Thursday, December 12, 2013

What I've been reading lately...Game of Thrones.

I never intend to take these long breaks away from my blog - but somehow this happens??...  I have spent the better part of this year reading George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series - and really I don't think it needs any introduction.  I have also finished my Graduate Diploma in Teaching (yay) so now you know the reason why it's taken me so long to write once again.

Earlier this year a good friend of mine knocked on my front door, wordlessly handed me the first book in the series accompanied by a glint in her eye.  I didn't read it straight away - of course I had heard about the books and the TV Series, which I've never watched, but intend to.  When I finally began reading the first book I literally couldn't put it down.  Something that's not too good when you have assignments due!  Towards the end of the first book I began to have that fluttery feeling of panic, knowing it was coming to and end, knowing there was more to be had and knowing that I had to speedily find my way to a bookshop.  Luckily the one down the road has proved to be more than accommodating, as this became a familiar feeling each time I was getting toward the end of each book.  Never have I read a series of novels, fantasy or otherwise, back to back.  I usually need some sort of break.  At present I am now toward the end of A Dance with Dragons, and as this is the last released book I know that intense feeling of getting the next book won't be quenched.  Apparently we need to wait until 2015 (?) for that.

When I began reading the series, I couldn't believe how blase Martin was in killing off his characters.  Just when I was getting to know and warming to a character, suddenly it was off with their head - or something to that effect.  I'm not going to give anything away if you haven't read it, and if you haven't, you have a treat in store for you.  

I now plan to spend my summer watching what we have so far in the TV series - this is my reward for my hard year's work during my course.  I've been told it's been worth the wait.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Leaders who are readers

Just a quick thought, and this is spurred by the previous question posed in this month's Literary Blog Hop.  What if all our great leaders around the world were asked a mandatory question/s: what are they reading at present? and name one influential book you have read?  Would their answers sway you in any way?

 I know that Barack Obama releases his reading list and I think most people on the planet know what Oprah reads - who could be considered an influential leader. Do you know of any others?

However closer to home is an article from last year asking some of our Melbourne leaders what they read.  For me their choice in reading is very telling.    I'm not saying that there is anything good or bad on the list but I will dare to say the list seems somewhat predictable.  I'll allow you to be the judge. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Literary Blog Hop - March 2012

Welcome to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The blue bookcase

How do you find time to read, what's your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society's priorities?

Hmmmm time to read.  If you take a close look at the dates of my recent posts you will see that my time has been very short lately.  I'm desperate for more time to read.  At present I usually only read at night and since I am so tired by the time I'm in bed I only manage a few pages before it's lights out for me.  This question could almost be described as intuitive for me as I have been trying to create additional pockets of time to hastily fit more reading in.  As I have been reading a real 'page turner' this hasn't been that difficult to do and I have also read my novel whilst having my morning coffee.  This time is normally saved for me getting through reading the weekend newspaper, that comes big and thick with many supplements and usually takes me a whole week to get through.  So even though I've taken up my novel during this time, the bits of newspaper I want to read are sitting there banking up.  Not enough hours in the day!  Two small children (four and two) do not make for leisurely reading time.  There's always somewhere to be or something to be done.

Now that I've addressed the time issue, my reading style is predominantly reading fiction, and I have to be in a relaxed state of mind, hence the reading at night.  I hate reading only a few pages at a time and I envy people who say they devour a book in one sitting.  Oh to be able to afford that kind of time.  I also get stroppy when it is suggested I am a slow reader - this has never been an intentional slight and usually has occurred online from people who do not know me - but I am an extremely fast reader only I do not have much time at present to get through books quickly.  In addition to reading fiction, depending on what I am studying there will be texts and articles to read that will be predominantly set reading for a course.  These usually act as a platform for further reading and then I find my TBR pile and list just grows and grows and grows.  I like making lists for various things and my TBR list is no exception.  I use Librarything to organise it in a satisfactory way and I feel panicky flutters within if I notice my bedside bookpile growing any lesser than a four or five book stack as I then need to start scouting around for more to add to it!

Reading literature in society ranks at about a ten for me.  It is of the highest priority.  I am a Librarian and I am studying to become a secondary English teacher.  The thought of molding young minds towards a literary bent excites me.  I'm sure many of you have heard of the merits of reading to babies.  When I brought my first born home from the hospital, his first 'awake' time was devoted to me reading a Mr Men book to him whilst he looked up at me in wonder and then began to hiccup with excitement.  I'd like to think it was excitement over a book but of course it would have just been due to hearing mum's voice.  Why a Mr Men book you may ask?  Because it is small and light and easy to hold whilst holding a newborn and it has very solid primary colours in their illustrations.  We are frequent visitors to the library and we average about four picture books each night before bedtime.  My son and I broke the record of him being the youngest ever to attend our Library Storytime. - Hey you have to go somewhere when you're at home with a baby and I can think of no better place.  Alighting the flame of curiosity that is aroused when seeing books and wanting to read them is a priority for me with my children.  I consider this my duty as a mother.

