Friday, 7 December 2012

Lady Susan by Jane Austin

One of her 'minor works', Lady Susan is very different in style and content from the main Austin novels.  It's fun and irreverent, and the main character, Lady Susan is delightfully scandalous.  Written as a series of letters between the main characters, Jane Austin develops her characters and simple plot wonderfully.  It isn't a particularly long story - as she says herself, it would be ridiculous to continue the correspondence once several of the characters meet up.  I'm not aware that it's been made into a film, but I think it would be fascinating to see what a skilled playwright could do with the material provided.  Unfortunately, given the nature of our society, it is unlikely someone could produce anything as subtle as Jane Austin's writing, and because of the attitudes of Lady Susan, any modern production would probably be X-rated.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

I'm not usually one to buy a Mystery novel, though I like TV mystery programs well enough.  I think what makes me hesitate is that once I've read it, I probably won't read it again - leaving an unloved book on my bookshelf!  If someone lends me one, though, I mostly enjoy it.
Blue Lightning is the second book by Ann Cleeves I've read (I know one of her neighbours who lent me the books!) and they are well worth a read.  This one is the last in a series set in Shetland, the islands at the very north of Scotland for those outside the UK.  I haven't read the others, but like most mysteries, it stands alone fairly well.  If you like a good back-story to the mystery and a landscape setting with lots of atmosphere, these are definitely books to seek out.  The characters are pretty down to earth and the story itself should keep you guessing until the very end.  If you read the whole series, you'll probably find yourself deeply invested in the main detective character, Perez, and this book, set on his home island of Fair Isle, will only increase that.
Look for this and other mysteries on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk and enjoy reading!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

8 Biographies at Book Club

This week was probably the most successful Book Club I've been to - having been to several different groups over the years.  The time given to actually discussing the books read was greater than I've ever experienced!  Perhaps it was because each person had chosen their own book, and so could talk with enthusiasm about it.  Perhaps it was simply because there were more books to discuss!
Biographies ranged from:
(1) The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell (with accompanying titles about each of the daughters). Recommended especially if you're interested in Europe's wartime politics and powerful family dynamics...
(2) Stephen Fry's biography Moab is my Washpot about his childhood (age 7-20).  Trying to be too clever in analysis in the second half, but interesting for the life story at the beginning.
(3) My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding, another childhood story this time of the amateur jockey and sports presenter.  Each chapter tells the story of a different animal in her life and the events of life that went alongside.  Light-hearted, humorous but sad at times.
(4) Billy by Pamela Stephenson.  A series of anecdotes about the life of Comedian Billy Connolly by his wife.  Very sad in places, insightful - of course that's what you get when you marry a psychologist!
(5) David Attenborough's Life on Air.  More about his career in TV than personal, but very interesting if you like nature or want to know more about how it's filmed, or how the BBC works!
(6) Anne Robinson's Memoirs of an Unfit Mother, mostly about her own mother but then also covering her own struggles and successes.  Very much warts and all autobiography.
(7) The Eternal Man by Brother Yuan, a book about the underground church in China and the persecution of Christians by Chinese authorities, specifically of Brother Yuan himself.  An inspiring story, full of faithful belief, miracles and resistance to oppression.
My own contribution ended up being One to One by Craig Brown, which is a series of short anecdotes about encounters between 101 famous / influential people.  Great for dipping in and out of and to give you a taste for the life stories of those encountered!
Don't forget to look at www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk for other Biographies and Memoirs.  More coming to the site soon!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What's your favourite Biography?

The local book club this week is looking at everyone's favourite auto / biographies.  It will be interesting to see what different people choose.  It's not one of the areas of books that I often dip into - I should pick them up more often, though, since I do really enjoy them.
My favourite biography of all time is No Compromise by Melody Green, about her husband Keith Green who was a singer/songwriter during the 60s & 70s.  He lived 'no compromise', specifically in his Christian faith - standing against any form of hypocrisy.  His songs have intense lyrics and reflect his beliefs, actions and lifestyle.
I think if I was to attempt to pin down what I look for in a biography, it have to be 'valour'.  By that I mean someone overcoming adversity, their own shortcomings or standing against the prevailing negative attitudes and actions of their peers.
Any suggestions of stories like that?  Or what is your favourite biography?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Read and read again!

