Sunday, 25 May 2014

Sunday Summary: It's been a while

Hello all. Hope you're doing well. I haven't written a Sunday Summary post lately. I've been working a lot recently, which has been (or will be) good for money reasons, but bad for having anything interesting to say about my life. Still, I've managed to fit in a Bout of Books readathon around it, during which I read a not-too-shabby three books, and finished my very belated Buffy the Vampire Slayer catch-up which I started just after the new year.

Now my colleagues are all back at work, I've got three days off, the first time in a while that I've had more than one day off at a time. My reading has slowed right down since the readathon. I've just started The Lies of Locke Lamora on Hanna's recommendation, although she did point out that it takes a while to get going. I haven't got that far into the book yet, and although I am enjoying it when I do read it, it's still in the world-building and introducing-characters section and pretty slow going. The narrative switches between the titular Locke as a child thief who proved to be too light-fingered and troublesome even for the Fagin-esque gang to which he belonged, and an extended sequence of an adult Locke setting up a confidence trick on a rich nobleman. I'm finding Locke's backstory more interesting and easy to read, and suspect that this confidence trick's main purpose is to give the reader an overview of the world's political situation without seeming too much like masses of exposition. But I'm still waiting for the plot to start. (I might be wrong, and all this might be the catalyst for something bigger. Only way to find out is to read on.)

 So, what does one do when one is taking a long time over a book? Why, go out and buy a whole load more! I've been pretty good about letting my to-read pile grow smaller rather than bigger, but when is sank beneath the twenty books line, I took myself and my canvas book bag shopping and came home with some shiny new goodies. After enjoying From A Buick 8 a lot more than I'd expected, I found another Stephen King book in The Works for £1.99: Full Dark, No Stars, which is a collection of either short stories or novellas and which Neil Gaiman reviewed on its release. Also, Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, has finally been released in paperback, and both Waterstone's and WHSmith are selling it for half price at the moment. How could I resist?

Haruki Murakami is another author whose name I keep on finding on my favourite blogs. I read 1Q84 last year or the year before, which was very weird and imaginative, if a bit long. I'm still not entirely sure how much I liked it, but evidently enough to want to see what else he can do, as when I found Sputnik Sweetheart on a recommendations table, the last copy ended up on my book pile. And I enjoyed The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul so much when I read it last year that when I found author Deborah Roderiguez' non-fiction account of her own experiences in Afghanistan, The Kabul Beauty School, re-released with a beautiful new cover, I had to have that too!

This week, Bex persuaded me to join in with the lastest Ninja Book Swap, organised by herself and Hanna. I took place in the Trick or Treat book swap last year, which was brilliant, so I really didn't need to have my arm twisted. If you want to join in, you've only got until the end of today to sign up (details here.)

Now I've finished with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, last night I started a new adventure, the science-fiction show Fringe. I didn't have a lot of foreknowledge of this one, except that Pacey from Dawson's Creek and Denethor from Lord of the Rings investigate weird stuff and battle lens flare (as it is from J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, and also the Star Trek reboot.) It usually takes me about three episodes to make up my mind about a TV show, and so far I've just watched two. I've borrowed the box set from my sister's friend Bob, and am not sure yet whether I'll watch after season one. I'm enjoying it, but haven't yet fallen in love with it. I'm not a scientifically-minded person at all, and even I can tell that the "fringe science" here is ridiculous. Flux capacitors, warp drives, timey-wimey detectors that go ding when there's stuff... no problem. But Walter Bishop's particular brand of mad science is stretching my suspension of disbelief. Still, there's no doubt the writers had a lot of fun with it, and it is pretty entertaining, if gruesome in places. I'll stick with it and see how it goes.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7

Contains spoilers

After the doom and gloom of Buffy season 6, the beginning of season 7 comes as quite a relief. We go right back to the beginning with the opening of a brand-new Sunnydale High School building on the site of the old one, which was destroyed at the end of season 3. You'd think the powers that be would take the opportunity to find a new, safer site for their teenagers to attend school, but no, apparently not. Buffy takes a job as student counsellor, and Xander is on-site too, finishing off the building work. Only Willow is absent, staying in England with Giles attending some kind of Dark Magic Anonymous group.

The relief and nostalgia factor meant that for a while I overlooked some of the sloppiness of the storytelling. Most notably, we are told rather than shown that the apocalypse to end all apocalypses is on its way. An ominous voice tells everyone, "From beneath you, it devours," whatever that means. Sounds scary enough, but weird and terrifying occurrences are part of Sunnydale's local identity. We've established that. Yet Buffy and the Scoobies quickly conclude that this time the end really is near, and we know they're probably right for the sole reason that this is the final season and therefore deserves an epic finale.

