35. A Graphic Novel

In the end all my research into what to read for the graphic novel category of the reading challenge was thrown out the window when I visited my local library.

It has just reopened after a ‘renovation’. I’ve put that in inverted commas because it didn’t really have a renovation. We’ve got a new civic centre and so they have moved the library entrance to be part of this new complex. They could have made the library so beautiful but instead they have done nothing. The walls are beige. The shelves are beige. The staff are beige. And there are not enough seats. Or books.

That said they do have about nine shelves (three bays) of graphic novels, all looking really new and barely read. They didn’t have any of the ones I had been looking at online, ones I had been thinking I may read, but they did have three I thought looked interesting and so despite there only being one graphic novel category on the list I borrowed all three anyway.

This is the one I chose to read first.

2015/01/img_2538.jpg

However, there is some contention in my household about just how many graphic novels I can read for this challenge. I’ve found another with a number in the title and could read a third as the book I can read in a day. Apparently this is unsportsmanlike, according to my husband at least. I’m not so sure. I picked up all three at the library because they looked good and I wanted to read them. One of them is really long and I think it could count.
What’s the consensus?

And now to the review portion of this blog.

I should say upfront that I don’t read a lot of graphic novels. The ones I have read are those I consider classics of the genre – Maus, Anya’s Ghost and Persepolis. I think I have read a couple more too but they can’t have been that memorable. I’m not really into Manga or the comic book superhero style graphic novel and so I feel I am a bit limited in what I can choose to read. I also refuse to read graphic novel version of prose novels. Yes, they provide great access to literature for people who may not necessarily be able to get through Shakespeare, but I don’t consider them real graphic novels.

I enjoyed Empire State for its use of colour and flashback. And the two are inextricably linked. At least I think so. One thing I find hard with graphic novels is the timeline. And that’s my problem, not a graphic novel one. I am never quite sure what order to read the cells in and because there are no chapters or breaks usually I am not sure if things are happening chronologically or all over the place.

So if I did read this properly I think the red pages are flashback and the blue are taking place in the present. If I’m right this works really well and helps me figure out how the character feels and what they are thinking. The red and blue also work really well with the love themes that underlie the plot.

I like to think that the end is open and I choose to ignore the brackets of the subtitle and say that. It is a love story. But then again, perhaps not.

Coming up on my next blog: I’m a lot more impatient than I thought.

Advertisements

9. A Book by a Female Author

Though you wouldn’t know it.

2015/01/img_2535.jpg

I started this book in a waiting room a week ago and got kind if bored. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to fit it in because I have a different novel in mind for number ten:a mystery or thriller, so I kind of stopped reading it. Last night, however, I decided I may as well include it as the book written by a woman as most books I read have female authors and this at least gives me a chance to write about the crime fiction genre and the odd names their authors use.
I am also glad that I continued to read it because it is an excellent novel. When I couldn’t sleep at half past one this morning it filled the time nicely between then and writing this.

What is it with crime writers using pseudonyms and being identified by their initials? Sure I get JK Rowling wanted to become an adult author (and had already used up her initials), but what about everyone else? Ruth Rendell writes under two names – In The Same Genre! Does it add to the mystery if you don’t know exactly who the author is? Or perhaps they don’t want people knowing how twisted their minds are to come up with such horrendous plots?

I suppose it is also important to talk about a female author writing a female character in what seems to be a manly genre. And I certainly suppose that this is the premise for this book, it’s title makes that glaringly obvious. I can’t really say a lot about how much crime fiction is a man’s world, I don’t read enough of it as it just doesn’t interest me. I don’t like being scared right before I go to bed, and often, if I read crime fiction, I have to stay up all night to finish it so I can fall asleep knowing there’s no monster lurking out there. I learnt this the hard way reading The Silence of the Lambs, coincidentally also a crime fiction novel with a female detective. And even though I am rational enough to realise it is fiction, most crime writers create a realistic and convincing world sowing that seed of doubt into the readers mind that something like this might just happen to someone like them. I suppose that is the mark of well written crime fiction – nothing is too far fetched, things are ordinary and plausible until someone gets dead.

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is the first of two books about a female private investigator named Cordelia Gray. She has inherited the business and lands a big case about a suicide. It’s hard to review a crime fiction, I feel, because I don’t want to give anything away. So I’ll steer clear of plot and try to capture what I like about this book.
First is setting. It’s an English crime series, which it feel makes it genteel and rotten at the same time. Kind of like Midsomer Murders, there is that quaintness about it but also that underlying evil.
A British setting also makes for good British characters, always stoic with some terrible family secret to hide. You always know in British crime fiction that no one ever tells the truth first up. They all subscribe to the rule that

what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

However, it’s usually more along the lines of

we’re all as guilty as each other so let’s just keep our mouths shut

Thirdly, there is a satisfying ending. Everything is teased out, nothing is ambiguous. And that’s how I like my crime fiction.

