Book Club 2010

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Happy New Year!

Whilst you (and I, this is a scheduled post!) are nursing sore heads and dry mouths, I thought I would start the year with my final reflective 2010 post.

Beady eyed folk might have noticed that in my 2010 round-up I didn’t mention any books, and that is because I’m a freakish bookworm and need an entire blog post to talk about my top reads of the year!

I lamely started a write-up of all the books I was reading here, but it fell a little by the wayside. So instead I am just going to give you a quick review of my TOP FIVE. I read 27 books this year in total which is a total fail at my target of 50 in a year. Next year though, now with my beautiful kindle-y addition to my life, I hope to smash it. Fingers crossed!

01] Little Bee – Chris Cleave

(Published in the UK as The Other Hand) So I was in Borders in NYC, getting weepy and nostalgic at the loss of basically my second-home in England as I roamed around the heavenly magazine section, Starbucks and Paperchase! I wasn’t looking to buy anything though (as I’d already packed more books than clothes!) but I was walking out and spotted this. My beau calls me ‘wee Bee’ (he’s northern irish, it’s allowed) and so I just picked this book up as a joke to show him the name. Then he said I should buy it and there was no queue so I did. So the fact I even ever read this book is extremely random; and I have to admit if I’d seen the UK cover/blurb I doubt I ever would have bothered. But it was my number one read of the year, and the book that had the most impact on me.

I was shocked at the vitriol and anger in some reviews on amazon for this book, but I think any work of fiction dealing with war, corruption, murder and other uncomfortable human truths is always going to rub people the wrong way. But I felt it dealt with these huge, vast issues in a really relatable and non-patronising way. I also thought the characterisation enabled you to really relate and empathise with all the characters, even the ones portrayed as the most evil.  I won’t give too much of the plot away, because I would really encourage you to read it for yourself. I would read this on the commute to work, and then literally sit stunned at my desk, barely able to converse with my colleagues because the vivid words and imagery and events from the book were whirling around my brain. It is at times, almost nauseatingly tragic but in the most; it’s charming and even manages to be really funny. It shifted my views and opened my eyes and made me research more about the basis for the book.

02] The House At Midnight – Lucie Whitehouse

This book revolves around a group of university friends who come back together when one of them inherits a huge country house. The friends start spending weekends away from their lives in London there and the dynamics, tensions and history starts to fester and grow inside the claustrophobic, stifling house. I found Lucie Whitehouses writing style compelling and descriptive enough to really make you feel everything from the heat of the summer weather to the constant forboding in the background of even the happiest party scenes. The characterisation was a bit weak, mainly that I didn’t actually like the protaganist and was quite often silently screaming at the book EH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! but perhaps this is the author trying to show how to house seems to bring out the wild, unpredictable side of the characters. It is still one of my top 5 as it was a really enjoyable read and it reminded me of one of my sisters absolutely favourite movies Peters Friends which aw, you can still buy on VHS on Amazon.

03] The Poison Tree – Erin Kelly

I have really fond memories of reading this book, as I read it sat in a meadow in Massachusetts. I woke up before anyone else and the sun was beaming, so I took a table cloth from the breakfast table of our B&B and laid out on my stomach amongst the buttercups and read on in one sitting, as the day got hotter and hotter. I think living in London really enhanced my enjoyment as all the location in the book felt so familiar. The story follows Karen who is a bookish, timid university student who meets an infectiously confident girl called Biba who drags her into a heady summer of partying and hedonism which ends in a crime that will ruin all of their lives in different ways. I loved the book because I think meeting a new friend who is loud and confident and who makes you want to tap into that side of yourself and do wild things and go new places is something most people have experienced at some point in their lives, and Erin Kelly writes it incredibley well! I left this book behind in the American B&B, for someone else to enjoy (and so I didn’t have to carry on lugging around a hefty hardback) but I already want to re-read it so might have to get it on my kindle next year.

04] Sister – Rosamund Pike

I would describe this book as a Crime fiction novel, for people who don’t like crime fiction. Like me! Usually I shy away from crime writing, my feelings on the matter being that I read enough scary, harrowing things in newspapers to really want to spend my entertainment/quality time filling my head with fictional gruesome goings ons. BUT, I was recommended this book on amazon based on my previous purchases and thought I’d have a wild card when ordering some books on payday.

The story starts off with a mystery – Beatrices sister has gone missing, so she flees New York back home to London to hunt for her. When Beatrices sisters body is found, it is shrugged off as suicide. But Beatrice knows her sister, and knows that something more sinister is at play. The book covers multiple themes:
1. Crime- the twists and turns and red herrings cleverly keep you guessing right up to the final chapter as to the truth of the death and who are the victims/who are the criminals
2. Family – the sisterly bond is so well written and the love between the two girls is so truthfully described. I won’t lie, this book has me in floods of tears twice, perhaps as I can empathise with having a close sister.
3. Science – the science element of the book is cleverly weaved in. It’s not baffling with information, but enough to feel you have learnt something new by the time you have finished the book, which is a nice addition.

