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Bookish news

Jay Rubin, Murakami’s translator gives an interesting interview

Webcomic Fans Boost Self-Published Book to Amazon’s #1 Spot

Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry battles censorship in India

Fiction Uncovered, a new book award, has been launched.

Six scientists tell us about the most accurate science fiction in their fields

A new digital-only publishing house, specializing in short stories has been launched.

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize has just launched a facebook page

An interesting article on the art of bookselling.

A Book Club for Readers Who Will Pay to be First

Death mask study reveals ‘real’ William Shakespeare

Glimpses of the new Water for Elephants film are creeping onto the Internet. I can’t imagine it being as good as the book, but it looks as though they’ve captured the right atmosphere.

Just for fun!

How good are you at recognising book covers made from lego?

20 Worst Children’s Book covers. My favourite is Cooking with Pooh!!

UN ‘to appoint space ambassador to greet alien visitors’ I’m not convinced that aliens will wait around long enough for the space ambassador to come and greet them!

The Machine Stops by EM Forster.A short story written in 1909 which impressively predicts the future.

An example of how poor advert placement can be very amusing!

I hope you enjoy browsing these links.

Have a great weekend!!

Categories
2000 - 2007 YA

Pretties – Scott Westerfeld

 The second book in the Uglies quartet

I really enjoyed Uglies, the first book in this quartet, so was disappointed to discover that Pretties wasn’t in the same league. It is impossible to give any details of the plot without spoiling Uglies, so I’ll just point you in the direction of my Uglies review if you are interested in starting the series.

Uglies was packed with thought provoking scenes, giving a scary prediction for the future of a society that places beauty as a high priority. Pretties contained nothing that got me thinking.  It was a fast paced, but felt shallow and by the end of the book I felt as though the plot hadn’t made any progression from the end of Uglies.

I also found “pretty talk” to be very irritating. Words like “bogus” and “bubbly” were over used and began to wind me up:

Tally tried to be bubbly, but the thought of the costumed special lurking her was too dizzy-making.

….she knew it would be bogus not to agree. And that with a totally bubbly costume like a real-life Smokey sweater to wear, there was no way anyone would vote against her…..

They thought it was totally bubbly that real-life Specials were at the party….

Aaaaarrrggghhh!!  I can’t remember such annoying writing in Uglies, but perhaps the fantastic plot made me forget about it.

Pretties was so disappointing I’ve almost decided not to read the rest of the series.

Do you think I’d enjoy Specials or Extras?

 Pretties is dividing opinion in the blogging world: 

….this book just felt like filler. Kiss My Book

….ends with a cliffhanger that sends you scurrying for the next book in the series. Rhapsody in Books

This book was un-put-down-able. Books and Movies

Categories
2009 Science Fiction

Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui

 Translated from the Japanese by Andrew Driver

I bought this book because I saw the following phrase on the cover:

A Japanese master to be ranked alongside Haruki Murakami

I hadn’t heard of the author, but I’m afraid I have no self control when I see the word Murakami – I just have to see if it is anywhere near as good as books like Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I’m really pleased with my impulse buy – Paprika is as weird as anything Murakami has written!

Paprika is a science fiction novel, originally published in Japan in 1993. The book focuses on a group of scientists who have invented a machine which allows them to enter the dreams of others. The team use their invention to treat mentally ill patients, particularly those with schizophrenia. Everything goes wrong when one of the devices goes missing and is used as a weapon to turn people insane.

This book is very strange! Much of it is set within peoples’ dreams where anything can happen:

Atsuko was trying hard to vanquish the demons of sleep. “It’s just like a dream. A dream. No. This is a dream.”
Yes, I’m sure it is. ” The reporter suddenly sprouted a cow’s head, which flopped down low in front of her. The weight brought her to her senses with a sharp intake of breath, but the cow’s slobber still hung from her mouth. “Do excuse me. I’ve only eaten one helping of rice porridge this morning.” And she slurped the slobber back into her mouth.

Unfortunately most of the people have violent or sexual dreams and so scenes like the one above are quite rare. The tone is kept light so I didn’t find the book disturbing, but I know this sort of thing isn’t for everyone!

The plot was gripping throughout, but it wasn’t as thought provoking as I’d have liked. The book seemed to focus on the battles between good and evil instead of how much our dreams tell us about ourselves and to what extent we can be manipulated through unconscious thought.

I loved the way Japanese mythology was prevalent throughout this book and the fact that  you could never predict what was going to happen next.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys reading bizarre Japanese fiction.

Have you read any of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s other books?

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Discussions Other

Cold weather is reducing my reading time!

As Winter draws nearer I had expected to find myself reading an increasing number of books. I envisioned myself curled up with my favourite blanket, spending the cold, dark nights immersed in fictional worlds. This doesn’t appear to be happening. Instead I find myself reading less and I am currently finishing about half the number of books that I did in the Summer months. This goes against everything I believed to be true about seasonal reading.

Reading in the garden.

I thought that in the Summer I would be so busy enjoying the sunshine that I wouldn’t have much time for reading, but it seems that while I was busy during the day I was quite happy to spend each evening quietly reading. I was also able to get out into the garden and read during the day. This isn’t the case now.

My youngest son enjoying his first whoopie pie!