Season 7's main villain is the ultimate in Big Bads, a being that calls itself "The First," and has no form of its own, but takes the shape of whichever dead person is most likely to freak out its audience the most, manipulating people with their individual weaknesses. Buffy is the First's favourite form - she may not be dead now, but she has been dead and therefore counts. It even implies at one point that it takes more than the appearance from those it imitates. Could Buffy herself be a part of the First?

This aspect of the First led to what I think was the season's biggest misstep. At the end of one episode, we see Giles swiftly attacked by one of the First's henchpeople, and the screen cuts to black. This incident is not mentioned again for about four or five episodes, and when Giles appeared afterwards, I spent most of my concentration trying to prove that he was dead, and that the First was taking his form. It turned out to be a red herring, and instead of feeling impressed that the writers had outsmarted me, I just felt cheated. They didn't outsmart me - they merely said, "Haha, no, tricked you," without any better explanation. This might have worked if it took place over a single episode, but over four or five, it merely distracted me from everything else that was going on. (Not that I wanted Giles to be dead, of course.)

Although season 7 had some great ideas, it didn't hook me as much as the rest of the series. I don't know if this was because I'd taken a couple of weeks' break from Buffy before starting the final season, or because the storytelling just didn't come together as well as it should. The central characters seemed to take a back seat, too. Willow, Xander, Anya and Dawn all had their moments in the spotlight, but I felt like the writers had grown tired of them, instead concentrating on Spike's search for redemption, the Potential Slayers (though as a plot device more than a new team of rounded characters) and Buffy as the lone general in the big war against the ultimate evil. It seems inevitable for every fantasy story to end in a big war to end all wars, notably Harry Potter, with which I drew many parallels throughout the run of Buffy. 

But how can one fight an incorporeal being? The answer is to bring in an army of "ubervamps" which reminded me so much of the orcs in Lord of the Rings, and a human villain called Caleb, played by Nathan Fillion from Firefly. Caleb really made my skin crawl with his smiling hate-speech (but I am so tired of the "sinister minister" trope. It's never the butler who dunnit, but if there is a priest or a vicar, nine times out of ten they are the bad guy.) Caleb establishes his role as a real threat by inflicting the most serious, lasting damage on one of our heroes -squishing Xander's eye, eurrrrgh! - and when this group includes someone who has died not once but twice, that's saying something.

I grumbled a lot about season 7, even up to the penultimate episode, but the finale is as epic as you could hope for. My chief problem when I started watching Buffy was "WHY is there only one slayer? One chosen one - chosen by whom? Why should one person have to take on all this responsibility alone?" Finally, after seven seasons, this question is addressed and challenged, and Buffy decides enough is enough. So a bunch of men decided there should be one slayer thousands of years ago. Today, the slayer makes her own decision: “From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer will be a slayer." And it is awesome.

This being Joss Whedon, two main characters die in the final showdown: One suddenly, in battle (Anya) and the other, Spike, is killed by a Necklace of Heroic Sacrifice, taking out not only all of the bad guys, but the entire town of Sunnydale! Wow. Thankfully the town had been evacuated earlier, as the years of weird activity finally got too much for the residents. Well, that's certainly not doing things by halves. Our battle-scarred and weary heroes look back at the smoking crater that had been their hometown, and realise that finally, it's over. The weight of the world is no longer on Buffy's shoulders alone (with a few friends to share the load.) She can do anything.

"What are we going to do now?"

Best Episodes:

3. Same Time, Same Place. Willow returns from England, but she and her friends seem to exist in parallel dimensions, not seeing each other despite being in the same place at the same time. However, this episode also features the most horrifying monster of the week ever, Gnarl.
7. Conversations with Dead People. A really terrifying episode. The First appears to the Scoobies in different forms, and messes with their minds.
16. Storyteller. Whatsisname, the other one from the Trio, now living among the Scoobies and the potential slayers, makes up his own version of everything that's happened. A mostly comic episode which takes an unexpected emotion turn when he is forced to face reality.
22. Chosen. Buffy's had its highs and lows, and ends on an epic finale that really does it justice.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

From a Buick 8 - Stephen King

In the months after Curtis Wilcox's death, his son Ned spends more and more time around the police barracks among his dad's old colleagues. When he discovers the vintage Buick Roadmaster locked up in Shed B, naturally Ned is curious. But what is inside that shed is no mere car...