I have also read the other Cordelia Gray story by James, The Skull Beneath the Skin. Many people my age have probably read his novel if they chose Extension English at school and their teacher chose crime fiction. I was lucky that my teacher had a penchant for 19th Century Literature, and so came back to this later to see what all the fuss was about.

It struck me as odd that she only wrote two novels in his series. I quite like Gray as a character, she has a certain fortitude that is appealing in a detective and a no nonsense approach that helps the reader feel as though they are getting all the facts. I feel like James could have left off writing Death Comes to Pemberley and just written about Cordelia again. Despite feeling like they know all the facts it is still hard for the reader to figure out ‘whodunit’ and that does make this an excellent crime novel.

Coming up on my next blog: Still waiting.

36. A Book by an Author you have never read before

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to include this book as part of my read harder challenge, and though it could have fit many places I have chosen to write it up as number 36 as most of the books I plan on reading are by authors I have already read, and I have a great non fiction book coming in the post that I am saving for number 14. It would have been amazing if this was purely and autobiography/biography, but even I couldn’t stretch the definition that far.

2015/01/img_2529.jpg

I was given this book as part of a lovely gift for the impending birth of my first child. In case you’re wondering there are only eight days until this kid is supposed to arrive.
It is only the fifth baby/parenting book that I own and only the third that I have read. If you know me you might find it odd that I have only read three books in relation to pregnancy and babies. I am the kind of person who likes to do research. I like to know a lot of things about the unknown and therefore usually spend a lot of money on books and magazines about the subject.
Not so with babies it seems.

When I found out I was having a baby I immediately set about finding out what books I would need to read. I dismissed What to expect when you’re expecting because all the reviews said it focused on everything that can go wrong and I didn’t need those negative vibes in my life. Instead I settled on Kaz Cooke’s Up the Duff because she is funny and I like the way she conveys serious information (I must have read Here’s Looking at you Kid three or four times in my teens) and I also bought The Mayo Clinic guide to pregnancy because I did figure I needed something medical to consult. I also bought some British one but it got too depressing, and the author kept nagging at her husband, so I never finished reading it.

I think one of the hardest things about finding the right baby book is finding the right one for you. In every book the author tells you to follow your instincts as a mother and not listen to any advice you don’t like. Then it goes on to tell you what you should be doing. Each has a slightly different bent, a focus on one school of thought over another and they are all a bit preachy.

McKay’s book is no different.

However, also like all baby books there is something to learn there.

So this particular book is all about sleep (bet you couldn’t guess that from the title) and how to best help your baby feel secure while sleeping.

There’s a lot of information about settling techniques, what to expect at different stages of baby development, and many anecdotes from mothers who I assume McKay has talked with and helped. Many of her ideas seem to be common sense, something that any loving parent would do, though sometimes it is nice to see that common sense in writing.

One thing she seems to be an advocate of is co-sleeping. And while she says that this does not necessarily mean sharing a bed with your baby, those are the only examples she gives. I had thought that my kid would never sleep in my room, that I would need some boundaries at least. However, upon reading this book I have opened my mind a little to the fact that. Maybe putting the bassinet next to my bed occasionally might not be such a bad thing. It has also led me to totally reconsider the wearing of a sling (with the child in it, not a broken arm). And it offered some great insight into bath times and infant massage, things that I will probably end up having a go at.

Like many books about infants though I felt there was too much focus on breast feeding. Women who are unable to breast feed must feel absolutely terrible with all this sort of literature about. If someone can’t actually breast feed I don’t think hey should be scolded for it.
I guess this is where that preachy tone starts to come in. Each author has their own opinion, and, as a self styled expert, dismisses all others.

But as with each of the books I have read to the end I have learnt some valuable things. In some ways I feel a little more capable now and have some ideas of what I might like to do. Though in other ways it has made me more nervous. Reading about it in the abstract, without my baby having arrived yet, leads to a lot of speculation and a little bit of trepidation.

But I guess I’ll just do what works for me.

And no, I didn’t add up wrong when I said I have five parenting/baby books. After reading Up the Duff I bought Cooke’s sequel Kidwrangling for when I have the baby just so I actually know what to do with it.

Coming up on my next blog: Trying to fill my days without actually making any concrete plans.

8. A Funny Book

2015/01/img_2525.jpg

I am not quite sure what to write about this book. I am not even sure I should be putting it on my list, because while it’s author and publishers obviously intended for it to be funny, I can probably count on one hand how many times I laughed aloud.
I guess I am just disappointed. I like David Mitchell as a comedian a lot. He is always good when he is on QI and I enjoy many parts of The Mitchell and Webb Look. His humour just doesn’t seem to have translated into this collection of articles.