All in all, I really feel like this book has it all. Strikingly, realistically written and completely gripping. It is written in rather an odd narrative structure which I found slightly off putting and strange at first, but there is a point in the book that you realise this tool is for a very legitimate reason and it makes you want to return to the start and reread armed with your fresh slant.

05] Of Bees and Mist – Erick Setiawan

Lets gloss over the fact two out of the top five books include my name! And a third is based around a character called ‘Bea’! I do have to admin I’m a bit  like a magpie and will more often than not pick up any book with Bee in the title. It just is a happy coincidence that this year those picks have been brilliant reads too. This book started a new phase of genre-obsession in me which I would describe as modern fairy tales (the girl with the glass feet and the lace reader are also great examples) where gothic fantasy and modern settings meet. It opens up storylines to having no rules and turns the usual type of fiction I consume on its head. This book is just beautiful and really has to be read, as my rambling can’t do it justice. Bad moods become swarms of bees, secrets become clouds of mist that won’t leave and family tensions and dynamic take on magical, mystical qualities. Ultimately it is a story about love, and family and loss; but the intricate, deep writing makes it a book you do not want to end and miss when it does.

If you decide to read or have read any of these books, I’d love to know what you think! Also if you have a Goodreads account, then please do add me! I am here.

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Is everyone getting a little sick of Christmas chat? I thought I’d have a  day off, since strictly I can’t really feel in full festive swing until my plane lands safely tonight in Northern Ireland and my two weeks of lie-ins, boardgames, FOOD and family fun starts! And I’m still at work today, poor me.

So; this is just a shameless excuse to talk about my all time favourite thing growing up, and put out a plea to see if there were any fellow obsessives like me.

From the age of 9 to about 12, I was single-mindedly obsessed with one thing and one thing only. Both myself and my sister were in fact, regularly pooling pocket money and Christmas present opportunities and tag-team scouring car boot sales and charity shop shelves. No it wasn’t Sylvanian Families, or cute Care Bears or wholesome Enid Blyton stories. Our lives were consumed with the world of POINT HORROR BOOKS!

  

   

The Point Horror phase of my life (yes it deserves official ‘phase’ status) started when the portable book library came to school. I’m not sure if this was just a Yorkshire, Northern or UK thing but once a year, this glorified shelving unit on wheels would pitch up to your school and you could purchase cheap books from it. I guess it was an initiative to encourage reading, and it was definitely one the most exciting days of the school year for freaky bookworm kids like me.

I was still stuck in the lame old land of Babysitters Club books, but my older and way cooler sister picked up a copy of The Boyfriend. It was a book that basically took a pretty weak storyline and stretched it over an entire 80 pages! I would describe the storyline, but only the amazingly cheesey blurbs (that used to make my heart leap!) can do it justice:

Wealthy, beautiful, spoilt Joanna Collier has it all, including her boyfriend Dex. But then she breaks up with him – the gorgeous Shep seems more her type. When Dex dies in a terrible accident, Joanna’s sorry, of course, but it’s not her fault is it? She never loved him anyway – he was just another toy to be used and thrown away. But now Dex is back – from the dead. And he wants one last date with her…

What is there not to love! The mega-cool American names Dex and Shep (so exotic), the romance, the passion, the TERRORRRRR!!! I remember we passed this book between us until it was literally falling to pieces. And then we discovered that this book was not a glorious once-off, but part of a collection of books in the Point Horror genre.

   

   

Various different authors published under the genre, the most profilic being R.L.Stine, Caroline B Cooney, Diane Hoh, Carol Ellis and Sinclair Smith. I don’t think we were fussy about the author, although the randomness of seemingly anyone being able to write Point Horror books did mean you occasionally got a real STINKER by some newbie, such as The Phantom by Barbara Steiner… run on Babs! You’re no RL Stine!

It is seemingly worrying that at such a young age we were obsessed with books based around sereal killers, death, horror and terror! But the books seemed to mainly focus on a girl with an issue to solve (not pretty enough, not popular enough, no prom date, no boyfriend, too many boyfriends, too popular, too pretty… you get the picture) and I guess alot of the appeal hinged on this more than the spook-factor.

My favourite trilogy of books was The Cheerleader, Vampires Promise and Vampires Return; although they actually were just one storyline rehashed for three seperate books. In them a plain, unpopular, unattractive girl is desperate to be a cheerleader and popular. She moves into a new house and there is a vampire living in the shutters of her bedroom (I know, I know) who offers her the chance to become beautiful; but she has to chose an already beautiful/popular girl to lose their looks and ultimately; life. I mean COME ON! When you are 12 and a pretty uncool, not particular popular girl  (me) of course a book where the character gets to become instantly popular and hot is going to appeal… as you sort of spend 90% of your life fantasising about the exact same thing.

