Saturday 31 December 2011

Six months of blogging in 2011

I can't believe that it's already the last day of 2011! This year sure has sped by pretty fast. It's hard to believe that I've managed to fulfil six whole months of prosperous blogging, too. At the beginning of the year, I had a completely different blog which covered more general things – life, sports, films – you name it. Needless to say it never got very many followers and so I forgot about posting. But a few months later, I had a brain wave; what about books? I'm studying English lit anyway, and blogging about them will give me even more incentive to read, maybe even improve my writing skills.

Six months and 250+ followers on, my blog is still going strong. I never thought that I would stick to this for that long as I've been, ahem, known for giving up on things in the past quite easily. But I honestly think committing to this blog has helped my life in so many ways. During the times when I haven't been able to post as frequently due to university work and so forth, I've definitely felt deprived! This has turned into a healthy outlet for me to grow as a person. A great sign that I've finally stumbled onto something that can happily stay in my life for years to come!

It's also been amazing to meet so many like-minded bloggers, authors, publishers and friends to share my time and passion for blogging and for books with. I hope 2012 is equally prosperous and lucky for all of us. Here's to another six months and beyond!

Thursday 29 December 2011

Review: An Idiot Abroad by Karl Pilkington

Presenting the Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington: Adventurer. Philosopher. Idiot. Karl Pilkington isn't keen on travelling. Given the choice, he'll go on holiday to Devon or Wales or, at a push, eat English food on a package holiday in Majorca. Which isn't exactly Michael Palin, is it? So what happened when he was convinced by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to go on an epic adventure to see the Seven Wonders of the World? Travel broadens the mind, right? You'd think so. Find out in Karl Pilkington's hilarious travel diaries.
'He is a moron. A completely round, empty-headed, part-chimp Manc.' RICKY GERVAIS
'He'd have been happier in medieval times in a village where you didn't travel beyond the local community.' STEPHEN MERCHANT (via

I started watching An Idiot Abroad only about a month ago after catching the repeat of the Taj Mahal episode on Sky. When it first aired, it didn't appeal to me at all – who wants to see an idiotic, narrow minded person go around the world and basically insult everything? Oh, but I couldn't have been more wrong! Yup Karl is an idiot, but he's also completely hilarious and will try almost anything (that isn't bungee jumping of course!) Much to his own chagrin, he gets involved in everything and is honest to everybody. Sometimes I have a hard time believing what he says isn't scripted because it's so offbeat, but apparently it's all just him. I love it!

The book is supposed to be Karl's travel diaries that he wrote as he stumbled across the world under the influence of Ricky and Steve's directions. It does recycle some things he says on the show, but there are quite a lot of new anecdotes in here as well including behind-the-scenes stuff. I don't think I've laughed quite as hard reading a book before! All of his deadpan humour is represented so well. In fact, I've bookmarked some of the pages I found most entertaining. Here's something of Karl's that had me rolling over with laughter:
'I had some toast and a bit of papaya. This was the first time I'd ever eaten papaya. It was okay, but if someone told me I'd never eat papaya ever again, I wouldn't be bothered. I feel like this about most fruit. There is too much fruit in the world, and I don't like buying a lot of it, as it goes off so quickly. Maybe that's why we're told to eat five portions a day, just to get through the stuff before it turns mouldy.'
Classic Karl philosophy! Ha.

I very much enjoyed this book. Though, saying that, it wasn't perfect. There were a few bits that upset me – like when he described people eating guinea pigs, frogs, and so forth. Oh, and especially the Chinese 'delicacies'. No offense intended to anyone reading this, but coming from the UK and being a big animal lover, I just don't agree with how animals are treated/slaughtered/eaten in these countries. But, apart from that, this book was a complete riot. If you watch An Idiot Abroad, you'll want to read this gem!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Watch the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey!

The first trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is finally here! How exciting is this?! Oh, if only I had a time machine – I could go and watch this film now! I can't wait to see it in all its Middle Earth glory!

What do you think? Are you squeeing with anticipation like me?! I don't think I've ever been this excited about a film before!

Also remember to check out the newly launched official website – you can download the trailer and some fabulous desktop wallpaper.

Later, Hobbitses!

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Review: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

There seems to be little Bertie Wooster can do without the help of Jeeves these days. Formidable aunts, unbidden guests, and other headaches are small potatoes for the ever-resourceful Jeeves. Here is another heavenly dose of humor and intrigue from "the greatest comic writer ever" (Douglas Adams). (via Goodreads)

When I bought this book, I was under the mistaken impression that it was the first in the Jeeves series; only because the description at the back of my copy begins by saying 'These marvellous stories introduce us to Jeeves...'. But, apparently, it's the third book. Slightly bewildered me, but nevertheless it hasn't mattered a great deal as the book is pretty easy to follow.

Carry On, Jeeves is actually a collection of humourous short stories, the majority of which are narrated by Bertram Wooster who is the employer of Mr Jeeves. In each story, he tells the reader about an unfortunate situation himself or his friends have gotten themselves into and how Jeeves craftily attends to them in said situations.

For the most part, I enjoyed these stories. I loved the way they're written – it's very posh 1920's sort of English, and Wooster is always using these funny words and phrases that I guess have become somewhat trademark/stereotypical over the years. I'm talking about this kind of thing:
'"Ripping! I'll be toddling up, then. Toodle-oo, Bertie, old man. See you later."
        "Pip-pip, Bicky, dear boy."'
Now, you may remember that I reviewed Alexander McCall Smith's novel The Dog Who Came In From The Cold, and commented about how I disliked the inauthentic, forced, pretentious way it was written. The thing about that was, though, that it was a novel set in the 21st century, not the 1920's like Carry On, Jeeves. But P.G. Wodehouse, of course, wrote these books in the 1920's and that's part of what makes it work. Plus, the way he writes is so charming and light that you can't help but enjoy it. But now that I look back on McCall Smith's novel, it appears that he was trying to attempt to replicate Wodehouse's attractive narrative, but with little success.

Anyway, you see my point. Though I thought that the plots of the short stories in Carry On, Jeeves had a few too many recurring themes to keep me entirely without boredom (most of them include exasperating wealthy aunts), there were quite a few pages that had me laughing out loud. So, if you want a warm, entertaining and classy read, these Jeeves books will probably be right up your street!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays – #3

Short Stories on Wednesdays is a weekly event hosted by Risa over at Breadcrumb Reads, where the aim is to read at least one short story a week.

I've read a few short stories this week, a couple of them being from PG Wodehouse's Carry On Jeeves, one by Ernest Hemingway which is so short it's perplexing, and one by Romesh Gunesekera. I'll take a raincheck on discussing the stories I've read by PG Wodehouse as they're part of a collection that I'm reviewing as a whole this week, so I will focus on enlightening you about the others.

In my first SSOW post, I told you about a couple of short stories by Thomas Bernard which are both just a paragraph in length. Well, would you believe that I've found something even shorter? Here it is:

Baby shoes by Ernest Hemingway
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.

