then they start comparing notes and realise that assignment on any away mission is a death sentence. A handful of them set out to figure out why and to see what they can do to stop it.

Frankly, I can’t tell you more than that without spoiling it.

I will give you this quote, however, which might be slightly spoilerfic but it’s from the pov of one of the Redshirts so we kind of expect it anyway.

Ensign Davis thought, Screw this, I want to live, and swerved to avoid the landworms. But then he tripped and one of the landworms ate his face and he died anyway.

I literally laughed out loud. Reading it still makes me giggle a bit.

I gave this five out of five stars on Goodreads because of the sheer enjoyment I got from it. It was fast-paced with constant action (always a plus for me) and it didn’t take itself very seriously at all. The dialogue was a bit clunky and some of the characters weren’t well rounded, but I attributed that to the subject matter. These guys are the extras with minimal back-stories and the writing style reflected that.

The one thing that I didn’t really like about this book was the end. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it for you.) After the main story is a set of three codas which wrap up the stories of some of the characters from the main story. I felt that this book could have stood on its own without the codas. I thought that the ending was really quirky and cool, but was then dragged out by this additional information which I could have survived without.

Overall, I loved it. It satisfied my need for action and had the added bonus of complete and utter silliness. A total win in my book.

The Martian War

In Book Reviews on September 1, 2013 at 6:00 am

The Martian War

Titan Books 2012

Hello, my friends. Guess what! I’ve got a book to talk about. Wooooooooooooooo! It’s about time. It took me 10 days to read it, which is unheard of for me. I can usually read two books in that time. I say this because I’ve noticed that it’s a much different experience when a book is spread out over time rather than reading it all within a few days. This book features a lot of action, so spreading out over almost two weeks meant that my experience was a bit choppy.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely. I picked this up at the library because of the cover. (Yes, I’m one of those people.) I brought it home without realising that I already own a book by Kevin J Anderson called Captain Nemo: The Adventures of a Dark Genius. Once I figured this out, I became even more excited about this book. He’s a fantastic author!

He certainly didn’t disappoint.

Nutshell blurb: The year is 1884 and a martian crash lands in the Sahara desert and is intercepted by Dr. Moreau and Professor Lowell. H.G. Wells, his girlfriend and his professor must try to stop a martian invasion. 

This takes place before The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. What I loved about this book was that it felt like old-school pulp science fiction. I also loved that it paid almost no attention to the science part of sci-fi. People could walk on the moon and Mars without wearing space gear and there were magic crystals owned by the Martians which allowed the holder to see the red planet whilst they were on Earth and allowed the Martians to spy on Earth from Mars to gauge our defences. The moon is inhabited by a race of Selenites who have been kidnapped by the Martians and pressed into service on Mars as slaves.

The characters were fantastic. Wells’ girlfriend, Jane, was a pretty awesome 19th century chick. She jumped into the action with gusto and often took the lead when combating the Martians. Dr. Moreau was creepy as hell, as is to be expected, but his actions were prompted by a need to further scientific study, which made him pretty interesting.

I loved this book. It was so much fun. If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’m a woman of action. I love to read about how people get through conflict and I especially love it when mild-mannered, bookish types end up kicking butt and saving the world. Perhaps it’s a bit of insight into my own personality and the type of person I would want to be in such a situation.

Also, the book has dialogue like this:

“Don’t lose our advantage, Mr. Wells,” Huxley said. “Move forward with the proper balance of caution and panicked haste.”

I have so much love for this book. And yes, I realise how many times I’ve said ‘love’ in this post. I regret nothing.

On a personal note, many of you know that I’ve been studying for an exam for work all month. Well, I took it yesterday morning and tanked it big time. It was really disappointing as I studied really hard for it (and gave up so much reading to do so!). But I have a newfound sense of freedom and am back to reading two books at a time and will hopefully be back on track soon.

Also, we’ve found a new flat and are moving into it on Tuesday so there might be a slight gap in my posts, but I’ll do my best to catch up soon. Thank you so much for reading!

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