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So I signed up for the TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by James at James Reads Books back in November, with the intention that between 1 January and 1 April 2015 I only read books that I already owned and wanted to read.
So how did I do?
- Books read = 17, of which 11 were eBooks and one was a re-read
- Books read which met the rules of the dare = 14
- What about the other 3? All were read for bookish events, honest
Quite pleased with that 🙂
The self-imposed book buying embargo comes to an end at midnight tonight. A number of books did come into the house but all but three were books that I had pre-ordered before 31 December, and the other three were related to book events – you have to buy the book if you want the author to sign it people! So I am declaring that a success, and even if I don’t take a buying holiday again for a while I will be asking myself some hard questions before I buy.
The thing I’ve noticed most about this dare is that it has made me think about how I choose what I’m going to read. I am very easily distracted by bright and shiny new things but there were some good books that I’d had for a while. Perhaps my habits will change, who knows.
Now, where are those credit cards…..
As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year.
How am I doing?
Really well actually! I have read and reviewed the following (assisted by signing up for the King’s March challenge so this is a bit heavy on Mr K’s work):
Short stories (individual and collections)
- The Wide Carnivorous Sky by John Langan – which includes Mother of Stone, one of my favourite satires of the year (and possibly ever)
- North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Balingrud – which I didn’t enjoy quite so much
- a couple of short stories by Stephen King & Joe Hill
- The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – some might not call this horror but I thought it dealt with some very dark issues and it had huge impact on me
- Revival by Stephen King – King meets Lovecraft
- Carrie by Stephen King – where it all began, an important re-read for me
- Cell by Stephen King – King meets (sort-of) zombies
I have been reading the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross for several years and have now (almost) caught up. Many people consider these sci-fi but all the Lovecraftian stuff puts them firmly in horror for me.
So not bad at all. I really didn’t expect to do so well so early but that King challenge came along at the right time 🙂
I can see light at the end of the tunnel in relation to work and a couple of long weekends are on the horizon so although I’m still not reading huge amounts I’m pleased that I’m ahead of my target for the year.
My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at fourteen books (although I have actually read seventeen in total). I’m not sure this is going to change with only two days left in the month but you never know 🙂
I squeezed in another Stephen King novel (Cell) for the King’s March challenge. I seem to be one of the few people who actually quite likes this (though it is not his best, it was just what I needed).
I haven’t really started my reading for Once Upon a Time IX but will definitely get into it this week, and I am continuing to re-read The Voyage Out, though I’m only a couple of chapters on so far. I delayed the start to line up with others who were opening the book on the anniversary itself (which was 26 March, fact fans!)
I keep on forgetting that I’m also taking part in the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge. I’ll be posting the first quarterly update on my progress soon.
I got my hands on the new Christopher Fowler novel (Bryant & May and The Burning Man) and started it immediately – couldn’t even wait until I got the book signed, which I did at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue. This is a series I have been following religiously and this newest entry is a corker. I am also continuing to read Kipling and Hardinge (as you can see from my sidebar).
The Jane Eyre Update
I have still only read three chapters but intend to make progress this week. I’m not going to let this linger like Jonathan Strange – if I don’t make headway over Easter I am going to set it aside.
I was lucky enough to attend a Bloomsbury Institute event with Priya Parmar, and I wrote about it here. If you are at all interested in the Bloomsbury Group you should read this excellent novel, I thought it was lovely and enjoyed my chat with the author (and have a lovely signed copy now).
The only new book was the Fowler mentioned above but I am glad the embargo is nearing its end. I was a little unwell on Saturday and it took a real effort not to go on a bit of a spending spree. But I have a shopping list and come midnight on Tuesday there may be some download action going on!
I was very pleased to be able to attend this event at Bloomsbury Publishing earlier this week where the biographer Frances Spalding carried out a joint interview with Priya Parmar, author of Vanessa and Her Sister (which I reviewed here) and Amanda Coe, writer of Life in Squares, the upcoming BBC series about the Bloomsbury Group.
