Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: September 2011 (page 2 of 3)

Gaskella is Three! Help me celebrate with a giveaway…

Those who know me well would say that I’m very good at starting things, but not so good at keeping them going or finishing them.  I have huge initial bursts of enthusiasm until the thrill wears off and then I procrastinate. My blog, however, is an exception to the rule, as my love of writing it has not waned at all, staying rock steady and surviving all attempts to derail it when modern life outside the blogosphere intervenes.  It is a haven, somewhere where I go to share thoughts with some wonderful friends, to make new ones too; a community of like-minded souls. Little did I think when I started, that I’d still have the same commitment to it, and today Gaskella is three years old!

Since starting Gaskella, I find I get much more out of reading – how I read has changed. I think about what I’m reading a lot more, especially reflecting on a book after I’ve finished it.  I’ve always read and read and read, but adding a veneer of analysis to the experience heightens the pure enjoyment of reading, which I didn’t expect to be honest.  I read a wider range of titles than ever before in fiction; although I admit that non-fiction books continue to be an occasional diversion rather than regular feature.

I also want to thank everyone who pops by to visit my blog, everyone who comments, and especially all the wonderful blogging friends I’ve made. THANK YOU!

To celebrate, I’m going to give away three books – one of my books of the year, for each year of my blog (links to my reviews).  

To take part in the draw, leave a comment and tell me what is the best book you’ve read so far this year?

The giveaway is open to any country where the Book Depository can send free. (Click here for the list of countries).  

The books are:

Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick.

This was possibly the best book I read in 2009.  It’s a fictionalisation of the true story of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia at the time of the Revolution, by one of the best YA authors there is!  Blending Russian folklore with adventure, spying and romance, I think it probably has more adult appeal than YA.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

This book, which I read last year, was a revelation, and not what I expected at all.  It was the novel that set the benchmark for all the dramas and soaps of small town America that followed, and was published in 1956.  The writing is fantastic, and it’s gritty, full of big themes –  and everyone has a secret. We read it in our book group to universal approval.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt

I feel very smug about this one! I read and was blown away by it before it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize – and now it’s made the shortlist.   The Blues Brothers meet Deadwood in the California Goldrush in this story of two killers for hire.  It helped reinforce my love of westerns, which was sparked by reading Zane Grey’s 1912 classic Riders of the Purple Sage last year.  The Sisters Brothers is the best thing I’ve read this year.


Gaskella meets … Charlie Higson

This afternoon it was my delight to accompany a party of boys from my school over to the Abingdon school theatre to hear author, actor and comedian Charlie Higson talk about his zombie horror series of books for older children and teenagers. After the event, I was also able to talk briefly to Charlie about his books in my first proper interview for this blog – so exciting!

Charlie started with a straw poll of the audience – zombies or vampires? Being mostly boys, zombies won. Boys it seems, tend to prefer zombie gore, rather than the romantic image of vampires.

Charlie went on tell us about a bit of the history of vampires and zombies in literature.  It all happened one summer back in 1816 at a house party on the shores of Lake Geneva.  It was the summer after Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted, and the whole world suffered weird climatic conditions as a result of the ash; so instead of swimming and larking about on the water, this group told stories and from them developed the types of vampires and undead creatures we all adore today.  But who were they?  None other than Byron, Shelley and Shelley’s teenaged girlfriend Mary, plus Byron’s doctor called Polidori, amongst others.  From this gathering would emerge Mary’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre (expanded from a story fragment by Byron, who was was fascinated by the proto-vampire Strigoi of Balkan legend).  The first literary vampire was very much in the mould of the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know‘ Byron, and was later combined with the nasty Wallachian king Vlad the Impaler to become best of all vampires, Count Dracula by Stoker.

Then it was on to the zombies!  Charlie told us how he loves horror movies and stories, and that his favourite film is the classic Night of the Living Dead which invented the modern zombie.  After writing five Young Bond books (see previous post), Charlie was ready to write children’s books with his own characters, and decided to try and scare the pants off his readers.