And oh yes, it is indeed considered a short story according to my university course! Crazy, huh? I think that might possibly win the award for the shortest ever! To me, it seems more like a poem or just some kind of tiny part of a larger novel, instead of a story that stands all on its own. But it certainly is intriguing – there are so many possibilities within those six words if you think about it. For instance, whose baby shoes were they? Why were they never worn? Did something happen to the baby? Our imaginations can tell us that.

The other short story I read is more regular, and is called Storm Petrel by Romesh Gunesekera. It's about two friends from Sri Lanka who are both living in London. In May 1983 they bump into each other on the street and engage in a conversation about their homeland, with one of the men revealing that he's just returned from a visit and noticed many 'positive' changes to their country. It's a pretty thought-provoking piece which notes the development of things such as tourism, economy and quality of life. The real punch comes at the end, however, when the narrator reveals that all this promise washed away a few months after this conversation with the start of a civil war.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find the full version of the story anywhere online for you guys to read; only a preview of it on Google Books (scroll down a few pages to find it – it's part of a collection of several other short stories by Romesh Gunesekera called Monkfish Moon).

So some interesting pieces this week. Hopefully I'll be back next Wednesday with more short stories! :-)

Monday 12 December 2011

The demise of the big bad corporate bookstore?

I'm halfway back, everyone! I still haven't had much time to read, in fact I probably have even less now than last week, but here I am. ;-)

Anyway, back to business. I wanted to ask you all where you purchase the bulk of your books from? Do you buy them at a discounted price on websites like Amazon, do you prefer secondhand, or can you afford to pay full price for them frequently? Or are you a dedicated eBook buyer? Sometimes I wonder how big corporate bookstores like Waterstones and Barnes & Noble can keep going with so many competitors out there providing cheaper and, in the case of eBooks quicker, alternatives. A friend of mine told me that Waterstones is actually in some trouble at the moment due to falling sales, which may have something to do with them discontinuing the 3 for 2 deals and offering things like 25% off selected titles instead.

But is that even enough? Take my visit today, for instance. I was in Waterstones and saw An Idiot Abroad by Karl Pilkington had 25% off retail price, so I was seriously considering getting it. But then I thought, wait a minute – there's an Oxfam bookshop just a few doors down – what if they have it there? And you know what, they did and it was only £2! Yes, it's a used copy, but what a saving right? That's the thing – Waterstones don't offer any secondhand books, unlike charity shops and most independent bookstores, and this could be one more dagger the way I see it. Hell, even Amazon are starting to offer secondhand books now. There used to be a time when I'd say, 'forget it – I'll just pay full price', but what I tend to do now is try to convince myself otherwise, and I usually end up taking down the title and author of the book and looking it up online. I don't have the money to pay £9 for one copy now. Well, unless my impatience takes hold and I decide need it right away!

Then there are eBooks. Personally, I'm not a big lover of eBooks – I love cover art and the feel of paper in my hands, so I think I'm always going to be a paperback/hardback girl, but it's no secret that this market is growing in popularity. They're even selling eReaders in Waterstones now, which I find a little hard to understand. Why have eReaders in amongst all the shiny paper copies if you want people to focus on buying the latter? All I can see that doing is distracting.

What do you think? Will you continue buying books for full price, are you a secondhand purchaser or an eBook lover? Or what about getting loans from the library? I just think stores like Waterstones are becoming redundant, especially in the current economic climate. Don't get me wrong, I love browsing these big bookstores – all their different floors and neatly arranged shelves, their sofas and coffee shops. But, unfortunately for them, I'm finding myself feeling much less inclined to pay full retail price these days.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Where for art ...I?!

Apologies for not updating my blog in a while! It's been an unbelievably busy week because of assignments, and it's not going to calm down for at least another one. I have two week's worth of studying to squeeze into one week now, due to having neglected one of my courses completely to focus on this assignment. So, as you can guess, I haven't had time to do much leisurely reading, either. Hopefully I'll be back to my regular blogging schedule a week tomorrow when I've caught up with everything, and have some reviews in tow! See you soon, everyone! :-))

Monday 28 November 2011

Review: Chill Run by Russell Brooks

You know a publicity stunt has backfired when someone dies.
Starving author Eddie Barrow, Jr., will do anything to get a book deal with a NYC publisher. Even if it means getting caught by the media while engaging in S&M with a female celebrity as a publicity stunt. What Eddie gets instead are details of a billion dollar fraud scheme from a suicidal client who's fatally shot minutes later. Now on the run from the law and the killers, Eddie seeks help from two unlikely friends—an alcoholic and a dominatrix.
With few resources, Eddie races to clear his name, unveil the fraud scheme, and expose the killers before he becomes their next victim. (via Goodreads)

I wasn't sure what I should expect from Chill Run but I ended up really enjoying it! Eddie is the central character in this fast-paced story – he's an aspiring author who at the beginning of the story has just lost his job, his girlfriend & family ties. But things get even worse for him when he witnesses a murder & is subsequently accused of being the perpetrator. This leads to himself and his best friends to flee, and search for a way to clear Eddie's name.

So, as you can expect, Chill Run is loaded with some very unpredictable twists and turns that'll keep readers on their toes. I must admit that I wasn't sure if I liked the characters all that much at the beginning (mostly because of the publicity stunt they tried to pull), but by the end they grew on me & I began to care for them.

If you enjoy some unpredictable mystery with some well-developed characters & plot ,then pick up Chill Run. It won't disappoint!

Rating: 4 / 5

Chill Run is released on 1st December 2011. To find out more, please visit Russell's website.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Interview with K.C. Neal – author of Pyxis: The Discovery

K.C. Neal is interviewed here today as part of her blog tour to promote her new novel Pyxis. If you haven't already, please check out my review of the book. So here we go! 

Thank you for doing this, K.C.! I loved Pyxis.
Thanks so much for having me on the blog! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it.

It’s got a pretty unique concept! Please tell us a bit about this paranormal world. How did your ideas form as you began to create it?
I knew I wasn’t going to write a paranormal book with any of the usual creatures. And that wasn’t because I was trying to be different; I really didn’t think I was clever enough to put a new twist on vampires or werewolves or fairies. I’m not really sure where the idea for Pyxis came from, but the first seed of the story was the pyxis box with the bottles full of mysterious colored liquids that influenced people’s emotions. I thought the story would center around the potions, but it grew into something much larger.

Are any of the characters or places inspired by those you know in real life?
Tapestry was inspired by McCall, Idaho, a tiny mountain town on a lake where I spent many, many summer days. It’s a really important place in my own personal history, and even though I didn’t grow up in a town like Tapestry, I always wondered what it might be like. For the most part, the characters are amalgams of many different people and my own imaginings. Angeline was named after author Angeline Kace, who is a good friend of mine. They share some qualities, such as deep loyalty to their friends and great enthusiasm. Mason isn’t based on anyone specific, but he’s the kind of guy I wanted to have around when I was Corinne’s age. Sophie, who played a fairly small part in Pyxis but who you’ll see a lot more of in Alight (Pyxis Series Book 2), is kind of a blend of three different people I know who are charismatic and fun, but also outspoken to the point that they often offend people. 

