Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Reading Round-up:

41: 'Dead Sky Morning' by Karina Halle: [4/5] a creepy instalment to the series.

42: 'Lying Season' by Karina Halle: [3/5] a bit disappointing when compared to the previous books in the series

43: 'The Panopticon' by Jenni Fagan: [5/5] my new favourite read.

44: 'Night Shift' by Stephen King: [3/5] I don't really do short stories but this was a good collection.

45: 'Saint Jude' by Dawn DeAnna Wilson: [4/5] a compelling tale of teen mental illness.

46: 'Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco' by Eileen Wacker: [4/5] a sweet story for kids about Chinese New Year.

Six books this month, not bad...

What I've Been Reading:
'To the 5th Power' by Shirin Dubbin

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher for an honest review.

I didn't actually finish this book. I got about 10% of the way in and simply couldn't go any further. I loved the idea - a retired superhero who has to go back into action to help catch three super-villains but I just couldn't get in to the story. It wasn't that it was poorly written or anything, it was more that it wasn't as detailed as it should have been. I felt almost as though the writer had scrimped on description and plot in order to keep the word count down. I might return to it eventually but at the moment it's just not my thing.

What I've Been Reading:
'Rainbow Panda and the Firecracker Fiasco' by Eileen Wacker

So, I know kids books aren't my usual forte but I was invited to read this book on Netgalley and I have to admit that it really appealed to me. I have a soft spot for Pandas and so I decided to give it a go. It's a short read, obviously as it's aimed at the 4-8 age group and it only took about five minutes to read. If I had been reading it to a child. it would probably have taken longer as we would have lingered to admire the cute pictures and discuss the story. 

It's a clever little story about Chinese New Year and the mythology surrounding Chinese Dragons and how their actions can bring luck for the following year. There's also a moral story embedded in the plot - Fire is Dangerous. Do Not Play With Matches.

The writing wasn't great. I think it could have been edited down a great deal without losing any of the plot but the accompanying pictures made up for it, as did the handy little glossary at the back of the book which explains some Chinese customs and foods - this is a great idea in a kids book.

I would definitely like to check out the rest of the series (there are 6 books in total, all based around the same community of animals) and would love to read this to my little nephews who I think would really love it.


Monday, 29 July 2013

The Nation's Top 100 Reads
How Many Have You Read?

In 2003, the BBC compiled a list of the nation's favourite 100 books. Obviously having nothing better to do, I decided to see how many of them I've read. The entire list is below and the ones highlighted are the ones I've read...

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson

99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie 

So, I've read 40 out of 100. Not too shabby.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Saint Jude' by Dawn DeAnna Wilson

"No one expects you to make any sense. That gives you the freedom to be creative. It's like for the rest of us the world is a black and white TV show. For you, it's a Disney cartoon."

This is one of those books I've stumbled across when browsing Amazon for cheap / free Kindle titles. The slightly eerie cover image drew me to the book and the blurb pulled me in further so I hit that lovely little 'buy now' button.

Saint Jude's is a way-station for troubled teens. Specialising in adolescent mental illness, the group home takes in upper middle class teenagers like Taylor, whose Mom can no longer handle her Bipolar diagnosis. Taylor's lucky. The only experience she has of Psychiatric facilities is the plush ward on the fourth floor of a private hospital, and now the "family" environment of Saint Jude, governed by Big Daddy, the teens therapist and Big Momma, a sort of housekeeper, come psychiatric nurse.

The teens are all dealing with their own problems: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and yet their lives have become entwined, they've been forced together by the stigma of mental illness and the pain they each feel inside their own fragile minds. Isolated from the "real world" the teens tick along, riding the waves of their mental disorders waiting to turn sixteen so they can leave. 

Until Dalton arrives. A replacement for Big Daddy, Dalton is a breath of fresh air in the stale therapeutic environment and he attempts to turn the teens lives around with shall we say non-traditional techniques and a new approach to therapy. 