In The Enemy series, he has created a dystopian world in which a disease has killed nearly everyone over the age of fourteen – those who don’t die have been turned into pus-ridden, drooling, children-eating zombies. The remaining children have mostly banded together in groups for safety, and have to find a way to survive, and create a new society.  Sure, there are some Lord of the Flies moments, (my review of that here), but at the heart of the book is the childrens’ quest to find somewhere safe to live, without flesh-eating necrotic zombies around every corner.

The audience of older children, mainly from years 7 & 8 (11+), asked loads of great questions, and all groaned in digust at the drooling zombie in the video trailer for the new book – who rather resembled someone in the room…  I’ll be reviewing the Enemy books more fully in a week or so.

Then, after the boys had gone, I got to sit down and talk with Charlie for a short while.  (Many thanks to Mark at Mostly Books for arranging this for me).

After telling him how much I was enjoying reading all of his books, we started by talking about the Young Bond.  I’d noticed the deliberate homage to Fleming in the first sentence of Silverfin, and asked him about it. He said that he’d put in a quite a few references to the Fleming novels, but didn’t try to capture his style, more the ‘spirit of Fleming’.  I wondered if he’d pictured a younger Sean Connery as his Bond. Charlie said that Fleming’s Bond was really a toff, so that he’d be more a mix of Connery/Brosnan perhaps.  I commented that like Fleming, we always know what Bond is wearing – Charlie replied that the Eton uniform had formed part of his way in to the character – he’d worried that readers wouldn’t believe Bond in starched collars and formal attire, but then he realised it was essentially like a ‘shrunken down tuxedo’ and that was it.

I was going to ask him why zombies in The Enemy series, and not aliens or any other creature, but his love for them was already clear from the talk.  Charlie told me that he wasn’t deeply into the supernatural – his zombies aren’t actually dead, they’re just diseased.  He’d also touched upon the fact that there was the possibility that ‘the thing that’s trying to kill you could be someone you love’there was a scene in the first book where one of the children thinks he recognises his mother, and I said that had creeped me out more than the pus and gore.  I applauded his decision to kill lots of characters, including some unexpected ones – I was thinking of one less than halfway into the first book that I was just growing to love. He said he really enjoyed doing that, but didn’t want killing the characters off to become too expected!

Having a daughter who’s not into adventure books at all (yet!?), I asked if he was finding that girls were reading them too?  It was reassuring to hear that he was as happy to scare girls as boys. He said he did write some strong female characters in them, and felt they did have a good readership amongst girls – at least he had the advantage that girls aren’t afraid to be seen with boyish covers, whereas most boys wouldn’t be seen dead with any books that were at all girly.

I finished by asking him about The Fast Show. You may have heard, but the crew, sans Mark Williams, are back together to film some sketches for the Fosters comedy site, (link below) – they’ll only be online at first though. They will involve all the old characters; I expressed my love for Bob Fleming (cough) who just cracks me up. Charlie said he was great, but it was getting more and more difficult to think of situations to put him into as all he does is cough!

I usually keep out of any photos at events, but this was such a nice experience, I couldn’t resist the souvenir shot like the fangirl I am!  I’d like to thank Charlie for taking the time to talk to me, especially after all the signing he had to do.  He was an absolute pleasure to talk to, and is a really fantastic writer. I’m looking forward to reading many more of his books (including his adult horror ones).

Websites to check out: Charlie Higson,  Young Bond,  The Enemy, Fosters
I bought my copies of the books. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Fear (The Enemy) by Charlie Higson
Dracula (Penguin Classics) by Bram Stoker
Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (Oxford World’s Classics) by Mary Shelley
The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre (Oxford World’s Classics) by John Polidori
Night Of The Living Dead [Blu-ray] [1968] directed by George Romero.
The Fast Show : Ultimate Collection (7 Disc BBC Box Set) [DVD]

The name’s Bond, James Bond.

The Young Bond novels by Charlie Higson

Today, there’s a mega author event at Abingdon School’s Amey Theatre for over 600 local children – Charlie Higson, the author, actor and comedian (cough) is coming to talk to them, coinciding with the third installment of his zombie horror series, but more of that in another post…

Although I am a Bond fan, I’d not yet read any of Higson’s Young Bond series, despite having them all in my TBR.  It was time – but would I would I recognise him? Would the books live up to the Fleming legacy?