From A Buick 8 feels rather like a classic ghost story, the sort told around a campfire by torchlight. It is set out as a story within a story, with the narrator Sandy reporting to the reader the tale he had previously related to Ned. This framing device took me a while to get used to, working out which later of storytelling I was reading at any one time, but it means we get to take our cues from seeing Ned's reaction to the things he is told and shown - and from Sandy's thoughts about Ned's response. This also sets up the final act in the present day.

When I started reading, although I enjoyed getting to know the police team of Troop D, I felt that it was taking a long time to really get started. 150 pages or so in, all the Buick had to show for itself was a perfectly shiny condition, mechanisms that couldn't possibly work, a couple of missing people and a localised lightning storm in the shed. Eventually it became apparent that the car was some sort of portal to another world or dimension, a two-way door. People would disappear in its vicinity, and then a few unearthly creatures or plants appeared after the lightning phenomena, and would promptly die. There is something Lovecraftian in the things that appeared from the Buick, horrifying in their strangeness but I didn't feel overly impressed with the novel as a supernatural tale of terror.

But partway through, I realised, this isn't what it's really about. I ought to know better by now. Although Stephen King is known for his horror stories, what makes him stand out above the rest is everything else, the humanity. From A Buick 8 isn't really about a creepy car, or creatures from another world. It's about family: the families we're born into and the family we make for ourselves. It's about grief, and curiosity, camaraderie and a shared history, about the life of a police troop over a lifetime, and about the connectedness of events. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but life is made up of "links in a chain." Conversely, King reminds us that even so, real life does not work out into a neat little narrative. The world doesn't always give you the answers, and given the cops' reaction to the Buick and its mysteries, I wonder if the message to take away is that we couldn't handle the answers if we were given them.

From A Buick 8 was not one of King's more famous books, and I came to it without any prior knowledge or preconceptions. Certainly it is no Carrie or The Shining - but neither, thankfully, is it a Dreamcatcher. If you come to it expecting a fast-paced, action-packed thriller, you may be disappointed, but if you accept it for what it is - a pensive, brooding examination of storytelling - it's well worth a read.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Bout of Books: Days 5-7

Friday 16th May


I didn't read any more after finishing Blood and Chocolate last night. It's my own fault. The problem with my laptop screen seems to have righted itself, at least for the moment, and I ended up spending the rest of Thursday internetting the night away.

I got my lie-in this morning, although I didn't sleep all that late, considering. I've been sleeping with the curtains open, and I woke up quite naturally - no alarm today, hurrah! I spent a little time over breakfast/brunch reading through other bloggers' posts, then headed out into the garden to spend some time on the lounger with From A Buick 8 by Stephen King. It's got a classic ghost story feel to it, narrated by Sandy an old cop, telling his story of what happened with this mysterious, impossible car that turned up at the filling station one day many years ago. Not only is it written as though spoken, but there is a story within a story, the framing device of Sandy telling us about telling another character, Ned, the car's weird history, and we take our cues from Ned's reactions. I'm not a quarter of the way in, and I'm not sure how a creepy car can fill up another 360 pages, but I'll read on and see.

Friday's stats

Number of books started: 3
Number of books finished: 2
Books read today: From a Buick 8
Number of pages read today:  170
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer
Quotes of the day: "It's earthquake country in there."
"They see it and don't see it at the same time," he said, "Young people are such wonderful idiots."


I didn't get as much reading done on Friday as I'd hoped; I spent a lot of that day just pottering, and in the evening I finally finished watching Buffy which I began back in January. I'll post a season 7 review in the next few days, and perhaps a post recapping the highlights of the entire series. I'm not convinced that season 7 was as good as any of the previous seasons, but it ended on an epic finale.

Saturday I was back at work, which was far more tolerable than the previous few days, probably because I'd had a lie-in and a rest. I did, however, lose a battle with my inner snarker that I've been fighting for the six years I've been in this job:
Customer, approaching me while I'm shelving books: Are you on the till?
Me: Actually, I'm right here. I can go to the till if you like.
I fear I have inherited my father's pedantry.

Not much reading happened yesterday, as in the evening my friend and I went to see a local theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing. (That was the play I auditioned for back in January.) It was a cosy play, in a small venue, set in 1920s Paris, and partly staged at the tables where the audience were sitting. I think that Benedick had been at least partially influenced by David Tennant's portrayal; certainly he had a similar sort of charm and humour in the role. I could identify the Beatrice as soon as I saw her, just from her posture and attitude. And in this one, even the minor roles, the sidekicks of supporting characters who I barely noticed in other productions, were memorable and brilliant, particularly the drunken Borachio.

