Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Wrap-up

Can you believe we're already one month down in 2012? It's raced by so quickly, probably because of the 1000 things I had to get done this month. While I made the most of my remaining holiday by reading everything possible and watching all the films and TV series I'd been meaning too, I also worked, celebrated Tom's birthday, helped my sister find a new house, let her stay with me for a few weeks, organised this year's uni schedule, started up a new exercise regime and tried to introduce more healthy food into our house. Pheww! 2012 has started off fantastically, and I can't wait to see where the rest of the year takes me!

Hosted by Booking in Heels 
10 books and 1 film.
Completed the graphic novel so far, the other books are waiting eagerly in my bookshelf to be read.

Books Read:
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel) by Alan Moore - These two volumes were a little hit and miss for me, but the inclusion of well-known literary characters was a definite highlight for me.
Read review here.

Next to read: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

One sci-fi book a month.

One book down, this month I joined in the group reading choice, but I'm not sure if I'll be staying on this path each month.

Books read:
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - A great start to the challenge. Sci-fi light, but interesting and chock-full of concepts and ideas that had me very intrigued.
Read my review here

Next to read: TBA. Something by Philip K. Dick I think.

Aim: 50

Progress: 12 read so far.

Books read:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman - A new favourite. This book rekindled all the love I had in my childhood for magical stories of unicorns, elves, league boots and adventures.
Read review here.

All Her Father's Guns by James Warner - One of the first review books I read for the year. Biting satire that leaves no one untouched.
Read review here.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin - Just as great as the film. Subtly creepy, and an interesting look at life in the 1960s.
Read review here.

Anything New:
*I took part in a readathon the other weekend. It was a mini 12 hour task that I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in. You can read up on my progress in my progress reports for part one, two, three and four (which includes the challenges). Thanks to Sarah, of Sarah Says Read for hosting!

*I was accepted into the Phd project at my uni, so it looks like I'll be a student once again! I can't wait to begin, but I hope it doesn't mean I have to slow down my blogging too much!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Links

*I can't wait to have kids so I can dress them up in costumes and take photos of them. Damn, they're going to hate me so, so much! (CubicleBot)

*A lucky charity store found themselves in possession of a signed limited edition Conan Doyle novel! Eeep! (BBC)

*Francis Firebrace is an Aboriginal elder who is known for his wonderful tales of the Dreamtime. Help him live on by contributing to this Kickstarter-style project to create a film about him. (Indiegogo)

*Alan Moore meets the men and women who now where his V for Vendetta mask in their Occupy protests. A really interesting video. (Washington Post)

*It's National Year of Reading here in Australia!! Check out the official website for events, messages and wonderful thingymagigos! (Love2Read)

*The top 5 crazy/genius crime writers. Worth it just for the James Ellroy video. Seriously. He's kind of my new favourite person. (litreactor)

*A review of Coleson Whitehead's new zombie "with brains" book Zone One. Some interesting passing statements of the genre and literature (Sydney Morning Herald)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

By Neil Gaiman

Published: 1998

Synopsis: In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is cold and distant as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky one evening. For the prize of Victoria's hand, Tristan vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town's ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining...

OK. So before I get into my review I just want to share something that made me a little giddy and fan-girly and I can't help but share it. As I was copying the synopsis of this book onto this review I noticed that the title character was referred to as Tristan instead of Tristran. I freaked out for a minute thinking that I was such a bad reader that I had invented an unusual name in the place of a normal one, but a quick scan of the actual text and a google search (thanks Wikipedia!) proved that I had indeed been reading the name correctly. I mentioned it in a tweet, and amazingly enough, Neil Gaiman actually responded! So he only said about 6 words to me over two tweets, but I'm still playing with the idea of printing this out and framing it, regardless! It's one of those moments that make me so happy for modern technology, I just conversed with one of my heroes. Dude.

But enough of my fan-girly giddyness, on to the review! This was a wonderful book, if I was still doing my rating system it would have been an instant 5 stars. I know there are readers out there who refuse to admit their favourite authors can do anything wrong and just rate books highly because they're written by Mr(s) X, but this definitely isn't the case. This book was such a lovely reminder of the stories I grew up with, those beloved Enid Blyton books of faraway worlds atop faraway trees with delicious characters, and those quirky and heart-filling tales by Roald Dahl mixing magic with reality. They were the books that taught me to love reading and to love the magic that exists in our world and our imagination, and they definitely lay the building blocks for my current identity and personality.

The book begins "there was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire," and if you asked me to sum up the entire book that'd probably be the most perfect way possible. Every character is searching for their heart's desire, and while many of their story lines cross and their needs conflict, they all that in common. Tristran is our protagonist and lives in the town of Wall, a sweet, if dull, little English hamlet that has one very special feature. It borders the entrance to Faerieland, and one every few years people from both sides of the wall (i.e. our world and Faerieland) gather to hold a market selling wonderfully odd and bizarre objects and food. It's at one of these fairs that Tristran's father is granted his heart's desire (and that of the next few generations) and succumbs to a night of passion with an imprisoned elfy-magical lady from Faerieland and fathers Tristran.

