Posts Tagged With: books

More on expanding my horizons

This is a follow-up to this post from December last year.

Last year I was concerned that my reading wasn’t diverse enough, and I published a map of the world showing the countries from which I had read something. I have included novels, short story collections, autobiographies and memoirs written by authors who were born/raised in these countries (even if they later moved elsewhere). I have not included books I’ve started but not finished, or single short stories. (Although I have read a lot of Russian and middle eastern fairy tales recently.)

This year, I have added books from China, Nigeria, and Japan to my map. Not a great start considering the high hopes I had twelve months ago, but I’m not giving up. My 2016 reading wish-list includes authors from:

  • Afghanistan
  • Czech Republic
  • Egypt
  • Mexico
  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Spain

I’d better get back to reading!



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Thank goodness!

I just had to share this article…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-read Harry Potter…

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Book Review: The African Trilogy

Note: Technically I’ll be reviewing three books here but since they were published in one volume, I’ll be reviewing them as a set.

I’m not exactly sure when I first saw Chinua Achebe’s name. I was researching books to read by authors from cultures other than my own, when it came up on some website or other. It also turned up on the catalogue of my local library, so I decided to give it a whirl. I’d never heard of The African Trilogy until a few weeks ago, and had no idea what it was going to be about when I started reading it, but boy was it worth it. Essentially it covers certain aspects of white colonization and attempts to ‘civilise’ the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria.

Things Fall Apart

Tells the story of Okonkwo, a resident of Umuofia. His father was not a good provider, and in his efforts to avoid his father’s poor reputation, Okonkwo rules his family with an iron fist. He keeps to the old traditions, and rapidly rises through the ranks of his village to become a respected citizen. Just as he is on the brink of attaining the highest title available to him… things fall apart (hence the title).

No Longer at Ease

Some 25 years after Things Fall Apart, we meet Okonkwo’s grandson Obi, who has just been convicted of using his position in the Nigerian civil service to take bribes. The judge at his trial expresses surprise that a man who has been given the opportunities Obi had (including being educated at a university in England) should sink so low. The remainder of the novel leaves the readers in no doubt, following Obi’s travels from Umuofia to the UK, and then to the city of Lagos – and his descent from a young idealist determined to keep his morals to convicted criminal.

Arrow of God

Is concerned with events in the six villages of Umuaro, which are overseen by the same white administration that appeared in Things Fall Apart. Ezeulu (translated literally, the ‘king of ulu’) is high priest of the god Ulu, who was created by the six villages to be their supreme deity after the villages united in war against another nearby clan. This has created some jealousy, particularly from Ezidemili, the high priest of the Royal Python (Idemili) who was formerly the highest deity in their pantheon. Ezeulu understands that his position is largely ceremonial. While he advises the local elders when times demand it, he rarely insists on his advice being followed. The white administrators do not understand this, and feel that Ezeulu should be given a warrant to become Chief of his clan (answering to the colonial government, of course.)

I chose to read this book because I wanted to expand my horizons a little, and experience literature from outside of my little bubble. Reading these novels was like sticking my toe into a pool to test the water and finding myself falling in the deep end. I knew almost nothing about Nigerian history and culture before I read this, so I was completely unprepared for what I learned. The way Achebe describes the Igbo peoples’ lifestyles and beliefs, was… well… there were certain practices that I’m not surprised the colonists wanted to stamp out. That said, there were also times when I found myself shaking my head at the depth of ignorance displayed by the ‘white masters’. Given the long history of British incompetence when it comes to Empire and colonisation (and the mistreatment of the native inhabitants in almost every country they conquered, including here in Australia) I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

As I have little previous experience of African literature, I’m not really sure how to describe the writing style. Was it typically African? I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t like anything I’ve read before. There was a certain amount of repetition, especially when nailing home instructive analogies which had clearly been passed down through the generations. Perhaps this was more pronounced because sometimes these sayings appeared in two – or even all three – of the novels.

Last question – did I enjoy The African Trilogy? Yes, I really did. It took me a little while to get into Things Fall Apart, but once I did I finished it quickly. No Longer at Ease I read in under a day. Arrow of God was the longest part of the trilogy, but still only took me a few days to read. If you, too, are looking to read something different, I would definitely recommend The African Trilogy.

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Post NaNo Blues

This week has felt really weird. (I know it’s only Wednesday today, but it has been 5 days since I finished NaNo, so almost a week.)

  • It’s been weird not forcing myself to sit in front of a computer screen until I’ve churned out at least 1,667 words each day.
  • It’s been weird not having conversations with my characters in my head.
  • It’s been weird not having something interesting (in my mind) to blog about each day.

In mid-October I made the decision that I was going to start the whole crazy NaNoWriMo journey. I sat down and started plotting and planning, thinking that I was nuts and would probably flame out by about day 5 or 6.  I never thought that not only would I love every minute of it, but I’d miss it when it was over. I really do miss it. So much so that I’ve already started jotting down notes for next years’ novel. Wait… did I mention that in my last post? I think I did. See… I’m running out of interesting things to say already!

Apparently, whether I meant to or not, I’ve learned a valuable lesson about making writing a daily habit. Now I need to work on balancing writing with my other commitments (or maybe even getting a life?) This year I haven’t written nearly enough. Well, I wrote a novel (eventually) and a lot of blog posts, but only one short story… Now that NaNo is over, I’m energised and enthusiastic, and already researching three short stories… and I mentioned next years’ novel, right?

To paraphrase Ebeneezer Scrooge, ‘I *will* honor [NaNo] and try to keep it all the year!’

On a different, but vaguely related note, today I got through nearly 150 pages of a book I started reading in October. I only have about 100 pages to go, so if I go back to it now, I may just have a review to post tomorrow!