To be honest, I didn’t realise that this was just a collection of articles when I bought it. I did think it would be humorous essays of some kind, but the fact that he has just picked some articles that he has already written does not work well for him. I understand it’s a tried and true format for many column writers, heck it’s what gives Carrie Bradshaw her big break (yes, I know she is fictional, but it’s a good example anyway), but I feel like Mitchell just threw all his old articles in the air and whichever ones he could catch are the ones that went into this book.
Many of them are incredibly dated, like those about the GFC, or they are just very British, like those about the 2010 General Election. As a non-Briton none of that is really funny to me, I have my own political pundits from my own country to laugh at.
That’s not to say everything that he is writing about is irrelevant. Whenever he mentions himself and his childhood you cannot help but laugh. He has that classic self-deprecating tone that is the basis of all good humour. His social commentary is also good for a laugh, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be enough of it.

One thing that really irked me about this book was it’s structure. I don’t mind that Mitchell has grouped his columns together into themes and that each has a little introduction. It helps to give some semblance of order and purpose to an otherwise ramshackle collection. What I do mind is that he has taken out all the headlines. You don’t know what each of the columns was called, and therefore don’t have any real clue as to what they are about before you start reading them. Often it is very difficult to see how one article relates to the others in each section. And yes he may have said it in the introduction to that section but I can’t remember back that far.

I did learn something reading this book though. I need to stick a post it to the front if every book I read this year so that when something comes up that I want to write about later I will remember it. Sure I could do gear the page, but to me that’s a desecration of the sanctity of a book, plus I probably still wouldn’t remember what it was on that page that I had wanted to write about.

Coming up on my next blog: 11 days until D day.

I do

Now I can relax.
A wedding a few years in the making came to its grand and gorgeous conclusion this past weekend.
And it’s shown me I have missed my calling. Well, actually not really. I was just able to use my natural bossiness in a new way. Thus, I make a good party planner assistant.

This is what the day looked like:

2015/01/p1020836.jpg

2015/01/p1020837.jpg

2015/01/p1020852.jpg

2015/01/p1020843.jpg

2015/01/p1020846.jpg

2015/01/p1020921.jpg

2015/01/p1020847.jpg

2015/01/p1020915.jpg

I don’t think it could have looked any better. While every individual decoration, including the bridesmaids dresses, seemed to be completely different (well, more than seemed, they were all completely different) it all just came together in this great pastel pop.

Best event ever.

Coming up on my next blog: Back to normal.

3. A Book That Became a Movie

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/74e/43950564/files/2015/01/img_2505.jpg

I always thought Michael Crichton was a bit of a trashy novelist. You know the type – found in airport book shops, full of action but little substance. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

Jurassic Park is part of that very odd tradition of science fiction: speculative fiction, which asks the question ‘what if’. In this case, what if we were able to use genetics to recreate dinosaurs. And Crichton presents his hypothesis in a very scientific way. There are lots of tables and graphs depicting lineage and gene splicing.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/74e/43950564/files/2015/01/img_2508.jpg
So many in fact that upon receiving the book as a Christmas present I did wonder whether there would be any exciting adventure contained within the pages at all. In reality they add to the suspense of the novel,they make the events feel more real to the point where, as a reader, you wonder why there isn’t a dinosaur zoo in our world.
I would compare it to the likes of Margaret Atwood. In her fiction, science has led to the breakdown of the world, in Crichton’s it seems to coexist with a reality very similar to our own. It feels like his is the precursor to Atwood’s world; the point where things start going wrong and if someone doesn’t stop it then we are going to end up with what Atwood predicts.

As you may know I am an avid Jurassic Park film fan. But I can tell you the novel is even better (as it usually is in most cases).

Of course the plot is different (though there is no point in comparing the two). What makes this a great novel is the build up. Crichton takes a long time to establish and maintain plausibility. Each of the characters may be something of a stereotype (the game hunter, the investment banker, the IT consultant), there is enough back story, enough periphery information, to make them rounded likeable (or dislikeable) characters. I was probably most shocked by the characterisation of Hammond. Ali could picture in my head was Richard Attenborough, a friendly Santa Claus like figure. Hammond is definitely not that. And I guess that is kind of the point of Crichton’s novel.
It’s not really about a terrible trip to a dinosaur park. It’s about the problems of modern science and the commercialisation of such an enterprise. Crichton uses he character of Malcolm (the mathematician) to outline his philosophical musings on this subject. I also especially liked the use of Chaos Theory in underpinning the structure of the novel. It made sense to me.
It is this plausibility that really makes the novel work. At no point do you second guess any of the science. It is so well presented you just take it as a given that it could and should work this way. Both the good and the bad.