Years later, Tristran believes that his heart's desire is Victoria, a beautiful girl from Wall who has the attention of every other man in town too. In a bid to win her heart and prove his worth, he makes the promise to journey past the wall into Faerieland and collect the star that both of them saw fall. And with a heart full of love, and a promise to fulfil, the adventure begins.

Unfortunately for Tristran, the journey to collect the star for the beautiful Victoria isn't exactly easy. The first real snag in the plan occurs when he arrives at the star's location. In the place of a chunk of rock is a young woman named Yvaine with a broken leg and a case of the grumps. Not surprising though, considering she'd been minding her business all star-like before a jewel came spinning through the air and knocked her down to earth. Which brings in complication number 2, that jewel is the object of desire for three brothers who are desperate to obtain it and thus rule over their father's kingdom now that he's dead. And if the star being a person who has in her possession the jewel most desired by three murderous brothers wasn't enough, then there are the witches. It seems that the heart of a fallen star is a mighty fine way to get over that pesky old-age problem that occurs when you've been alive for millennia. So along with the pesky small-folk, unicorns, tricky landscapes and huge, huge distances, Tristran has his hands full of cranky stars, jealous and malicious witches and ambitious brothers. He certainly isn't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

 The adventure itself is fairly conventional. It sticks to the well-worn path introduced by countless children's authors writing about magical worlds or fantasy creatures, and because of this it ends up bordering this slightly awkward position between adult and children's story. The plethora of magic and questing and cheery little hairy men would easily appeal to children, but it also contains content that is most definitely written with an adult reader in mind. I think Neil Gaiman is quite clearly trying to write a fairytale for adults, and to show that it's quite alright to immerse yourself in such "childish" worlds, but  I think the conventional format could perhaps put up a barrier for adults who have read other Gaiman books but aren't used to such positive, whimsical stories by him.

However, as conventional as the plotting may be, this is a wonderful book. The characters are quirky, funny, whimsical and 5-dimensional (because three just don't cover it!) and the writing is so wonderfully Gaiman-y that I can't imagine anyone disliking this book. By combining well-known (and loved) fantasy/fairytale conventions with warm and interesting characters and the central theme of finding one's heart's desire Neil Gaiman weaves a warm and unbelievably happy book. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I followed the adventure and witnessed the characters making brave, stupid and wonderful decisions. Maybe it's because of my history with books like this and the memories it raised, but this is one of my new favourite books and certainly one which will soon become old and worn with my multiple re-reads!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fanart Friday: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Up this week for Fanart Friday is the cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the unique voice that is Hunter S. Thompson. This book is one of my favourites, not only because it's the book that introduced me to HST, but because it is far and away one of the most intelligent, unique, truthful and balls to the wall crazy books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It's hard for me to imagine the actions of the book played out differently to the iconic film adaptation starring Benico Del Toro and Johnny Depp, but these fine artists managed to strip those visualisations away and simply capture the raw edge and beauty that abounds in this work. As always, I highly encourage you to click through the links to see the pictures full size, as well as the other pieces by the artists.

Fear and Loathing Portrait by SketchDamn

Fur and Loathing in Las Vegas by BlueYoshiMenace
Fear and Loathing by Kaiser-mony

Along with these individual art pieces, I'd also like to present this fantastic series of images by Peter Waechter titled 'On the Edge of the Desert'. They are phenomenal and you should hurry over to Peter's facebook page because these are only the tip of a very talented iceberg.

On The Edge of the Desert I

On The Edge of the Desert II

On The Edge of the Desert III

On The Edge of the Desert IV
On The Edge of the Desert V

On The Edge of the Desert VI
On The Edge of the Desert RED

Thursday, January 26, 2012

review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (volume 1 and 2)

Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Kevin O'Neill

Published: 2001

Synopsis:(Volume one) Captain Nemo! The Invisible Man! Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! Intrepid explorer Allan Quatermain! These and other amazing heroes of the Victorian age unite to save the world in Alan Moore's legendary tale, the inspiration for the 2003 Sean Connery film.

(Volume two) When alien invaders from Mars mercilessly attack London, the British throne quickly calls upon the League to protect the empire. When one of the members dies a horrific death, the members must call upon Dr. Moreau as their last desperate hope.

For 2012 I decded I'd only take part in two challenges alongside the general Goodreads reading challenge. The one I've been most excited about though is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge. Not only is it a unique and clever idea for a challenge but it's the push I need to read some of those classic texts that I constantly overlook.

I decided that before I read original source materials I waned to get an idea of how the characters are portrayed in the original graphic novel. Now, while I haven't read the books, I haven't been living under a rock, so I have seen other literary/tv/film incarnations of them. At the end of the year I'm going to revisit this graphic novel and the film and see if any of my perceptions have changed.

Now, on to the graphic novel! The copy I bought is the omnibus edition which includes volumes one and two as well as two short story/novellas and a series of art pages featuring the various cover art. It's a beautiful hard cover book that I'm more than happy to add to my collection. I mean, seriously, how sexy is a book with some weight to it?!

