We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

You can have too much of a good thing

I find myself being a bit restless regarding my reading.

Much as I have enjoyed it, I think I have been reading a bit too much YA, and my review writing skills have suffered for it. Please, I am not trashing the YA genre, I adore it, and it is the perfect escape, but I have just been indulging in it a bit too much.

Look at YA as a decadent desert, you love it so much, you over indulge without noticing, and suddenly one day you see how you have been overindulging. Not the best analogy, but I hope you get my point. The Classics on the other hand, are like dietary staples, they are what you need to function properly.

I have been having desert as a main course, and I only just realised it. And I am feeling the effects in my review writing ability. So things will be changing a bit around here, YA reviews won't be so prevalant, but will rather appear as desert - as a special treat.

I have just been examining my reading habits, and I do need to change. For now this is the change that I need to make, but maybe I'll be making more changes, it remains to be seen, but then this is my space, and it changes as frequently as my thoughts and mental needs do.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson

Would you follow the directions?

Would you travel around the world?

Would you open the envelopes one by one?

Title: Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes
Author: Maureen Johnson
Pages: 319
Publisher: HarperCollins
Followed by: The Last Little Blue Envelope
Source: borrowed

The Synopsis

Inside little blue envelope number 1 is $1000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket. 
Envelope number 2 contains directions to a specific London flat.
The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.
Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/bloke-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous -though utterly romantic- results. 
Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

The Review

Imagine being able to go to Europe on someone else's expense for what could be the adventure of your life. This is what is offered to Ginny, with some sometimes hilarious consequences. The missions that she is sent on by opening each little blue envelope are quite wonderful, you are exposed to so many different things. Vicariously you get to see Europe through Ginny's eyes and her experiences.

I would love to have the opportunity that Ginny had to travel, to go and see Europe. If anyone funded a trip like that for me, I would be absolutely ecstatic! It would be a dream come true, but I would want to go for months and not just weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure aspect of this story, I only wish that there could have been more...

But who knows, maybe the next book in the series - The Last Little Blue Envelope - will give this story a more finished feel. But whilst I understand why (and I'll not say more for fear of spoilers,) I feel that Maureen Johnson could have added something more to make it feel whole.

The only thing that saddens me about Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes is that I was hoping it would give me that feeling that I got from Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn't have) but it didn't, I loved going on the adventure, but I did not get that excited conspiratorial feeling that I was hoping to get.  

I enjoyed this book, but it fell a little short of great for me. There was just something missing towards the end, a crucial element that made it feel incomplete. Things just started to move so quickly after the 13th envelope got lost, and in another direction completely that I felt a bit thrown off. It does make me question why there has to be a second book, whether the story could not have been told in one book, being just great. But I shall render my final judgement after I have read The Last Little Blue Envelope.

This is still a book that is worth reading, and it is quite enjoyable, and for the vicarious traveller, it is just the book to get you in the mood for travel and adventure.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Th1rteen R3asons Why - Jay Asher

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 288
Publisher: razor bill
Source: own

The Synopsis

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and first love - who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Hannah's voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why. 

All through the night, Clay keeps listening - and what he discovers changes his life...


The Review

I would like to start by saying that this book is just amazing - the concept of it, and what inspired it is just phenomenal.

The impact that this book has had on me is also something that adds to the magnificence of this exceptional debut by Jay Asher. Whilst this book was published in 2009 already, it started making waves in the blogosphere last year, and that is how it came to be on my radar.

This book actually awoke some ghosts from the past whilst I was reading it. I shall try very hard not to include too much of that in my review, but should it slip in, please forgive me.

I have never read a book like Thirteen Reasons Why before. What one tends to see in popular culture is those who are left behind after a loved one's suicide picking up the pieces of their lives, or we will see someone who has just had enough taking their life. This wonderful book tells the story behind suicide so much better, it goes to the root of why Hannah felt she had no way out but to take her life.

This book is haunting and compelling, you need to see what happened to poor Hannah, what made her reach this conclusion. I could not put it down, I read this book through the night, I felt as though I were Clay listening to these tapes that could only lead to one outcome. I felt what Clay was feeling, the discomfort of knowing the outcome, hearing what happened leading up to it. I could completely understand why he felt so sick.

