Sunday 30 November 2014

Library Trip #1

I have been very good recently at not acquiring any books at all and just reading from my shelves, but last week the siren song of the library was just too strong.  Giles went asleep in the pushchair on the way, so I had plenty of time to have a good browse and make my selections.  I've gone for four non-fiction and four fiction.  I can't promise that I will end up reading them all, as this stack is rather over-ambitious, but I had fun choosing them.

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua - Memoir.  I remember the controversy around this parenting book when it came out, and now I have a little one of my own, I'm keen to read it.  Being a 'tiger mother' is all about pushing your children to their limits.  Hopefully this will be thought provoking.
  • There was a Country by Chinua Achebe - History.  I first read about the Biafran War, in which part of Nigeria tried to become independent, in Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun.  This promises to be a personal history of the period by a writer I admire.  I can't wait to get to this one.
  • The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe - Science.  Wolfe is a biologist specialising in viruses than can cause pandemics, and this book is all about his work tracking and trying to defeat them.  

  • The Devil Came on Horseback by Brian Steidle - Memoir. Steidle was hired by the African Union to document the genocide in Darfur, and this book is about his experiences.  I'm sure this will be a powerful but difficult read.
  • The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris - Fantasy.  I know next to nothing about Norse mythology, so this retelling by a respected writer seems like a good place to start.
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan - I've read two books by Tan and have had a somewhat mixed experience with her.  I like the sound of the plot of this one, about the daughter of an American forced to become a courtesan.  We shall see.

  • River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay - Fantasy.  I haven't got much idea of the plot of this one, I've just seen it featured on a few lists of more diverse fantasy.
  • Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie - A book I've been meaning to read for the longest time.  Set in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Nagasaki bombings, it promises to be an epic read.

Have you read any of these books?  I'd love to hear your opinions if you have, to help me prioritise which ones to get to first.

Friday 28 November 2014

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella is a memoir of growing up as an unwanted child.  After her mother died giving birth to her, Adeline is regarded as bad luck and a nuisance to her new stepmother.  Although she shows great academic promise and would do anything for love and acceptance, Adeline is ignored at best or treated with cruelty at worst.  Her coming of age story is told alongside the history of the Chinese civil war and the emergence of the Communists as the ruling party of China.

I had no idea that this memoir was aimed at children until I started reading it, so I had to adjust my expectations accordingly.  I really enjoyed the tone of the memoir, how Adeline's experiences are relayed without sentimentality, as this gives the book more power.  Had I picked this up as a child, I would have loved it and would have inspired me to learn as much as possible about China.  As I am an adult and I've already studied Chinese history a bit, I found some of the explanations of what was going on around Adeline too simple.

The real power of the book is in Adeline's grit.  At one point, she writes about how she read Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, and resolved to be as strong as Sara.  And she is.  Although we see Adeline being damaged by a total lack of affection and abandonment, she manages to overcome her experiences.  There's no fairy godmother in this Cinderella story, instead we get Adeline working hard and finally earning her right to travel abroad to study.  This message, of inner strength and persistence is a great one for all of us, regardless of our age.

This book is definitely one I will be recommending to the children I teach, and to Giles when he is old enough.  It's a good example of a well written memoir aimed at children.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1999
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Why I'm No Longer Accepting Review Copies

Last week, I finally made a change to my blog that I've been toying with for quite a while; I updated my 'contact me' page to state that I am no longer accepting review copies.  I won't be emailing publishers, logging onto Netgalley, replying to review requests, using Bookbridgr or readign unsolicited ARCs any more.  This applies to self-published books, books from minor publishers and books from major publishers.

It's taken me a while to come to this decision as like most book bloggers, I've always found it flattering and exciting to receive review copies.  I remember how accomplished I felt when I received my first email requests, and when I was first approved on Netgalley for a title by a major publisher.  Receiving a copy of Americanah before it came out was a real high point in my blogging 'career'. All these things felt like validation of the hard work I'd been putting into my blog, recognition that I was doing an OK job.