How many times can you read the same book, I wonder?  And how long do you have to leave it between reads for it to still feel fresh?  I guess it depends on the book, really.  Some books are once only reads for me - something by Tom Clancy, perhaps or one of those girlie 'beach reads' which has no need of substance.  Most books, however, become old friends that I want to return to.  I think the main thing that makes a book 're-readable' for me is the characters.  I don't mind re-reading a book which had a thrilling mystery to it the first time since I like to remember and revisit how the characters dealt with the various crisis or mysteries the plot develops.
At the moment I'm re-reading the 'Vatta's War' series by my favourite author, Elizabeth Moon.  I've had to leave this one a while because I've read it quite often, (try eighteen months) but I've really enjoyed picking up that first book again, anticipating the twists and turns, rediscovering things I'd forgotten, and generally loving re-submerging in the universe and society that Elizabeth Moon creates.

What are your favourite stories to re-read?  I'd love to hear from anyone who reads this blog....

Friday, 28 September 2012

Daughter of the Empire

I'm re-reading one of my favourite trilogies this week - Daughter of the Empire, followed by Servant of the Empire and next Mistress of the Empire.  It's part of Raymond E. Feist's Kingdom Saga, this time written with Janny Wurts, and in my opinion by far the best - although the reworked Magician is an excellent story.  These three books look at events from the opposite perspective from Magician, and really expand on the culture of the Empire as opposed to the Kingdom.
What I really love about them is the way the two conflicting cultures impact on each other and how Justice and Honour as portrayed in those cultures are rival ideas.  The other key theme of the triumph of ingenuity over political power and military might is something I particularly enjoy as well.  Without wanting to give too much away, Mara - daughter of a noble house - is unexpectedly forced become the Ruling Lady of her House, a hierarchical position that brings her into the centre of a complicated and dangerous political game.
If you enjoy tales of conflict, high politics, ingenuity and human nature, this is definitely worth a read.  There is a lot of description, but this is necessary to give you a good picture of an alien society, and the action is so well paced and engaging that you'll be caught up in events and imagery within a couple of chapters.  Definitely a book that is hard to put down.
Look for it on www.askmeaboutbooks.co.uk by choosing Alternative Fantasy in the Genre option.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

Just finished reading Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James, and I must say I enjoyed it greatly, although it is far from being comparable to Jane Austen or most other murder mysteries I've read.  If you've read Pride & Prejudice, you will enjoy an intriguing reinterpretation of some of the relationships and behaviour of the original characters.  P D James spends a lot of time going over the original story as it's relevant to the current mystery, so if you haven't, you won't be too bewildered.  It's a good 'romp', with some interesting asides discussing such diverse historical issues as women's empowerment and the English justice system (not although in any great detail).  There is a twist at the end, although because of the way the story proceeds you'll guess at a lot of it.  There is an excessive amount that has to be explained through conversation after the fact, which I find irritating, although I suppose it's in the tradition of the old style mysteries where there is a 'reveal' at the end by the detective investigating.  All in all good fun, but not especially challenging.  Find it on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk  under Mystery - and you might find something else you like too!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Classic Literature

I've been looking at some of the Classics again recently to put on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk  I think so often we don't bother to actually read the book because there are so many film and TV versions out there now, and often we get put off because we've had to read them at school and because of this have had to analyse the content so much that we loose our pleasure in just reading them.  But Classics have lasted for so many years because they have something special about them (well, most of them) and often this is lost in even the best, most exhaustive production.
I've always been grateful that I didn't study Pride & Prejudice, or any of Jane Austen's work, because it meant that I came fresh to my first reading of it.  I had seen a TV version of it, however, but fortunately this just made me want to read the book, which I think is often the case for people - how many people decided to try and read Lord of the Rings after the film came out?  (Well, to be honest, not me, but that's because I'm not a big fan of extensive description!)
Of course, there are many Classics that I wouldn't have even considered reading if I hadn't been required to for school - Jane Eyre and the Handmaid's Tale, for example, and actually I'm glad that I had the opportunity to (if only once).  I think it's good to read things that you wouldn't naturally pick up, although I think the majority of books should be read simply for the enjoyment of it!  I learnt a lot from those books I was 'forced' to read, and I still occasionally do try to step out of my comfort zone - I guess that's a bit of what Book Clubs are about, trying something new, although I wonder if the type of books we choose for Book Clubs could explain why often only a few have actually read the book!  But that's another subject entirely!!!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Reality in Fiction

