12 Dec 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want To Give As Gifts

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. Love it. I am in quite a Christmassy mood this December which fits in perfectly with the theme for this week's Top Ten Tuesday. Today we are talking about Top Ten Books I Want To Give As Gifts and who I want to give them to. Love giving books away, it is like giving a part yourself when you give a book that you love to someone. So in no particular order:

10) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - to my goddaugther's older sister
Because she is ten years old, just like I was when I got my first copy of this wonderful book.

9) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - to my girlfriend who teaches a university class about feminism
Because it is the ultimate dystopian fiction novel about gender inequality and the terrible consequences of extremism.

8) The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - to my little sister
She will be visiting me in London in January and this is a really fun way to learn about London. Covent Garden will never be the same again.

7) The Bonfire of Vanities by Tom Wolfe - to any of my male friends who dreamt of becoming (or became) investment bankers
Because it is the ultimate story of the banker who loses his cushioned life as he does not face up to his responsibility.

6) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver - to my friend, the psychologist
Because this book is all about nature vs. nurture and I think she would find it fascinating.

5) The Little Black Book of Style by Nina Garcia - to my mother
Because my mum has really good style and she loves reading about and discussing clothes. And because this is one book that I would love to borrow!

4) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - to my little sister (again, she reads a lot)
Because she and I share a secret love for "Twilight" (guilty pleasure) and "Pride and Prejudice" (proud pleasure) and I know that she will love Matthew Clairmont as much as I do.

3) The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan - to my mother-in-law
Because she loves crime fiction and this one is a really great piece.

2) Purge by Sofi Oksanen - to my father
Because he loves historical novels that deal with difficult topics and because we share an interest in communism and the effect it had on Eastern Europe.

1) How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran - to myself :-)
Because I wonder about this topic every day. What is it to be a woman and why is there still such a difference between men and women and the way we are being perceived.

11 Dec 2011

Ten Things I Love About ... "A Discovery of Witches" - you need to read it!

I often find that the books that I not just enjoyed reading but actually LOVED are the ones that are the most difficult to review. When something is so good, it is just hard to really do it justice and I end up being so worried by my own ability to share the wonderful-ness of a book that I just don't review it. How sad is that?? So now I am going to stop being such a book-coward and will review one of the best books I have read in 2011. "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness. However, as it is such a great book, I am going to go about reviewing it an slightly different way than normally because otherwise I will just end up rambling. They who call it "Twilight" for adults have gotten the wrong end of the stick because this book is so much more than that.

The story is impossible to sum up really but it all begins with American historian Diana Bishop who is doing a stint at University of Oxford as a visiting professor. Diana comes from a long line of witches and her family story goes all the way back to the witch huntings in Salem. However, Diana want nothing to do with all that. She just wants to be a regular historian and she has devoted her life to the academic world. One day the peace is shattered when she comes across a magical book in the Bodleian and unleashes a string of events that she had never thought possible.
Suddenly she is surrounded by magical creatures - witches like herself, vampires and daemons. Especially one vampire, Matthew Clairmont, a gorgeous professor, is constantly following her around and Diana has to find out if he - and the others - are friends or enemies and why they are all going crazy for the magical book.

So here are ten things I love about this book:

1) First of all: Diana Bishop herself. This is a cool chick - best paranormal heroine, I have ever come across. This is not a girl but a real woman, an intelligent woman with a career in academia and an independent spirit. No little-girl-whimpering here, no ma'm. This witch is a kick-ass lady who rows to get energy out of her system and who has been taught to stay well away from vampires. Which brings be to number 2...

2) Matthew Clairmont. This guy is in a league of his own when it comes to the dream-man-factor. First of all, he is hot, like sizzling hot. He is also a professor, specialized in genetics. He is French and has a family castle somewhere in a lovely, rural part of La France. He does yoga but not in the girly way - in the I-am-so-much-man-that-I-can-do-this-without-coming-across-like-a-metrosexual kinda way. If you gave me the choice between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Clairmont, I would actually have trouble choosing!

3) The title. "A Discovery of Witches". Just that was enough to make me want to read it.

4) Diana's relationship with food. This is a woman who (like myself) will get really grumpy when she is hungry. No salads or fat free options here, it is a fry up all the way.

5) The bad guys. Harkness does "bad guys" very well, making them mysterious, yet humane and interesting. There are no real black/white personalities but lots of grey areas and it seems like a lot of the evil stems from ambition and greed. I like that - it always frustrates me when an author introduces characters that are just evil without any sort of explaining factor.
The size. This is a long book and I am so very grateful for that because it is so good that I just wanted to keep on reading.

6) The locations. If you have ever dreamt of studying at Oxford or going to stay at a French chateau then this book will definitely reignite those dreams.

7) The value put on family and friends. One of the things that often annoy me with the paranormal romance genre is that family and friends are somewhat "lost" as all focus is on the lovers. Even in aforementioned "Twilight" which has a rather strong cast of friends, they are not really that important. In this book, they are and family plays a really important role as well as the safety net that will always be there. Good strong values.

