Monday, 31 December 2012

Books Are the Best Medicine

After feeling a little low lately, I went and did something that made me cheerful today. I had some money left over from Christmas presents and decided to splash it all on books. 

I've been waiting for like 2 years for 'The Twelve' to come out and I found it today for half price (£10 for a hardback - not bad!). Of course I couldn't resist. 

I've also been waiting a while to read 'The Marriage Plot'. I adore both of Jeffrey Eugenides other novels and I'm hoping I love this one just as much.

The other two, 'The Art of Fielding' and 'Stonemouth' or sort of impulse buys. I found them on the Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price offer and they both looked like my kind of read. 

One problem... I can't wait to get stuck into them all, which means I really want to zoom through the book I'm currently reading. Oh well, I'd better get my reading head on.  

Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 in Books
What I've Been Reading This Year

Seeing as I'm less than halfway through my current read, I doubt I'll have it finished by the end of the year (less than 2 days to go folks). So I might as well take the opportunity to share with you the books I've read this year and some brief thoughts on them.

1 'Moab is my Washpot' by Stephen Fry

I really enjoyed this memoir of Stephen Fry's earlier days. He's brutally frank about his experiences at school and the emergence of his sexuality. I came away feeling like I knew him more intimately than I should have done.

2 'A Game of Thrones' by George RR Martin

3 'A Clash of Kings' by George RR Martin

The first two books in the 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series are a brilliant introduction to an intriguing fantasy world. 

4 'The Magic Cottage' by James Herbert

A really eery horror novel about a couple who move into their idyllic country cottage and find out that not everything is as it seems.

5 'Delores Claiborne' by Stephen King

Another masterpiece by the King of Horror. This novel is written as a monologue, a statement made to the police. I really enjoyed its experimental pace and found it difficult to put down.

6 'Wild Mind' by Natalie Goldberg

This book about writing was a bit of a let down. I love Natalie Goldberg's 'Writing Down the Bones' but just didn't get as much out of this one.

7 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' by Jane Austen and Seth   Grahame-Smith

Amazing! A must-read for anybody with a quirky sense of humour who like both zombie literature and the classics.

8 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' by Stieg Larsson

9 'The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' by Stieg Larsson

10 'The Girl who Played with Fire' by Stieg Larsson

Why I waited so long to read this trilogy, I don't know. It gripped me from beginning to end and I absolutely adore Lisbeth. Flawed heroes are a big favourite of mine.

11 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh

Once I got used to the fact that this novel is written in dialect, I sank into it. It's a bit of a mind-bending read that takes you on a real roller-coaster ride. And it's much better than the film!

12 'Fifty Dead Men Walking' by Martin McGartand

This isn't the kind of book I'd usually pick up but my girlfriend recommended it and I agreed to give it a go. I learnt a lot about a subject that I didn't really know much about and it was kind of cool to step out of my reading comfort zone.

13 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley

A brilliant, brilliant book. One of my favourites this year.

14 '11.22.69' by Stephen King

Another one of my favourite books of the year. This was a fascinating and gripping read. A brilliant take on the time-travel genre that has a lot to say about life, love and the dangers of changing the past.

15 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

16 'Catching Fire' by Suzanne Collins

17 'Mocking Jay' by Suzanne Collins

I stormed through this trilogy about teenagers battling to the death. It was surprisingly compelling considering the target age group is teenagers. And as embarrassing as it sounds, it even brought a little tear to my eyes at times. 

18'Battle Royale' by Koushun Takami

I decided to read this novel after hearing that it shared some features with Suzanne Collins' novels. I thought there were some cool ideas in there as well as some extremely gruesome scenes but all in all I was a little disappointed. I found it dragged a little and I struggled to keep up a reading momentum. This might have been due to the translation though, who knows.

19 'Over Sea, Under Stone' by Susan Cooper

20 'The Dark is Rising' by Susan Cooper

21 'Greenwitch' by Susan Cooper

The first three books in 'The Dark is Rising Sequence. I read them back to back and was pretty into them despite the fact that they were written before I was even born. However, I can't seem to bring myself to read the fourth novel. Maybe I burned myself out on them. I'm hoping I'll get round to reading book four and five next year.

22 'A Survival Guide for Life' by Bear Grylls

This is a really neat book that my girlfriend bought me during one of my hospital stays. It's not what you'd expect. It's not about surviving extreme conditions. It's about making the most of your life, about becoming the best person you can be. It's full of these great little pep talks and each chapter is no more than 2 pages, so you don't feel overwhelmed by it all. It was a great read and I found it really helpful. It's one I'll no doubt return to again and again.

23 'Zombies at Tiffany's' by Sam Stone 

An awesome novella that combines zombies and steampunk and turns Capote's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' on its head. 

24 'Silent Sand' by Sam Stone 

The fifth novel in one of my favourite series. I certainly wasn't disappointed with this one. It lived up to the expectations of its predecessors. 

25 'The Wind Through the Keyhole' by Stephen King

A great addition to the Dark Tower Series. A story within a story within a story that sucks you in and takes over completely. I couldn't put it down. 