I'm probably alone in this, but I find it disturbing when a story is written as though it were a biography.  There is so much authority given to the characters and their actions when the story is apparently real.  Reading The Cat's Table this week, I was struck by this very strongly - all the events and characters are written with the "colour" of memoir, as stated by the author.  So I asked myself - do people really behave, think, act like this?  Maybe.  Authors are often very good at reading people, and transcribing what they see around them into the characters they create.  But do we put too much faith into this reinterpretation of people, so that we start to read art into reality as well.  I suppose this is one of those all time questions - how much does art influence life and how much does is life reflected in art.  I suppose I don't like to be so subtly influenced in my understanding - I want things real or not real.
Still, if you're looking for something like The Cat's Table, that is fictional but 'real' in its expression, choose Biographical Fiction on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

You know, I've always loved Terry Pratchett books - there's something wonderfully mind bending about them, and at the same time entertaining.  I've just finished reading Snuff, though, and I think this time Mr Pratchett has surpassed himself!  For those who know anything about the Discworld novels, this one features Commander Sam Vines of the Watch who is an interesting character if only for his integrity in the face of chaos and corruption.  I think the thing I like best about this book, however, is the social commentary - everyone should be treated as 'humans' however inhuman they maybe (because of course there are trolls and dwarfs and goblins galore in Discworld stories!).  He addresses prejudice, slavery, persecution, corruption and class structure!  It's very gently done, but it does challenge your concepts of the worth and value of people, and even the worst characters are treated with a generosity that allows you to understand their motives, however much you might despise their actions.  Terry Pratchett doesn't gloss over the basic flaws in his characters, in fact, he draws those things out to be looked at closely, and in that is a freedom to understand yourself and others.
It's one of the great things about Fantasy, I think.  You can talk about real people and real situations in a place and time totally removed from the norm, meaning that you can address issues and ideas that might be too complicated in any other setting.
Find Snuff on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk choosing 'social commentary' as the main theme.  There will be some very different suggestions that come up as well!

Friday, 27 July 2012

One on One by Craig Brown

If you're looking for some potted history and a quick overview of many biographies - snap shots in the lives of the famous or worthy - then I really recommend One on One by Craig Brown.  In a couple of pages he describes an encounter between two people (Nancy Reagan and Andy Warhol, for example) and then moves on to the next encounter.  Each story is told with a light touch and gentle commentary, using many of their own words and thoughts - the Bibliography at the back is about 20 pages!  Brilliant if you've only got a few minutes, just as good if you have more time and want to go on a journey that reads like a 'six degrees of separation' on a grand scale.  I'll be loading it on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk as soon as I finish it!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Hay On Wye - The Welsh Book Town!

Went to Hay On Wye with the family today.  Not the easiest of places with children, although definitely worth a return trip with them and some pocket money to pick up all the books they wanted!  It's such an interesting little town, especially on a hot sunny day like today, when all the 'outdoor' bookshops were open, with their little 'honesty payment' boxes.  So many lovely old books, although in some places you're hard pressed to do anything but gaze in wonder at the bizarre collections of random titles and genres - definitely requires a good couple of hours of uninterupted browsing to find the right book (or all the books in a series!) in some places.  The Cinema Bookshop, however, is very well organised and has so many old and new books you're bound to find something.  We'll definitely be back when we have a house, have all our stuff back from it's 8000 mile journey and know whether we have any bookshelf space left!
However, H-O-W could definitely do with the askmeaboutbooks.co.uk treatment!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Something to read... please...

Oh, no!  My fears are proved true.  I can't find anything to read!  I can't be bothered to search through loads of reviews, and I've not got anything I haven't read on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk at the moment!  What can I read?  I fancy something funny, a bit challenging with a happy ending and nothing that will make me blush!
Time to do some reseach, I suppose.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Surveys and stats...

You know, I love surveys.  I wonder what it is that makes some of us want to put down all our thoughts and ideas, preferences or analyse our personalities.  If you're one of those who enjoys them too, click on the link below to fill in my simple 10 question survey on reading. It's partly for fun and partly to help me fine tune the askmeaboutbooks.co.uk website!  Cheers.
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/63VHQDQ

Monday, 2 July 2012

Books I love...