Meanwhile, as Taylor begins to grow closer to the charismatic Blaine, she puts her own recovery on the line to become the person she thinks he wants to be. And when he leaves Saint Jude's for good, the fine thread that had been holding her together finally breaks.

This novel encompasses the darkness of a mental illness diagnosis and the brightness of recovery. It's a must-read for anybody going through a similar situation or really for anybody who just likes a bloody good teen protagonist and a plot that deals with strong, heart-wrenching issues without simply skimming the surface.

4/5 - purely because the copy I read could have done with some editing and grammatical tweaks.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Night Shift' by Stephen King

I've never been overly keen on short stories. I can see the merits of them of course, it's just that they're not for me. I struggle to stick with a collection of short stories because I can't keep my interest up. I like novels. I like the way we gradually begin to know and care for the characters. I like following the story arc and reaching the climax, and I love a book that lasts me a while, a nice thick tome that you get to know by carrying it around with you everywhere for a week or more. Short stories are more like bite-sized chunks to read in one sitting, and as such I just can't get on with them in the same way I can a novel.

But, as this was one of books on my personal Stephen King-a-thon challenge, I had to persevere, stick with it to the end. I didn't want to give up, miss it out of my challenge. It would have been failing at the first hurdle. Anyway, I really enjoyed a few of the stories and yet now that I closed the book and put it aside a few days ago, I can't seem to properly recall more than one or two of them. That's the problem with short stories for me, they don't capture my imagination enough that I'll remember them several years down the line.

However, if you're a fan of Stephen King or the horror genre in general, and you can tolerate the short story format, I'd recommend you give this a go.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'The Panopticon' by Jenni Fagan

This is one of those books I'd read lots of good things about. It had high praise from some brilliant writers and I was really desperate to read it. However, as usual, that means that I was also reluctant to start reading it. I didn't want to be disappointed. I didn't want my high expectations to come crashing down. And now I feel really stupid and wish I had read it much sooner. Because this book was awesome.

At fifteen years old, Anais Hendricks has been through a hell of a lot. Born in a psychiatric facility to a schizophrenic mother, she is a lifer - a child who has been in the care system since birth and due to circumstance and behavioural issues can be expected to move from a care home to the prison system as an adult. There was a brief time in her childhood when things looked good for Anais. She had a loving adoptive Mother, who despite coming with her own set of issues, was a good Mum, providing Anais with a lively and educated upbringing. But things turned sour and Anais found herself back in the system, bouncing from one group home to the next and getting herself into a whole host of trouble in the process.

We first meet Anais in the back of a police car en route to the Panopticon, a care home for chronic young offenders. Anais knows why she's heading there - everybody thinks that she tried to murder a policewoman. What she doesn't know, is whether she is guilty. Yes, there's blood on her school skirt but she was far too off her face on various drugs to remember what she may or may not have done.

What follows is her journey through the trials and tribulations of proving her innocence, as well as trying to figure out who she really is when she has no idea where she really came from. There are a lot of really cool ideas in this book linking to identity that show just how important it is to our sense of self to know who our family are and how we came into the world. Being uncertain of her origins has led Anais to the belief that she was created by 'the Experiment' as a sort of study. She believes that the Experiment are continuously watching and monitoring her and that her life is nothing but one huge investigation into the human mind.

I loved the character of Anais, she's a girl you can really identify with. She's strong-willed, passionate and has an inner strength that a lot of us could really learn from. She doesn't let all of the shit she's gone through define her and she's so brilliantly clever and astute that you just want to get inside her mind and really rummage around in there until you find the answer to the meaning of life.

This novel tackles a lot of issues: the care system, sexuality, self harm, suicide, rape, murder, drug use, HIV, mental illness plus a lot more that I just can't even label. It's a fabulous, heart-wrenching, enlightening book and I would recommend it to anyone who has room for a troubled teen protagonist in their heart.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Lying Season' by Karina Halle

The fourth instalment in Karina Halle's 'Experiment in Terror' series, 'Lying Season' sees ghost-hunters Perry Palomino and Dex Foray investigate a supposedly haunted Mental Institute in Dex's hometown of Seattle. Which of course involves Perry staying with Dex and his vile girlfriend Jenn for a week. Cue seriously awkward scenes involving Jenn's atrocious attitude and self-love. 