So! The basic story is, Mr Bond, working for Mr M ropes the divorced and disgraced Wilhelmina (Mina) Harker into finding a group of disgraced/old/villainous men for Mr M. The group, when assembled, will be a specialised group that will have all the necessary requirements to fight the good fight for England, protect the country, the people etc etc. Of course, it isn't quite as described, but that's the basic line fed to them as reason for working together. The graphic novel assembles Mina Harker with the Opium-sot Mr Quartermain, dastardly pirate Captain Nemo, infamous Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde and the devious invisible man, Hawley Griffin. They're a ragamuffin group of not-so-nice dudes (and lady) with very little going for themselves, but together they actually manage to get some things right. They never truly trust each other, and their insults for one another rarely subside, but together they seem to regain some of their previous glory, and they prove that they're perhaps not so dispensable after all.

The two volumes see them pitted against a new foe, with the added mystery of exactly who they're working for included in volume one. I won't go into much detail about either plot here, but I felt like volume two strayed just a little too far into the ridiculous. The attacking aliens was just... a little too bad Star Trek-y? Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Star Trek fan, but every now and then there was an episode that was just a little too outrageous and silly that didn't have a strong story or message at it's core to help it succeed. Plus, there's a love story and a couple of other side-stories that just didn't really mesh coherently for my taste. It definitely succumbed to sequelitis, which was a shame since I enjoyed the first volume so, so much.

A lot of reliance is placed on the reader knowing these characters, at least to some degree. It takes it for granted that you know that Mina is from Dracula, because if you don't, you may not understand what the disgrace that is mentioned is, and you'd probably miss the subtle hints regarding her always keeping a scarf wound round her neck. And even when the scarf is removed towards the end of the volume two you still possibly wouldn't make the connection regarding the marks on her neck with the cryptic comments she makes. This reliance on the reader is both one of the novels finest points, but also one of its slipping points. On the one hand, the novel is rich with characters that have decades (and in some cases centuries) of emotions, subtext and characteristics imbued into them, meaning that every action, every line of dialogue, every reaction can be studied at close quarters to gain nuanced meaning that would otherwise be impossible in a story of this size. On the other hand, if you don't know these character's pasts then you miss out on much of the subtle story that threads between the lines (or within the pictures), and the characters and story may appear simple or even under-developed. Alan Moore took a real risk with this approach, and while I certainly enjoyed it, I can imagine the confusion some readers may face. It's sort of like watching the Harry Potter films without having read the books, there are certain characteristics or issues that were downplayed in the film, but were crucial to the understanding of the series as a whole.

While I'm sure I missed some of the more subtle hints and references with these characters, it was fun locating the other literary clues dotted through the stories. In volume two they stay at "Bleak House" and Gulliver (edit: of the moon not the travels) and Dr Moreau (amongst others) make cameos. Some are more obvious than others, but all are deftly included into the story, rather than just thrown in as though exclaiming "YEAH! I read books,I'm smart, me" like a certain author who writes about glittery vampires... Plus, because it's a graphic novel it's kind of a Where's Wally literary edition, how many can you find?!

So the characters were the driving force of the story, and depending on who you are, and your reading history, that may be a positive or a negative thing. I think that's probably a fair way of describing how I feel about this book. While I really enjoyed volume one, I felt like volume two was a let down. I can completely understand how someone could finish this book and love it, but I can completely understand someone who comes out disappointed, or disliking it. It ran out of steam, it shot up with such energy, creativity and uniqueness that there was nowhere for it to go but back down. A really interesting concept though, worth at least taking a look at in your library.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: All her father's guns by James Warner

All Her Father's Guns 
Written by James Warner

Published: 2011

Synopsis: Cal Lyte, a gun-loving venture capitalist is tired of paying alimony to his ex-wife Tabytha. Plotting to blackmail her and derail her campaign for congress, he enlists the help of their daughter's boyfriend, British academic Reid Seyton to unearth some Lyte family secrets. But the results turn out to be more than anyone bargained for, in an escalating cycle of revelations that will leave nobody's life the same.

All Her Father's Guns is an immensely entertaining and brilliantly satirical work that takes shots at each side of the political fence, the academic/theoretical arena and a billion other areas in between. Though the story alternates between narration by Cal Lyte, the gun-crazy libertarian, and his daughter's English academic boyfriend Reid Seyton (not pronounced Satan), it truly is Cal's story to tell. What begins as a desire to end his ongoing (and expensive) alimony payments to his ex-wife soon unravels into a turbulent affair of betrayals, election campaigns, life-changing decisions and atypical therapy sessions.

Cal is one of the craziest characters I've ever read. He's extreme in every possible way. He doesn't simply enjoy guns, he obsesses over them and has a cache of them which would put many small armies to shame. He's not simply conservative, he's a very vocal and opinionated libertarian who makes his crazy right-winger ex-wife seem liberal in comparison. Then there's his insanely quick rush into a relationship with his Lacanian shrink Viorela, his religious beliefs that conveniently fall into line with his less than ethical business models, and the libertarian/gun-lover ranch that he's part owner of. As big and ridiculous and crazy as all these elements seem,  they blend and conflict to create a character that is completely unpredictable and wholly enjoyable.

