Thursday, 31 January 2013

Review: Ten Out of Ten, Meg Cabot

Ten Out of Ten (Princess Diaries #10)

Meg Cabot

Macmillan Children's, 2009 (2008)

Mia is about to turn eighteen and has decided to put down her princess pen for good. This is your one and only chance to find out how it all ends - including answers to hotter than hot questions like:

Is the practically perfect J.P. the real love of Mia's life?

Has Michael Moscovitz fallen for a brainbox Japanese beauty?

And is Mia REALLY the last unicorn at Albert Einstein High?

In the last instalment of the Princess Diaries series, Mia is about to graduate from high school and turn eighteen. In the time between this book and the previous one, Mia has finished her romance novel (Ransom My Heart), been accepted to every college she applied to, and is preparing for graduation, prom, and the huge birthday party her Grandmere is throwing for her.

I haven't read all of the Princess Diaries books, but the ones I have read have always been entertaining and when I saw this in the library I thought it would be fun to see what happened to Mia (and whether she would ever get back together with Michael, he of the nice smelling neck and brother of her ex-best-friend Lilly). The book is the usual mixture of Mia's diary entries, IMs, and notes and text messages passed between her and her friends, with the added inclusion of pages from her romance novel and the stack of rejection letters she keeps receiving in the post. Mia is a funny, very likable protagonist, and despite the whole princess thing manages to be entirely believable throughout, from her exasperation with her family to being completely dense about boys and just a little bit worried that she might be the last virgin left in her graduating class. Her diary entries veer from thoughtful to hopeful to despairing to absolutely manic, and her internal thought processes are both recognisable and very funny.

The sex thing was dealt with really well, I thought - most of Mia's friends have had sex, and Mia is kind of embarrassed by still being a virgin and decides it might be time to sleep with her boyfriend, even though he smells like dry cleaning fluid. (He is perfect, after all.) It was nice to see it acknowledged that an eighteen year old girl might actually want to have sex, but also that it shouldn't be rushed into with the wrong person.

Despite his apparent perfection, J.P. is incredibly unappealing and far too shiny for my tastes, so it was nice to see the return of Michael, even if he and Mia tend to confuse each other endlessly. I like how Mia's friends have changed through the series - again, that felt more realistic and in keeping with the fact that lots of people drift apart as teenagers - and in this book Mia starts to see who she can really rely on. I liked that she and Lilly had a little bit more interaction, and that the book was focused on friendships as well as relationships.

Mia's Grandmere was hilarious as usual, frustrated with Mia's lack of ability to pick a prom dress or dis-invite her less appealing relatives from her high profile birthday party, but Mia also finds her grandmother's advice useful at times, and the balance was nice to see. One thing I like about these books is Mia's family is always very present and involved in her life, even if that does sometimes cause more problems than solutions. As a conclusion to the whole series, I thought the book did a great job of tying up all the loose ends and sending Mia off into the future a few steps closer to that self-actualisation goal she was always talking about in the earlier books.

Overall rating: 8/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: Doppler, Erlend Loe


Erlend Loe

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw

Head of Zeus, 2012 (2004)

I have been waiting for another of Erlend Loe's books to be translated into English ever since reading Naive. Super, one of my absolute favourite, I-want-you-to-read-it-but-I'm-not-giving-you-my-copy books. When I received a copy of Doppler for Christmas, I had to stop myself diving straight in and devouring the whole thing. (It's a pretty short book.)

There's always the fear with a highly-anticipated book that it won't live up to expectations, and Doppler does start rather unconventionally by having Doppler himself killing an elk in the forest, but a few pages in there is a wonderfully long and involved rant about children's television and a dissection of the role of the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine, which made me laugh out loud and convinced me that this was another Loe novel worth savouring.

Doppler's father has recently died, and when he is out cycling one day he falls off his bike and has an epiphany of sorts: he will live in the forest and leave behind his old life, which Doppler has come to believe is tainted by consumerism, conformity, aspiration and too much 'niceness'. Discussing his decision to leave his family and his home back in a suburb of Oslo, he says: "I'm not exaggerating when I say my wife thinks it's strange that I'm living up in the forest now. She doesn't think much of it, it seems. I don't blame her."