It was a really pleasant evening, and I found out some interesting stuff:
- Priya took 7 years to research and write the novel, immersing herself in the mountain of correspondence
- she didn’t originally intend the novel to be in the form of a diary
- her view was is that it definitely can’t have been easy to be Virginia Woolf’s sister (knowing laughter from the audience)
- Amanda’s TV series will also have Vanessa Bell as the central character
- it will cover the period 1905 to 1948, compared to Priya’s novel which covers 1905 to 1912
- why Vanessa Bell – the most visual and last verbal of the group, but very much the “silent lynchpin”, and there is a lot in the literature about her, but very little by her apart from her letters, which are silent on some of the really important things such as The Great Betrayal
There was also a very interesting discussion about views of the Bloomsbury Set, seen as a cliquey group with many having the impression that there is a lot of material about them which may be true of the written word but there is in fact very little in drama. Both had been warned about potential backlash from people who loathe Bloomsbury and all that it appears to stand for but also the very knowledgeable “fans” who will have their own view of how it should all be done. But both Amanda and Priya agreed that they were just fascinating people who knew that they were interesting which made it all worthwhile.
I was able to have a quick chat with Priya and got my book signed which was great.
The event became known as The Pulse. The virus was carried by every cellular phone operating in the world. Within hours, those receiving calls would become insane – or die.
Indeed, that is the basic premise of Cell. But let’s not beat about the bush – this is basically a zombie novel 🙂
Why did I want to read it?
Well, have been taking part in the King’s March challenge and had done quite well (two short stories, one new novel and one re-read) and hadn’t really thought to pick up any others even though there was a chunk of the month still to go. But when looking for something else I came across this 2006 novel which I had completely forgotten about, and as I was looking for something light (if insane phone-call triggered zombies can be called light) to read, here we are.
What did I think of it?
While far from being his best novel I thought Cell was a cool idea that was pretty well executed. Like a lot of King’s novels it stands or falls on what you think of the main protagonist and Clay Riddell, the comic book artist whose world is turned upside down in seconds, is a likeable character driven to do some very brave things through a desire to get back to the family from whom he has been separated. So as well as being about zombies it is also a classic quest – Clay is joined by a small band of people with whom he has been thrown together by circumstances outside of his control and they head out of burning Boston so he can try to find his son.
The development of the zombies is very interesting and unusual (to me at least) and without giving anything away they become much more than the standard mindless brain-eating hordes that you might have expected. I like the fact that we never know what caused The Pulse, and I also like the way the novel ends. But it’s the characters that make this successful – human and flawed and trying their best in a terrible situation but not always getting it right.
I liked it.
To quote the book jacket:
London 1905. The city is alight with change and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Toby and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury.
So yes, as you might have guessed, Vanessa And Her Sister is all about the early years of what became the culturally influential Bloomsbury Group, with the focus very much on the two sisters. It covers the years from 1905 until 1912, and through Vanessa’s diaries charts the almost constantly changing relationships between this group of friends, ending shortly after Virginia’s marriage to Leonard Woolf.
Why did I want to read it?
I became a Bloomsbury obsessive in my early twenties having fallen in love with Virginia firstly through Mrs Dalloway which I studied when I took English Lit in my first year at University and then through her magnificent diaries which I have read at least twice. But in truth I find them all totally fascinating and although the heat of my interest may have died down now I still collect books about them, and this was a must read given the reviews.
What did I think of it?
I thought this was just wonderful. Vanessa is brought to life by Priya Parmar in an almost physical way through these fictionalised diaries (unlike her sister Vanessa never kept a diary (as far as we know) in real life); by that I mean that she is a tangible presence in the book, you feel that you are reading the genuine thoughts of a real person. And I really liked her.
One of the strengths of the novel is that it shows the emotional toll that the apparently consensual free and easy relationships had on individuals, the pain and the sorrow and the long-term damage. But the key relationship is between Vanessa and Virginia and we see the way that Vanessa’s marriage comes between them and how Virginia’s brilliance as a writer, which has not yet come to fruition, is underpinned by a brittle fragility and a desperation to be loved that drives her to do things that cause irreparable damage to the people she cares about. As the novel progresses this becomes more and more clear but we also see how Vanessa copes with it all and how she begins to achieve the happiness we know she finds in real life.
This feels like you are reading the diaries of the real Vanessa, and that is a huge achievement.
BTW I have said here before that I am a huge fan of the author’s note and there is a fascinating one at the end of this book which talks a little about how you write a novel about a group of people who are so well-known. And I am lucky enough to be attending a Bloomsbury Institute event with Priya Parmar later where I hope to hear much more about the writing of this superb book.