Of course that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of action either. Despite his philosophical bent, Crichton is still a novelist at heart.
In the end I couldn’t read the novel at night. Even though I know dinosaurs are extinct I was worried about velociraptors stalking through the house in the dark. That’s how plausible Crichton has made this concept. And even though I had seen the movie, the novel is so suspenseful that I didn’t know what was going to happen at the end, how or who would survive.
After reading the novel I know I will never visit a dinosaur theme park if they ever invent one and I am definitely never going to Costa Rica in case they already have.

Coming up on my next blog: A wedding.

Read Harder

So I’m doing a different sort of reading challenge this year and this is probably what my blog will be primarily focusing on.
It’s a modified version of the many category based reading challenges that seem to be bouncing around the interwebs at the moment.
As I don’t know how to put tables into my blog from a tablet device you will just have to squint really hard at the pictures to see what kind of books I will be reading.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/74e/43950564/files/2015/01/img_2503.jpg

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/74e/43950564/files/2015/01/img_2502.jpg

Normally I would just try and read 100 books in a year. And I will still be aiming for this this year as well even though there are only 50 books on the challenge. The problem with reading one hundred in a year is that hey just become a blur. Some of the time you are just reading for readings sake because you need to notch up another book on the list.

I feel this challenge will help me to read more mindfully. It certainly has already led to some research into exactly what I am going to read this year – such as that from the year if my birth and a writer with my initials. That’s not to say I won’t be reading other things that don’t fit the criteria though. There are a number of books coming out this year that I know I will want to read and I won’t care if they make this list or not. Likewise I will easily and quickly fill the category of a book chosen for its cover as that is how I choose most of my books and I don’t envision that changing any time soon.

It has also already sparked some bookish discussions about the rules and interpretations of the categories. For example you must read one book per category. No overlaps. Which makes sense I guess as it encourages the competition to read more widely. There are categories on this list that I don’t like reading. Biographies/autobiographies for example. And poetry. But read them I will. I will just have to try and find some I like.

Some categories have proven a little confusing too. In my mind many questions have been raised.
How is a book with magic in it different from a fantasy book?
Can the book based on a true story be non-fiction or does it have to be fiction?
What does non-human characters entail? Animals? Robots? Aliens?

The hardest category of all I feel is the antonym one. I assume it means that the words of the title are opposites. This is going to be the hardest to find I think. Though I did see a book yesterday that may fit the bill.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/74e/43950564/files/2015/01/img_2507.jpg

The thing is I am really excited about this reading challenge. More than I have been about reading 100 books the last couple of years. I feel reenergised for reading.
It has also inspired me to blog better about what I read. So this year I will do proper reviews, more than just the handful of paragraphs I have been doing about how I felt about what I read. I’m going to try and exercise my brain and be analytical.

So my mantra this year is

Read Harder. Write Harder.

Coming up on my next blog: Review One.

IKEA Fail

This is my face right now
😦

As you may recall I spent yesterday browsing ikea and building a new set of drawers I had purchased. This morning I went to put the actual drawers in the frame.
This is what I ended up with.

IMG_2495.JPG

One of the rungs (or is it runners in a set of drawers?) is bent so that the drawer cannot slide where it is supposed too.
I am very annoyed.

All I have ever done is sing the praises of ikea. I’ve never had a problem building any of their products before. I’ve even built glass cabinets, and apart from a lot of swearing as I tried to figure out which way was up, everything was in tact there.

IMG_2496.JPG
See!

Now I understand that there may sometime be faults in some of the products. They buy in the thousands and so you have to expect some kind of problem with a few of them. That’s the whole point of ikea’s ‘as is’ section, which I love looking in.
But why did it have to be my piece of furniture.

I am annoyed mostly because I had practically finished building the stupid thing. And it was going to be a good addition to the room, a small easy way to add some more space. Plus it is a two hour round trip for me to get to ikea. Normally I don’t mind this but I didn’t really want to have to go there two days in a row.

This has turned me right off ikea. The Marsden Park store better be good or I may never go there again.

Coming up on my next blog: Simmering anger.

Puzzling

Well I was right. Today was the best day of the year to go to ikea.
Here was practically nobody there. And the car park wasn’t even full when we left at eleven!
So today was a day of building and puzzling.

I didn’t buy as much as I normally would at ikea, though I did get everything on my short list.
First I got some tubs to hang off the change table, though they don’t quite fit how I would like. I also needed a cushion for a footstool and some shelves (see below).
I also built a clothes hamper I got for Christmas and a tower fan I bought back in November.

IMG_2494.JPG

IMG_2492.JPG

IMG_2493.JPG

Unfortunately one of my puzzles is missing a piece. But I’m not going back to Japan to try and get it replaced. Lucky it wasn’t one of the furniture items missing something.

Coming up on my next blog: Have to decide what form this blog will take for 2015.