The supporting cast, his ex-wife, business colleagues, daughter Lyllyan, her boyfriend Reid, and his shrink/girlfriend Viorela, are all vibrant characters in their own right, but their main function, at least to me, was to offset Cal's opinions and theories with opposing schools of thoughts. His daughter is a straight-edge punk who works within the death row/appeal sector, and her boyfriend is a stuffy film theory grad student with liberal leanings. He has a business partner who was, essentially, a weapons dealer, his girlfriend is an extreme psychoanalyst with very strong opinions (that completely oppose all of Cal's) and his ex-wife is a perfect example of why, in Cal's opinion, the right-wingers are just as bad as the liberals. This rainbow of character types not only balance out the book so it isn't to extreme in one particular leaning or another, but it also provides the perfect position for James Warner to satirise all the various aspects equally and without prejudice. I'm sure that as an Australian with very little involvement in the whole American political sphere, there were some subtle nuances to the characters that I missed, but what I loved best was how this book showed that everyone, regardless of their education, political leaning, job, or age can be absolutely, positively, bat-shit crazy. And that when faced with a single issue, while all their reactions may vary greatly, the common element is that they all react, and they all have the capacity to be hurt.

At a mere 190 pages you'll race through this book in absolutely no time, and if you're interested in sleek, well-written satire then this is definitely the book for you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Winter" Mini-Readathon - Final update and challenges


Hours 10-12....
Currently reading: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
page tally: 205
I've just finished: --

Number of pages read: 675
Books finished: 2 (55 pages off finishing 3!)

Reading Challenges! 

Challenge #1

1. 3 random things about me...
-I collect teapots and teacups
-In three years I will be a doctor of zombies (seriously!)
-I lived in Hong Kong for 2 years as a kid.

2. Is this my first readathon?
Yes and no. It's my first blogger readathon, but last year and for many years as a child I took part in the MS READATHON to raise money for The MS Society here in Australia. There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than turning a passion and a hobby into an instrument to help others!

3. Did I have an specific goals for the readathon?
Not really. I basically wanted to read as much as I could, uninterupted. Even when I'm on uni break I find myself getting distracted or not getting as much reading done as I want, so I wanted to spend 12 hours where I didn't do any washing, I didn't catch up with friends for coffee, or I didn't get distracted by boardgames with the boyfriend.

4. Any specific books/snacks/drinks planned?
I was really winging this, I knew I'd need a bit of coffee (don't we all?!) but other than that I just went up to the bookcase any-time I finished a book. I wanted to try and read some of the books that had been on my shelves longest, but other than that, it was just whatever looked interesting.

5. What were my planned reading hours?
Originally I had planned to read from 11-11, but thanks to a minor hangover, and post-party clean-up and late lunch I didn't get started until 4pm. There was no way I'd be able to stay awake until 4am, so I ended up deciding to split it into two halves to be completed on Sunday and Monday.

Challenge #2

Challenge #3

Challenge #4 

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Carl - newspaper reporter, crushes model homes with his barefeet to dampen the guilt/pain of being responsible for his wife and daughter's deaths
Helen - real estate agent, candy-coloured hair, too many jewels and make-up
Mona - red and black dreadlocks, hippy/wiccan, likes Native American crafts
Oyster - sticky-up blond hair, eco-warrior/terrorist, dangerous

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchen, Grey's Anatomy) as Carl.
Cheryl Hines (Curb your Enthusiasm) as Helen.
Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, True Blood) as Mona.
Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone) as Oyster.

Challenge #5

1. How many books and/or pages were you able to read?
2 books finished, 675 pages all up.

2. How many hours did you read for?
12 hours over 24 hours. I took a break for dinner in the first half, then a long break to sleep, then read pretty much straight through for the second half.

3. Any likes/dislike about the 12-hour readathon compared to a 24-hour readathon?
I haven't done a 24-hour challenge, but I really enjoyed this one. It was completely do-able, I didn't feel like I had to put anything on hold or disrupt my regular life too much to do it. It's something I'd love to do once every few months.

4. Favourite and least favourite books read?
Death: A Life was definitely my favourite, but I enjoyed all three of the books I chose to read. They were all very different from each other, and had their own draws.

5. Any suggestions?
Do more! I really loved the experience, and even though being on the other side of the world makes the challenges a little harder to do, I still adored taking part in everything, and reading everyone else's responses.

"Winter" Mini-Readathon - Update the third


Hours 7-9....
Currently reading: Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
page tally: 171
I've just finished: Death: A Life by George Pendle
Favourite book so far: Death: A life
How's the weather?: rainy and miserable and perfect for the final leg of the readathon.

Number of pages read: 470
Books finished: 2

Monday Links

*Milwaukee public library gets creative with their advertising campaign. ^

*Why write novels at all? (New York Times)

*How was Microsoft word changed the writing process. (The Guardian)

*The 50 "coolest" books ever (The Shortlist)

*Famous literary friendships (The Daily Beast)

*The silly yet real perspectives on Stephen King as a writer (LA Times)

*McDonald's in the UK are going to offer books (and finger puppets) instead of toys in their happy meals. (Huffington Post)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Winter" Mini-Readathon - Update Number 2


I didn't get much reading done this period because I took a break for dinner and to clean up and now my eyes feel like they might fall out of their sockets. I'm really going to have to get my ass into gear tomorrow for the final leg.