My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at thirteen books (although I have actually read sixteen in total).
And today I signed up for Once Upon a Time IX with a launch post which you can read here. That’s a long list.
Oh and I’ve decided to re-read The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf’s first novel which celebrates the anniversary of its publication this week.
I finished the very wonderful Vanessa & Her Sister in plenty of time for the Bloomsbury event on 24 March, and I’m also now just short of halfway way through Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge. And I decided I would also try to squeeze another Stephen King novel in so on Saturday afternoon I started Cell which I had completely forgotten I had until it caught my eye while I was looking for something else, and I’m working my way through that at a rate of knots.
The Jane Eyre Update
I have actually made a start with this and I’m three chapters in and already finding Jane herself to be a bit of a pain but I’m going to persevere, though I need to get moving.
No new books this week. I am counting the days until the embargo finishes and I can go on a wee bit of a spree.
There are a couple of lovely bookish events coming up this week so it’s all very exciting.
Hurrah, here we are, spring is definitely on the way because it’s time for Carl’s annual Once Upon a Time challenge! And the eighth time I’ve got involved in the nine years it’s been running. The challenge starts today and runs until 21 June, which seems ages away but given how quickly the first quarter of this year has disappeared it will come around in a flash 🙂
I’ve pulled together quite a long (for me) list to choose from but I’m only aiming to complete Quest the First which means I have to:
read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres
Really looking forward to taking part!
So, this is what I will be selecting from (in no particular order):
- Tithe by Holly Black – I’ve been planing to read this for years “Sixteen year old Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother’s rock band until an ominous attack forces them back to her child home. The place where she used to see faeries”
- Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – “It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phone call from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery”
- Poison by Sarah Pinborough – SP is becoming a favourite author, and this is “a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the Snow White story which takes all the elements of the classic fairytale that we love (the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and, of course, the poisoning) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires”
- The Road to Bedlam by Mike Shevdon – the is the second volume in a series of four and I reviewed the first one here “There’s been an accident. It’s your daughter. But Alex isn’t dead. She’s been snatched because she came into her magical power early. Her father, Niall Petersen, must use his own wayward magic to track her down and save her from the madness of Bedlam.
- On Becoming a Fairy Godmother by Sara Maitland – I started this book for last year’s challenge but for some reason didn’t get very far with it, so happy to pick it up again; this is a collection that “breathes new life into old legends and brings the magic of myth back into modern women’s lives”
- The Copper Promise by Jen Williams – I have signed copy of this novel from book event where I met the JW (along with Den Patrick below); “There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods.”
- Songs of Earth and Power by Greg Bear – a re-read of what I thought was a hugely important fantasy book. “The Song of Power opens the gateway to the Realm of the Sidhe, a fantastic, beautiful, dangerous world.”
- White Apples by Jonathan Carroll – which is “a captivating and constantly surprising tale of life, death, and the realm between.”
- The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick – as mentioned above, I also have a signed copy of this – “Lucien de Fontein is one of the Orfano, the deformed of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game.”
- Time and Again by Jack Finney – “Si Morley is marking time: he’s bored with his job as a commercial artist and his social life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So when he’s approached by an affable ex-football star and told he’s just what the government is looking for to be part of a top-secret project, he doesn’t hesitate for long.”
- The Mark of the Beast by Rudyard Kipling – a selection of the fantastical stories of Kipling, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman and an afterword by Stephen Jones who edited the collection. I have already started this one!
- The Book of the New Sun (Volume 1) by Gene Wolfe – “Recently voted the greatest fantasy of all time, after The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is an extraordinary epic, set a million years in the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways, in a time when our present culture is no longer even a memory.”
I’m also going to take part in Quest on the Screen and will try to watch two films I’ve had on my shelves for ages:
- Stardust – based on Neil Gaiman’s lovely novel, I’m embarrassed that I haven’t watched this yet
- Tangled – Rapunzel in cartoon form, thought I’d watch this in preference to Frozen (though I will get to that eventually!)
Carrie White was no ordinary girl. Carrie White had a gift – the gift of telekinesis. And when, one horrifying and endless night, she exercised that terrible gift on the town that mocked and loathed her, the result was stunning and macabre.
When did I first read this? Late 1975, in one sitting; I remember it vividly 🙂
What age was I? An impressionable 13
How many times since then? Apparently this is only the third time that I have read Carrie, which seems astonishing to me as I feel I know the story so well, but there you go, stats don’t lie. Probably.