However, the longer I've been accepting review copies, the more I've come to see the negatives too. I can get a bit 'trigger happy' on Netgalley and Bookbridgr and end up with more review copies than I can possibly read.  I don't like the pressure of having to read a certain book by a certain time, even if I'm not enjoying it, or having to write full reviews all the time.  Sometimes I'll get excited about a book when I receive it, but then not feel like reading it when it's actually close to it's release date.  Even though I try my hardest not to let the fact that I have received a review copy effect my opinion, it's always there in the back of my mind when I'm writing down my thoughts.  Replying to emails and building up contacts with publishers is time consuming, and it's rare that I'll receive an unsolicited request for a book that fits with me or with my blog.

All these reasons have contributed to my decision, but the main one is that I'm no longer happy with how review copies have changed my reading habits.  I miss being a mood reader, browsing my shelves and picking the next title to try at whim.  I miss flitting between different books, rereading my favourites and spending months immersed in an epic series.  I'm sick of neglecting the books that I have accumulated and I want to dive into the back-lists of authors I love.

I'm sure I will miss out on some great review copies over the coming months and years, but I don't mind waiting and purchasing a book if it's something that I am excited for.  In the meantime, I have plenty of books on my shelves to keep me occupied.

Do you accept review copies?  If so, have they changed your reading habits?

Monday 24 November 2014

Five Months Old

On Saturday, Giles turned five months old.  I can't believe my screaming newborn bundle is already almost half a year old; everything has changed so completely since he arrived and I've learned so much about myself.

We've reached the point now where it feels as though Giles has always been here, and I can't imagine my life without him.  This past month has been an interesting one as his personality is really starting to shine through.  Looks wise, he is all Tom, but I'm seeing a lot of myself in his personality.  Like me, he is very determined (some might call it stubborn!) and likes to do things for himself, rather than be helped.  He's always on the go and always looking for the next thing to do.  He's very curious about people and the world, which probably comes from my nosiness!

At the moment, all of his determination is focused on one goal: becoming mobile.  He'll try anything to get where he wants to go, including pulling himself up on whatever is around, repeated rolling and a bizarre half-crawl-half-shuffle move.  I have a feeling he is going to be a bit of a monster when he learns how to move around efficiently!

Friday 21 November 2014

Blogging Break Reads

Whilst I wasn't blogging over the last month or so, I was most definitely still reading.  Here are some quick thoughts on the titles I finished:

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant thinks he is headed for a dull life of police paperwork when he finds himself interviewing a ghost following a murder in central London.  This leads him to Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England, and the person in charge of policing the parallel, magical London.  The number of gruesome murders across the city is increasing, and it's up to Grant and Nightingale to find out and apprehend the supernatural culprit.

I had high hopes going into this book, as it's the first of a very well regarded series, but I was disappointed.  I liked the urban fantasy atmosphere and the originality of the supernatural elements, but ultimately this book was too much crime, too little fantasy for me.  I wasn't interested in solving the crime alongside Peter and as a result the pages dragged.   This one has been donated to the charity shop, and I won't be continuing with the series.
2.5 out of 5

A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland

I love the Little History series, and this literature based volume did not disappoint.  Covering everything from Greek myths to the future of printed books, this book is divided into short, bite-sized chapters that give an overview of authors and trends from the Western canon.  There's also chapters dealing with the development and history of the publishing industry.

I studied science at university, so I was missing a general overview of the history of literature, and this book filled that gap nicely. It's perfect to dive in and out of, as each chapter only takes a few minutes to read. Although I would have liked to have seen more on non-Western literature, I loved this book as it inspired me to pick up more classics.  Highly recommended.
5 out of 5

The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

Pran Nath is the son of an Indian woman and English man.  Throughout his life he experiences being a privileged son, a cast out, exploited in a backstreet brothel, a political pawn, a student at Oxford university and finally an anthropologist.  Pran is able to flit between these roles effortlessly, assuming new identities, but what are the consequences of lacking a true identity?

This book is truly epic in scale, covering three countries and a dazzling array of side characters.  It's also utterly engrossing, mainly for the minor characters and the settings, which are bought vividly to life.  I really enjoyed this for the story, but have a feeling I missed some of the deeper meanings involving post-colonialist identity.
4 out of 5

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The third volume in Jordan's epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. This series is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.  Objectively, I know there is lots to dislike about it - the repetitive descriptions, the fantasy clichés, the gender stereotypes, the unnecessary, pace-slowing detail - but I just can't help but find this series utterly compelling.  It's just wonderful escapism, especially now Jordan has broadened the world somewhat and introduced new places in this volume.