It is Loe's writing that I love and that I find so funny and tragic all at the same time. It would be wrong to say Doppler is on a quest to honour his father, because part of his living-in-the-forest is a decision to do nothing, to stop being useful, and to simply cultivate boredom alongside the baby elk, Bongo, who Doppler has adopted and who quickly becomes his best friend. Yet honouring his father - or, perhaps, simply remembering him - is a central theme of the book, triggered by Doppler's realisation that he didn't know his dad at all, after his mother shows him a collection of photographs his father took while he was alive, all depicting a place he'd done a piss.

There is a slightly absurd quality to Doppler, and this is where a lot of the magic seems to lie. Doppler is frustrated with his teenage daughter, Nora, who is obsessed with Tolkien and all things Elvish, and is eager to rescue his young son Gregus from the trappings of middle class life before it's too late. He attends a parents' evening at his wife's request, and shocks the other parents with his unkempt appearance; he invites a burglar into his family's home; and he befriends a neighbour who is also attempting to come to terms with his father's death. Doppler is a sympathetic character, a man trying to come to terms with his life and wider society, never vindictive but often frustrated with the pedantry of other people, dinner parties with fake friends, and the endless arguments over which bathroom suite is better.

Throughout, Loe's writing (brilliantly translated) is blackly humourous, sparse and funny. It's the tone that made Naive. Super such a joy to read, and Doppler has a similar feel: understated, hopeful and despairing all at the same time. Doppler's attempt to discover what really matters with the help of a baby elk and a tiny tent  is sometimes touching, often hilarious and always unique.

"I am a cyclist. And I'm a husband and a father and a son and an employee. And a house owner. And lots of other things. We are so many things."

Overall rating: 9.5/10

Book source: Received as a gift from my dad.

Doppler counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #17

Hosted by the lovely Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

My usual Saturday morning ritual was hampered slightly today by copious amounts of ice, after it rained and all the snow froze overnight. So it was kind of like skating down the road, instead. But never fear - I came home armed with vegetables, veggie burgers, and a nice little stack of library books (after promising myself I'd just be returning stuff today...)

Megan McCafferty - Bumped

A dystopian world in which only teenagers can get pregnant.

Christopher Isherwood - Goodbye To Berlin

A collection of interconnected short stories set in 1930s Berlin, focusing on characters threatened by the Nazis' increasing power. (The story of Sally Bowles would later become Cabaret.)

György Dragomán - The White King

A Hungarian novel about life behind the Iron Curtain, from the perspective of eleven year old Djata.

(This will count towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.)

Reviews posted this week:
Kiersten White - Paranormalcy
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of Four

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Review: Paranormalcy, Kiersten White

Paranormalcy (Paranormalcy #1)

Kiersten White

Harper Collins Children's, 2011 (2010)

Vampires. Werewolves. Faeries. Shapeshifters.

Evie's always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal.

Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths, and even worse, that she is at the centre of a dark prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

Paranormal creatures, as Austin Powers might say in an attempt to shamelessly show my age, aren't really my bag. With YA fiction I tend to gravitate towards contemporary stuff, and Paranormalcy promised a whole host of creatures I'm not used to seeing outside an episode of Buffy. But I've been following Kiersten White's blog for a while now, and figured it was time to give Paranormalcy a chance.

I'm glad I did, because there were a lot of things I liked about this book. Evie is a sixteen year old girl who lives at the IPCA headquarters, an organisation who monitor paranormal creatures and detain them, eliminating them as a risk. Evie has the unique talent of being able to see through the 'glamours' of these creatures, and is able to spot them hiding in plain sight. Therefore, she's a huge asset to IPCA, and can barely remember a life before it.

I return to everyone's favourite vampire slayer here, because there are shades of Buffy in Paranormalcy, from the very first page where Evie and a vampire share some witty banter (with Evie successfully completing the 'bag and tag' mission), to the desire on Evie's part to just live a normal life. The overarching story, concerning a fiery villain, some evil faeries, and some kind of prophecy, didn't particularly grab me, if I'm honest - I imagine the whole thing will get fleshed out in the rest of the trilogy, and it felt a little under-explained at times here. 

What was more interesting for me was Evie's desire for a little bit of normality, and her developing feelings towards Lend, shapeshifter and boy on a secret mission. This was more familiar territory for me, and was fun (and funny) to read. The writing is fast-paced, light and smart, and I thought Evie's agonising over whether Lend liked her (and whether he would ever hold her hand in a non-perilous situation) was spot-on.