It isn’t that I have less free time in the Winter – I am just spending it doing different things. On these cold days I have found myself wanting to spend more time cooking: baking cakes and making other comfort foods. I have also been drawn towards the television: watching more films and keeping up with the X-Factor. 

I’m sorry if this means I have less books to review on this blog – you’ll just have to wait for the warmth of Spring to persuade me to read a bit more!

Hopefully I’ll make up for this by being a bit more creative with my blog and I may come up with a few more excuses to post photos of my family ;-)

Am I alone in this seasonal shift?

Do you read more in Summer or Winter?

Categories
1990s Historical Fiction

Stonehenge – Bernard Cornwell

In preparation for hearing Bernard Cornwell talk I wanted to read one of his books. The reviews on Amazon seem to indicate that his King Arthur books are the best, but unfortunately my library didn’t have a copy of The Winter King in stock and so I ended up with Stonehenge. I was equally intrigued by the historical setting, but the Amazon reviews were a lot less enthusiastic and so I wonder if I picked the wrong book to try.

Stonehenge gives a plausible account of events leading up to the construction of the iconic neolithic monument. The story focuses on two brothers who are battling to become the tribal King. We witness the tribal feuds and rituals and learn about the way people lived in 2000 BC.

The historical detail was fascinating and there were several scenes, especially those containing ritual sacrifice, that affected me deeply. The problem was that the sections between these gripping scenes were too long – the plot meandered and I frequently found myself loosing interest. It was a real chore to read much of this book and I almost gave up a few times. I had no emotional connection to the characters and although I learnt about their belief systems, I didn’t feel as though I really understood their fears or motivations.

I have been lucky enough to read several very well written books recently and Stonehenge stood out for the averageness of its writing. I can’t pinpoint what was wrong, but I felt that the scenes failed to come alive. The writing was serviceable, rather than special.

Saban hardly slept, but instead lay and listened to the noises of the night. Once he heard the crackling of twigs, the sound of a great body moving through the brush, then silence again in which he imagined a monstrous head, fangs bared, questing up to the elm. A scream sounded on the ridge, and Saban curled into a ball and whimpered. An owl screeched. The boy’s only comforts were the stars of his ancestors, the cold light of Lahanna silvering the leaves and his thoughts of Derrewyn. He thought of her a lot. He tried to conjure up a picture of her face. Once, thinking about her, he looked up and saw a streak of light slither across the stars and he knew that a god was descending to the earth which he took to be a sign that he and Derrewyn were destined for each other.

Overall I feel that the negatives far out-weigh the positives for this book and so I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.

Did I just pick the wrong Cornwell book?

Are the problems I describe present in the King Arthur books?

Categories
Other

An Evening with Bernard Cornwell

Photo by Nathusius, Flickr

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend a rare live appearance from Bernard Cornwell. The event was organised by Foyles and took place in Westminster, Central London – right next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The talk took place in a beautiful, old room packed with oil paintings and so the atmosphere was fantastic before the authors even arrived.

Bernard Cornwell is the most popular writer of historical fiction in the UK. He has written more than 40 books, selling over 5 million copies worldwide. I had always been intrigued by his books, but hadn’t read any until I decided to go and see him talk. I had mixed feelings about my first Cornwell book, but I’ll save those for my review next week.

Bernard Cornwell was sharing the stage with Richard Kemp, a former British commander of troops in Afganistan (and author of Attack State Red). Together they talked about the role of the soldier in both fiction and non-fiction. Both were fantastic public speakers and I had an entertaining evening listening to their anecdotes.


Bernard Cornwell talked almost exclusively about his new book, The Fort. Set in Massachusetts during the War of Independence it describes the Penobscot Expedition in which a less than thousand British infantry managed to successfully stand up to a fleet of more than 40 vessels.

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The audience consisted mainly of people twice my age and of the opposite sex. I presume that the talk of war put off many women and I have to admit that there were several moments when it was too much for me. You definitely have to have certain qualities to become a soldier and I don’t have any of them! Both authors described how the best soldiers in history were recruited from bar fights – they were the “scum of the Earth”, “larger louts who were given pride and discipline”. It was interesting to hear them talk, but I think it just confirmed my suspicions that military history isn’t for me.

A few Bernard Cornwell facts revealed that evening

  • He wanted to give The Fort the title Captivate, Kill or Destroy but the publishers insisted on the boring title.
  • The stupidest thing he ever did was kill off Hatesville (don’t ask me who he is – I have no idea!)
  • He hates the word “task” and wishes people would stick to using the word “job”.
  • His favourite author of military fact is Antony Beevor
  • His favourite military fiction book is Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

The most amusing question of the night came from a man near the front who asked how often Bernard Cornwell is confused with Bill Bryson – I noted that he sidestepped the question!

I was most struck by how knowledgeable Bernard Cornwell is. He has a detailed knowledge of the history surrounding all his books and a clear enthusiasm for his subjects. Talking about war may not have been to my taste, but he managed to hold my attention throughout and make me laugh on several occasions. I will definitely go and hear him talk again if given the opportunity – especially if he talks about some of his other historical fiction titles.

Have you read any of Bernard Cornwell’s books?

If so, which did you enjoy the most?