We learn a lot more about what makes Dex tick in this novel. Scouring his bookcase for interesting reading material, Perry comes across Dex's stash of meds, hidden in a hollowed out book no less - I love that guy's style, weed goes in an unlocked drawer, medication must be hidden from his girlfriend... Oh Dex you get more complex, the more we get to know you. And more lovable to boot. Finding his various medications prompts Perry to find out more about Dex's mental health (or lack of) and results in a rather dodgy experiment that I don't want to spoil for you all.

We see some more of Perry's history in this book as well. Through dream sequences we are introduced to the 'accident' that has only been hinted at until now and we begin to see just how pervasive Perry's ghosts are. 

And we are introduced to yet another gruesome ghoul. This time, somebody we've heard about before. Remember Abby, Dex's ex? Well we get to see her in the rotting flesh as she haunts Dex's apartment and gets all threatening towards Perry. That girl creeped me out and I'm kinda hoping she makes an appearance in future instalments. I don't think we've seen everything she has to give. Oh and if you love Creepy Clown Lady as much as I do, you'll be happy to know she makes an appearance or two in 'Lying Season'.

Overall, I enjoyed this fourth novel in what is turning out to be an awesome series but I was a little disappointed by the lack of scares. I was itching to read this book as soon as I found out it involved a haunted asylum - yeah, I have a thing for creepy old mental institutes. But there just wasn't enough about the hospital to keep me completely pleased. Although the guy in the padded cell was bloody horrible. This books focus was more on the up and down relationship burgeoning between Dex and Perry and for me, that meant it lacked a bit of the gripping, nail-biting tension that the previous books had. But nevertheless it was a bloody brilliant book and I can't wait to read the next one.

3/5 (purely for not being scary enough!)

What I've Been Reading:
'Dead Sky Morning' by Karina Halle

I adore the Experiment in Terror series by Karina Halle, I really do. It has everything. A kick-ass female protagonist, her snarky looney tunes colleague, ghostly goings-on, some seriously cool locations (a former leper colony for example) and a creepy clown lady. I mean what more could you want from a series? Plus, I think one of the things I really like about these books is that they're not just another vampire series. They're much more rooted in reality, in the real world. Okay, I know there are ghosts. But who the heck knows if ghosts are real... Perry and Dex might just have hit on something.

Anyway, 'Dead Sky Morning' is the third installment in the series, and for me it was a return to the things I loved about the first book in the series - real danger, some interesting history, and of course that old sexual tension between Perry and Dex. And without getting too close to spoiler territory, lets just say the sexual tension gets cranked up to the next level in this novel.

For the fourth episode of their web series, Dex is dragging Perry off to D'Arcy Island, a former Chinese leper colony. Now, intrigued by the story, I googled it (yeah I'm a geek, so shoot me) and discovered that D'Arcy Island is as real as they come. Which of course makes me love the book even more for being factually accurate...
So, Perry and Dex take a boat out to D'Arcy Island and anchor the boat as securely as they can manage on an island that is notorious for its dangerous approach and lack of safe docking area. And they hike to a campsite on the other side of the island. You know they're heading for trouble when the killer raccoons appear, or possibly before then when Perry sees someone watching her from the shores of the supposedly empty island. But then it wouldn't be an Experiment in Terror novel if there wasn't some peril involved.

And in this book it comes in the form of Mary, probably the creepiest damn dead woman I've ever had the displeasure of meeting in a novel. The ghost of a missionary woman, she has her own dirty secrets that keep her bound to the island and intent on stopping Perry and Dex from getting away. But we can't forget the mysterious coffins that wash up on shore, and the bizarre flash-mob Deer. The tension in this novel comes in wave after wave, cranking up notch by notch until you can hardly bear to read on. It was nail-biting, eye-covering, lip-chewing tension. And I loved it!