My own experience with a suicidal friend may have made this book mean a bit more to me than to a reader who has never known anyone with suicidal tendencies. This book helped me to realise that even though you don't think so, and you don't always feel it, these things affect you. Clay was saddened by Hannah's suicide, he felt bad about not doing anything to show he was there for her, but then she helped him to feel better. Even though he felt worse knowing what she endured, knowing what she says to him on those tapes sets him apart from the other 12 people.

I feel that this is a book that everyone should read at least once in their lives, and it would be great if it became a prescribed book for highschools. How we don't realise how we impact the lives and actions of others is for me one of the central movements of this haunting debut, and is definitely a lesson that we all should learn before we become a Hannah or a Clay.

Friday, 11 May 2012

After the Snow - S.D. Crockett



Title: After the Snow
Author: S.D. Crockett
Pages: 308
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Source: Review copy

The synopsis

Willo is a straggler kid  living in the dangerous and barren land of a new ice age. Coming home after a day of trapping hares on the snowy mountainside he discovers that his entire family is gone. 

And after one night in the empty house he knows they are not coming back. Isolated and at risk Willow loads up his sledge and embarks on a terrifying, freezing journey of survival. The dog spirit inside his head is his guide and only companion.

The Review

 I have a bit of a mixed review about After the Snow. I would like to start my review with how pretty the copy I got is, it is just a perfect cover for the book. The lone crow on the cover, it just works so well with the story. Well, I think it's prettier than the other covers out there. Also, the illustrations at the various parts of the book are lovely too.

I think I'll start with what I liked about After the Snow: Willo, I have never read about a character like Willo before, his will to survive and his ability to make the best of the situations in which he finds himself is just remarkable. He is such a caring character, and I was sad to leave him at the end of the book.

 I have said it before, and I'll say it again, I am not a fan of dystopian's it just seems like too real a possibility that it freaks me out. Having said this, what kept me reading this book, was having to know what happens to Willo, I had to know whether or not he finds absolution.

What I didn't like about after the snow, was the language. I am rather anal about speaking properly, so reading the thoughts of  a character that speaks as he thinks, in a very broken english annoyed me. But once I got over that and placed it in the context of why he speaks as he does, I have to applaud S.D. Crockett for letting him speak as he does.

I will admit, that I felt rather lost when I started reading this book, I kept looking for a point of reference, as to where this story is happening, and I wanted to learn more about Willo, but it just never happened. I had to reread the email I got about the book to find that point of reference, but again - within the context of the book and the storyline - it makes sense  to not do that, I am just fairly analytical and need to know where I am, instead of just free falling into the story.

I do think that this is a really good debut, and I look forward to seeing whether there will be another book about Willo, because whilst there is a point where a lot comes together, I feel like there could be more to it. This is well worth reading, and if you are a fan of dystopian I do recommend it. You will love Willo.

Friday, 4 May 2012

No Reader is an Island, No Blogger Either, for that matter

There has been a fair amount of animosity in the blogosphere of late. And, as these things tend to do, well for those not involved in the fray, it has led me to a great deal of introspection about my space in the blogosphere. It has led me to asking myself some questions, that I would like to share with you, as well as the answers that I have come up with.

Should you not wish to read this entire post, what I am trying to say is that we should not judge oneanother based on what we read, there is no right or wrong way to read. There is no right or wrong genre, you should not patronise me for enjoying YA. There is also no wrong or right way to blog, if we all did everything the same, there would be no need for the blogosphere, we could all just run one big blog, but variety is the spice of life and it is our differences that make us interesting. I write what I want, and I write honestly how I feel about a book, not because I am looking for approval, but because I am sharing my views. I am not writing to influence you, I just want to express how a book has impacted or disappointed me. I am not trying to guide you, I am just here to express myself, and is that not what the majority of us want to do anyway? It is wrong to tell someone that they should not gain pleasure from a certain genre of book, books are the only escape that many have, and who are we to judge?

That in a nutshell, is what I am trying to say here, I hope you do read on so that you can understand me a bit better.

When and why did I start this blog?

I started this blog at the latter end of 2009. I had another blog, but I felt that I needed one to dedicate solely to books. The idea came to me on one of my many Saturday morning coffee dates with my good friend Caeser. I only started taking this blog seriously in the second term of 2010. I started setting goals for myself, and working on this blog to help me overcome my depression.