On a more somber note, my son has recently experienced some bullying and although it is very new it is of course traumatic for him.  Together with his teacher, we have been strategising ways in which to deal with it.  One course of action we talked about was introducing some books that dealt with differences in children and acceptance etc.  The reason why reading should be ranked as a high priority in society is because it teaches empathy.  It is only when readers place themselves in other's shoes that can you truly digest another's feelings and hopefully make your way as a thoughtful and considerate human being. Aaaaah boy was it good to get that off my chest!!!!  Thanks for another great question, I've madly typed for about ten minutes so I know how enthused I am about this topic.

What I've been reading lately...The illusion of murder

Have you seen that old Hollywood movie, The Great Race, starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis?  In it Natalie Wood admirably portrays the feisty nineteenth century reporter, Maggie DuBois, dressed to the nines and always looking a million dollars as she races around the world and reports for her newspaper along the way.  I have read that Maggie DuBois is loosely based on Nellie Bly.

So it was with this in mind that I read The illusion of murder, but as I was reading I couldn't quite picture McCleary's heroine (true life) character Nellie Bly to Natalie Wood's portrayal of Maggie DuBois.  That is I kept waiting for Bly to be as feisty as Wood's Dubois.  And somehow this detracted from my reading of the book.  In my last post I wrote about how when a book is critically examined it is nothing but an autobiography of the critic who is writing it.  Firstly I need to say that I completely agree with this notion, and my precursor to the character of Nellie Bly comes from watching the movie, The great race.  Secondly I need to point out that my blog posts regarding what I read aren't meant to be read as a critical reading.  They're just my thoughts and views about what I have just read.  However, perhaps in trying to distance myself from trying to be too critical, I'm only showing that you cannot?

The illusion of murder is written in the first person and present tense.  As I read I kept thinking why not write in the third person and show a more omnipresent view?  I'm thinking this may have worked a little better.  The book is well written and there is some nice smart dialogue, but maybe in the third person this dialogue would have been allowed to shine or taking a bird's eye view the characters could have been fleshed out a little more, rather than just depend on one view point?

This book is reminiscent of Elizabeth Peter's series featuring Amelia Peabody, and I love the Peabody series!  Author McCleary has probably come closest to writing something in this vein, and since I love the series so much, I'm always on the look out for 'like' books to Peters

Nellie Bly is touted as being the world's first investigative female reporter and McCleary has taken this exceptional historical figure and based her story line on true events when Bly raced around the world in 1889 in an attempt to beat Jules Verne's fictional hero Phileas Fogg's time of eighty days. For those wanting to know more about her a good website to try is Nellie Bly Online.

My final thoughts is that The illusion of murder is a good read.  I haven't read the first book, but it didn't seem to matter too much.  If I spot the first book sitting on a shelf somewhere I'll be sure to read that too.  Oh and did she beat Fogg's time of eighty days?  You will have to read it to find out.

I discovered that Egypt is a land of both mystery and magic, an exotic place where trees talk and men turn staffs into snakes, so it should not have come as such a surprise that death would also be mysterious in this ancient, haunted land of pyramids, mummies, and the eternal Nile.
That I could meet a bizarre end in this strange land has not occurred to me until now as I stand, frozen, staring down at the long black snake I've stepped on.
I don't dare lift my foot; I can't even breathe; I just stand stiffly in place, the toe of my shoe pressing down on the serpent as it thrashes and tries to coil.
Darkness is closing in as a burning torch on the dirt a few feet from me fades.  When the bundle of sticks burns out, there'll be just me and the snake - in the dark.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Literary Blog Hop

It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves  Chuck Klosterman

Do you agree?

I completely agree with this, and I don't think anyone can write an entirely objective review as everything that is read is subjective.  No one person will read or interpret something the same way, therefore multiple meanings will always be inherent.  For example, if you are reading something that say contains vampires, your idea of vampires may come from the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  You may expect all vampires that are staked to turn into dust, and if they don't you may be vaguely disappointed.  This vague disappointment may manifest into feeling a little disappointed in what you are reading.

Therefore the 'I' in reviewing is important to me, as I'm not going to make any bones that what I am reviewing or writing about is not going to be subjective.  It could be as little as it being a book that I own as opposed to a library book.  What stage in life I am in.  A book that I may have read as a teenager will be a completely different book to me if I read it now.  All this comes into play and influences the way you read.  And there's no right or wrong way of doing this either.

Maybe what could be more important is consistency.  That is, are you consistent with what you like and write about?  In this regard, if you have someone following your reviews, they may do so because they find they have a like-minded interest in what you read too.  So books you may have read or suggest could be something they will like also.

