Sunday, 26 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 3

This one really will be a fly-by post I'm afraid. It's been a mad, pretty horrible week for me. The next  paragraph will be all about me feeling sorry for myself, so feel free to skip ahead to the kitten picture instead.

On my day off, I met up with friends and felt that I utterly humiliated myself by being in a foul mood, although thinking about it afterwards I realised most of the humiliation was in my mind, things I hadn't said or done at all. I just wanted to disappear. But there's nothing like working in retail, in full view of the general public, for feeling invisible. Thursday was manic, so many jobs to do thanks to it being a big release date for new books Christmas, and I worked so hard trying to get about a week's worth of work done in a single day. Of course, the next day, the manager only noticed the things that got missed! Add to that all the customers who studiously pay great attention to the air a little to one side of me just to avoid eye contact or saying hello or, you know, acknowledging the existence of the shop person (although woe betide you if you're not exactly where they want you when they want something from you.) And just to round off the week, I had a customer nattering on his phone while purchasing something. I came so close to refusing to serve him. I wish I had. It doesn't happen to me too much, but it's a behaviour so universally despised it always shocks me when someone is that rude. How can they live with themselves?

Oh well. Next week is the last of what has felt like one continual week with the occasional day off. I'll be down to working four days in November, and my days off won't be so far apart. Hurrah!

This week I have been:


Not a lot, due to busy work schedule and tiredness, but I'm still enjoying 11.22.63 a lot. It's so different from what I had been expecting, but only in the best ways. I had been expecting a look at "what would the world be like if Kennedy had never been assassinated?" but well over halfway through and the critical date is still far off. Instead it looks at the little changes a person might make due to time travel, as well as immersing the reader in a fascinating setting, with characters one comes to really care about. We've reached the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which to me, as to protagonist Jake/George was something far-off and vague. Yes, I knew that people used to be afraid of the possibility of nuclear war, but knowing that it was a threat that came to nothing, I never really imagined what it must be like to live with that terror. King compares it with the days after 9/11.

Overall, Jake's plan seems to be going too well, too successful. The prologue showed him with a "what have I done?!" attitude, at the end of the tale, and I just know it's going to end in catastrophe. I just don't know what form that catastrophe is going to take.

I also read the latest Neil Gaiman book; a short story really, a fairytale that seems very familiar but challenges what you think you know in a way that, as is Gaiman's way, made me conclude: "Of course! Why did I never realise this before?" It is a gorgeous telling, and a gorgeous book, illustrated by Chris Riddell in black and gold ink.

Watching: Star Trek: Nemesis which will get a full review to complete the set. The end of an era, although I would agree with those fans who slot parody film Galaxy Quest after Star Trek Insurrection to keep the "Even-numbered films good, odd-numbered films not-so-good" pattern correct. It was not terrible, but it was a bittersweet end to the series.

I also watched Tangled on Netflix, which, now I'm nearing the end of my free trial, is working fine or mostly-fine for me now. I will keep testing it, and if it doesn't fail me again, will renew my membership. Netflix is not all I had hoped for - it does not have half of the films or shows I had wanted it for - but it is worthwhile for the things I'd like to see if not to own.

And I started season 2 of Heroes. I was glad to see that supervillain Sylar miraculously survived being skewered with a samurai sword, as he is a very entertaining (and, have I mentioned, disturbingly attractive?) antagonist. Not so pleased that Slimy Nathan Petrelli also survived, though his brother Peter is Missing Presumed Dead (in fact, he has forgotten his identity and fallen in with a bunch of thugs in County Cork.) Claire has started her new school with her own secret identity, but the cheerleaders are from the exact mould as those in her last school. And I realise how bored I am with the Evil Cheerleader character. Just one character, cut and pasted and reused in every single high school story ever. 

Knitting: a long blue cardigan for myself (with sparkles in the yarn) which is finished except for the buttons, and a secret project as part of a Christmas present. (ssshhh.)

Sleeping: whenever I can.

Eating: Too much chocolate. I have discovered the Thornton's Special Toffee bars which are so good - crunchy tiny bits of toffee, rather than the chewy sort.

Saving up for: a new phone. I don't really want one - I want my phone to be a phone, not a super-deluxe camera, or computer, or toaster - but after a hair-raising experience when trying to get to Oxford from London by a certain time while the main train line was closed, I've decided I need at least to be able to get onto travel websites on the go.