I have always been an avid reader, and I saw this as an opportunity to record my thoughts and opinions on books, as well as to have something to show for 2010 the year I took off to repair my mental state. Blogging and reading helped to save me, as it gave me something I could control to focus on.

Which books do I read and why?

Much of my life, I have been reading books that are one step ahead of my age group's prescribed reading. I learnt to read when I was 5 years old, and when I was 7 I read Charlotte's Web by myself. I had devoured all of Roald Dahl's books in the local library by the time I was 9. My mom had me reading biographies about Galileo, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison and others at the same time.

I then moved onto the older children's side of the library and read what I could. When I was 14 I ventured into the Lord of the Rings, and by the time I was 15 I was reading Chocolat. My friends and I were the intellectual group at high school and we debated Freud and Aristotle. We thought we were so amazing. We would buy teenage magazines, and loved the UK ones we could get in Port Elizabeth.

The only kind of YA I read was the Flambards Trilogy and the 2 Dawson's Creek books that the local library happened to have. I never thought too much of YA growing up, but I don't think it really existed then.

I suppose the point I am trying to make, is that one of the genres I enjoy now, YA, is so great for me, because when I was a young adult, I was just so serious, I wanted to be older than I was, and well now I miss how easy life used to be so that is why I read YA. YA offers an escape, it is an easy read, and it is not taxing, it is the kind of read you want to escape into after a long day. But what I really think the reason is for my great enjoyment of YA is, is that I am not ready to be a grown up, but I have to be. I am 24, and I have many responsibilities. In reading YA, I get to escape my responsibilities, and go back to a simpler time when all you had to really worry about was impressing your friends. Is it so wrong to want to do that?

I also like the worlds of Sookie Stackhouse, Maggie O'Neal, MJ Holliday and Trish from the Book Town mystery series. I enjoy mysteries, they are easy to get into, and they just give you something to relax thinking about. I also enjoy the vampire books of late, but that does not make me a shallow reader. Just because it is not difficult does not mean it should be dismissed, reading is one of the best pleasures that life has to offer, why should you not be able to read what you want to without being judged? Why should others try to censor us?

I love novels, I thoroughly enjoyed The Orchid House, Middlesex is one of my favourite all time books. I loved White Oleander, Disgrace, Shutter Island and The Virgin Suicides.

I also enjoy the classics, Revolutionary Road, Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, The Color Purple these are among my favourites.

I adore Harry Potter and have enjoyed some of the Chronicles of Narnia as well as a bit of Lemony Snickets. No reader is an island - you cannot close yourself off to certain genres.

But my absolute favourite has to be biographies, especially the autobiography and memoir sub genres. I love experiencing the lives of others vicariously, whether it is Frank McCourt, Sharon Osbourne or Seabiscuit. Books are the best form of travel, and you don't need a passport.

I am an amalgam when it comes to reading, I read what I feel like reading when I feel like reading it. No one is going to make me feel like a second rate citizen in the world of reading because I do not fit the mould that they have cast. My mind is my own, and I am going to feed it with what I want, because reading is one of the few things in which you can truly be free.

So to the judgmental lemmings out there, thank you for making me examine and put into words my thoughts about reading and the genres which I enjoy. And I will thank you kindly not to judge, but to rather look at yourself and ask whether you feel inhibited in the reading choices that you make that you have to criticise those who veer off of your chosen path.

In life, as in the blogosphere, I do not fit into a box. I do and believe what feels right to me. So what if I read 20 books targeted at 16 year olds, it makes me happy, and that is the goal of life, isn't it?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

April: the month that was

Is it just me, or did April just fly by in a flash of light? Maybe it just feels as though it flew by because so much happened in April. Do brace yourself as this is going to be a fairly long post.

April was a very oxymoron type of month for me, not only was it a very lucky month for me in that my books that I won from the Women24 Book Club arrived, and I won not only a hamper of Kate Furnivall books from Penguin Books South Africa, but also a voucher from Jacana Media. I also got a few books that I ordered from Kalahari, and found 2 gems at a ridiculously low price at a second hand book shop this weekend, but more about that later. Do look out for an extended Book Loot post soon. Also, my review of Gone with the Wind is up at Women24, so click on the link to check it out!