One of the blurbs on the back of this copy suggested there was some kind of love triangle, and reading it I was genuinely creeped out by that idea, because Reth - the faerie who constantly pops up where he's least expected (and wanted) - wasn't my idea of a romantic figure. He keeps going on about "filling" Evie, which was both weird and slightly alarming (it might not have been meant sexually, as becomes clear later in the book, but it certainly retained those overtones at the time). He appears in Evie's room unannounced and won't leave her alone, telling her they need to be together and constantly asking her to "dance" with him. Every time he appeared in the book I wanted someone to give him a slap, and I really wasn't comfortable with the idea of him as someone being a romantic choice for Evie. (Since then, I have read a comment somewhere else by Kiersten White saying Reth was never meant as a love interest in this series, which correlates more with the feeling I had when reading it. However, I have seen a lot of chatter on Goodreads where a number of people seem to have conflated "CREEPY STALKER BOY" with "SEXY AND PROTECTIVE", which makes me almost as sad as when one of the girls I teach told me she loved Chris Brown.)

Paranormalcy was a fun, fast read, and appealed to the side of me that liked the high school scenes more than the fighting scenes in Buffy. While the main storyline didn't grab me, Evie was an interesting protagonist and I'd be tempted to tune in for more Evie-and-Lend in the future.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet / The Sign of Four

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Kindle Edition, 2012 (1927)


I am in the process of reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and thought I would share some reviews as I went along. The introduction to this edition, by Robert Ryan, digs a little deeper into Watson's background, an interesting (if slightly self-promotional for the man whose novel uses Watson as its protagonist) addition to the stories.


A Study in Scarlet: "A Study in Scarlet" is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time when they become flat-mates at the famous 221 B Baker Street. In "A Study in Scarlet" Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.

Quote: "Where there is no imagination there is no horror."

A Study in Scarlet documents the beginning of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and his on/off lodger, Dr. John Watson. The story begins with some background to Watson's life, including his time in the Afghan War, and the two men are brought together by their mutual desire for someone to share the rent with.

Enter Sherlock - cool, calculating, obsessive and endlessly intriguing, and oft-consulted by the London police force. The story follows a murder case that is complicated by numerous clues and circumstances that only Sherlock is able to fathom, while Watson and the two policemen, Lestrade and Gregson, range from having no idea to arresting the wrong man.

Holmes, meanwhile, catches the real murderer largely off the page, only revealing his hand at the end of part one. At this point, with the murderer's name revealed, the story veers off somewhat unexpectedly, zooming in on a desperate, dying man and a young girl, who are rescued by a band of Mormon pioneers heading towards Utah, where Salt Lake City will be founded. The roots of the earlier murder, and indeed the whole mystery, are located in this second section, yet at times it seemed a little drawn out. This is not to say that part two is uninteresting, but that Doyle creates such compelling characters in Holmes and Watson that I was more interested in them than the epic backstory.

There is no way for the reader to unravel A Study In Scarlet without Sherlock's help, which somewhat goes against the usual format of a mystery, but it was a pleasure to see Sherlock and Watson on their first meeting, and some clever slivers of deduction from Holmes whets the reader's appetite for the adventures that follow.

The Sign of Four: Yellow fog is swirling through the streets of London, and Sherlock Holmes himself is sitting in a cocaine-induced haze until the arrival of a distressed and beautiful young lady forces the great detective into action. Each year following the strange disappearance of her father, Miss Morstan has received a present of a rare and lustrous pearl. Now, on the day she is summoned to meet her anonymous benefactor, she consults Holmes and Watson.

Quote: "...he had a most marked aversion to men with wooden legs."

Holmes and Watson are visited by a distraught woman with a long-missing father. Miss Morstan, who has begun to receive valuable pearls and cryptic notes in the post, elicits the help of the two men to solve the mystery, only to find that the first mystery soon becomes enveloped by a second, more sinister one.

A complex affair, involving stolen treasure, a hidden boat, and the mystery 'sign of the four', this mystery spans generations and continents, and takes the form of a more conventional mystery story, allowing the reader access to more clues even as, inevitably, such clues are only clear to Sherlock himself. Watson, distracted by his attraction to Miss Morstan, remains largely baffled, but willing to go along with Holmes' bizarre commands as they race the recover the mysterious treasure.