I love books that I can re-read over and over again without getting tired of them.  I've started Elizabeth Moon's Oath of Fealty again (after book three ended so distressingly!), and I think it's my third time round.  Somehow, though I know what's coming, it still seems fresh and I find myself anticipating the plot with pleasure and still finding something new.  I wonder what it is in the quality of writing that makes this possible - is it the characters that are so appealling you want to read their story again and again, is it an intricate plot that means you have to read a book many times to truly explore and know all the twists and turns?
And yet it's great to read new books too, everything unfolding gently or rapidly before your mind, a new world to explore, new people to meet.  I love to see new titles on askmeaboutbooks.co.uk.  I have my favourite search routes, of course - Genre, Themes - but sometimes it's good to mix things up and see what comes up!  I must put in a 'random choice' button!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Book for the Flight

We're off on Friday on a looooong haul flight, back home to the UK for good after several years in the Falkland Islands.  We've done the trips a few times now, and I know that, for me, a book is absolutely essential to survive the 18 hours with very little ability to sleep.

It has to be the right book - one that will engage my attention but not be too tiring to read or require too much brain power; it has to be one I can put down when one of the four children needs something, so nothing too exciting or I'll get frustrated; it has to be a smallish book - of course, that wouldn't be a problem if I'd got a Kindle, but I'm still a fan of the paper version - but it has to be long enough that I don't finish it before we land in the UK; and preferably, it has to be one I haven't read before.

This last point is perhaps the hardest when you live 8000 miles from a bookshop.  As I have to order my books with at least two weeks before I need them there is a great temptation to just read them as soon as they arrive.  I've already read one of the new books I was 'saving' for the flight.  Fortunately, I've been able to avoid reading the other one by raiding the local library to keep me going until we leave.  That's working well so far, though I'm going to have to finish them quickly, or I won't get to know the ending.

So, which book have I gone for?  I've chosen Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Shepherd.  I've already read the most recent book in the series, but I've decided to go back and start at the beginning - something you can actually do with this series of books about the head teacher of a small village school in Yorkshire.  I'm confident it's just what I need.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

And there's a Hit!

There's something very exciting about seeing that someone new has looked at askmeaboutbooks.co.uk!  It's great as well, to see the return visits, because that means people are actually 'using' the search system.  However, I know that there is nothing worse than having people disappointed in finding nothing they want when they choose an option.  I must find a way to get some more books on the website to give people more variety...  Of course, too many and that's another kind of problem.  One I would love to have, however!  Still, I've just finished another book, so slowly but surely I'll be topping it up myself.  Just as well I'm developing a fairly eclectic taste for stories!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Finished The Witness After All!

Okay, so I finished The Witness by Nora Roberts.  It got better again.  Strange really - the "Brooks" section was a bit overdone on the descriptions and characters, and then as soon as she got back to Abigail, it was smooth again.  I wonder if it was deliberate - trying to sound more like a man writing?  Overall, I enjoyed it alot - to the point of ignoring the packing I should have been doing when the children were happily occupied.  I've put it on the website, so if you want to make up your own mind, go to askmeaboutbooks.co.uk and choose Romantic Suspense as Genre, and you will find my 'unbiased' analysis.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

On Second Thoughts

I'm going to revise my review of The Witness by Nora Roberts.  I've decided that the beginning is great, but the next section seems to me to be falling into all the stilted description and trite story line I was impressed not to see in the first part.  Oh well, it's still mostly a good read - Romantic Suspense, apparently.  Not sure if I'll bother to finish it, though.  It's not really gripping me any more.  But, hey, that's just my opinion.  Make up your own mind.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I am Reading... The Witness by Nora Roberts

In my continuing search for interesting books to put on the askmeaboutbooks.co.uk website, I have picked up The Witness by Nora Roberts from the Library.  I thought I'd just flick through it, but I'm finding it quite consuming.
At first I thought it was a who-dunnit style of Crime Thriller, which isn't really my thing, but I'm finding it to be much more like the TV series "In Plain Sight" which is about the US Witness Protection.  The style is really smooth and easy to read, and the characters come across as very real and vivid without having to go for the extensive descriptions that some writers seem to feel necessary.  It's not really the most hard hitting novel in the world, and I suspect that there are large holes in the WP systems described - But who cares.  It's an engaging story, entertaining, and not too gruesome!
I'll probably analyse it as 'good all round romp'!

