Sunday, 21 August 2016

Library book haul

Feeling a reading slump (when you just can't "get into" any book) coming on - probably because I've read quite a lot recently thanks to being on holiday - I am bit reluctant to buy another book. Therefore, inspired by Elena Reads Books' video about books she has checked out from the library, I decided to visit my local library. These are the books I picked up (in alphabetical order).

Having read the first DI Vera Stanhope novel, I decided to give this - the fifth in the series - a go. Not sure if I will even attempt to read it to be honest but, hey, that's the great thing about library books; you haven't wasted any money if you don't end up reading them.

Promoting her book Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen (the first in her Six Tudors Queens series) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Weir gave a very interesting talk about Katherine and about her approach to writing historical fiction. So much so that I was inspired to read one of her books (which, after all, was the point of her talk); however, I realised I couldn't face reading yet another book about Henry VIII or his wives (I've already read Wolf Hall, Bringing up the Bodies, and The Other Boleyn Girl) - and didn't want to fork out for the hardcover book price (the Kindle version doesn't seem to be available yet) - so I thought I would try this one about Katherine Grey (sister of Jane, who literally lost her head) and Kate Plantagenet (result of Richard III playing away from home). 

I've been wanting to read this re-imagining of The Winter's Tale (part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series) for a while so was really pleased to see the paperback version in the library. The problem is that the only reason I haven't already bought it is because I thought it was too expensive (£10 last time I checked); now that I know it's only £4.99 on Kindle, I am very tempted to buy it. But no! I will read this library version in celebration of the wonderful resources that libraries are!*

Why be happy when you could be normal? Also by Jeanette Winterson
Having loved Oranges are not the only fruit, Winterson's autobiographical novel, this memoir (described as the novel's silent twin) is also on my "to read" list. Plus, as you may have guessed by the fact I have picked up two of her books, Winterson is one of my favourite authors (despite my total inability to remember her surname - I keep thinking it's Winerson for some reason). I suspect it might be a bit harrowing, which is why I grabbed this library book; I can take it back if it all gets too much!

If you're also in a reading slump, Book Riot has some good tips for getting out of it.

* = They are wonderful but I can pretty much guarantee you I'll have downloaded the book by the end of the week.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Books I read on my holibobs

SpectaclesSpectacles by Sue Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heartfelt memoir about the ups and downs of life - from meeting kindred spirits to the pain of break ups. The Bake off barely gets a mention (one chapter and a reference that to the fact Perkins can't go anywhere - even when coping with a dog with diarrhoea - without someone shouting "bake" at her). In fact, she spends more detailing the things that have gone wrong in her career than the things that have gone right. I much prefer celeb autobiographies to be this way rather than someone blathering on about how great their life has been or how embarrassed they are at how successful/bright they are (unlike some celeb autobiographies I could mention*). It's comforting to know that even household names are muddling along in life just like the rest of us!

* = Stephen Fry's The Fry Chronicles may as well have been called "I didn't choose to be this clever" for the amount of humblebragging that went on (Fry later redeemed himself with the much better More Fool Me).

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Ethel and ErnestEthel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful biography of Riggs' parents - from their first meeting to their deaths. He shows their imperfection (Ethel can be a bit of a snob while Ernest is somewhat insensitive) but most of all, he shows their devotion to each other. Despite spending most of the book bickering, Ethel and Ernest have a deep, obvious love for each other.

As we have come to expect from the author of The Snowman (it's not Briggs' fault it is shown every sodding Christmas), Father Christmas, and When the Wind Blows, the artwork is beautifully understated.

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The Tidal ZoneThe Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very well written, poignant tale of coping with the aftermath of a shocking event (the narrator's daughter stops breathing for no apparent reason) and with the realisation we don't really have any control over the future.

The only reason I've given it three stars is because I felt it was about two or three chapters too long. I felt Moss laboured the end a bit and could have wrapped things up sooner than she did without detriment to the plot or to the characters' development.

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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The pros and cons of owning a Kindle

To buy a Kindle or not buy a Kindle that's the question you probably not remotely asking yourself. But hell, I am bored and can find flip all to watch on Netflix  - so I though I'd list the pros and cons of owning a Kindle* for you (if anyone other than me actually reads this blog that is).


1. Taking your books on your travels
When packing my suitcase, I always try to keep one very important fact in mind - I am the numpty who has to lug the thing to the airport. Therefore the lighter it is, the better. Obviously, a Kindle (loaded with as many books as you want) takes up considerably less space - and more importantly, weight - than your average paperback.