A wonderful, intricate adventure, with a little bit of romance on the side for Watson (and plenty of disdainful commentary from his cocaine-addicted roommate...)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #16

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

This week I stopped off in the Central Library in Birmingham, only to discover that because the new, shiny Library of Birmingham is opening in June, most of the books are now in storage. This is a picture of what the new library will look like - I'm very excited!

I did, however, pick up a couple of books:

Bunheads - Sophie Flack

Rose By Any Other Name - Maureen McCarthy

Bonus - this one will count towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge!

This weekend has been very snowy, right from Thursday night onwards, and the university campus closed down yesterday lunchtime, so I had a very snowy evening curled up inside! I ended up watching We Bought A Zoo, which was a bit like Field of Dreams with animals, but it did have an excellent soundtrack - most of it was done by Jonsi, but there was also some Neil Young, Temple of the Dog, Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready to enjoy.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Review: Grimm's Fairy Stories, Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm

Grimm's Fairy Stories

Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm

Kindle edition (public domain), originally published 1812

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel: these stories, plus numerous less well-known ones, make up this compendium of fairytales, collated originally by the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Like numerous new Kindle owners, I downloaded this for free to try out my ereader and to revisit a lingering fascination with these old fairytales, stripped of their Disney gloss and trendy YA makeovers.

The stories themselves are a bit hit and miss - short, with little extraneous detail, some are funny, most moralising, and a fair number are out and out strange. Benevolent kings, wicked stepmothers and greedy sons abound, creeping around in forests and coveting gold and silver, not to mention ignoring that ugly old woman in the cottage at their peril. On the other hand, young, beautiful women are there to be fallen in love with (often at first glance) and kidnapped 'rescued' - a far cry from their modern-day counterparts of Cinder and Scarlet and the raft of other fairytale-inspired novels that have emerged more recently.

But as storytelling goes, in its most simple, straightforward way, with a message and a purpose (even if that message does come via a talking, albeit beheaded, horse), this is a collection worth a read, if only to see the roots of a large chunk of literature, and to marvel at a time when getting a girl to marry you was as easy as carrying her off on a horse...

Overall rating: 6/10

Book source: Free Kindle download.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Being brave: the dreaded DNF

As an almost-rule, I am a compulsive finisher of books. I read so fast as a kid that I would read and re-read (and re-read again) most books in my collection, and a lot of books from the library, just to constantly have something with words and pages in my hand. This would include books that I wasn't really getting along with, because every book deserves a chance, right? Plus, great or not, it was a new story to plough through, and to a kid with limited pocket money and a library with a finite selection of kids and teen books, that was enough.

As a result, though, I've read some pretty terrible books in my time.

I finally DNF'ed something a couple of years ago, when I gave up Stephen King's Black House as a bad job, and moved on to something else. Over Christmas, I was reading Death Comes to Pemberley, the P.D. James crime novel set six years after the events of Pride & Prejudice. On paper, this was an exciting mixture of a brilliant crime writer and an intriguing look at some beloved characters, and yet by the time I was halfway through I just didn't care. The writing was unengaging, the plot was plodding and I cared neither about the character who was dead, or who might have done it. (My mum was, incidentally, reading it at the same time by coincidence, and although she finished it she was reasonably underwhelmed.)

So I gave it up and put it to one side, and today I finally marked some other stuff as DNF on Goodreads. Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth, fascinating as the idea is, failed to grab me in the first place and has been dragged from bookcase to shelf over the last three years as I've moved house again and again, only to remain largely untouched a couple of chapters in. The audiobook of Bill Bryson's Down Under was something of a chore - I was hoping for a more positive foray into audiobooks when I picked this up at the library, but the narrator is appalling. He reads in an affected American accent, presumably to mirror Bryson, and the frequent lapses into an Australian accent hurt my brain. I'm sure the book is great, and I'm a big fan of Bryson, but I've had to stop listening to this.

Although a little part of me feels bad about giving up on these books and casting them aside, I'm now free of them, and free to go and read something else that I might actually enjoy. My time is increasingly limited, and as a result I'm less inclined to carry on with a book that isn't holding my attention. It's taken a while, but I think I'm finally happy to DNF the duds!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #15

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

This weekend I walked IN THE SNOW to the library. Granted, the snow didn't settle, and it didn't stay around for too long, but SNOW, people. I love snow. In Doppler, Doppler himself says:

"Snow is the only weather I really like. Nothing makes me less grumpy than snow." (He goes on to say that "Furthermore, I like the fact that there are people who don't like snow. Who become irritable when the snow arrives. Who, after a whole lifetime in Norway, haven't managed to accept snow and still allow themselves to be riled by it.") I, too, am a fan of snow, although I much prefer the thick, crunchy snow to it's-raining-white-rain stuff.