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Website "Ask Me About Books" Built

So I had this great idea for a website...  Searchable criteria to avoid all that trawling through reviews that I often don't agree with anyway.  (Sometimes I enjoy trashy!)  Brilliant.  Then what?  Well, I discovered that it wasn't something I could build with my own computer skills, so we called in the experts - Contrapositive New Media.  And the results have been very good - I'm sure you'll agree:
Now, however, it's my turn again - and that's the hard part!  Gathering data on the books, loading it on, and then, of course, making sure everyone has heard about it...  Starting to bore my friends now, I think, :)

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Is Fantasy Fantastical?

I read a modern romance - Summer Daydreams - the other day and I was struck by the element of the fantastic within the story (I won't go into too much detail or I'll spoil it!).  As I've mentioned before I tend to read High Fantasy a lot. The interesting thing with true Fantasy is that it has to keep to the rules within the created world, and so there is an internal believability in what is happening, however unexpected or miraculous it may be.  I was taken aback to find that the same rule doesn't apply to 'real' fiction.  I always expect fiction set in the 'real' world to have to fit the rules of our world - if you do something in real life, certain consequences or results are inevitable.  But then I realised that fiction is just that - fiction, and the writer is free to break any rules they please.  However like the 'real' world their world may be, it is still their world.  Intriguing, and rather fun.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Books found while exploring new Genres

I've been on a voyage of discovery as I search for new books to put on the askmeaboutbooks.co.uk website.  I've always been a fairly hard and fast SF and Fantasy fan, usually uncomfortable picking up books outside of that safe zone.  In order to get a broad spectrum for our users, though, I've been venturing into genres and styles that are not my natural reading home.

And I find that I have missed out on some really good reads because of my narrow Genre focus.  To my amusement, I find that I really enjoy romantic Chick Lit, as long as there isn't too much about infidelity and broken relationships.  I have a taste for adventure and political Thrillers, although I skim read the really graphic violence - particularly anything by Matthew Reilly.  I have warmed to the more pastoral life story style, such as the Teacher series by Jack Sheffield.  I don't think I'll ever develop a liking for Murder & Organised Crime stories, although I do like the occassional Mystery, and I will always really hate Horror.

So all in all I am enjoying my journey beyond the realms of SF & Fantasy.  I'm looking forward to discovering more and I'm hoping that my website search options will give other people the courage to step out and explore with me.
 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Another book finishes!!!


I settled down this evening to finish reading Echoes of Betrayal by Elizabeth Moon, book three of a trilogy, I thought.  It's a fantastic Epic Fantasy, full of heroism and inspiration, fast paced and complex, and best of all it's a sequel to another Trilogy set in the same world.  I prepared myself for that grief of the story ending, my right to live in that world ended until I start reading the series again. (A bit dramatic, but that's how it feels)   As the pages turned and I was carried along, jumping from subplot to subplot I started to wonder how she would tie up all those different threads in what looked like very few pages...  And then suddenly I realised - the book was ending and the story hadn't.  Ouch!  The next book isn't published yet and there are going to be another two!  That is an exciting discovery, but now I don't know what happens next.  Book Four isn't due out until June 2013.

Deep breath.  Time to start the series again, I think.
Or maybe I'll just try something completely different.

A website idea is born...

One month since we launched askmeaboutbooks.co.uk, I think it's time to reflect on how I got to this point...
 
Ask Me About Books is an idea that came to me when I finished a series of Fantasy novels recommended by a good friend - Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher.  Stunning story line, breath taking in places, really vivid, admirable characters and I felt that grief I always feel when I'd finished the last book, deliberately slowing down my reading on the last few chapters to savour the world I had come to love.  Reading is a passion for me, but I'm very choosy about the world's I disappear into and I hate to buy a book unless I'm expecting to read it several times.

The trouble is, so often when people recommend books - or when I recommend books to others - there just isn't that 'match'.  It's a bit like being set up on a blind date with a friend.  Only the best friends can really find someone you'll get on with, and who knows those secret things that you're looking for?  It's the same with books - just because someone else has enjoyed it, doesn't mean I will.

Of course, that doesn't stop me recommending books to others - but I want to ask some questions first: Do you want something gentle and relaxing to read or something that will leave you breathless at the end of it?  Do you care about the characters or is it all about the action?  Are there any particular pet hates you have?  A bit of an interrogation...

And so askmeaboutbooks.co.uk was born.  A list of options that searches a database of books to - hopefully - provide you with the perfect match.  And the great thing about looking for a book (unlike dating) is that one day you might want something relaxing, sometime something challenging, so there's always something new to discover.

The adventure continues.
askmeaboutbooks.co.uk