Set between the wars, the first in the series, SilverFin, tells us a little about Bond’s parents – Swiss mother, Scottish father – a globe-trotting, adventure seeking pair who die in a mountain climbing accident, leaving young Bond in the care of his aunt Charmian.

A scene-setting prologue, like in the Bond films, shows a boy getting into trouble sneaking into a fenced and guarded estate in the Highlands to poach trout in the Silverfin lake.  We don’t know if it’s Bond…

Then it shifts to the eleven year old Bond’s arrival at Eton, into an environment that will be the making of him, yet one he’ll never be entirely comfortable in.  He soon gets into trouble with one of the school bullys, George Hellebore, an American whose father owns the Silverfin estate.

When the holidays come, Bond goes to Scotland to stay with his uncle Max, who is dying of cancer.  Max and James bond (sorry!) strongly, and Max will introduce him to fishing and fast cars. Ere long though James will feel compelled to investigate strange goings on at the nearby Hellebore estate, and put his life in jeopardy when he discovers what’s going on in the castle and lake – think eels and evil scientists here. It’s a gritty story – young Bond will be bashed about a lot and need every ounce of his stamina to escape the clutches of the evil megalomaniac villain Hellebore. Although owing much to boys own type adventures, people do get hurt and die – some in particularly gruesome circumstances.

From the start, I felt I was in sure hands, because chapter one starts off:

The smell and noise and confusion of a hallway full of schoolboys can be quite awful at twenty past seven in the morning.

Which directly echoes the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, which begins:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.

* * * * *

The second Young Bond novel, Blood Fever moves the action to the Med – Sardinia. Bond has another uncle who lives there, and plans to spend the summer with Victor after a school archaelogical trip on the island.

When Victor and James are invited to see the dirt-phobic, self-styled Count Ugo Carnifex’s new mountain complex, complete with funicular railway and aqueduct, Bond sees artworks which are strangely familiar, and it’s not long before he’s up to his neck in trouble with Sardinian bandits, secret societies and a Magyar pirate called Zoltan.  Having less background to get through, the adventure gets going at breakneck pace and the villain’s demise is done in true Bond style.  There’s also a girl in this one – called Amy Goodenough – what a great name!  But he’s too young yet for a proper love interest.

* * * * *

The adult Bond we all know was very recognisable in the youngster – a dislike of authority, happy to go it alone, resilient. He’s built very much like a young Sean Connery too with a lock of black hair that has a tendency to escape.  The unhardened young Bond is someone you’d love to be your friend, as you know he’d stick up for you – he won’t develop his hardened veneer for years yet.  Higson also echoes Fleming in the matters of sartorial elegance, we always know how Bond is dressed, and then there are the cars – they’re the business!

I really enjoyed both of these books – I felt they lived up to my expectations very well indeed. The plots had everything you’d expect from a Bond novel, minus the innuendo and women, and they made up for that with a double dose of enthusiasm.   (SilverFin 8.5/10, Blood Fever 9/10)

* * * * *

To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
SilverFin, Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

BBAW: Blogger Interview Swap

One of the highlights of Book Blogger Appreciation Week is the Blogger Interview Swap.  I signed up this year, and was paired up with another blogger to ask some questions to.  All the interviews are posted today, and you can see mine over at my interview partner’s blog.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to MJ who blogs at Wandering in the Stacks. MJ is a recent law school graduate “who still, somehow, loves to read.” MJ has only been blogging since July, and now blogs most days. Looking at her reading list, it’s full of interesting books and authors – from George Eliot to Tolstoy, Carson McCullers to Truman Capote.  Here is what I asked her …

As a new blogger, what has excited you most about blogging since you started?

Oh, so many things! The community in general had to be my favorite, though. I love that there are so many people who love to read, and love to share their thoughts. I also love finding bloggers whose tastes are similar to mine – they become a great resource for books and authors I haven’t discovered.

How big is your TBR (to be read) pile and do you have strategies for managing it? If so, I could do with some help!

Ha! I don’t think I would be much help managing a TBR pile. My actual physical pile isn’t that bad. I typically have out a couple library books, and there are several recently bought books on it. Of course, I also have a backlog of books that I acquired somehow, at some point, and I haven’t read, but I don’t count those as official TBR. They’re more like books I’ll probably get to someday. My TBR list on the other hand, is much too long. I finally started a list on GoodReads, but there are countless more books floating around my head that haven’t been written down yet.