And yes this photo is only half of our collection circa 1997; at that point we owned every single one that had been published up to that point. I kid you not. In each new purchase; we would proudly cross off each one we had from the full list of released titles that they printed on the opening page! We would also write ‘helpful’ marks out of ten and little reviews of each one next to the title; in case we leant them to friends. It got very messy if we both wrote reviews, especially if they weren’t in agreement.

I think my alltime favourite Point Horror was The Babysitter. Hardly the most original plot (OR blatent rip off of the babysitting urban myth about crank calls) but still, a classic!

I’m not sure what happened to Point Horrors. How me and my sister didn’t SOLELY keep them in business I do not know! For a time there were Point Crimes (bit weak), Point Romance (too slushy and WAY racier than Judy Blume – Forever, which is really saying something) and Point Sci Fi (snore). They then began a series called ‘Unleashed’ which was marketed as a slightly darker, edgier genre of Point Horrors. I remember excitedly getting the first one of these books called At Gehenna’s Door and it was so scary I started crying whilst reading it and it had a bit about eating someones brain from a skull and I was like woah woah woah where are all the cheerleaders? And dates? And the pizza parlours? It definitely went over my fear-limit at that age and they never published anymore non-Unleashed Point Horrors so the dream was over.

I have to confess, I still have quite a hefty chunk of the books at my parents house, so often whenever I’m home in my old tiny bedroom, with my single bed, I sneak a few in and re-read my favourites such as: The Invitation (RSVP or DIE!), The Snowman (A cold-blooded killer.), The Funhouse (Hear the fear!), Camp Fear (The past can’t hurt you, it can kill you.) and Dream Date (Sweet dreams and rest in peace…) absolute guilty pleasure.

 

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Usually my blog (as you may have noticed) is a pretty fluffy random mess of outfits and zombies and nice cakes and cute places. I don’t often get serious. I don’t ask the BIG questions, wax lyrical on the serious matters or make earth shatternig statements. But lately something huge has been bothering me (and maybe the world), it leaves me in a cold sweat at night, it gives me papatations whenever I hear about it. And that is…

TO KINDLE OR NOT TO KINDLE?

Kindles have been a creation banded around for a while now but with the launch of ibooks on iPhone and iPads and not really knowing anyone who jumped on the kindle band-wagon, I was starting to think of them as the mini-disk (aw) of the technology world.

Until this strange shift in the universe happened where suddenly every day I hear someone talk about them as the ultimate object of desire! Every Christmas wishlist I see uses the K word multiple times. Every magazine I open has them leaping out at me. When did this happen! When did kindle stop being something you use to fuel a fire? I feel like a dinosaur as all my nearest and dearest suddenly have a very “duh yeah kindles, everyone has/wants one” attitude whilst I clutch to my (big, smell, heavy) books and frown in the direction of something so clinical and well… the opposite of everything I love about books!

I am a huge bookworm. I have been ever since books were used as a treat (over sweets) when I was growing up and this has groomed me into much preferring to tuck into a good novel than a Wispa. I love absolutely everything about books, and by that I mean physical book object. The smell! The clean, crisp paper/ink smell of a new hardback Vs the old, musty, plastic smell of an old library reject. I love the text and the comfort of holding a book close and the change in weight as you move the bulk of pages from left to right as you wade through each chapter.

Don’t get me wrong, as someone attending PHYSIO partly because I have really irritated my back by carrying around a mini-lending-library for most of my life, I can see the perks of the kindle. The ease of having so much in such a small, light place. I too am dazzled by the technology and the almost sci-fi-real-future-stuff that you could condense an entire lifes collection of novels into one tiny device. As I said recently, the pure bulk and weight of one book has left me only able to read it at home. Ahhhh the kindle sneers at me, not a problem with me!  I also never thought I would be comfortable replacing CDs with an iPod but look at me now – selling my lifes CD collection on music magpie to pay for Christmas presents!

But, I think there is something different with books to CDs. I haven’t got emotionally attached to the CD case you know? Or the sleeve! Just the musical content which is identical if you play it on mp3. But with books, each of my collection has absorbed memories and I can pinpoint the exact location or time and year I read it. Sand in the spine, chocolate fingerprints, phone numbers scrawled on pages, inscriptions for birthdays and Christmas…

Until a kindle can offer me this (don’t think chocolate finger prints and technology work really; probably why my laptop went to PC heaven!) I think I’ll stick to my bulky, pain inducing real books thanks.

Please tell me your views. Top of your wishlist? Why? Perhaps I’m alone in my world of resistance!

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