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! :-)