Also, though only potentially, an exciting holiday maybe next year. (That reminds me: need to renew my passport.)

Looking forward to: Having two days off, one after the other, on November 5th and 6th.

Walking: Last Sunday afternoon after blogging, while it was sunny, I went for a short walk past a nearby farm and back along the cycle track by the river. It's one of my favourite places to walk and think and daydream, and looked really lovely with the autumn leaves (before it rained, and they all turned mushy. Oh well.)

 This really wasn't a fly-by post at all, was it? Again.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post 2.

Good afternoon! There is sunshine today, which I have missed. Even though summer has not been over for long, I was starting to feel as though the sun had gone into hibernation until spring. I'm tempted to go out for a walk this afternoon, to make the most of the good weather and take in the bright autumn colours.

This week I have been...


I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb). More than just a memoir, this book helps you to understand not just what it is like to live under threat from the Taliban, but also the social, historical and political context that allows extremism to take hold. Malala is intelligent and passionate about the importance of universal education, demonstrating the harm done by ignorance, her frustration with those who would warp her religion to make it a tool for oppression. A powerful read from an extraordinary young woman.

I have also begun 11.22.63 by Stephen King, in which a teacher is sent back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. This book has a new, perhaps unique, take on time-travel. In this universe, it seems that there is a proper timeline, an established chain of events, and time really doesn't want to be altered. Every time you go back to the past (down an invisible flight of stairs in the pantry of a diner) the timeline resets itself. Or does it...?


I finished season 1 of Heroes, which I had been buddy-watching "with" my sister. I won't write a full review of this, but will put some of my thoughts onto the page in bullet-point form.

  • Fun, entertaining, incredibly cheesy at times, but not the greatest mastery of storytelling in the world. It felt a bit first-drafty, with plot holes and continuity errors, and seemed a bit disorientated. All I knew going into this show was "save the cheerleader, save the world," but I'm still a bit unsure of how saving Claire actually helped with saving "the world" (read: New York City) and how much of trying to prevent the coming apocalypse actually helped to make it (almost) a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • There were several characters with their own subplots, but the ones that interested me the most were Claire the indestructable cheerleader, the adorably geeky Hiro and his friend Ando, Peter Petrelli (although I loathed his family) and the psychotic super-villain Sylar (played by Zachary Quinto, the young Spock in the Star Trek reboot films), who could perhaps be argued to be a darker version of Peter. Peter absorbs other people's powers by standing near them. Sylar absorbs other people's powers by killing them horribly.
  • Sylar reminded me in some ways of Spike from Buffy, starting from the time when he paid a visit to the Bennet home and charmed the mother while waiting for the daughter to come home. Both have mommy issues, and both have a sinister dangerous charisma which is disturbingly attractive. 
  • A couple of characters had what I called "the Umbridge effect," which is to be so creepy and unpleasant they make the watching experience less fun. Claire's father, who Jenny and I christened Creepy Bennet, was one of these, morally ambiguous, doing terrible things for noble motives, but making my flesh crawl, and not in a good way. He does get some backstory and character development along the way, but I will keep up the nickname. Also, Peter Petrelli's politically ambitious brother Nathan, and their mother, were just plain slimy, contemptible. And there were a bunch of sinister corporations and mobsters whose stories just didn't interest me. Ultimately, sexy psychopathic supervillains are much more entertaining than slimy older guys in suits.

The verdict: Probably not something I'd re-watch over and over, but it sustained my interest enough to order the second season second-hand. (I intended to renew my Netflix subscription to watch the rest of the season, but the internet is a bit slow and unreliable on my computer and doesn't always like streaming videos.)


Judith asked me the other day if I was going to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, to which I answered unequivocally "no." I haven't written any fiction for a while, or at least not stuck to anything. And a couple of days ago, I was feeling sad about this lack of productivity, and my brain said, "surely you can write something, just a drabble or a short story?" But it seems I can't do short stories. With short stories you really need to keep it simple, about one thing, one event, just a couple of characters. And the plot bunnies got breeding, and the basic idea expanded and spread, until I came up with something that might at least go some way towards the 50 000 word count required to complete NaNoWriMo. My only fear is that I have two weeks before November starts: what if I lose interest? I'm not too concerned about hitting the 50K mark, but I'd like to write something in November. (I also have an idea for a drabble slash "fanfiction*" about two of the supporting characters in a novel I wrote several years ago. Hardly enough for a novel, but something.)