8) The dry humour. Diana is a girl with a really dry sense of humour and even when the action begins to unfold there is room for observations of the comical. She is one of those girls that you would love to have a cup of tea with while discussing all of the foolish things that humans do.

9) The supernaturals. These are better than in most other paranormals. Often the authors fall in the trap of making everything so strange (like sparkling in sunlight or tattoos randomly appearing??) that it is hard to keep a straight face but in this one, the differences are more in temper and habits which makes it so much easier to accept.

10) The fact this this is the first in a trilogy! I was so worried that this was a stand alone because I want more! Luckily Harkness is already working on the sequel "Shadow of Night" and though I don't like that title as much as I loved "A Discovery of Witches", I am still really looking forwrad to getting my hands on it.

If you are looking for the perfect Christmas holiday read, look no further but to "A Discovery of Witches"

10 Dec 2011

Review: "The London Satyr" by Robert Edric

Hello again, it's been a while since I last blogged. My only excuse is that it has been really really busy. December always is, isn't it? So have done very little reading and even less blogging and I've missed it. One of the books I have recently finished reading is "The London Satyr" by Robert Edric, a book that I had wanted to read badly for a few months and that I had really high hopes for... Unfortunately it just did not do it for me.

The plot was definitely good, a good story. The narrator, photographer Charles Webster, is a rather anonymous man. He has a nice house and a nice wife and a daughter that he doesn't understand but that he... well... likes. He has a good-enough job and colleagues that he likes. And then he has a little job on the side that is the only exciting thing going on in his life. Working as the in-house photographer at the Lyceum theatre in London, he has access to costumes and props and once in a while, he secretly loans out to a rather creepy man named Marlow. Marlow, you see, is in quite a different line of business... He runs a pornography business and needs the props and costumer to spice up the photographies that he makes a fortune producing and selling illegally. Not the sort of man that a good, proper Victorian middle class man should associate with.
As the summer heat scorches London, Webster is sweating - but not just because of the weather, also because the authorities have decided to crack down on the illegal pornography trade and his whole life would tumble down like a house of cards caught by the wind.

So far so good. I really liked the plot and as I work very close to the Lyceum, I enjoyed reading about all the places that I visit every day. However, the let down (for me) was in the characters. Charles Webster is just not a character that I would want to know in real life, to tell you the truth, he is rather boring and that made it a bit hard to really get interested in the story... What frustrated me was that the characters I found interesting were the least developed characters. I especially found Webster's domineering, annoying and not-that-bright daughter interesting because she really changes her behavior and grows (though not in a good way) but Edric does not really take the opportunity to explore this or give us an insight to why this is or how it affects the family. Too bad because that would have been quite interesting. Instead the focus is on the chase which leads to dramatic-ish end which I did think was really good. However, not enough to make it a book that I would re-read, unfortunately...

Read it if: You are going to London soon and plan on visiting the Lyceum theatre. If you love your men middle-aged, spineless, bad at showing emotions and somewhat boring...

1 Dec 2011

Review: "The Afterparty" by Leo Benedictus

Right. I am not sure where to begin this review. I can't remember why I bought this book but I think I just liked the sound of it and then last week, I was flying out for a weekend trip and I thought that I would give it a go. And I am so glad that I did. It could easily have ended up gathering dust on my shelf because I just hadn't gotten round to read it. But I did and it is great! In an exceptionally confusing way.

The book opens in a bathroom where lonely outsider Michael is hiding out, having crashed a celebrity party where he knows nobody and is wearing the wrong clothes. Actually he just wants to leave quietly and try to come up with something to say to the stroppy editor who let him have the invitation. However, that is not what happens because at this party there are lots of other characters for whom "quietly" is an unknown word. The man at the centre of the party is the birthday boy, the actor Hugo, whose supermodel wife is on the road to reigniting her drug abuse and who has an affair with a punk-rocking addict. She definitely does not do "quiet". Neither does the young X-factor celeb, who is just getting used to his new-found fame and the girls that come with it. As the night progresses, Michael becomes entangled in a web that includes all of these characters and that will change his life forever...

However. That is not all. While this story unfolds, every now and then it is broken by emails from the author of the book William Mendez. Hold on you say now, wasn't the author called Leo Benedictus? Yes, that is the name on the cover of the book. And I don't think I can say a whole lot more because I can't explain it anyway.

Confused much? Let me quote Sam Leith in his review of "The Afterparty": This is a book within a book, based on a true story. Well, not true-true. That is to say, the true story that is fictionalised in "The Afterparty" (the book-within-a-book) isn't actually true: it is a figment of the imagination of the author of The Afterparty (the book under review here).

If you like a bit of post-modernist writing with a strong sense of humour and a purpose as well, this book is for you. It focuses on the shallowness on our obsession with celebrity on the fact that behind every paparazzi picture in a magazine, there is a real human being.

And it messes with your head. Big time. In a very entertaining way.

Read it if: You like books with an edge. You don't mind thinking "what on earth is going on??" every now and then. Or if you've ever found yourself believing the crap that they write in the tabloid press.