2. Choice
With a Kindle, assuming you have a reasonable internet connection, you can buy pretty much whatever book your want whenever you want. On numerous occasions, a book I've bought on a whim has ended up being a favourite. Being a fan of instant gratification, there's no way I would have bought such a book had I had to wait for it to come into stock.

3. Samples.
You can download as many samples - excerpts of a book (usually the first chapter) - as you want free of charge. These days, to avoid adding yet another book to my already huge not finished pile, I always download a sample before buying. If I want keep to reading after I finish the sample, I buy the book; if I don't want to keep reading or don't finish the sample, I don't buy the book. OK, so most bookshops don't mind you browsing but they'd probably be less than impressed if you systematically read the first chapter of a book before deciding to buy it or not.

4. Organisation
For most people who actually have a life, this wouldn't remotely register as a bonus. But, I love the fact that I can organise my books several ways - ie. alphabetically, by author, and by genre. I don't as it happens; I just organise my books by the year I've read them. I just like the fact I could organise them in multiple ways should I want to.

5. Durability
A Kindle copes better with me being messy. Few print books remain pristine after I finished reading them - they end up with food splodges on them and, well, a bit tatty (I am anti dog ears though; I am not a total cavewoman). My Kindle, on the other hand, just needs a quick wipe with a slightly damp cloth and it's as good as new. Providing I don't take it for a swim or drop it from a height, it can also cope with my innate clumsiness.


1. Ethics
It really doesn't sit well with me that I can only buy my ebooks from Amazon because my Kindle won't recognise any other type of ebook - I'd much rather buy books from a company that doesn't have a reputation for not paying its taxes or, more importantly, treating its staff poorly. Obviously the solution would be to buy different e-reader that allows you to buy non-Amazon e-books, but my Kindle Paperweight is only 18 months old and cost me about £100 - so that's not really an option. My cop out, and it is a cop out, is to only buy ebooks from Amazon. I try, wherever possible, to buy print books from a shop or non-mega corporation websites such as Foyles.

2. You can't give books away
While you can remove a book from a Kindle, you can't remove it from your "cloud". So you have to forever own a book that you absolutely hated. You can apparently lend or borrow books but only for 14 days - which gives the recipient very little time to read the book. Plus, they are obligated to read it as soon as they receive it rather than when they have time/want to read it.

3. You can't borrow library books
I buy about two books a month, so I'd save myself a small fortune if I was able to borrow books from my local library. You can borrow books through the subscription service Amazon Prime - which I have yet to figure out how to use - but most of the books on there seem to be rubbish self-published tomes that I have no interest in reading. You can borrow library books using the OverDrive app on your phone/tablet but it seems a tad silly to fork out on a Kindle and then read ebooks using a different device.

4. Reading in a non-linear fashion doesn't work
Sometimes you'll reading be something and you'll come across a character that you're supposed to know - so you have to flip back to find the bit you missed where the character was introduced. With a print book, you literally just flip back the pages until you spot what you're looking for. With a Kindle, you have to bookmark the page you're on and then painstakingly turn back each individual page. Plus highlighting text is even less user friendly than it is in Word (ie. takes a lot of faffing about to highlight the section you actually want to highlight).

5. Less aesthetically and emotionally satisfying than a print book
Curling up with your Kindle doesn't quite provide the same emotional fix as curling up with a paperback (in the same way, for some music fans, that a song on Spotify doesn't sound quite the same way that it does on Vinyl). Plus these days, a lot of time and effort goes into designing artistic book covers - which is completely lost on the Kindle given that it's black and white.

* = Other e-book readers are obviously available but I've only ever had a Kindle, so can only read talk about that.

According to Yes by Dawn French

According to YesAccording to Yes by Dawn French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am so irritated by this book!

First off, the book cover and book description makes you think it's going to be some light-hearted, chick-lit esque novel about a Mary Poppins/Maria Von Trapp character teaching an uptight family to be less, well, uptight.

It isn't; it has a lot more edge to it than that - which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read one of French's previous novels or watched any of her comedy (stuff she's done with Jennifer Saunders rather than Vicar of Dibley).

Why do publishers have this obsession with marketing a work by a female author that isn't literary fiction as chick lit? Why can't just be marketed as a novel? Like books by male authors are?

Mind you, the second thing that really annoyed me about this novel is that French lacks the courage of her convictions to continue with the edgier stuff until the end. She raises a few issues but then conveniently overcomes them. I think it would be much more interesting if the pitfalls of the "saying yes to everything" philosophy of Rosie Kitto, the book's heroine, were highlighted to a greater extent. There are several events that occur as a direct result of this philosophy that in real life would not play out as smoothly as they do in the book.

One can only hope in later novels, French is tad a braver and lets her books end more messily than this one does.

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