Enjoying: Pumpkin spiced lattes. As well as Starbucks, which I don't tend to visit, one of our local coffee shops has this as a limited edition autumn flavour, and it is delicious, one of the things that had me actually looking forward to autumn, which I tend to dread a little.

*Can one write fanfiction about one's own unpublished writing? I'm not sure this drabble is "canon" but I want to explore the relationship between these two characters nonetheless.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Fly-by post

Hello all, hope you're well. I've been back at work this week and it's been ridiculous. Two weeks into October, we are well and truly into the Retail Christmas season. I'm working full time this month to cover various other people's shifts, and my days off aren't even the same every week. I've worked four days, have today off, and have another four days starting tomorrow. I'm physically tired from moving so many heavy books and boxes around, so today is pretty much a duvet day.

This week I have been:


Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. I'm still working through all the Discworld books I haven't read before, and hope to finish the series by the end of the year.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. This was my birthday present from Ellie, a moving and surprising story about the effects of an unconventional upbringing on a family. It was very different from what I had expected - another book following this year's trend of excellent books with bright yellow covers.

Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok: the story of a little girl and her mother who move from Hong Kong to America, to find life there very different from the life they had envisioned. A beautiful, often sad but ultimately hopeful story about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Kwok evokes well the confusion of being young in a strange culture, with an incomplete understanding of the language and culture.

Not reading:

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I have to confess that went back to the library unfinished. I would like to read it at some point, but I've got so many newly-bought and birthday books to read, and I'd much rather get stuck into them.


Two more birthday presents arrived this week: books from bloggers Hanna and Charlotte. Charlotte sent me science fiction classic Flowers for Algernon, as well as a little Tolkien treasury full of poetry, art and ponderings about the Lord of the Rings. (This has found a home on my Lord of the Rings feature shelf - yes, I have a shelf of my bookcase devoted to Tolkien!) Meanwhile, Hanna sent me Stephen King's 11.22.63 which I, along with probably all of the UK Stephen King readers, keep writing the wrong way round, and which I have been wanting to read ever since it first came out. She also sent me The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making. How can a book with that title be anything but excellent? Thank you both so much, I'm thrilled by all of these books. My only problem is: which do I read first?


Heroes, season one, which I have been buddy-watching with my sister (even though she lives in London.) This never interested me when it was on TV - I couldn't be having with those superheroes. And then The Avengers happened, and I realised that those kinds of stories appealed to me after all. So far, Heroes is fairly familiar territory to anyone who watched X-Men or Agents of SHIELD, but with a greater focus on the effects of developing superpowers on ordinary people's ordinary lives. I'm only a few episodes in so far but I'm already getting attached to the characters. Hiro Nakamura is my favourite character so far - he is so unashamedly geeky! His excitement is so endearing.


Some friends had a tabletop gaming evening last night. The previous week, I was introduced to Netrunner, which was not very successful due to a poorly two-year-old refusing to go to sleep. Luckily young Sam was fast asleep last night, and we got through a game which I can't remember the name of, but was based on Lovecraft's writings. It is a collaborative game: players versus the monsters. The monsters won.


Not a lot, because the thunderstorm a few nights ago did something - I don't know what - to our wireless router. But since that's been fixed, I've been reading and watching Mark Oshiro reading Wyrd Sisters. With the introduction of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, the series becomes a very different thing. This is when it starts to get really good. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sunday Summary: Book splurges and birthdays

Hello! Hope you are all well. I'm feeling a particular case of the Sunday-itis. After having a lovely week off work, I'm going back tomorrow, and it's going to be crazy. Retail Christmas will be well and truly underway by now, and I've got a whole load of extra hours for the dreaded rearranging of the shop, and then my colleagues squeezing in their autumn holidays one after another. So for October, I'm allowing myself to take a step back from the blog, and just use what time off I have just to rest and try to stay sane through a usually-difficult season. I still hope to write some Sunday Summary posts, even if they are in bullet point format.

But first: BOOKS! ALL THE BOOKS! On Wednesday I took a trip up to Coventry, a city I haven't been to since I was twelve, in order to visit the newly-opened Big Comfy Bookshop, whose progress I've been following on Twitter. With the rise of internet shopping, it was so encouraging to see a new bookshop business - if you google how to open a bookshop, the answer tends to be "don't bother." Of course, the Internet would say that...