Did it take long to get the book drafted and edited?
I wrote the first draft of the book in 35 days. It might sound great to write a book that quickly, but looking back I wish I’d taken more time. It had a lot of problems, and I ended up dropping entire characters and subplots, and adding new ones. During a major revision that took about three months, I rewrote probably 80% of the book. At times it felt like it was going painfully slowly, but looking back now I realize the whole process went extremely quickly by most standards: from initial idea to publication, it was almost exactly 10 months.

The cover is gorgeous! It really has the ability to encourage readers. Who designed it?
Thank you, I really love it, too. The photographer is Tiffany Mize-Carter, and the girl in the picture is actually her daughter, which I think is really cool. The artist is Claudia at Phatpuppy Art, who is incredibly talented. She’s created some of the most stunning YA covers out there, in my opinion, and I feel very fortunate to be working with her. I can’t wait to see what she does for the next two books.

What can we expect from the next book in the series? (warning: you may not want to read the answer if you haven't read the book yet!)
I know I set up a lot of questions and mysteries in Pyxis, and almost all of them will be partially or fully addressed in Alight. For example, very early in the next book you’ll find out exactly how the pyxis liquids work and what they’re for. You’ll also find out who the other Guardian is, and let’s just say it’s going to make Corinne’s life difficult. Corinne also becomes involved in a bit of a love triangle, as a new love interest is introduced. One thing that will have a profound effect on Corinne is that she’ll find out she’s not the only Pyxis in the world. It will make things easier for her in one sense--it’s always better when you know you’re not alone--but also more difficult in the sense that she’ll realize her pyramidal union is extremely inferior in terms of abilities and how tightly bonded they are. And she’ll come to understand that these weaknesses would easily get someone hurt or killed. In Alight, Corinne must bear some very heavy burdens, which will test her in many different ways. I am very excited about writing this book; it’s going to be full of revelations and confrontations!

Are there any other writing projects outside of the Pyxis series that you’re currently working on?
I’ve started writing an adult series under a pen name, but I’ll be putting that aside for a while so I can focus on writing Alight. I’m also working on a novella-length book of bonus material to accompany Pyxis. It will have the prologue to Pyxis, so you can see what happened between Mason and Corinne before Mason left for Africa. It also will include Corinne’s journal as well as something from Mason’s point of view.

Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to pass on to budding authors out there?
One, find a skilled, more experienced writer to critique your work, and don’t fear criticism; a good critique will help your writing improve by leaps and bounds. Two, an idea for a story isn’t the same as a plot; a book needs a plot and a plot needs tension and conflict, not just cool ideas. Three, read voraciously; aside from actually writing, reading is your best training.

Lastly, is there anything else you'd like to mention? 
I love to connect with people online, and in particular through Twitter. Please follow me (@KCNealTweets) and tweet at me! To celebrate the launch of Pyxis, I’m doing a Kindle giveaway through the first week of December, so please go to my blog and enter the giveaway and spread the word. And last, of course I hope you will check out Pyxis - it’s only $2.99 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks again for hosting me, Sophie!

Friday 25 November 2011

A sobering tale and some gratitude

In honour of Thanksgiving over in the USA yesterday, I wanted to share this story. Beware though, fair readers, because this isn't a happy tale; in fact it's quite a sad one. But I was so astonished when I read it that I thought I'd post it here as a reminder to myself and to also share a little perspective. This is one of the many insightful stories found in Paulo Coelho's book Like The Flowing River.

The Dead Man Wore Pajamas by Paulo Coelho
I remember reading a piece of news on the Internet that a man was found dead in Tokyo on 10 June 2004, dressed in his pajamas.

So what? I imagine that most people who die wearing their pajamas either a) died in their sleep, which is a blessing, or b) were in the company of their relatives or on a hospital bed – death did not come quickly, so they all had time to grow used to “the undesirable one,” as Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira called it.

The news goes on: when he died, he was in his room. So, the hospital hypothesis is out and we are left with just the possibility that he died in his sleep, without suffering any, without even realizing that he would not see the light of day.

But there is still another possibility: assault followed by death.

Those who have visited Tokyo know that the gigantic city is at the same time one of the safest places in the world. I remember once stopping to eat with my editors before taking a trip to the interior of Japan – all our suitcases were in sight on the rear seat of the car. Immediately I said that it was very dangerous, someone was sure to come along, see all those bags and make off with our clothes, documents and so on. My editor just smiled and told me not to worry – he knew of no such incident in all his long years of life (in fact, nothing happened to our suitcases, although I kept tense all through dinner).

But to return to our dead man in pajamas: there was no sign of struggle, violence or anything of the sort. In an interview, a Metropolitan Police officer stated that it was almost certainly a case of a sudden heart attack. So the hypothesis of homicide was also eliminated.

The body had been found by workers of a construction company on the second floor of a building in a housing complex that was about to be torn down. Everything led to the idea that the dead man in the pajamas, unable to find anywhere to live in one of the most densely and expensive cities in the world, had simply decided to settle where he did not have to pay any rent.

And now for the tragic part of the story: our dead man was only a skeleton dressed in pajamas. At his side was an open newspaper dated 20 February 1984; a calendar on the table nearby gave the same date.

In other words, he had been there for twenty years.

And nobody had noticed his absence.

The man was identified as a former employee of the company that had built the housing complex, where he had moved to in the early 80s soon after his divorce. He was just over fifty years on the day that all of a sudden, reading the newspaper, he left this world.

His ex-wife never sought for him. It was discovered that the company where he worked had gone bankrupt right after the building had been finished, since no apartment was sold, and so they did not find it odd that the man never turned up for his daily activities. His friends were looked up, and they put his disappearance down to the fact that he had borrowed some money and could not pay it back.

The news ends informing us that the mortal remains were delivered to the ex-wife. I finished reading the article and wondered at the last sentence: the ex-wife was still alive, and for twenty years had not even looked up her husband. What must have gone through her head? That he no longer loved her, that he had decided to remove her for ever from his life. That he had met another woman and disappeared without a trace. That life is like that, once the divorce procedures are over there is no point in carrying on a relationship that has been legally terminated. I imagine what she must have felt upon finding out the fate of the man with whom she had shared a good part of her life.

Then I thought of the dead man in his pajamas, of solitude so utter and abysmal that for twenty years nobody in this whole wide world had realized that he had simply disappeared without leaving a trace. And my conclusion is that worse than feeling hunger and thirst, worse than being jobless, suffering for love, in despair over some defeat – worse than all this is to feel that nobody, absolutely nobody in this world, cares for us.

Let us at this moment say a quiet prayer for this man and let us offer him our thanks for making us reflect on how important our friends are.

{Part 1 & Part 2 of this story taken from Paulo's blog}
How horrible is that? The man was left there for 20 years, and nobody had missed him or wondered where he was, or even worried enough about him to go and look for him! This certainly puts things into a different light for those of us who are lucky enough to have families and friends who love us and would notice our absence. There are truly people out there who have not another in the entire world.