26 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

My new favourite book. This novel broke my heart. I recommend everyone to go out and read it right away. 

27 'The Bone Collector' by Jeffrey Deaver

A rare dip into the crime genre for me. And one that I seriously enjoyed. Much more complex than the film version and extremely gory. 

28 'High Voltage Tattoo' by Kat Von D 

I loved this glimpse into the world of tattoist Kat Von D. Although it did make me want to rush out and get a whole load of tattoos. 

So that's my reading list for the year. It's not as extensive as I'd hoped it would be but considering all I've been through this year, it's not all that bad. I'm going to set myself the goal of reading 40 books in 2013. We'll see what happens... 

What I've Been Reading:
'High Voltage Tattoo' by Kat Von D

'High Voltage Tattoo' by Kat Von D

My parents bought me this book for Christmas and I read it in less than a day. It's pretty cool for those who, like me, have a little thing for the tattoed goddess, Kat Von D.

The first part of the book is an autobiography of sorts, chronicling how Kat got into tattooing and the experiences that made her who she is today.

The second part, which is probably my favourite part, is a directory of Kat's tattoos, explaining their origins and meanings.

In the rest of the book, Kat reminisces about the tattoos she loved doing, her most influential tattooists and offers up some advice about tattoos and some background info on the art.

It's a neat little book. I loved reading the stories behind both Kat's tattoos and the tattoos she's designed for other people. The only problem? Now I'm itching more than ever to get started on the sleeve tattoo I'm planning... 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What I've Been Reading:
'The Bone Collector' by Jeffery Deaver

'The Bone Collector' by Jeffery Deaver

On my girlfriend's suggestion, I watched the film version of 'The Bone Collector' a couple of years ago and loved it. Since then I've wanted to read the book but knew I needed to wait a suitable length of time in order to forget the plot and the identity of the culprit. A couple of weeks ago I found a copy of the novel for £1 in a charity shop and realised that I really couldn't remember much of what happens in the film and decided to snap it up.

I started this book on Sunday evening and finished it this afternoon (Tuesday), which is surprisingly quick considering the novel is over 300 pages long. But I simply couldn't put it down. I loved the film, but the original novel is just so, so much better.

Lincoln Rhyme is one of those flawed hero's that I just can't help but relate to. Bed-bound and paralysed from the neck down, except for one ring-finger that by some fluke retained feeling and mobility, Rhyme is on the brink of suicide. Or would be, if he could just find a doctor to help him complete the act. Finally, after years of searching, he has come across Dr Berger, a member of an assisted suicide group who is willing to help him follow through. The only problem is, Lincoln Rhyme's life has just become incredibly busy.

An ex-detective, Rhyme is New York's foremost expert in criminology and the perfect man to uncover the answers to a murder that has just taken place. Well, he would be if he could leave his bed and walk the scene. Instead he must make use of the officer who was first on the scene, Amelia Sachs, a police officer with as much history as Rhyme and a temperament to match his own.

Unexpectedly, they make the perfect team, and working as his legs and eyes, Amelia aids Rhyme in working the case that is causing uproar in New York city. Without giving anything away to those who haven't seen the film, I'll say that the novel is full of twists and turns and unexpected clues and insights. As you read, you find yourself racking your brains to figure things out but it's all so complex and curious that you just can't. And, like all the best murder mysteries, just when you think you've figured out who the murderer is, the rug is whipped out from under you and you realise you were wrong and the answer was there all along, staring you in the face.

This is a brilliant book, and it's got me wanting to read the rest of the Lincoln Rhyme series. I'd definitely recommend it to anybody who like me doesn't read crime fiction that much but likes to dip into the genre every now and then.

'The Bone Collector' gets a big (bony) thumbs up from me.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

What I've Been Reading:
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

 "I don't know if you've ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this"


This is my new favourite book. I've been meaning to read it for a while now and just haven't got round to it until yesterday (yes that's right, I read this book in less than 24 hours. It really was that good!) I really wish that I'd read it years ago, that this book had been around when I was fifteen and struggling with all the crap that comes with being a teenager. As it is, it still seems to have come into my life at the perfect time. A lot of the stuff running through Charlie's mind, a lot of the things he is thinking and feeling, a lot of his observations on life and family and the craziness of the world around him seem to eerily mirror my own current reflections.

I read this novel with a lump in my throat and un-shed tears blurring my vision. I haven't connected with a novel on such a level since I first read Elizabeth Wurtzel's 'Prozac Nation' when I was sixteen. When I turned that last page and closed the cover on the characters and their story, I was sad to leave it all behind. And seriously tempted to start again from the beginning. I'm certain I will do at some time in the near future. Charlie's story just resonates with me too much to leave it un-visited for too long.

As with many of my favourite books, I'm going to be reluctant to watch the film version of this book. The characters are so alive in my mind, their individual quirks and mannerisms so real to me that I don't think I'd be happy with however they're portrayed on film. But I'm sure my curiosity will get the better of me at some point.