The Big Comfy Bookshop was pretty empty when I went in there, but the owner, Michael, told me it had been crazy-busy at the weekend, and he was pleased to have the chance to fill up the shelves and price the stock. It seemed to be Fresher's week at Coventry university, and Michael later tweeted that he had had lots of students in the shop. It is a decent-sized shop in a new shopping village away from the city centre, with a great range of books. It also doubles as a coffee shop, with comfy sofas and good cake. My problem was narrowing my selections down to what would fit in my book bag. For myself, I chose two Stephen Kings: Needful Things, which I have a vague memory of my ex-boyfriend raving about years ago, and Cell. I also discovered three of the four Space Odyssey books by Arthur C. Clarke, which my dad has been reading, but which have not all been readily available in the shops. I have the first book, the second was bought new and the third came from the library. The Big Comfy Bookshop provided the fourth and final book in the series.

As it seemed silly to come all the way up to Coventry just to visit one shop, I got myself thoroughly lost in the city centre, but had a chance to look around the old cathedral, which was famously bombed during World War 2. I also ended up buying more books in Waterstone's (Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, an author who has been brought to my attention by Alley's rave reviews) and Oxfam (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life In Space by Mary Roach, and Gravity by Tess Gerritson, which I know was reviewed by someone fairly recently, but I can't remember who. Sorry. Ellie?)

You'd think that might be enough books to be going on with, but my birthday happened yesterday, and it seems my mum has been cunningly intercepting the postman a lot this week. I had a stack of parcels from my lovely lovely blogger friends, and notice of some more to come. THANK YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE! That was such a wonderful surprise!

So: the presents. From my parents:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3 DVDs, to add to my Marvel collection, and the William Shakespeare's Star Wars books: The original Star Wars trilogy rewritten in Shakespearean language and iambic pentameter. Right up my nerdy street.

From my sister:

A Spock figurine, a set of Lord of the Rings collectable Pez dispensers, a Lego Batman film, and the third season of Sherlock.

From Ellie:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which she says she is also reading along with Hanna, and some delicious Thornton's chocolates. (I fear these will not last long.)

From Laura:

This is in fact the coolest birthday card ever as the cakes on it are made of fuzzy-felt, and you can rearrange them if you like. Also Kate Atkinson's Life After Life which I've been wanting to read for ages. Thank you Laura!

From Bex:

My fellow Swallows and Amazons-fan bought me this biography of the series' author, who led a very interesting life indeed when he wasn't writing innocent stories of children camping and sailing and playing at being pirates and explorers. When I went to the Lake District in August I looked for this book in every bookshop I went into, but even though Ransome is so strongly associated with the area, I couldn't find it anywhere. Hurrah for Bex!

From my other friends:

Judith bought me the red polka-dot handbag, which as you can see is a good size to keep a few books in. I always say a bag not big enough for books is no more than a purse (and not a lot of use.) She also gave me some chocolates, a pair or red earrings (not pictured) the gorgeous colourful cushion and Adventures with the Wife in Space, the account of a man who decides to introduce his wife to the other love of his life - Doctor Who, working through the entire classic series, episode by episode. My friend Sharon bought me a Tardis mug - which will go very nicely with my Tardis biscuit jar, and I got some interesting bath stuff from Sam and her twin daughters, Alice and Evie who are four.

It was a quiet sort of birthday, but my sister had come back from London to see me, Sam and the twins came over in the morning, which was a lovely surprise. I don't get to see a lot of them due to work - if I've got the day off, she tends to be working, and vice versa. We put on the Lego Batman film to keep them entertained, (and very entertaining it was, too. Batman and Superman team up and spend the whole time bickering, as do Lex Luthor and the Joker. If the forthcoming Batman vs Superman film is not as bickery as the the Lego versions, I will be very disappointed.) The girls are big fans of Scooby-Doo, and thanks to a Scooby-Doo/Batman crossover, they could name more of the villains than I could. They are learning young.

Last Christmas, I bought Alice and Evie a selection of picture books and Neil Gaiman's Fortunately The Milk. I hadn't heard how the twins got on with the latter book, but I was very pleased when Sam told me yesterday that they took it to school (they have just started "big school") and made their teacher read it to the class for story-time. Success!
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