Hours 4-6....
Currently reading: Death: A Life by George Pendle
page tally: 111
I've just finished: The Fog by James Herbert
Current book reminds me of: Douglas Adams. Quirky outlook on a situation that's a breath of fresh air. Decidedly British.
Amount of times I've been distracted by facebook, twitter and goodreads: 6

Number of pages read: 222
Books finished: 1

"Winter" Mini-Readathon - first update


Nursing a wee small hangover from Tom's birthday party last night, I couldn't bring myself to start the readathon until a few hours ago. So what I'm going to do, since I'm starting ahead of most people, is do half tonight and finish it early tomorrow. I'll split my updates into 4 parts and let you know how I'm going to far.

Hours 1-3....
Currently reading: The Fog by James Herbert
page tally: 112
I've just finished: --
How I feel: sleepy, but it's dinner time so I'll hopefully refresh over dinner and get my second wind.
Current book in three words: sprawling, weighty, lurking.
reading location of choice: sprawled diagonally across my bed (the couch just wasn't working for me).

Number of pages read: 112
Books finished: 0

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fanart Friday: The Chrestomanci series

If you've read any of my Top 10 Tuesday posts you'll be well aware how much I loved reading The Chrestomanci Series growing up (and still do for that matter). As I sat at my computer wondering what book to do next for Fanart Friday I almost punched myself when I realised I've never yet focused on this marvellous series filled with magic, multi-lived (which is definitely a word) wizards, dragons, mermaids, parallel worlds, dream walking and all other kinds of fantasy goodies. Before becoming a book blogger I never found anyone who'd read this book (except the people I eagerly thrust my copies at) so imagine my surprise (and delight) when I typed "Chrestomanci" into the Deviantart search field and found hundreds of pictures of my favourite characters and worlds!! Here are a collection but they're simply the tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favour and follow the links and discover the others works these artists have created, and the other Chrestomanci art making the rounds of Deviant.

Chrestomanci by PinayChicksRock

Chrestomanci Designs by Chira-Chira

Fun with markers no.1 by Nolleny

Oh Clistoffer by Monotogne

Spirit Friends by IheartNargles

The Chrestomanci by Miz-zy

Chant Girls by WingedLioness

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book review: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City 
Written by Lauren Beukes

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.

Zoo City is the first read in Ellie's 2012 sci-fi challenge, and I think she picked a brilliant book to start with. I'm not exactly new to the science fiction genre, but this book is the perfect bridge for readers who want to get a taste of sci-fi, but don't want to commit to a fully-fledged Asimov or PKD world. There are subtle changes to the world we live in, which is manifested primarily through the creation of 'zoos' (which I'll explain soon), but otherwise it's a very similar world to the one we live in. There are no science experiments or machines to wrap your mind around, and it doesn't matter if you've never even thought about what it'd take to survive in a post-apocalypse dystopia. If you live with your eyes open to the disparity that exists between people, especially in places like South Africa where the novel is set, then you're more than equipped to read and appreciate this novel.

Zinzi is the protagonist and has a rather chequered past. She's a recovering addict, murdered her brother and was once a journalist who stole money from her editor/boyfriend. Now she's estranged from her parents and lives in one of South Africa's ghettos, known as 'zoo city'. Zinzi, as well as most of the other people in the apartment and neighbourhood, is a zoo, meaning that she has an animal which has 'attached' itself to her since she committed her criminal offence. This is quite similar to the daemons in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials except these aren't a physical manifestation of one's soul, but are instead, according to popular belief, the manifestation of your guilt. Zinzi's animal is a sloth, and their connection is strong. Like the daemons in Pullman's trilogy, they aren't tied by a physical string, but their separation is unbearable and should the animal be removed completely, or dies, the zoo will be visited by 'the undertow'. In addition to being a physical demonstration of her criminal past, the sloth imbibes Zinzi with a special ability, the ability to find lost things. And it is the search of lost keys, rings, photos and other paraphernalia which pay Zinzi's rent. Well that and writing the template emails for those lousy scammers claiming "you could receive $3 million if..."

It is a fine line between too much and too little when it comes to releasing details about what caused the dystopian or sci-fi aspect/element of a novel, but in this case I found myself wanting a little more. By the end of the novel you have all the answers, but I found myself pulled away from the story trying to work out exactly what a zoo and what the undertow was, especially in the first half of the novel. The inclusion of psychiatric reports and documentary excerpts to fill in the gaps were an interesting and informative way to fill in the gaps of knowledge, I just wish they'd been a little earlier in the book. That said, the zoo element of the book was very interesting. It's pretty much the only difference that exists between this world and the one we actually live in, and it serves as a physical demonstration of the disparity that exists in society, especially amongst people considered to live in the shadows of society. The investigation Zinzi finds herself on really explores this issue, and considering the location is South Africa, I think it makes some poignant statements on the current state of society.