Anyway. Spending so long in the library didn't do much for the four pints of milk I was carrying in my rucksack (because I had just come from doing my food shopping, not because I'm a milk fiend), but I did find some books that I'm excited to start reading.

Andrea Camilleri - The Voice of the Violin (An Inspector Montalbano Mystery)

Not a series I've read before, but this one caught my eye. As a bonus, it will also count towards my 2013 Translation Challenge, as this has been translated from the original Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

Kiersten White - Paranormalcy

The first book in the Paranormalcy series, and a complete deviation from my usual genre of YA, but I have been following Kiersten on Twitter and reading her blog for a while now, and I thought I'd give it a go!

Meg Cabot - Ten Out of Ten (Princess Diaries #10)

I've read a few of the PD series, mostly the earlier books, and though I enjoyed them I was never inclined to seek out the later books in the series (mostly because the library seemed to have lots of #6 and none of #8, or at least you get the idea!). But it'll be fun to see how the series ended, and I do like Mia. (I think this is titled Forever Princess elsewhere.)

Gah, shiny book covers.
Yes, that is Philip Roth's Nemesis at the bottom of that pile, as featured in a Showcase Sunday from a while back. I only read a couple of chapters before having to take it back to the library before Christmas, but it was available again so I picked it up.

Reviews posted this week:
Jane Austen - Pride & Prejudice (7.5/10)
Terry Pratchett - The Wee Free Men (6.5/10)

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Review: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

Pride & Prejudice

Jane Austen

Kindle edition (public domain), 1998 (1813)

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited, while he struggles to remain indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

So, I finally did it. My knowledge of the great love affair between Elizabeth and Darcy is now no longer reliant on what I remember from the ITV series Lost in Austen. Rejoice.

It is odd to be writing a review of a book so seemingly ubiquitous, a book that I always felt like I should have read, to the point where reading it now was almost more odd than never reading it at all. Surely I should have written an exam on this as a sixteen year old, not read it for fun ten years later. I have to say I wasn't convinced straight away, and about halfway through I abandoned ship for a while. While the story was interesting, I found the writing a little bit stodgy and all the Mr. ____ and Miss ____ characters kept getting jumbled in my mind. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, of Longbourn in Hertfordshire, have five daughters, all unwed; on Mr. Bennet's death, their estate will pass to a cousin, Mr. Collins, leaving Mrs. Bennet and her daughters in a bit of a fix. As a result, Mrs. Bennet - a vulgar, not particularly likable woman - is intent on marrying off her daughters and snagging any likely bachelor that passes by their house. Enter Mr. Bingley, eligible and rich, and so the events of the book begin. Mrs. Bennet conspires to have her eldest daughter Jane stranded at Mr. Bingley's home, where she might impress him and obtain a marriage proposal, and as the novel unfolds the pursuit of a stable, prosperous future for her daughters becomes Mrs. Bennet's chief aim, even as their social standing, their mother's vulgarity, and their own hopes are sent to destabilise matters.

Though Elizabeth and Darcy are at the centre of Pride & Prejudice, this was less about the two of them than I imagined, and Austen brings in a lot of interesting elements regarding the position of women in society, the reliance on marrying (and marrying well), the destruction and shame of lost 'virtue' for a young woman, and the power of class and money. Elizabeth, as expected, is a compelling and vibrant heroine, headstrong and lively without being insufferable, and she finds a nice counterpoint in her more forgiving sister Jane. The younger Bennet sisters are less fleshed out - Mary is studious, while Kitty and Lydia (she of the nearly-lost virtue) are vacuous and silly, much like their mother. I was pleasantly surprised by the wit in Austen's writing - the style took a while to get used to, and it felt a little laborious at first, but once I got into the flow of things it was easier to pick out the humour.