This novel gets a 10/10 from me. And I urge you to go out and buy it and read it right away. I hope Charlie sparks something in you as much as he did for me.

Friday, 14 December 2012

What I've Been Reading:
'The Wind Through The Keyhole' by Stephen King

The Wind Through the Keyhole

There are a lot of people out there who claim Stephen King to be their favourite author yet have never read any of his books. What these people mean is that they have seen the films based on his books and enjoyed them. These are the people who make me loath to call King my favourite author. But I'm going to be brave and admit it. I <3 Stephen King. He's a legend and I would love to have even half of his talent.

My girlfriend is also a huge Stephen King fan and we actually have nearly two shelves of our giant bookcase reserved for just his books. And we don't own even half of them. Although our goal is to eventually own everything he's ever had published. 

It was actually my girlfriend who got me into King's 'Dark Tower' series. At 7 books long, it was already a ridiculously long story, but one which I loved every word of. Each book was better than the last and pulled me deeper into the world of Roland Deschain of Gilead, Gunslinger and last in the line of Arthur Eld. When I closed the last book in the series, I expected that to be the last we'd hear of Roland and his Ka-tet. But I was wrong. This year saw the publication of 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', a 'Dark Tower' novel which can technically stand alone but should be shelved between books 4 and 5. King has described the novel as number 4.5 and it is. It fills in a gap in Roland's journey and really in my eyes, its purpose is more to flesh out Roland's history than to add to the telling of his current journey in search of the Dark Tower.

I read this book in roughly two days. And I couldn't put it down. It sucked me in straight away, even though I haven't read any of the Dark Tower series in well over a year. I instantly reconnected with the characters I had loved so much and spent a ridiculous amount of time with while reading the other books in the series (at least two months of reading time?). 

The structure of this novel is interesting. It basically amounts to a story within a story within a story. I know that sounds confusing but it really wasn't. While hunkering down from an extreme storm known as a Starkblast, Roland entertains his companions with a story from his past, a story that reveals a lot about his character and adds to the history revealed to us in 'Wizard and Glass'. As the story he is telling progresses, he remembers and repeats a story his mother told him as a child, a story called 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', a story that is so enchanting that it sucks you in and makes you forget Roland and his band of companions waiting out the storm.

I loved this novel. It's King at his best. And it made me want to re-read the other Dark Tower novels. (Something I would do if I didn't already have so many unread books on my shelves to get through.) I sort of want to force everyone I know to read this book. I want them to see how incredible King is as a story-weaver. People think of him as primarily a Horror writer but I think his best novels are those that veer away from that genre; the 'Dark Tower novels', 'The Eye of the Dragon', 'Misery' and 'The Green Mile'. What I love about Stephen King is the way he gets at the dark side of human nature and exposes it. I think that's where the creep factor of his books lies - the way he shows us the monsters we could be if we had taken different steps in life, if things had worked out differently. 

As I've already said, I think Stephen King is a legend. I hope I've inspired you to go out and read one of his books. And I hope it changes your world.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

What I've Been Reading:
'Silent Sand' by Sam Stone

'Silent Sand' by Sam Stone

If you've read my post about meeting Sam Stoneyou'll already know just how much I love her 'Vampire Gene' books.'Silent Sand' is the fifth and latest in the sequence. I finished reading it this afternoon and felt the urge to blog about it instantly. I wanted to share my thoughts with the world and spread the word about these books in general.

A lot of the time, when I'm reading a sequence of books that involve the same set of characters, I tend to get a little bored after a while. It's easy for characters to become stale, for plots to become repetitive. But this has not been the case with Sam Stone's books. With each novel, the characters become more alive for me, more 3D in my mind. Each instalment teaches us more about the characters and the world they inhabit. And at the end of each novel, we're left wanting more.

'Silent Sand' explores the nature of the Vampire Gene further, dipping into new ideas of how Vampirism may be spread. I won't give it away but there's a really inspired plot point to do with a certain bodily fluid that I really didn't see coming. It also explores the idea of how those with similar but not identical genetics to those who carry the Vampire Gene might react to being bitten. The result is a really clever story that expands the possibilities of the world we have come to know in the first four books.

I enjoyed catching up with Lucrezia Borgia and her life as Lucy Collins the Haematologist (I have a little fondness for Lucrezia. Plus, I love the Science-y stuff that she gets herself involved in). I also loved the flashbacks that Gabriele showed us of his life in the Paris of Louis XV. That's the kind of depth of character I like in books.

One of the things I really like about these books is the way Sam Stone experiments with Point of View. She switches between first person narration by Gabriele and a third person perspective which allows us to see more of what is going on than Gabriele would possibly be able to tell us. It's brave, not a lot of writer's attempt this kind of thing but I love it. It keeps the writing lively and the plot moving forward.

All in all, I loved this book, even the torturous cliff-hanger of an ending which I had to read three times before I was willing to accept was actually how I would be forced to leave this book.

So of course, now I'm impatiently awaiting the next instalment. Perhaps I'll use the time to re-visit the previous four books...