I felt like the story went a little off the rails towards the end, but this was an entertaining book that I really enjoyed reading. If you've been looking for a nice and un-intimidating way into science-fiction then I think you'll find this book the one for you. It's almost a little young adult-y in places, but again, that's just another way of making the book easy to get into. A good start to the challenge and the year!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 10 Tuesday: 10 Graphic novels to read if you've never read one before.

Top 10 Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we're particularly of lists here at The Broke and The Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top 10 lists.

I adore graphic novels, but when I look around the book blogs it seems that more often that not people seem to avoid them. I can understand why, it's a different way of reading, and if you aren't used to it, finding your way through the images and texts can be a little confusing or exhausting. But it's well worth a try. As I said, a  graphic novel is a very different reading experience to simply reading a book. You have to hunt through the pictures for the hints, emotion or subtext, and learn to read between the lines when the text and the image seem to be saying opposite things. It can be a real adventure, and lots of fun. And while creating a world in your head is always magical, sometimes it's nice to see that world in front of you, created by an extremely talented artist who can make you laugh or cry with a single image the size of a postage stamp. My world of imagination has opened up greatly since I've started reading graphic novels, and while I still read novels more often, there are graphic novels that make up some of my favourite reads of all time.

Below is a list of 10 (in no particular order) graphic novels that simply must be read. Most are very accessible for a first time graphic novel reader and several have been adapted from books or by traditional authors making them far easier to read that their comic author counterparts. Hopefully some of the artworks and descriptions below are enough to entice you to step into this wonderful world and experience something new and different from what you typically read. Enjoy!

1. Maus
If you ask for a graphic novel recommendation from a book fan you'll most likely be told to pick this one up, and for good reason. The story combines the biography of Vladek Spiegelman's survival during WW2 with his later life in America, as told by his writer/artist son Art Spiegelman. The dichotomy between the two time periods makes for an incredibly interesting story that must have been very difficult for Art to tell. Also, it's a little Animal Farm-y, with the Jews depicted as mice while the Germans are cats

2. The Great Gatsby
A graphic retelling of the marvellous Fitzgerald novel by the same name. The art is astounding in this graphic novel, it's made to look like a collection of old photographs collected in a photo album, and that sense of nostalgia is maintained through the entire story. The cast are depicted as sea creatures, which simply seems perfect for this story, don't ask me why. (my review)

3. From Hell 
Actually, just read anything by Alan Moore. He's a master graphic novelist, his other works including V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Swamp Thing. From Hell is the graphic interpretation of the Jack the Ripper conspiracy that it stemmed from a royal cover-up. It's a fantastic tale of the hidden and the covered-up, that is guaranteed to send you on a google search to check the validity of this theory! 

4. 30 Days of Night 
There are actually quite a few of these out now, but the only ones you really want to read are the original three written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith. The first book (the best) takes place in a small Alaskan town that suffers through 30 days of night each winter. This year they're attacked by a posse of vampires who intend to make the most of the wintery darkness. The artwork is what stands this series apart, Ben Templesmith is one of my favourite artists, his work blends photo-manipulation with intense colour and ethereal illustrations that render everyone slightly manic and monster-ish.

5. Transmetropolitan 
Eleven issues of pure brilliance. This is the graphic novel series of what it'd be like if Hunter S. Thompson was alive and reporting in the very messed up future. However, in Transmetropolitan he's known as Spider Jerusalem, a controversial journalist who hates pretty much everyone. Just as HST told the story in the most honest, hard-hitting, gratuitous and venomous ways possible, so does Spider. Thoroughly entertaining, mercilessly funny, and dangerously good.

6. FreakAngels 
Another brilliant Warren Ellis series, FreakAngels tells the story of a group of slightly strange kids who destroyed England. The illustrations are by the wonderful Paul Duffield, and the entire series is available FREE on the FreakAngels website. So you have no excuse not to go read it! (my review)

7. The Arrival 
There really is truth to the saying "a picture is worth 1000 words". Shaun Tan's beautiful graphic novel/picture book charts an immigrants journey to a new and magical land. Each page bursts with expressive, detailed sepia toned pencil drawings that will literally bring tears to your eyes. There is so much going on in each image that it doesn't matter than not a single word is included, the story is there for anyone to see.

8. The Five Fists of Science
Yes you're seeing right, that is Mark Twain in the picture yelling "SCIENCE!" while a giant robot and monster take up the background. Other characters in this cheeky little comic are Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison (as the baddy) and many more. It's a fun revision of our history that plays around with real life grudges and personality traits to create a monster of a story. (my review)

9. The Stand 
The Stand is probably my all time favourite Stephen King novel, and this graphic adaptation does it absolute justice. It's almost word for word with King's version, and the illustrations perfectly match up with the way King meticulously describes his characters. I haven't finished this series yet, but so far they've been perfect. They've maintained King's sharp wit, shaped the characters perfectly and done everything possibly to make sure that this series is a knock-out. They've got some talented men and women working on this, and it really shows. 

10. Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea
Cartoonist Guy Delisle worked in North Korea for several months in 2001. This is the graphic diary he kept while he was there. It's unflinchingly honest of life as a Westerner within the propaganda and weapon rich North Korea, and his insights are frank, to the point and rarely embellished. It's an interesting look into a side of life we rarely see, and it's perspective on propaganda and censorship provides food for thought. (my review)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Links

*An enjoyable little puzzle game called Prose and Motion, where you have to find the 'perfect' word from the scrabble-like tiles on screen.

*I swear, the English get all the good stamps. First Doctor Who and now Roald Dahl. Any lovely English bloggers want to post me a little something?

*Horror fiction will soon make a comeback, at least according to editor Jo Fletcher.

*A stunning book sculpture by David Kracov called, Book of Life.

*I do love the Viking/Penguin Tumblr, me.

*A poem that details the complexity (and absurdity) of the English language. Could you make it all the way through?

Bookfest 2012

This week is Brisbane's BOOKFEST. Imagine an indoor arena the size of a football field with table after table  (after table after table) of books piled high, and you'd be coming close to the epic-ness of this sale. There are 1000s of books sorted into their special little categories (sci-fi, paperback fiction, hardback fiction, literature/classics, history, biography, cooking, computer etc. etc.) and waiting in the wings are containers of 1000s more, just waiting for the tables to empty out a little so that those who can't make it until the final day (it runs a full week) still have an opportunity for some amazing finds.

The hall is divided into three sections, the unpriced section, which is the dodgy books that are either in shocking condition or are readers digest editions of short-stories (that was where I got the books for my Christmas decorations), the priced section where all books are $2.50, or the high-quality section, where the prices are marked on the book and there is an additional section of "rare or out-of-print" books.

Unfortunately, the rare books that are a really good find are often snapped up in that first day (usually the first few hours - people make a real sport out of this fest) so I typically stay in the priced section, because the titles are comparable to the high quality section, equal quality and a much better price. Tom and I made our way through all the fiction, literature, sci-fi sections yesterday and loaded our arms with about 30 books (combined) and then took a seat to cull it down to 8 each, so that we'd each only be spending $20.

While there are dozens of classic authors and books available (i.e. Austen, Dickens and Shakespeare) it's much harder to get your hands on a more contemporary book that isn't by either Patricia Cornwell, Steve Martini, Dan Brown or Jack Higgins. While I do sometimes come out of this sale with some Gaiman, Ishiguro or other authors that are high on my TBR list, this sale is primarily a golden opportunity to collect a few more Stephen King titles and books from the horror/thriller genre. They're easily the most prevalent, and are often the books most lacking from our local book stores. We did quite well this year, if I say so myself!

So without further ado, I give you the books we've taken home and welcomed into our book family...

Stephen King - Gerald's Game
New Terrors Omnibus
Stephen King - Carrie
Stephen King -The Dead Zone
Stephen King and Peter Strab - The Talisman
James Herbert - The Fog
James Herbert - The Survivor
Clive Barker - The Damnation Game
Ramsey Cambell - The doll who ate his mother
Kazuo Ishiguro -The Remains of the Day
R. L. Stevenson - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Neil Gamain - Stardust
Stephen King - The drawing of the Three
Stephen King/G.R.R.Martin, Dan Simmons - Dark Visions
Stephen King - Needful Things
Richard Bachman - The Regulators

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Winter" Mini-Readathon

I've been wanting to participate in a readathon ever since starting my blog, but unfortunately, they've always been at the most inopportune moments possible so I've always been stuck unable to participate. Luckily, Sarah @Sarah Says Read has organised a "winter" (it is so not winter where I am!) readathon that not only is nice and short (12 hours) but on a day I can join in on. YAY!!!

In case you're thinking of joining (you should) you can do it any time on Sunday you like. So if you want to sleep in till midday you could do it from 12-12, or 1-1, or start early and do a 9-9, it's your choice! I'll probably get started by about 10-11am, and I'm going to set up under a tree in my backyard and just enjoy the crap out of it! There are also a few prizes and other goodies up for grabs, so if you think this sounds like the perfect way to spend a Sunday (it does) then sign up for yourself HERE!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A question to you about my rating system.

So I've been going through a bit of a blogger existentialist crisis, or as close to one as I could be, and it's all thanks to my god-damn rating system. The whole point of introducing it was so that at the end of my convoluted (not to mention long) reviews, there was a quick and easy way to see whether I liked a book or not. 5 meant is was the best thing since sliced bread, 1 meant it was utter dog-shit. Makes sense right? But now that I'm reviewing so many books, from so many genres, I'm starting to struggle with a rating. Like the other day, I finished a book and really enjoyed it and wanted to give it a 4, but then I realised a book I reviewed a few weeks previously, which was definitely not as good, was also given a 4. I could give it a 5, but it definitely isn't favourite book, multi re-read material, so I don't feel comfortable with that. I could give it a 4.5, but I feel like it's more than half a star better than the other one. You see my problem? 

I never wanted to have this sort of issue with my star rating. The whole idea was that the rating was supposed to indicate that specific book's appeal to me, and should never be held against another book, even one from the same genre. However that's obviously not working, because I'm definitely second-guessing all my ratings every time I finish a new book. So what do I do? I was thinking of scrapping the whole ratings thing all together, and hoping that you guys can all tell my general feelings and "read this now"-ness from the way I write my reviews, but I didn't want to scrap them all together without raising the issue with you guys, the people who read my reviews and potentially make note of the ratings. 