I enjoyed the way that the novel was propelled forwards by chance encounters, idle speculations and snippets of conversation, as well as a nice dollop of temporary misunderstanding and missed letters. The plot meanders a little at times, perhaps because ultimately this is a novel of words rather than action. Yet overall this was a long overdue read for me, with much of the book's appeal not in the famous love story but in the issues that Austen raises regarding women and freedom that give Pride & Prejudice its edge.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Free Kindle download.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30) (Tiffany Aching #1)

Terry Pratchett

Corgi Children's, 2004 (2003)

Up on the chalk downs known as The Wold, witches are banned -- ever since the Baron’s son vanished in the woods. Anyway, as all witches know, chalk is no good for magic.

Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching thinks her Granny Aching -- a wise shepherd -- might have been a witch, but now Granny Aching is dead and it’s up to Tiffany to work it all out when strange things begin happening. There’s a fairy-tale monster in the stream, a headless horseman and, strangest of all, the tiny blue men in kilts, the Wee Free Men, who have come looking for the new “hag”. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, the pictsies, who like nothing better than thievin’ , fightin’ and drinkin’. When Tiffany’s young brother goes missing, Tiffany and the Wee Free Men must join forces to save him from the Queen of the Fairies.

Miss Tick can sense there's a witch around - but surely not on The Chalk. No witch ever came from chalk. Except here's young Tiffany Aching, sporting a distinctly un-witch-like name and yet fighting off monsters with only a frying pan (and her little brother as bait). So maybe a witch can come from chalk after all. And if anyone was going to be a witch, then maybe the granddaughter of Granny Aching - shepherd, grandmother, and all around formidable woman with a penchant for Jolly Sailor tobacco - is the one to do it.

The Wee Free Men is a young adult Discworld novel. It reminded me of the previous (and first) Discworld book I read, Equal Rites, which features another unlikely girl with unlikely powers (in that case Esk, who against all gender expectations becomes a wizard). Here, Tiffany is resigned to a life of making cheese and being annoyed by her little brother, until she starts to display some equally unexpected powers, drawing the attention of both Miss Tick and the Wee Free Men, or Nag Mac Feegle, a band of pictsies who love nothing better than a good brawl and a lot of whiskey. When Tiff's little brother is taken by the evil Queen, she enlists the help of the Wee Free Men, disappearing into an alternate world of dreams, nightmares and wonky fairytale creatures in order to rescue him.

This book is clever and funny, and manages to be gloriously silly whilst making absolute sense all at the same time. The no-nonsense witches, although they don't appear throughout, were my favourite characters. Witches on the Discworld don't draw attention to themselves, but rather go about their business in a sensible fashion, making sure their pointy hats are invisible if necessary. Tiffany is a great heroine - daring and resolute and not about to ignore her brother's plight just because he's fantastically irritating and only thinks about sweets. Faced with the prospect of having to marry one of the Wee Free Men in order to become kelda of their clan, a bit of quick thinking gets her out of that particular jam, and it was nice to read about a girl being messy and resourceful and heroic in that way that Pratchett, from my limited exposure to him, seems to do very well. The subplot, involving Tiffany and her grandmother, was also a nice touch.

This is a great introduction to the Discworld, and a quick, funny read (with plenty of jokes and puns that would probably pass younger readers by).  I would have liked more of the witches, and against the pace of the book I was sometimes eager for more explanation of some things. However, I was lent the book as an introduction to Pratchett, and it didn't disappoint.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from my friend's dad.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Showcase Sunday: Post-Christmas edition!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

I hope everyone had a good holiday, and a good Christmas if you celebrated! (Here is my Christmas-in-pictures!)

One of my gifts this year was a Kindle, which I have been having lots of fun with. :) I was always a little bit sceptical about ereaders, mostly because I am a fan of actual books, but I also do a lot of train travelling, and carrying all those books is never much fun! Aside from that, I was looking for another way to read PDF articles, and this seemed like a good way of getting around the problem of having to read them all on my laptop.

I have been really impressed with it so far - the screen is really easy to read, and it's pretty awesome being able to fit so many books into my bag! I've downloaded a few things for it so far:

- Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen (to continue where I left off reading it on my computer; review this week!)

- Grimm's Fairy Tales - Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

- Persuasion - Jane Austen

- The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I also finished reading Thirteen, a short story by Jennifer Gladden, a friend of mine and partner in crime from my year abroad. :)

Aside from my forays into futuristic reading, I also received a copy of Doppler by Erlend Loe, a book I have been excited about for a while now ever since I found out it was (finally) being translated into English from the original Norwegian, and which will also count towards my goal as part of the 2013 Translation Challenge!