Friday's stats

Number of books started: 3
Number of books finished: 2
Books read today: From a Buick 8
Number of pages read today:  40
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer

Sunday was another day off, and a gorgeously sunny day, without a cloud in the sky. I sat in the garden before lunch, debating whether or not I could be bothered to take the bus to the beach. I felt too lazy, but the sea won. I joined Judith at Yaverland, read for a while and did not fall asleep (and yes, I wore sunscreen.) I even went for a swim in the sea. The verdict: not comfortable, but bearable, a little less cold than last time, but not recommended to those of sound mind. Then when I got back to the beach I realised I'd forgotten to bring a skirt, meaning I had to travel home in soggy shorts - a little embarrassing. I've almost finished From A Buick 8, which is not one of Stephen King's greatest novels, but it's quite readable - not really about an impossible car, so much as the lives affected by the creepy Buick over the years. I plan to review that fully this week as well. Dear bloggers, please nag me if I've posted no reviews this time next week. I've still got a Star Trek film review to write too, though I expect that's more for my own satisfaction than anyone else's.

Sunday stats

Number of books started: 3
Number of books finished: 2
Books read today: From a Buick 8
Number of pages read today:  232
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer
Quote of the day: "It's funny how close the past is, sometimes. Sometimes it seems as if you cold almost reach out and touch it. Only...
Only who really wants to?"

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Bout of Books 10: Days 3 and 4

Wednesday was another long day at work, slow and quiet, with not a lot of jobs to keep me occupied. I came home tired and grumpy, to which my dad responded by handing me all sorts of cake and chocolate. I think he has the same way of comforting people that I do: someone's upset... give them cake! It certainly helped my mood, and I've felt that bit more able to cope with today, even though I woke in a panic at about 5AM convinced I'd slept through my alarm. (I really hadn't.) This happens on a regular basis when I'm stressed or working long hours. Thankfully I have tomorrow off, which I have booked for reading From a Buick 8 by Stephen King, and generally ignoring the world. (Also chores.)

What I've been reading

I finished The Charioteer last night. Have any of you read it? For the most part, I felt that it was a fairly positive read; Yes, Laurie had his inner battles with secrecy and identity and integrity, but I felt that he was a person who could fight these conflicts and win. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for all of his associates, and I'm not sure what to make of the ending. The last couple of chapters filled me with dread, and at one point I was actually shouting at the book. Thanks to Renault's poetic style that told the story through hints and insinuations, the ending seemed quite open, and I'm not sure whether catastrophe was averted or not. If you read it, what do you think?

I also reread Blood and Chocolate for the first time since I was in my teens. I'd almost entirely forgotten the story, except for one scene which had stuck vividly in my head and turned out to be a combination of two different incidents and significantly tamer than I'd remembered. It's a pre-Twilight paranormal romance, told from the point of view of Vivian, the werewolf, who falls in love with a human.  Vivian is a refreshingly bold and forward YA heroine, who knows what she wants and goes after it. As part of the werewolf pack, she doesn't see her kind as cursed; instead it is the humans who are freaks, incomplete people, stuck in one shape.

Wednesday's stats

Number of books started: 2
Number of books finished: 1
Books read today: The Charioteer, Blood and Chocolate
Number of pages read today:  205
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer
Quote of the day: "He was a human after all, a meat-boy, scantily furred, an incomplete creature who had only one form." - Blood and Chocolate

Thursday's stats

Number of books started: 2
Number of books finished: 2
Books read today: Blood and Chocolate
Number of pages read today:  109
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer

Next up: From a Buick 8 - Stephen King

Monday, 12 May 2014

Bout of Books 10: Days 1 and 2

Day 1: Monday 12th May

It's been a while since I've taken part in a readathon - in fact, it's been a while since I've blogged at all. I've been reading and watching plenty, but been in a bit of a reviewing slump and haven't been able to think about much to say about my books. Hopefully, writing a little bit about my reading each day for the readathon will help me get into that frame of mind again. But it will be only a little bit, for two reasons: firstly, I'm working full-time this week. (This is a good thing: I am only on a part-time contract, and overtime has been scarce in the past few months. But why did it have to be this week?) Secondly, Ruby, my faithful red laptop, has developed a screen condition and due to the aforementioned long week, I shan't be able to see my computer-doctor cousin Jeremy until Friday at the earliest, so will have to rely on borrowed computers for all blogging purposes. Still, this has its benefits in that most of my readathon time will be spent, well, reading, rather than internetting the day away.

My Books

I've selected a range of books to choose from this week and do not expect or intend to read all of them. My target is 3 or 4.