Me, I'm always complaining because a lot of my close family live in The Philippines and Australia, and I can't see them as often as I want to. Sometimes it really sucks, but at least they're there and with modern technology 'far away' isn't really that anymore. Plus I still have a small amount of family here, and I still have my friends – I'm not really alone like the man who died in his pajamas. It's just an important time, I think, to remember what we have and what we are grateful for. So I'd like to say thanks to those I have in my life today, for being there no matter how far away you are. Mahal kita!

Monday 21 November 2011

Breaking Dawn Part 1 – my after-watching thoughts!

I love it when you step into a movie theatre as a person living in one world, and then a couple of hours later you emerge from it feeling as if you've just entered another. Before long, though, this spell making everything have a, ahem, dazzling quality wears off and the world is once again stale in comparison.

That's how I felt when I watched Breaking Dawn Part 1 on Saturday. Even though I didn't think the film was perfect, by the end I was completely floored! I thought the second half of it was so much better than the first. Don't get me wrong; I loved Bella and Edward's wedding, and Isle Esme was completely gorgeous, plus I thought the arrival scene with the street party in Rio was a fantastic touch (I would've died to have been Bella during those moments!)

But what saved me from checking my watch was Jacob. I've never really been a huge fan of his; in Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse (book-wise and film-wise) I thought he was whiny and overly obnoxious, and really disliked him for being so adamant about hating Edward and trying to take Bella from him. But reading (and watching) Breaking Dawn really changed that.

(Psst! If you haven't read/watched Breaking Dawn, skip this paragraph and resume at the next!) He stops being so arguably selfish and starts showing respect for Bella's decisions and even the entire Cullen family. How he stepped up to protect Bella from Sam's pack was absolutely amazing! I'd say that's my favourite part of Breaking Dawn; when he essentially moves in to the Cullen house and really gets to know all of them more. I love the moment when Carlisle and Esme say something to Jacob about protecting their family, and Jacob turns to them and agrees that he now truly can see them as a family as strong as his own. He definitely won me over right there. Oh man, and those moments when Bella was dying on the operating table? Unreal. Though perhaps a little too much blood for me but what can I say, I'm squeamish!

So now I've hopped on the Team Jacob bus! I'm never going to stop believing that Bella and Edward are meant for each other – Bella and Jacob in my mind just doesn't work. But from the perspective of which character I love the most and appreciate that Bella needs in her life to keep her own sanity in tact, that's where Jacob comes in. He's definitely a loyal werewolf and an amazing friend to have!

I can't wait for Part 2 either. Part 1 ended with the most perfect cliffhanger! Though I do worry what they're going to do with it – if they want the film to do well, they're going to have to adapt the story a whole lot to make it interesting enough. The ending to Breaking Dawn at the moment pretty much lacks the right amount of transferrable cinematic form. So that'll be interesting.

I really want to know now, you guys, whose team are you on: Team Edward, Jacob, or Switzerland? And have you seen Breaking Dawn yet? What did you think?

Friday 18 November 2011

Review: Keeping Cooper by Samantha Masone

It was the shoes that did it...

I realize that you’re not supposed to base a major life decision on something as inconsequential as footwear, but these weren’t just any old shoes. These were my Jimmy Choo polka dot sling back sandals. As a starving college student I couldn’t afford to pay retail so I surfed eBay and scored a pair for less than half the original price. Even so, they represented a major indulgence for me; I saved my tip money for two solid months to pay for those suckers.

And then Johnnie ruined them and threw them out.

Maybe I should be grateful on some level that Johnnie did what he did, but I haven’t managed to evolve to that point yet. I’ve done a lot of healing and a lot of growing, as my shrink used to say, but I’m still royally pissed at Johnnie about those sandals.
So pissed that sometimes I forget to feel bad about killing him. (via

Wow, I really enjoyed Keeping Cooper! Such an exciting thriller with so many twists and turns that you don't always know where to look or what to expect. The book tells the story of a woman called Casey who is fresh out of university and is thinking of going to graduate school. While she's back in her hometown trying to decide her next move, she meets Johnnie and the two of them begin a passionate love affair. However shortly after they move in together, their relationship reaches boiling point when Johnnie becomes possessive and violent, leaving Casey with another decision: should she stay with Johnnie and become his slave, or should she try to escape? After she has made her choice, Casey's life begins to take yet more unexpected twists as she meets new people and handles some pretty heavy situations.

Keeping Cooper is very well written and highly imaginative. There were some parts of the story, however, where I got a little confused, just because there's so much going on. Once or twice I lost my bearings and had to go back a page or two and re-read. I also thought that there were some bits that could've been omitted as they seemed to make certain parts drag on a little.

But really, these were minor ailments. If you enjoy some thrilling suspense, then you're going to want to read this. I'm very glad that I did as it's a great story!

Rating: 4 / 5

To purchase a copy of Keeping Cooper, visit or

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Review: New Beginnings by Rebecca Emin

Sam Hendry is not looking forward to starting at her new school. Things go from bad to worse as the day of truth arrives and all of her fears come true... and then some.
When Sam meets a different group of people who immediately accept her as a friend, she begins to feel more positive.
With her new friends and interests, will Sam finally feel able to face the bully who taunts her, and to summon up the courage to perform on stage? (via Goodreads)

New Beginnings is a great book for children who are having a hard time at school dealing with bullies. It very realistically tells the tale of an eleven year old girl named Sam who has transferred from a comfortable and familiar primary school, to a secondary school where she doesn’t know anyone and struggles to fit in.

I found it so easy to identify with Sam’s situation that I was actually brought back to my own days at secondary school. This was something I didn’t appreciate at first and even disliked, until I realised that this is exactly the way the book should make me feel. The children that read it are going to want to identify with Sam, especially if they’re facing bullies and need someone to relate to. Also, at this stage in my life, it helped me appreciate my freedom as a twenty-something not having to deal with school anymore! Well okay, apart from uni (but that doesn’t really count! Heh.)

New Beginnings is a very easy read (I managed to finish it in under 24 hours), so children won’t have a problem with it. There’s also a lot of extra advice for them on how to deal with bullies, and this will also prove valuable for parents who know or suspect that their child is being bullied.

Rating: 4 / 5

To learn more about New Beginnings and author Rebecca Emin, visit her blog:

Sunday 13 November 2011

Review: The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

Begun in 1959 by a then-twenty-two-year-old Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary is a brilliantly tangled love story of jealousy, treachery and violent alcoholic lust in the Caribbean boomtown that was San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s. Exuberant and mad, youthful and energetic, The Rum Diary is an outrageous, drunken romp in the spirit of Thompson's bestselling Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell's Angels. (via Goodreads)

Don't let the title or description fool you because there is so much more depth to The Rum Diary than drinking and debauchery. I didn't find anything about it boring – every situation is as unpredictable as the one before it, and all the characters are offbeat and outrageous in one way or another. The book is set in late '50s Puerto Rico, when American writer Paul Kemp arrives on the island and takes a job at an English language newspaper full of unruly drunken journalists, the majority of which live with the threat of being fired on a daily basis. Paul himself is a cynical heavy drinker who is actually pretty intelligent, but his nomadic and self-destructive nature means that he hasn't achieved as much in life as he feels he deserves.