So let me know in the comments. Will it irk you to see the book review without a rating at the end of my review? And if yes, do you have any suggestions with how I should try and sort out my ratings issue? Perhaps it should be designated stars for aspects of the book, i.e. writing, characters, story etc. Or ??? 

Thanks in advance for the help guys!

Fanart Friday: Harry Potter edition #3 - Ron Weasley

I've seen a lot of hate around the book blogs for the youngest Weasley male, and I honestly don't understand it. Sure he whines on occassion, but what do you expect from a boy who has been overshadowed since the day he was born? All his older siblings are talented and successful in their own particular ways, and his best friend is the only one to ever survive the killing curse from the number one wizard to fear. It's enough to crush anyone's self-confidence. Personally I enjoyed the growth of Ron's character far more than most, like Longbottom, he had a long way to climb just to be considered on par with the rest of the people around him, but with the continual support of his friend's and family and his own awakening to his true potential, he became quite the hero in his own right. So continue the Weasley hate if you must, but as you take a squiz at these fantastic creations of my favourite red head (apart from my boyfriend of course), try to cast those aspersions aside and enjoy the work before you, and take a peek at the other creations these wonderful artists have created.

Ron Weasley by Ninidu

Ron Weasley by Chrisables

Ron Weasley by PrimeHunter

Weasley is our King by Jenny (Gold-Seven)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

Sexing the Cherry
Written by Jeanette Winterson

Published: 1989

Synopsis: Sexing the Cherry celebrates the power of the imagination as it playfully juggles with our perception of history and reality; love and sex; lies and truths; and twelve dancing princesses who lived happily ever after, but not with their husbands.

Sexing the Cherry was my final read for 2011, and what a magical and incredible book to close the year on! This teeny little book (144 pages) is filled with so much substance, love, magic and imagination that it nearly made my heart explode!

The book takes place in 1600s England with the King Charles, Cromwell/Parliament issue looming in the backdrop. Amongst all the turmoil and challenges and change that London is experiencing, a young baby is discovered beside the river by a giant (literally) woman known only as (the) Dog Woman. The story follows the relationship between Dog Woman and Jordan (she names him after a river because he came from water) and the adventures, highs and lows they both experience, together and in their separate lives.

After viewing the first banana to ever arrive in England, Jordan finds himself obsessed with travelling and exploring, especially by sea. He is apprenticed (sort of) by the King's horticulturist, and after several years spent in Wimbledon with the Dog Woman he takes to the seas exploring the far corners of the world and the many rich experiences that there are to discover. However what he discovers isn't simply the wild and mostly unexplored worlds of the Bahamas or other islands/countries, instead he comes across (face to face or through stories) wonderful magical places like the city where they were plagued by love, or the town where gravity forgot about them and they took to the sky travelling around the world in their town un-moored from the rest of earth. In his searches through these wonderful places he struggles also to find the woman he loves and to understand who he is.

The book is wonderfully written in exquisite prose that would make even the most unimaginative person ascend into clouds of strawberry marshmallow. The characters are multi-dimensional and so real it almost hurts. And because of the loose, not quite linear time-line of the story, it really is the characters who are important, rather than the things going on around them. This book plays with the aspects of traditional storytelling and just pulls all the rules apart and rearranges them into these new and unique ways that makes you question not only the contents of the book, but the concept of time and space and life and magical in your own world. This truly is a wonderful book, and I'm not sure I can really give it justice with my review so I'm just going to finish with a few quotes from the book that just captured my heart and mind and really made me love this book.

*In which Jordan recounts a moment in a town where words literalised in the air around them. He ascends in a balloon and helped a cleaner wash away the words that had amassed in the sky, page 18.
"Towards the end of the day we joined with the other baloons brushing away the last few stray and vagabond words. The sky under the setting sun was the colour of veined marble, and a great peace surrounded us. As we descended through the clean air we saw, passing us by from time to time, new flocks of words coming from people in the streets who, not content with the weight of their lives, continually turned the heaviest of things into the lightest of properties. "
*Jordan describes maps and discovering, page 81.
"Maps are magic. In the bottom corner are whales; at the top, cormorants carrying pop-eyed fish. In between is a subjective account of the lie of the land. Rough shapes of countries that may or may not exist, broken red lines marking paths that are a best hazardous, at worst already gone. Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increase. But is knowledge increasing or is detail accumulating?"
 *Jordan discussing the painting "A Hunt in a Forest" and it's relation to his life/lives, page 92.
"When I saw this painting I began by concentrating on the forground figures, and only by degrees did I notice the others, some so faint as to be hardly noticeable. My own life is like this, or, I should say, my own lives. For the most part I can see only the most obvious detail, the present, my present. But sometimes, by a trick of the light, I can more than that. I can see countless lives existing together and receding slowly into the trees." 

Yes, so hopefully that gives you a slight taste of the magical literary qualities of this wonderful book and the slight sci-fi, cerebral quality it has regarding time, space and life. A wonderful read that you must experience!


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