Are you a fast or slow reader – how many books do you read in an average month? Is this a reflection on the time you have available to read?

I am a fast reader. This year is the first time I’ve kept track of how many books I’m reading. In January I only read four, but I really struggled with two of those, so that slowed me down significantly. I very rarely abandon a book, so I was slogging along. Last month, August, I read 14. The number depends both on how much time I have, and if I have any books on hand that I’m excited about reading.

Which literary character would you most like to be, and why?

Oh, good question. I think I’d like to be like Leah from The Poisonwood Bible. I admire her ability to flout what society thinks and follow her heart. Plus, she manages to get through several trying situations a stronger person. She knows how to manage her resources to survive.

Where do you write your blog? Describe your blogging environment.

I write on my laptop, at the kitchen table. There’s a window to my left, and I can see some trees, my fire escape, and the Verrazano Bridge. I’m usually surrounded by books – ones I’m reviewing, ones I’m going to read next. Right now that pile is a little higher than I’d like! I’m moving soon, though, the so view outside my window will change, but much of the rest will stay the same.

Thank you MJ. It was a pleasure to ask the questions, and I enjoyed your answers. I shall look forward to seeing your blog develop, and hope you continue to love it. Happy reading and keep on blogging!

Book Blogger Appreciation Week – ‘Community’

Welcome to Book Blogger Appreciation Week! All through the week, there are daily topics for posts on participants’ blogs. I probably won’t have time to join in all of them, but will at least today and tomorrow.

The first topic is ‘Community’ – in particular to celebrate the blogs and bloggers that got us blogging in the first place …

Gaskella’s First Ever Commenter …

When I started my blog back in September 2008, I had been lurking around lit blog land for a while, and plucked up the courage to start making a few comments before launching my own blog.   When I got around to it, my very first commenter was a blogger who was one of the first I discovered, and still read every post on today. It took just five days of blogging to get that comment – and it was on a Guilty Secrets post in which I confessed to never having read Thomas Hardy.

That commenter was Teresa, and her blog is the wonderful Shelf Love which she co-writes with the equally lovely Jenny. Between them, they read and discuss such a wide range of books of all types and genres, and Teresa’s Sunday Salon discussion posts are an absolute must – she always makes me really think with these. Recent subjects have included the use of coincidence in novels, depth versus breadth in reading genres, and who can tell a story? You can rely on Teresa for intelligent reviews and lively discussions. I love that we read many of the same titles and types of books. Living on opposite sides of the pond, we’ve never met, but I feel that we would definitely be friends.  Thank you Teresa – and good luck in the BBAW Awards (Shelf Love is shortlisted in 2 categories).

A blog that always cheers me up & tugs at my heartstrings …

Another blog that I never fail to read is the wonderfulThe Age of Uncertainty written by Steerforth, who is currently setting up business as a book dealer. Steerforth primarily writes about bookish and ephemeral things – Victorian book illustrations, old photos that fall out of books, silly, interesting, and non-PC book covers and titles. Interspersed with these posts are Steerforth’s more meditative ones in which he looks at the world in which he lives and comments with a dry sense of humour. Even more eloquent are his occasional heartfelt posts about his own life and family.  His blog never fails to either cheer me up or tug at my heartstrings – do visit.

My life in my books read – the 2011 version

An updated version of the popular meme in which you answer questions using only titles from books you have read this year has started doing the rounds.  With a whole set of new questions, I couldn’t resist!  Feel free to copy, and check out  Simon T’s, and Fleur Fisher’s goes at it too…

Here are my answers with a couple of small edits to the questions in brackets.  The links are to my reviews…

One time on holiday: Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Weekends at my house are: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

My neighbour is: A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

My boss is: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

My superhero secret identity is: The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry because (of): Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah

I’d win a gold medal in: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by William Torday

I’d pay good money for: The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

If I were Prime Minister I would (be): Pure by Andrew Miller

When I don’t have good books, I (read): Everything and nothing

Loud talkers at the cinema should be: The Waste Lands by Stephen King (Dark Tower #3)

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