This question was brought to us by The Blue Bookcase, host of Literary Blog Hop.  By the way, what a great question this month!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Theme Thursday

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event hosted by Reading between the pages.

This week's theme: SEE
Wink, Vision, Roll etc.

Getting my balance, I stare at a man who has opened the door to a cabin on the other side of the corridor.  The footsteps I heard were his.  He stares back.
The illusion of murder, Carol McCleary.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What I've been reading lately...Wedding Season

Sarah Stratford is a wedding planner hiding a rather inconvenient truth - she doesn't believe in love.  Or not for herself, anyway.  But as the confetti flutters away on the June breeze of yet another successful wedding she somehow finds herself agreeing to organise two more, on the same day and only two months away.  And whilst her celebrity bride is all sweetness and light, her own sister soon starts driving her mad with her high expectations but very limited budget.  
 Luckily Sarah has two tried and tested friends on hand to help her.  Elsa, an accomplished dress designer who likes to keep a very low profile and Bron, a multi-talented hairdresser who lives with her unreconstructed boyfriend and who'd like to go solo in more ways than one.  They may be very good at their work but romance doesn't feature very highly in any of their lives.
 As the big day draws near all three women find that patience is definitely a virtue in the marriage game.  And as all their working hours are spent preparing for the wedding of the year plus one, they certainly haven't got any time to even think about love.  Or have they?
Taken from book jacket

I wanted to like this book so much more than what I did.  I'm a big fan of Katie Fforde's other books, but this one seemed a little lacklustre.  I couldn't get solid images in my mind in regards to the characters and I think this was what made it harder for me to enjoy.  Also, I may be wrong here, but I think this is the first time she's written a book with three main protagonists, alternating them through the chapters.  The books I've read previously usually feature one character and maybe this allows the characters to be explored fully?  Each girl seemed to have their fair share of self doubt and zaniness and maybe having three of them this way was too much?  I feel so disloyal!

What I do want to say however, is if you're a Katie Fforde fan than by all means read it.  You don't want a hole in your read list of an author you like.  If you haven't read Katie Fforde, and you enjoy chicklit, particularly Marion Keyes or Lisa Jewell then I would recommend starting with a different title, such as Thyme out or Practically perfect.  In fact looking at the page that lists her other novels I can see that really I've enjoyed all of them immensely.  She's the type of writer that is akin to draping a really cosy blanket or doona over you.

Sarah stood by the lych-gate and surveyed the perfection of the summer morning.  It was June and the sun was shining with the promise of a perfect day.  The church was an early English gem, surrounded by closely mown, dew spangled grass, ancient lichen-covered gravestones and clipped yews.  She'd already seen Sukie, the florist, who'd been there since dawn, and now some of her anxiety left her.  Two years of work had come to fruition.  It was all going to be all right.  Then she screamed as someone appeared from behind a tombstone.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Writing Formula

I've always been organised (in a very messy way - you should see my home! - but in my defence it's full of newspapers and books) and I like to have my diary engagements written out neatly with the correct time beside events.  I think in a logical manner, or it is to me, and try to be systematic with the way I do things.  I love routine.  Having children has allowed my love for routine to be de riguer.  I'm not considered anal, rather it's a routine for children.

This is especially evident when at this time of year many may be embarking on brand new routines particularly as the new school year is starting.  Well in Australia it is.  I love to sit down with my diary in front of me and nut out what's happening in the coming week, month, or even months ahead.  I love to say that on Monday we'll be dong this, Tuesday we shall be participating in that and so on.  With the advent of kinder this has made it especially so.

I think this may now give you some sense of the orderly (but messy) life I lead.  A few posts ago I wrote about storyboarding to aid in writing my novel.  Well it seems to have worked!  No, I haven't done anything as marvelous as actually finishing my novel, but I have structure now.  After going through and writing a storyboard card for each 'scene' of my novel, I finally got to the end and had lots of ideas to pursue.  I could write this part at this point, I could have this character do this here, and most importantly I had a reference to remember the names I'd chosen of minor characters.

What I have begun doing now, is writing a story board card for the next scene I want to write.  And this has now become my writing formula.  Because I know what's ahead, the writing is flowing, that particular word I want just springs to mind and I'm typing ever so fast.  I don't think I've ever said this on my blog, but I've been blessed with fast touch typing skills.  I can even do it with my eyes closed.

Anyway, I've been so pleased by this turn of events with my book I thought I'd blog about it.  Especially as I have been writing I have neglected my blog.  So, have any of you writers come across a routine or way of writing that helps keep you inspired?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What I've been reading lately....The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I was not completely candid with you in my last letter.  In the interests of delicacy, I drew a veil on the true nature of that group and their founder, Elizabeth McKenna.  But now, I see that I must reveal all.