What I love most about The Rum Diary is that it's so beautifully written. Thompson has this ability to paint amazing pictures with words, and now I understand why he is such a celebrated writer. The way he illustrates the exotic air of Puerto Rico and lets us see into the workings of Paul's deepest thoughts is nearly on the verge of being poetic. Here's an extract I want to share with you; Paul is talking us through a typical day during his early months on the island:
'Those were the good mornings, when the sun was hot and the air was quick and promising, when the Real Business seemed right on the verge of happening and I felt that if I went just a little faster I might overtake that bright and fleeting thing that was always just ahead.
Then came noon, and morning withered like a lost dream. The sweat was torture and the rest of the day was littered with the dead remains of all those things that might have happened, but couldn't stand the heat. When the sun got hot enough it burned away all the illusions and I saw the place as it was – cheap, sullen, and garish – nothing good was going to happen here.
Sometimes at dusk, when you were trying to relax and not think about the general stagnation, the Garbage God would gather a handful of those choked-off morning hopes and dangle them somewhere just out of reach; they would hang in the breeze and make a sound like delicate glass bells, reminding you of something you never quite got hold of, and never would. It was a maddening image, and the only way to whip it was to hang on until dusk and banish the ghosts with rum. Often it was easier not to wait, so the drinking would begin at noon. It didn't help much, as I recall, except that sometimes it made the day go a little faster.'
Can you see what I mean? So, if you want to enjoy some excessive situations while reading beautifully written prose then The Rum Diary is for you. Definitely one of the best books I have ever read.

Rating: 5 / 5

Friday 11 November 2011

Follow Friday – #14

This week's featured blogs are
 The Book Nympho

Not only is it Remembrance Day, it's 11/11/11! Trippy.

Here's this week's question:

Q: In light of 11.11.11 and Veteran's Day tell us about your favorite solider and how he or she is saving the world. Fictional or real life.

Wow, tough question. I had to think about it for a little while, but then I remembered a book I read a few years ago – From Baghdad, With Love. Jay Kopelman is a Marine serving in Iraq, and he comes across a little stray puppy he calls Lava. They soon become inseparable and the Liutenant Colonel decides that he wants to try and get Lava home to the United States with him. It's a beautiful true story.

Who's your favourite soldier?

Monday 7 November 2011

Review: Ghoul Trouble (a Buffy tie-in novel) by John Passarella

Something wicked has been preying on Sunndale students—and whatever it is, its methods are pretty gruesome. Buffy locates some human bones that have been picked clean, and knows that she's dealing with an unearthly evil. Some help from the Scooby Gang would be ideal, but they've run into trouble of their own. Oz and Xander are literally (perhaps unnaturally) mesmerized by a hottie new chick band headlining at the Bronze, and Willow has been captured by Sunnydale's latest resident carnivores.

What they need is the Slayer. But in order to help her friends, Buffy must first dust a vampire—one that has an urgent interest in Joyce Summers, the unique ability to resist sunlight, and an open invitation to the Summers' house... (via Goodreads)

I enjoyed Ghoul Trouble – much more than I enjoyed the Season 8 comic book series – it's fair to say that I'm definitely more of a full-length novel girl when it comes to these tie-ins. It's written pretty well in that you can imagine all the characters speaking and acting in the same way as they would and did on the television show. There's a lot in the story to keep you interested too, as there are two separate sets of villains that Buffy has to deal with – a rock band consisting of all girls who have a supernatural ability to hypnotise men, and a vampire who can walk in daylight and enter private houses without requiring an invitation.

But while Ghoul Trouble is jam packed with plenty of Buffy-accurate fiends and festivities, I have one quite major problem with it: Faith. She is mentioned absolutely nowhere. Before the story even starts, there is a page that tells the reader that the novel ties in with season three of the television show. Season three is my absolute favourite season, so I know it pretty well. And judging by all of the events from the show that have been mentioned in the book to help the reader to establish the story's place in the Buffyverse, she should've definitely been there. It's not far enough along the season 3 time frame for Faith to have gone evil yet, as Giles is still Buffy's watcher. And it couldn't have been before she arrived in Sunnydale, because Angel has already returned from hell. So there's really no excuse for her not to be there.

So based on that, I'm going to take one full point off of the final rating. It's a shame, because any mention of Faith would've made Ghoul Trouble so much better. If the author didn't like her, then why not just get one of the characters to say that she was out of town or something? It makes no sense.

Rating: 3 / 5

Sunday 6 November 2011

Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp, and rum

I'll admit that I haven't read a single book by Hunter S. Thompson, but there's been a quote of his that has stuck with me the past few years:
'Too weird to live, too rare to die.'
It pretty much fits me perfectly! To myself and to many others, I can be classed as a pretty off-beat person who doesn't really fit in with certain moulds. And up until yesterday when I was watching Johnny Depp promote his new film on The Graham Norton Show – The Rum Diary based on the novel by Thompson – I found out just how much this one quote represented Thompson himself. Have any of you heard about the author's last moments and his funeral? If you haven't, this extract from Wikipedia might astound you:
Thompson died at his self-described "fortified compound" known as "Owl Farm" in Woody Creek, Colorado, at 5:42 p.m. on February 20, 2005, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

What family and police describe as a suicide note was written by Thompson four days before his death, and left for his wife. It was later published by Rolling Stone in the September issue #983. Titled "Football Season Is Over", it read:

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."

Artist and friend Ralph Steadman wrote:

"...He told me 25 years ago that he would feel real trapped if he didn't know that he could commit suicide at any moment. I don't know if that is brave or stupid or what, but it was inevitable. I think that the truth of what rings through all his writing is that he meant what he said. If that is entertainment to you, well, that's OK. If you think that it enlightened you, well, that's even better. If you wonder if he's gone to Heaven or Hell, rest assured he will check out them both, find out which one Richard Milhous Nixon went to — and go there. He could never stand being bored. But there must be Football too — and Peacocks..."

On August 20, 2005, in a private ceremony, Thompson's ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 153-foot (47 m) tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button - originally used in Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 campaign for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado. It has become a symbol of Thompson and gonzo journalism as a whole) to the tune of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Red, white, blue, and green fireworks were launched along with his ashes. As the city of Aspen would not allow the cannon to remain for more than a month, the cannon has been dismantled and put into storage until a suitable permanent location can be found. According to his widow Anita, Thompson's funeral was financed by actor Johnny Depp, a close friend of Thompson.

I think that funeral ceremony can be classed under one of the most bizzare and ingenious send offs in the history of mankind! Just how awesome is that?! Johnny Depp said to Graham Norton on his show that 'he probably thought that I would be the only one crazy enough to carry out his last wishes'!