1. Blood and Chocolate - Annette Curtis Klause

This will be a reread. I first read Blood and Chocolate about ten years ago, when I developed a soft spot for werewolves (for which we can probably thank Remus Lupin.) This predates the current version of human/non-human romances, and the protagonist is the female werewolf who falls in love with a human boy. I don't remember a lot about this one. I bought this copy from Ellie's shop last year.

2. The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch

This has been on my radar since its first publication, and last year a lot of my blogger friends started raving about it, pushing it right up my wish list. Around the same time, it turned up in The Works on a 3 for £5 offer. It was a no-brainer.

3. From A Buick 8 - Stephen King.

This is a King I have no foreknowledge or preconceptions about, except that presumably it involves a car. Another The Works find.

4. The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks.

I tried the first of Banks's "M" novels about the Culture during a Bout of Books last year, and to be honest I struggled somewhat with it. I've since found out that The Player of Games is generally considered a better introduction to the series, and so I'll give him a second chance. (I also have one of his "M-less" novels on my to-read pile, though that has not made the readathon shortlist.)

5. The Charioteer - Mary Renault

I'd never heard of this one before its striking cover caught my eye earlier this year. Apparently yellow covers are the way to go! The story of a gay soldier during World War 2, apparently this was quite a daring and groundbreaking novel when it was published in 1953. I'm really looking forward to this one.

6. Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson

I love Dorothy Koomson. Her books are marketed in edible-looking pastel covers, but they prove that feminine does not mean fluffy, and they can be hard-hitting and thought-provoking. The Rose Petal Beach was a thriller on a par with Gone Girl. Read Koomson, but don't expect a "light" read.

7. The Cuckoo's Calling - "Robert Galbraith."

Interesting how, when the first Cormoran Strike book was believed to be penned by an unknown, its RRP was £16.99, and now it is known to be written by J.K. Rowling, the publishers have put a price of £20 on the sequel. Huh. I bought this on special offer after "Mr Galbraith's" true identity was revealed (incidentally, on the same week as the paperback of her Casual Vacancy) but did not want to read it at the same time as my Harry Potter reread. It's been kind of forgotten since then. Maybe I'll correct that this week.

9PM: What I've been reading

It made sense for me to start the readathon with the book I was most excited to read, The Charioteer. The hero, Laurie Odell, is a decent, good-natured and slightly eccentric young man, who we meet first as a small child and then as a schoolboy, before launching into the main plot which commences after he has been wounded at Dunkirk. He befriends Andrew, a conscientious objector working at the hospital where Laurie is convalescing, and the narrative is brimming with tension as they grow closer, not daring to speak of or act upon their feelings for fear that they have misinterpreted the other's. The Charioteer is proving to be a thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate work of art that is way ahead of its time, and I'm enjoying spending this time with Laurie.

Monday's stats:

Number of books started: 1.
Number of books finished: 0.
Books read today: The Charioteer
Number of pages read today:  202
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer
Quote of the day: "When you feel less superior it seems you feel more lonely." - Laurie, page 85.

Day 2: Tuesday 13th May

Today has not been a good day. My very first customer at work was a woman who on her last visit made such a nuisance of herself that I ended up close to having a panic attack, and in a voice like poisoned honey, she referred back to that incident, not buying anything, apparently coming in for the express purpose of reminding my supervisor and myself of how unpleasant she was. My second customer wasn't much better...

I've only had one day off in the last week, and it's two more days until the next one. I am tired, and when I get tired, that's why I let my defences down and the negative, destructive thoughts creep in. Why can't they make way for something more positive; a silly crush or ridiculous daydreams, for a change? Why are positive emotions so much more hard work than the negative ones? It was my ex's birthday last week, and getting in touch with him again, even just to say "happy birthday" via Facebook reminded me of all the things that even five years on have power over me. Memories - good and bad - still pop up out to jab at my brain and hurt me as if they were brand-new. I should be long over it by now.

At least I have my book. I'm aiming to finish The Charioteer this evening, although it feels like a book I really ought to take my time over. Still, I've no doubt it's a keeper. Our hero Laurie is finding himself caught between two worlds; not a love triangle precisely, but he is divided between the close friendship with the innocent Andrew, who is still on the verge of figuring out the potential of their relationship, and the older, more worldly Ralph Lanyon, who had been a prefect at Laurie's public school, and a bit of a hero to him. I really hope this story has a happy ending.

Tuesday's stats

Number of books started: 1.
Number of books finished: 0
Books read today: The Charioteer
Number of pages read today:  180 
Favourite book so far: The Charioteer
Quote of the day: "I'm not prepared to accept a standard which puts the whole of my emotional life on the plane of immorality." - Alec

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...