World War 2.  What do you think of when you read those words?  To be honest I feel a little removed from it all.  The only exposure I've ever had is through what I've read or watched.  At school and at work we have always acknowledged Remembrance Day, but I never really thought about its significance until I had children.  Holding a newborn baby in your arms and thinking about how precious that child is to you I was suddenly aware of the sacrafice; the toll it takes on any family who have to endure their loved ones going away to war.
Of all the things that happened during the war, sending children away to try to keep them safe was surely the most terrible.  I don't know how the parents endured it.  It defies the animal instinct to protect your young.  I see myself becoming bearlike around Kit.  Even when I'm not actually watching her I'm watching her.  I f she's in any sort of danger (which she often is, given her taste in climbing), my hackles rise - I didn't even know I had hackles before - and I run to rescue her.  When her enemy, the Vicar's nephew, threw plums at her, I roared at him.  And through some queer sort of intuition I always know where she is.  Just as I know where my hands are - and if I didn't, I'd be ill with worry.  This is how the species survives, I suppose, but the war put a spanner in all that.  How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where their children were?  I can't imagine.
I think if you're a book blogger you will especially like this novel it as it reminded me of the sort of conversations or musings you would have and relate to others about what you read.  We get to know the characters in this book through letters and at times you have to remind yourself that it is a work of fiction, so real does the writing seem.  There is a real sense of the 1940's, evoked through the book's vernacular and imagery.

The author Mary Ann Shaffer was a seventy year old former Librarian and sadly she didn't get to see her book in print as she passed away in 2008.  Sadly for us readers this means there won't be any more beautiful works coming from this author.

I knew this book was a bestseller when I bought it (actually for my mum for christmas!) and I can see why.  However I will say that it did take me about a third way in to really get into it.  To properly work out who's who, and this may seem off putting to some.  However if you haven't read it then do so, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Theme Thursday

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event hosted by Reading between the pages that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:
  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
This week's theme: Come (came, arrive, coming etc).
On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I've learnt.  It has nothing to do with me.  At least, that's what I was thinking as the boat approached the pier.  I had a cowardly impulse to throw my red cape overboard and pretend I was someone else.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Literary sexism

I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.  I think it is unequal to me.
  V S Naipul

When I was working in libraries what was often commented upon by various staff is that men tend to only read men.  I find this very interesting.  Is this so?  If you are male and reading this, do you predominantly only read male authors? 

This post is piggy-backing off a recent article I read by journalist Jane Sullivan.  This is what she has to say about the above quote. 

He [Naipaul] talked about something called 'feminine tosh'.  He didn't mean it in an unkind way, he added.  He said this is because of women's "sentimentality, their narrow view of the world...And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing, too".  Who is this arrogant idiot, you might think?  This sexist, chauvinist loon?  Let's dismiss him at once.  It's not as easy as that.  The speaker is a man described as the greatest living writer of English prose.
I've had a quick look at the books waiting TBR sitting near my bed, fifteen in all.  Eight of them are written by men.  So I'm happy to say that what appears evident with me is that I'm about half-and-half. 

Jane Sullivan also provides some insight as to what texts are being taught in schools.  When I was in school we of course did read 'dead white men', but we did read lots of female writers too.  Off the top of my head I can remember reading Nene Gare's The fringe dwellers; Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.  There were of course many male writers we studied, including Shakespeare, however it never was seemingly only male.

An assignment that I did last year looked at some adolescent texts we would include in a Secondary English curriculum.  I looked at Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta; Does my head look big in this?, Randa Abdel-Fattah; Callie, Ruth Park; Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden and Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer.  So out of five I had unconsciously chosen three female writers.  These were books I felt drawn to and felt comfortable and enthusiastic about teaching.  I also used Pride and prejudice as my main text.  These books were all chosen for hypothetical classes.

So I'll end this post with two things.  I promise to consciously try and be fair to both genders when I am teaching texts (and if I have the power to do the choosing).  That is 50% for both.  And I want to end with a final question.  Are you drawn more to male writers than female?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Beginnings

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Mr Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark LTD
21 St James's Place
London SW1

8th January 1946

Dear Sidney,

Susan Scott is a wonder.  We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.  Susan managed to get hold of ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue.  If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring the country.  Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter?  Let's try it - you may deduct the money from my royalties.  Now for my grim news.
The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Upon reading these first few lines, I first noticed the date.  I was reading this on the exact same day!  For some reason this gave me a good feeling that boded well for my coming read.  The word rations (as well as the year 1946) immediately meant during the war.  All I know about this book is that it's meant to be about books.  Something I love.  I also know it was a best seller. 

In actual fact I gave this book to my mum the christmas before and she said she couldn't get into it.  Terrible feeling when you've taken the time to choose a book for someone.  Anyway, I took it to give it a try and it's been sitting there waiting for the best part of a year.  I'll let you know how it goes.
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