Now after reading and hearing about Thompson, I want to find out more about him. And a good way into that is to, of course, read his books. I'm going to start reading The Rum Diary sometime this week so I can go and see the film and not feel guilty about not having read the book first! There's another interesting story about the manuscript to this film, as well. Apparently, as Johnny Depp again told Graham Norton, Thompson had written The Rum Diary in the late 50's/early 60's but had never got the book published. It wasn't until Johnny discovered the manuscript a few years ago and encouraged the author to get it printed that it actually make it to the shelves. Those two were a pretty remarkable fit, weren't they? So, seeing as I'm a huge Johnny Depp fan and am now completely intrigued by Mr. Thompson, I must see this film and fast! Then it'll probably be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for me afterwards.

Seriously, why has it taken me so long to find all this stuff out?! Better than never though.

Any Thompson S. Hunter fans out there that can share some interesting and perhaps bizarre facts?

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays – #2

Short Stories on Wednesdays is a weekly event hosted by Risa over at Breadcrumb Reads, where the aim is to read at least one short story a week.

A few weeks back I bought a book of 19th century short stories selected by David Stuart Davies (here). I read the first story in the anthology yesterday, which was The Black Veil by Mr Charles Dickens. This is the story of a young man who has recently qualified as a doctor, and is sitting in his practice one cold and damp night waiting for his first patient. Eventually a very unexpected visitor arrives; a mysterious lady dressed in mournful clothing which includes a heavy black veil. She startles the young doctor with her distressed manner and cryptic requests, being completely vague about the condition of a man very ill at home but not wanting the doctor to visit until precisely 9 o'clock in the morning. Baffled by this strange request, he gently questions her can learn nothing else of the patient's condition, so he eventually agrees to do as she has asked. Then, when he attends the next day, he discovers something so heart-wrenching that it stays with him for the remainder of his life.

I loved this story. I've read some of Dickens' work before and I always enjoy the very generous, empathetic and enlightening qualities to what he writes. The condition of this dying man is kept so beautifully and mysteriously vague until the last couple of pages and the climax of the story is quite unexpected and very endearing.
You can read The Black Veil online here.

What short stories have you read this week?

Sunday 30 October 2011

Review: Naruto (volume 1) by Masashi Kishimoto [manga]

Naruto is a ninja-in-training with a need for attention, a knack for mischief and, sealed within him, a strange, formidable power. His antics amuse his instructor Kakashi and irritate his teammates, intense Sasuke and witty Sakura, but Naruto is serious about becoming the greatest ninja in the village of Konohagakure! Believe it! (via Goodreads)

Though I think I've heard of an anime series of the same name, I've never seen it and so didn't know exactly what I was getting into. At first, I got off to a bit of a slow start with Naruto. I wasn't exactly clear on what was supposed to be happening, apart from understanding that the main character, Naruto nonetheless, is a trouble making ninja-in-training who is disliked by nearly everyone in the village. He fails to graduate from the academy for the fourth time, thus having to repeat his training yet again. But the next part of the story is where it got interesting for me – it's revealed why Naruto gets no respect from the villagers in an escapade that brings quite a few secrets and truths to the forefront.

I ended up enjoying this in the end. However, there were some panels that I found were confusing or misleading and I got a little lost in the story. Does anybody else get moments like that when they read manga; where you have to really look at a particular drawing to figure out what's going on before you can move on? This happened to me more with Naruto that it has with any other manga that I've read.

Altogether, though, an excitingly offbeat story with some interesting twists. Good if you like ninjas, paranormal activity and some good ol' Japanese references (lots of Ramen is involved!)

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Friday 28 October 2011

Follow Friday – #13

This week's featured blogs are
 In Which Ems Reviews Books
Reading In The Corner

Friday the 13th follow friday! And right in time for Halloween! Haha. :-P

Here's this week's question:

Q: If you could have dinner with your favourite book character, who would you eat with and what would you serve?

Wow, this is a tough one. I don't even know if I can choose a most favourite character! So I'll go with an easy pick and make it Bilbo Baggins, and I guess I'd just feed him a load of cakes! Hobbits like those, I think. :P

What about you guys?

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays

Short Stories on Wednesdays is a weekly event hosted by Risa over at Breadcrumb Reads, where the aim is to read at least one short story a week.

This week, I've read a couple of very short stories as part of an introductory creative writing course that I'm taking at the moment. The purpose of one particular section was to illustrate to us that fiction can be any length whatsoever, and a short story can constitute anything from a few sentences up to about 20,000 words. So we were asked to read a couple by Thomas Bernhard, and one of them in particular really stood out to me; Emigrated (you can read it on Google Books). It's quite an interesting short I thought, not only because of the tale itself but because essentially it tells two separate stories in one very brief paragraph. The first part is about an old classmate, then the second part is about the classmate's father. Isn't it intriguing how Bernhard has managed to create so much in such a small space? Plus, the ending packs quite a bit of a punch. I guess it's stuff like this that I enjoy most about short stories – how you can experience quite a bit from just glancing through a window at a particular world.

Anywho, there are my pennies. Perhaps I'll see you on the short story wagon next week! :-)

Review: Pyxis by K.C. Neal

Two worlds... one 16-year-old girl must learn to protect them both.

The nightmares haunting Corinne and her friend Mason hint at a universe that exists beyond the one they know. Her destiny is to protect a weakness between the two worlds, but her mentor is dead. As Corinne and Mason search for answers, she tries to ignore the sparks igniting between them, but can't deny she feels safe only when he's nearby. Will they find help before their nightmares break free? (via Goodreads)

Pyxis is very well-written, with vivid descriptions and characters who all talk and go through life like you'd expect authentic teenagers to do. But, of course, with a few oddities as they do live in a world where paranormal activities exist. These paranormal elements of Pyxis are so original – there are magical liquids that can manipulate human emotions, prophetic dreams, and enchanted lands all perfectly blended with the more 'regular' elements of the world. Plus, I loved the strong sense of family and friendship – it adds a very human, everyday element to the story; from dealing with irritating schoolmates to helping a sick relative.

Pyxis ends on a pretty interesting and exciting cliffhanger which leads immediately into the next book of the series. I seriously can't wait to find out what happens in the next installment!

A fantastic book and a wonderful beginning. If you're into young adult novels and fantasy, don't miss this!

Rating: 5 / 5

Pyxis is released on November 4th 2011. Visit K.C.'s blog to stay updated and to find out where to purchase a copy.

Friday 21 October 2011

Anybody know where the time is?

It's nearing the end of the month, which means that uni is starting up again in the next couple of weeks for me. I swear that October has gone so quickly... as has the rest of the year in fact! Where has the time gone?

Anyway I just wanted to apologise for not being in touch a whole lot recently; it's been pretty hectic so I haven't had as much time to read or network. Hopefully, though, you'll see much more of me in November and December as soon as things even out. It's really important for me to make sure that during these first couple of weeks I stay on top of the course work, otherwise I'll fall dangerously behind. Can someone teach me how to read faster?! Heh. Don't be too afraid that I'm vanishing again, though - I'll still be reviewing and stuff, just probably not as frequently.