I wouldn't recommend this series to everyone, and I'm not even sure why I like it so much, but like it I do.

4 out of 5

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Changing Things Up on the Blog

Pile of books in Mr Tulk © Mark Chew
Image Source
I started this blog four and a half years ago, and it has always been a book related blog.  I wrote my early posts during my first year of being a fully qualified teacher, and it was a way for me to switch off from the chaos of having my first class, and devote time to my favourite hobby of reading.  I was delighted to discover that book blogging was a thing, and to slowly build up a community of readers to share thoughts and recommendations with.  For a little while I did get distracted by stats and review copies, but this blog has always been foremost about having a community of blogging friends, quality interactions rather than numbers.

For a few years, I  just posted reviews.  It was rare for me to take part in memes or post hauls, and I kept my personal life strictly off the blog.  My motto in this regard has always been to never post anything that I wouldn't want the parents of the children I teach to see, if they happened to stumble across my blog.  I am a bit jealous of bloggers who have more posting freedom, but at the same time I wouldn't want to be someone who put everything on the internet for anyone to see.

As the years went by, the more I realised that what I enjoyed about blogging wasn't necessarily writing reviews, but interacting with other bloggers, that I had come to regard as my friends.  I opened up a bit and started posting weekly personal updates, as well as experimenting with Twitter and Instagram.  Again, I still have to be very careful about what I post, but I love that I'm now actually getting to know other bloggers, rather than just talking about books.  Talking about books is great, but getting to know other bookish people is so much better.

Ever since having my baby boy five months ago, I've been struggling with my blog and where to take it.  Part of that is due to time restrictions - I simply do not have the same amount of time to read and review any more.  When I return to work, I suspect I will have even less time, just snatches of time in the evenings when Giles has gone to bed and my planning/marking is completed.  I'm also finding that reading is taking up less of my mental space; I'm still a big bookworm and suspect I always will be, but I haven't got the mental energy to keep book blogging at the pace I was.

But I do still want to blog.  I love having something that is just for me, and the creative outlet of writing posts is good for me.  So I've decided to open up my blog even more.  I will still be posting about my reading (although maybe not one dedicated review per book), and reading related topics, but I'll also be writing about whatever takes my fancy too.  There might be baby posts, cookery posts, posts about my cat, or photos from trips we have taken together, or just random ponderings.  The only thing I won't ever post about is teaching.  I hope that this way I can carry on blogging and keep in touch with everyone that I've met through my blog.

Have you ever considered changing the way you blog?

Sunday 16 November 2014

Sam Sunday #60: Hopefully I'm Back

So this little blog has become rather neglected over the past month or so.  There are quite a few reasons, the main one being that there are things going on in my private life that I'm not comfortable sharing with the internet, and I haven't really felt up to posting much.  Me, Tom and Giles are all well, but it's been a tricky couple of months.  Giles is also what our Health Visitor refers to as a 'velcro baby', in other words he protests loudly at being put down, even if he is asleep.  It's not often that I have two hands free for long enough to put together a post!

Speaking of Giles, he is going to be five months old in just a couple of days and I can't believe it.  He is still a big bundle of energy that doesn't stop going from the moment he wakes up to the moment he falls asleep.  He is so completely determined that he will be mobile as soon as possible; he's already pulling himself up to standing, rolling all over the place and pushing himself along the floor.  I have a feeling I'm going to spend the next ten or so years running around after him, he is going to be a terror when he learns how to crawl!

Now that he is going to sleep at a decent time every evening, I'm getting in much more reading time. I have a post planned in a couple of weeks detailing what I've read whilst I've not been blogging, but basically I've been mood reading and completely enjoying my reading freedom.  In fact, I'm enjoying it so much that I've decided to completely stop receiving or requesting review copies and just focus on what is on my shelves.

As I've been away for so long, I'd love to hear what everyone has been up to.  I've missed all of my blogging buddies!