Thoughts about the book:
This was the first Stephen King book that I read and I was totally blown away by it in the way that is only possible when you are a young teenager. Unlike people coming to King for the first time today there was of course no back catalogue of work to dive into to feed the obsession, and although I read ‘Salem’s Lot later that year (and you can find out what I thought about re-reading that in this post) from then on it was all about having to wait for his new books to be published.
But why did Carrie resonate so much? It seems obvious to say that a teenage girl would find a lot to empathise with in the story of another teenage girl but I think that’s too easy; after all we had very little in common – Us vs UK, fundamentalist religion vs (relatively) free thinking, unpopular and downtrodden vs ordinary middle-of-the-roadness. And of course the small matter of my not having any telekinetic abilities whatsoever. Or at least none that have manifested themselves so far and at the age of 53 (and unless the menopause unleashes that sort of thing in the same way puberty does) it isn’t likely to happen now!
I think looking back it was the idea of raw power and what might be possible if you had an untapped ability and what could be done if you learned to control it. Of course the whole point of Carrie (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away here as it’s made pretty clear from the start of the book) is that although she learns to control it in part, the Unfortunate Incident at the Prom tips her over the edge and she lets it all out. Of course, there are Consequences of a devastating nature.
I also think this may very well have been the first novel I read that had this kind of structure, a mix of traditional third person story telling with newspaper reports and eye-witness testimony and book and letter extracts from after the fact. And I’m still a sucker for that sort of thing (I’m currently reading Vanessa and her Sister which is constructed from diary entries interspersed with letters and postcards and which I am thoroughly enjoying, although it is obviously a very different sort of thing).
It was an interesting experience reading Carrie again. For a start I had forgotten how short it is, less than 250 pages so really more like a novella. It’s much clearer to me now that the real villain is Billy, and that Chris may not have gone through with it in the end if he hadn’t forced her. And I feel sorry for Carrie herself but more so for Sue, who has to deal with surviving the whole thing.
So, although it’s clearly an early work and his later stuff became much more polished I still find this a very effective and affecting story and was pleased that it hadn’t lost its punch
Though really, what is it with King and the name Christine for baddies? First Chris Hargerson here, then the eponymous killer car, it’s just not right….
Additional thoughts about the film versions:
I also remember going to the cinema with my then boyfriend to see Brian de Palma’s version of Carrie, nice and bloody and with a couple of great performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, and of course that unexpected ending which made me jump and scream out loud. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the recent re-make yet.
If you want to read more about the films then I really recommend Anne Billson’s thoughts on the matter on her blog, an excellent assessment I think.
I re-read Carrie because I’ve been looking for an excuse to do so and that came in the form of the King’s March challenge.
A couple of short stories by Stephen King read for the King’s March challenge
Abandoned service station on major stretch of highway (I have never entirely understood what a turnpike is so forgive me US friends if I’ve got that wrong), boarded up, magnet for youngsters up to no good. Small boy mildly misbehaving through boredom. Particularly suspicious looking abandoned car. Tiny (but smart) children in peril. Very clever use of magnifying glass. Moral of the story – don’t approach strange cars, keep on driving, it will only end in tears. One of King’s specialities is this type of story where extreme weirdness happens in a very ordinary setting with no rhyme or reason. Liked it.
In the Tall Grass (written with Joe Hill)
Abandoned (sort-of) church along a relatively lonely stretch of highway. Brother and (pregnant) sister on road trip before she has baby. Pull off the road after hearing cries from the tall grass that seems to stretch for miles. Small child in peril. Getting lost. Disorientation. Ancient evil (probably). Moral of the story – don’t stop for strange cries, keep on driving, it will only end in tears (sound familiar?). An accidental companion piece to Mile 81, totally unplanned in that I didn’t really investigate the plot of either story before I started to read them. Very very dark and ultimately depressing.
Interesting to compare standalone King to a story written in collaboration with his son, whose work I have also read but have found problematic in the past (see N0S4R2 for a start). King can be very nasty on occasion but I find him to have greater humanity in his stories than Hill. Without giving anything away, In the Tall Grass seems to offer no hope at all, whereas Mile 81 gives us the possibilities of human ingenuity in fighting off the bad stuff.