So, who has epic plans for Halloween? :D

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Review: The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

The narrator of The Zahir is a bestselling novelist who lives in Paris and enjoys all the privileges that money and celebrity bring. His wife of ten years, is a war correspondent who, despite her professional success and freedom from the conventional constraints of marriage, is facing an existential crisis. When she disappears along with a friend who may or may not be her lover, the authorities question the narrator. Was she kidnapped, killed, or did she simply abandon a marriage that left her unfulfilled? The narrator doesn't have any answers but he has plenty of questions of his own. (via Goodreads)

I've seen Paulo Coelho's books at the bookshop before but it wasn't until recently that I grew the urge to pick one up. From what I had heard about his books (and gathered from their placing on the spirituality bookshelf), they were thought provoking, somewhat life affirming reads that had the potential to stick in the minds of readers long after closing the pages. And I, being interested in that sort of thing, thought it was about time that I gave his work a try.

I found The Zahir in the regular fiction section of the library, so I assumed that it would just be a regular old story with no hidden message, no lessons like Coelho's other books are supposed to contain. But, I was wrong! Along the way, the narrator introduces us to some wise metaphors, symbolism, and analogies that are uncovered as the story unfolds. Some of them are really not straightforward at all; some of them I found myself having to think about for a little while to understand, others I picked up more quickly, and some I even felt the need to write down so that I could remember and perhaps use them later on. The idea of The Zahir to get the reader to think, perhaps to encourage them to reassess the way they think about themselves, their life and the people in it, just as the narrator of the book is doing throughout.

So, even though it took me a while to read, I enjoyed The Zahir. I loved the refreshing spiritual elements, the lessons and the messages that it contains; even though at times I found there were so many to keep up with that it became momentarily mind-blowing! I'd recommend this book to those who are interested in spirituality and alternative thinking.

Rating: 4 / 5

Friday 14 October 2011

Follow Friday – #12

This week's featured blogs are
Confuzzled Books
and me!

I'm sorry guys for not getting my post up sooner! Luckily I randomly woke up at about 4.30am and, instead of going back to sleep, decided to read The Zahir (Paulo Coelho may be my own new obsession by the way!) and check my email. Anyway, thanks for visiting and for following, and thanks so much to Rachel and Alison for featuring me! :D

Here's this week's question:

Q: If you could have characters from a book meet and form an epic storyline with characters from a TV series, which characters would you choose and why?

I'd definitely have the Scooby Gang from Buffy meet Edward and company from Twilight! I'm sure that would freak the former out a little bit - seeing vamps that don't burn up in sunlight and can't be killed with a simple stake to the heart. C'mon Joss and Stephenie, make it happen! ;-)

What have you guys picked?

Thursday 13 October 2011

漫画大好き ... I ❤ manga!

( ^ Domo arigato to my wonderful Sato for the Japanese translation! ^ )

Ever since a few weeks ago when I picked up Mars by Fuyumi Soryo at the village library, I've been completely in love with manga. Since then, I've read five more volumes of Mars, five more of One Piece by Eiichiro Oda, and my amazing friend Jess handed over a massive stack of her own collection for my perusal (including several volumes of Shaman King, some Naruto, The Good Witch of the West and various others – you rock, Jess!) I can't get enough of the stuff!

What I think I love about manga is the pure Japanese artistry and humour which, I know, is a given considering it is Japanese (I hear a lot of 'duh's!). But you know what I mean; it just has a certain charm that you can't find with any old comic book or graphic novel. As much as I would love to enjoy reading Spiderman, Batman or even Buffy (I've concluded that the Season 8 storyline is too out-there for my taste... even by Buffy's standards!), there's nothing that I find particularly appealing about them. It's also really interesting that a lot of anime series' have started out as manga (like One Piece, as you can see). So there's no shortage of opportunities to see your favourite characters both illustrated and animated. But, then again, there's not exactly a shortage of adaptations when it comes to western comic book characters, either! Though you guys see my point by now. Manga is just a completely different culture, and when I read it I feel like I'm visiting some exotic place. Now if only I could just read all of it in the original Japanese instead of translated English... that would make it even sweeter!

So you can expect a lot more manga reviews in this blog's future! I'm dying to read the next few installments of Mars, so hopefully I'll be able to find all the volumes at good prices. But if not, I have lots to read in the meantime! Will just have to try and tell myself that though, haha.

How about you guys; do you read manga? What are your favourites?

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Review: The Dog Who Came in from the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith

In the genteel environs of Corduroy Mansions, Pimlico, strange doings are afoot, mostly in the name of love. Lonely William French and his faithful canine Freddie are recruited to the service of MI6 by a beguiling lady operative, William's neighbour Caroline finds her suitor James mysteriously lacking, and Barbara Ragg is tempted to the Highlands by blossoming romance. Meanwhile sage psychiatrist Berthea Snark, under normal circumstances the voice of reason, finds herself called away to protect her brother from a band of scheming New Age fraudsters seeking to insert themselves into the bosom of the family. Hilarious and affectionate, The Dog Who Came In from the Cold rejoins Alexander McCall Smith's delightful London tribe of loveable misfits and hopefuls in a new set of adventures in life, love and philosophy. (via

I was uncharacteristically browsing the Crime section at my local library and came across this. The title sounded interesting, as did the back of the book, so I thought to give it a try.

All I can say is that I'm glad I didn't pay for it! The Dog Who Came in from the Cold is the second book in the Corduroy Mansions series, so the fact that I haven't read the first one may have fuelled some of my dislike for it. Perhaps I should've started with that? But then, they didn't have it at the library anyway and I couldn't be bothered to request it from somewhere else.

To be honest, though, I just didn't enjoy the way the book is written. Firstly, there are way too many characters and different storylines, so I often got confused and lost track of some of the more minor people. Secondly, and this was my pet peeve: it's written so pretentiously! All the characters speak in a very posh version of British English. Sure, it might be whimsical to some, but it just really annoyed me. Does everybody need to say things like, 'one must make allowances for one's shortcomings in life'? I must admit that I enjoyed it at first, but then as the book went on, the charm was lost and it became tiresome.

I'm so dissapointed that I didn't like The Dog Who Came in from the Cold. Maybe I'll go back to the library and get the first book in the series, or try something else by Alexander McCall Smith. Who knows, maybe my opinion might change.

Rating: 2 / 5

Sunday 9 October 2011

Review: Fourth Degree Freedom & Other Stories by Libby Heily

Fourth Degree Freedom explores the best of humanity and the worst. The stories range from hopeful realism to the dystopian side of speculative fiction. Each story twists and turns through darkness and light, settling somewhere in the shadowy area of day to day life.

Thank You For Calling - A young woman fights to keep her sanity, her marriage and her hope while working in a call center.

The Event - Do the youth decide to go along with the government's plan to rid the population of the elderly, or will they fight back?

Fourth Degree Freedom - A family, shunned by neighbors and friends, struggles with their youngest son, a boy that was literally born a monster.

The Last Six Miles - Samantha has hit rock bottom. Her husband has left her and her only source of comfort is junk food. Her slip into depression seems inevitable until she discovers running. Samantha begins the long journey from barely being able to jog a minute to completing her first marathon.