Finally, I received Pearl Jam Twenty, a history of the band over the last twenty years, including their roots in Green River and Mother Love Bone. I saw the film in the cinema last year on its one-night-only release, and I'm excited to read this and go through some of the old pictures!

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

So yesterday, I posted about signing up for the 2013 Translation Challenge, hosted by Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm, and how until that point I hadn't really seen any challenges around that interested me enough to compel me to sign up.

And then...

I have decided to sign up for a second challenge, as brought to my attention by Mandee: the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013!

Sign up here!
The aim is to read a number of books written by (surprise!) Australian women, regardless of when they were published. In 2012 I read Losing It by Julia Lawrinson, which served as a wonderful introduction to contemporary Australian YA, and there are a number of other books by Australian women lurking on my TBR list - Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo, Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (as well as On The Jellicoe Road), and plenty more titles that have caught my eye at some time or another.

I find one of the appeals of Australian YA is seeing the similarities (and differences) between Australian and British culture, and my city's library service is pretty good at bringing in non-US teen fiction for a bit of variety and balance. I'm also interested to do a bit of digging and find some adult fiction, too!

I've gone for the "Stella" challenge level, which is to read at least 4 books written by Australian women, and review at least 3 of them. I'll create a blog tag here so all the reviews are kept together.

Let me know if you're taking part!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

2013 Translation Challenge

I have been toying with the idea of participating in a reading challenge this year, but nothing really grabbed me until I saw that Ellie over at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm was hosting the 2013 Translation Challenge, where the intention is to read 12 (or your chosen number) books that have been translated into English from any other language.

(click on the image for more details!)
I enjoy reading Scandinavian crime fiction, and in the past couple of years I've read some really great books translated from German, Romanian and Norwegian, so I thought I would give this challenge a go! As a bonus, I received a copy of Doppler by Erlend Loe for Christmas (a Norwegian - English translation from THAT AUTHOR I CAN'T STOP GOING ON ABOUT!), so I've got a ready-made place from which to start.

I have a feeling my workload this year is going to be heavy, so rather than 12 books, I'm setting myself the challenge of reading 6 translations over the year. I'm not setting any additional restrictions, although I am going to make an effort to try at least one non-European translation.

Let me know if you're taking part too, or what other challenges you're getting involved in this year!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

I choose you! Top ten books to read in 2013

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I've participated in a Top Ten Tuesday, as hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but this week's topic was Top Ten Books You Have Resolved to Read in 2013, and I thought it would be a nice way to kick the blog into the new year. (Gently, of course.)

1. The Treasure Map of Boys / Real Live Boyfriends (Ruby Oliver #3 and #4) by E. Lockhart

I voted this my favourite series read in 2012 after reading books #1 (review) and #2 (review), and I really want to find out what happens next!

2. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Because I loved Anna like most other people loved Anna, and I've been waiting for the paperback to be released, which is finally happening in April!

3. Nemesis by Philip Roth

As regular readers will probably have picked up on by now, Roth is one of my favourite authors. This is his last book, published in 2010. He has since announced his retirement from writing.

4. Transparent by Natalie Whipple

I started following Natalie's blog while I was taking part in Nanowrimo a few years ago, and during that time she got her first book deal. Transparent is her debut novel and I'm excited to read it!

5. Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling #1) by Megan McCafferty

I am a big fan of contemporary YA, and Tara at The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh has mentioned these books a few times (along with lots of other bloggers!) - they sound exactly like my kind of thing.

6. Doppler by Erlend Loe

For a tiny slip of a book, Naive. Super by Erlend Loe is one of the books I go on about the most. Until recently, I hadn't been able to find any of his other books translated into English, but Doppler was released recently and I can't wait to read it!

7. Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer is perhaps my favourite non-fiction writer, and this is his most recent book (although I think it's a couple of years old now), which I have yet to read.

8. The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

I first became aware of Valenti as the editor of Feministing, a position she has since moved on from. A part of my doctoral research has coalesced around sexuality in American culture, and this looks like an interesting book I've been meaning to read for a while.

9. Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman

I've always been intrigued by Grimms' Fairy Tales in their original, slightly creepy forms, and I'm interested to see what Pullman has done with them.

10. Persuasion by Jane Austen

A friend of mine, hearing that I was reading Pride and Prejudice, suggested that I might enjoy Persuasion more, so I'm going to give it a go!