As I said April was a very oxymoron type of month for me, as it was truly bittersweet. There were the good things, some of which were mentioned above and then the not so good things. One bad thing was that my beautiful ninja attitude cat Snakey disappeared, she just vanished. And let me tell you she was not the kind of cat to run away. Someone must have taken her or something else, but she was too loyal to leave voluntarily. And then my dog Nullah was knocked over by a car and killed. But I don't want to dwell on the sadness, I am more saying this to record it for posterity than anything else.

But back to the good things...

My cousin and I after Graduation
I got my degree!!!! That's right folks!! I am a Bachelor of Arts :) I am so proud of myself. I was not going to go to Graduation, as I did not feel that I needed the whole ceremony thing, having finished after all that happened was reward enough for me. But, I will say that I am glad that my best friend Shaun convinced me to go, as I saw many of my friends, and I was inspired to do my Honours and hopefully my Masters too. Let's hope the inspiration lasts!
Shaun and I after Grad.

I managed to read 5 books in April, and I am quite proud of that number. It is about the same as the March total I reached, so as long as there is consistency I am happy. I am not going to try to read 5 books in May, as I do have exams, and I really should start getting serious about them. I just find it hard because I don't need the credits for the modules that I am doing as I already have my degree, but I just need to get into the study zone and then all will go like a machine as far as that goes. I read mostly YA in April, and I have prepared a personal post on YA which will go up in a day or so, so keep an eye out for that. In light of all the sadness, I just needed some easy reading, and I just could not focus on Middlesex whilst I had the flu, so YA really was the best companion for me.

So onto this past weekend...

This past weekend was a super long weekend for many of us here in South Africa, Friday was Freedom Day, Monday was just an extra day because Tuesday May 1st is Worker's Day here in South Africa. It was quite a lovely long weekend which saw my family visiting the Garden Route. And if you have not been, you have not seen true beauty. The scenery, the tranquility, the beauty of the Garden Route is mesmerising, and you have to go at least once in your life. It truly is a fine experience. We left home on Thursday and slept over in Port Elizabeth. Friday we left for Plettenberg Bay, and made a few stops along the way. One of my favourite places to stop at is Storms River, there is a bridge there that is over an enormous gorge. It is quite a view looking down. I have had it on my bucket list for years, that I would walk across that bridge, I have never been able to manage it before, but I did it on Friday. I crossed the Storms River Bridge, and I am very proud of myself for doing it. It may not seem like much, but when you are walking across on this narrow little walk-way and there are enormous trucks riding over, it does get the adrenaline pumping.

Just before I went to walk across the bridge.

We arrived in Plettenberg Bay, and just enjoyed the scenery from the resort we were staying at, and I understand now why one needs a room with a view, the view was wonderful. So panoramic, you saw the hills, and countryside as well as a panoramic view of the bay, it was wonderful. Saturday we ventured into Plett, and found the most delightful French Bakery with the most delicious treats! And right across the way was a second hand book shop. I see it as fate when a book that you read about mere days before is available to you, especially when  it as obscure a title as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It was a scant R20.00, but it also happened to be part of the 50% off section, so I got it for a LOW R10.00. I also found the Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud, which I have wanted for a while now, and it to had the same price and discount as my other book. So I got an absolute bargain, 2 great books for R20.00.

Sunday we went to Knysna, and I absolutely adore Knysna. I arrived too late to experience anything of the Knysna Literary Festival, but next time I hope to go to a breakfast or film screening. The Knysna Waterfront and Quays are breathtakingly beautiful, the view of the Heads is just amazing. Sadly the cruises to The Heads were fully booked, but just to have been there was enough for me.

Sadly the weekend came to an end too soon, and Monday arrived signalling the time to leave Plett. But it did mean that soon we would be stopping at Jeffrey's Bay, and wouldn't you know, they were having their 50% off sale! How very fortuitous, I have been looking for a while for a bag in which to carry my books that I am currently reading, and I found a lovely one, which I got for an absolute steal.

So April was a pretty good month for me, I can only hope that May will be half as good.

Phew, that really was a long one! I hope that you have been entertained. How was April for you?