She Floats - If you woke up and didn't know where you were, would you panic? What if you were trapped in a giant aquarium? (via Goodreads)

This is a beautiful collection of five short stories, all of which I thought were structured well and completely engaging. Each one is very different and involves a new set of characters in a range of settings; from fantasy worlds to illustrating the struggles of everyday life.

All of the stories, including the rather dark and unsettling The Event have an endearing quality which I really enjoyed. My favourite out of the five is The Last Six Miles, purely because I found myself identifying with Samantha in certain respects. But again, they are all wonderfully well-written, and I started wishing to find out how the characters fared afterwards.

A very enjoyable and diverse collection. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5

To purchase a copy of Fourth Degree Freedom & Other Stories, visit

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Review: Rian of the Elves: Welcome to the Spire by Erin Hassinger

What if the person you loved more than anyone found it too hard to share their darkest secret? Samuel Mangus quickly discovers that his dad has had a pretty good reason to keep his hidden. A powerful Elf, Aubrey Mangus chose to leave his homeland long ago, taking nothing along besides his most prized possession—a mortal son.
For fourteen years, Sam’s life couldn’t have been more pleasingly plain. Yet, the last day of school was anything but that. His teacher sends a gift home to his handsome father, while he’s just had a conversation with a talking bird named Justus Sneeble. Worse than that, the Sneeble claims he’s come to warn him of something. Sam hopes he’s imagined the meeting, but once home is greeted by an evil creature called Recene. What happens next is too much to believe.

In Rian of the Elves, Sam meets new friends, each of them a different breed, each born with extraordinary gifts of their own. The Guild they form will be unprecedented and each has the honest intention of helping him succeed. Their Spire is the most magical place he’s ever been. So why is it that no one can tell him what lies beyond the plain, wooden door atop the Anteroom’s stairs? Oddly enough, Sam finds it more mesmerizing than anything else there. In the end, the answer is nearly heartbreaking and Sam must face the ultimate test of bravery and goodness on his own. (via Goodreads)

I'm so glad I can finally review this book! It feels like forever since I started it (once again, blame university & other life demands for that one!)

Rian of the Elves is an enjoyable fantasy tale. It's very well written, and I really admire the author's imagination. Erin has certainly invented an extensive new fantasy world with highly imaginative species and characters; of which possess some intriguingly unique talents. I also really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie between them all, and this is what essentially forms the heart of the story.

But, I did find some drawbacks. Though a good tale, there were some aspects of it that I thought were a little drawn out. For example, when the lead character Sam is waiting for an explanation about a particular situation, there's some beating around the bush before the explanation is finally given. Also, there are so many different characters, species and places to remember that I sometimes became a little confused.

Overall, however, a good fantasy with a big heart of gold. I'd recommend this to young adult readers.

Rating: 3 / 5

If you would like to buy a copy of Rian of the Elves, visit or

Treasures of the Bodleian exhibition

Back in July, I wrote a blog post about Jane Austen's manuscripts after part of her first draft for The Watsons had been sold at an auction for approximately £1million to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I found out later that the manuscript would be put on display there at the end of September as part of an exhibition called Treasures of the Bodleian, so of course I instantly decided that I couldn't miss this opportunity to see a 'piece' of Jane in the flesh!

Today, then, I dragged my fabulously patient friend Nicola to go and see it. Nicola's not much of a book person herself, so she was a little apprehensive about going at first and planned on leaving me to it while she browsed around town. But she ultimately decided to follow me and give the thing a try, and after we arrived she was mesmorised! She probably just thought I was going to stare at a bunch of open books in an old building for half an hour! Haha. But that's the power of history, right?

Yup, the exhibition is amazing! There's so much to see – from an Egyptian letter originating from approximately 200 AD to a box full of 'Free Nelson Mandela' badges, I'd say that there's definitely something for everyone. Plus it's incredible just being a few inches away from such treasure; separated only by glass from the penmanship of a favourite author or a document so important to history.

I desperately wanted to take photos of the displays to share with you guys here, but they didn't allow photography (most likely for good reason). Luckily, though, on the Bodleian Library website they have catalogued each piece with a brief explanation of its background, so here are a few of my favourites from the exhibition:

J.R.R. Tolkien, Conversation with Smaug
'In this illustration to The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, rendered invisible by a magic ring, converses with the dragon, Smaug. Tolkien’s fantasy world, Middle-earth, is populated with creatures that owe much to the literary tradition of northern Europe. A Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, Tolkien had an expert knowledge of this tradition. In the year he drew this watercolour, he wrote: "A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold."'

Letter from an Egyptian boy to his father
(Around 200 or 300 AD)
The letter reads:
'Theon to his father Theon, greetings. A nice thing to do, not taking me with you to the city. If you refuse to take me with you to Alexandria, I shall not write you a letter or speak to you or wish you good health. So: if you go to Alexandria I shall not take your hand or greet you ever again. If you refuse to take me, this is what happens. And my mother said to Archelaos, “He’s upsetting me, take him away!” A nice thing to do, sending me these grand presents, a hill of beans. They put us off the track that day, the 12th, when you sailed. Well then, send for me, I beg you. If you don’t send for me, I shan’t eat, I shan’t drink. There! I pray for your health. [Address] Deliver to Theon from Theonas his son.'

William Blake, Songs of Innocence
In contast to the other objects in the Literature and Music theme, this book is physically the work of one man. Save for the paper-making and binding, Blake did everything: the writing, the illustration and the printing. Only in this way, he believed, could he retain artistic control and escape the tyranny of the publisher (‘Even Milton and Shakespeare could not publish their own works’, he wrote). Blake announced his unique method of ‘illuminated printing’ in a 1793 Prospectus. He had, he said, the ‘means to propagate … the Labours of the Artist, the Poet, the Musician’ thanks to a ‘method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered’.

Magna Carta
'The Bodleian has four of the seventeen surviving pre-1300 ‘engrossments’ of Magna Carta, three of which date from 1217 and one from 1225. With each reissue, an official charter was written, sealed and sent out from the Chancery to each county. Agreed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, the document was revised and reissued over the next 80 years by or for successive monarchs. The engrossments of 1217 were issued in the name of the boy king Henry III and bear the seals of his guardians William Marshal and the papal legate Cardinal Guala (on the left, here worn away).'

Jane Austen, The Watsons
(Around 1805)
'Jane Austen worked on the The Watsons some time between 1804 and 1807, but for unknown reasons never finished it. The story largely concerns the efforts of Emma Watson’s three sisters to get themselves married.
This is part of Austen’s first draft, and it is one of the earliest examples of an English novel to survive in its formative state. Acquired at auction earlier this year, it was the last major Jane Austen manuscript in private hands, and the most significant Austen item to come on the market in over twenty years.'

To view all the treasures currently on display, click here.

If you can get to Oxford, seriously do not miss this exhibition! It's running from now until December 23rd, so you still have a bit of time before these pieces re-enter the vaults. I'll definitely be going back to take it all in some more! :-)