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Yesterday I committed an offense against everything I hold dear…I left a book on a bus.

It was a stupid mistake. Usually I would take a train to work, but they’re doing track works this week so bus was my only option. I was rattled by this, as I’m not a morning person and any disruption to my routine at that hour shakes me up. I settled down to read, but at some point I must have fallen asleep. Now I could have sworn I put my book back in my bag before this happened, but apparently I only dreamed it. I woke up just as the bus was pulling up to my station and had to get off in a hurry – so much so that I didn’t check my seat…

I then spent an hour standing in the rain, waiting for yet another train replacement bus to take me to my workplace, then walked the last 2 blocks to the office (an hour late!) I pulled open my bag to get out my diary, and my heart sank. The novel that should have been right at the top wasn’t there…

I’m crushed…not only is it not like me to lose things, but it was a book I’ve never read before, and I was really enjoying it! I’ve asked every lost property office at all the train stations I’ve been to today. No luck. It doesn’t look like my book is coming home.

I have only two last thoughts on the subject, then I’m going to try to get over it…

1. I really hope whoever finds my book either: gives it to lost property, keeps it and reads it or gives it to someone else to read (and doesn’t just throw it away!!!)

2. I’m soooo grateful it was a paperback I lost and not my Kindle!!!

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A reading challenge

Throughout 2013, I frequently saw other bloggers updating their progress on reading challenges, but as I didn’t start my blog until March last year, I missed the opportunity to join any myself. I wasn’t seriously considering joining any this year either, until the “Back to the Classics 2014” challenge caught my eye. Hosted by Karen K. at Books and Chocolate, the challenge encourages readers to branch out and read more classics (Defined for the purposes of the challenge as books published more than 50 years ago – before 1964.) I’ve always loved reading classics, particularly Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare and even the odd Dickens, so finding classics which I a) hadn’t already read, and b) am interested in reading, was the real challenge for me here.The other bonus of choosing a challenge full of classics is that most of them should be fairly easy to find, and inexpensive too. I know two of my choices are sitting unread on my shelves already, and the others should be available at my favorite second-hand bookshop or local library. (If the worst comes to the worst, I’m sure I’ve seen many of my choices available for free eBook download on Amazon!) After a whole afternoon’s procrastination research…here are the categories, and the books I hope to read for each one. (All reviews will be linked to this list as I complete them. Additional requirements for each category can be found by clicking on the image above.) Required:

  1. A 20th Century Classic: D. E. Stevenson – Miss Buncle’s Book (1934)
  2. A 19th Century Classic: Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author: Charlotte Brontë (As Currer Bell) – Villette (1853)
  4. A Classic in Translation: Alexandre Dumas – The Man in the Iron Mask (1848)
  5. A Classic About WarErich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You: Mary Shelley – Frankenstein (1818)

Optional Categories:

  1. An American Classic: Stephen Crane – The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller: Fergus Hume – The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886)
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic: Baroness Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)
  4. A Classic That’s Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series: H. G. Wells – The Time Machine (1895)
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4. The Time Machine (2002)
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What happened to the last week??

Time’s been flying past again, and it’s been over a week since I’ve posted anything! Not that I haven’t been here. I’ve still been reading blogs, and commenting on blogs – even replying to comments on this blog – I just haven’t had anything interesting enough to say to merit a full post…

I’m hoping I’ll have plenty to say in the next few weeks though. I’ve been reading a lot, and hope to have a few new reviews up soon. I’ve also finally purchased a Kindle, but due to a communication issue with the bank I haven’t actually been able to buy any eBooks yet. I’m told this issue has now been fixed, so I’ll post an update on my Kindle experience once I’ve had a real chance to play with it.

As far as writing goes, it feels like over the past week or so my ‘get up and go’ just got up and went. In that spirit it seems a good time to share this quote, which has really resonated with me lately.

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” – Neil Gaiman

For me, yesterday was a good writing day. Not only did I manage to sketch out two plot outlines (one flash-fiction and one creative non-fiction), I actually managed to flesh one of them out to the point where it won’t need too much more editing and polishing before it’s ready for submission. I can’t tell you how good it felt to see some real progress!! I’m hoping to have both pieces ready for publication in the next issue of The Paperbook Collective so keep an eye out for them around December 1st!

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Book Review: Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks


John Curran is, in my opinion, one of the luckiest people in the world. He was granted unprecedented access to the private papers of one of my literary idols: Agatha Christie. In a small room in Greenway House, amid bound manuscripts and signed first editions of Christie’s novels and short stories, he was privileged to read a series of 73 exercise books. While these may have looked ordinary on the outside, on the inside was a treasure trove – handwritten notes detailing the origins of some of history’s most ingenious whodunnits.

Curran’s analysis is by no means exhaustive, but it paints a vivid picture of Ms Christie’s methods including (among others):

  • fleshing out the germs of ideas (including demonstrating how aspects of her real life inspired settings and characters in the novels)
  • frequent re-naming of characters
  • alternative storylines/clues/endings
  • an encyclopaedic knowledge of poisons.

In addition to the above, Curran sorts the stories into categories, demonstrating frequent themes that occur in Christie’s work. There are chapters on – for example – murders based on nursery rhymes, murders committed abroad, and re-investigations of cases where the trail has gone ‘cold’, to name a few.

Unfortunately in his discussion of the notes, it was impossible to avoid giving away the endings of several books, however Curran begins each chapter with a list of the stories whose solutions are revealed to allow people to skip them if they wish. I personally found that the on the few occasions where I had not read a story, Curran did not give enough detail to truly ‘spoil’ the ending, but merely made passing reference to the killer. Some solutions were given in more detail, but these were generally for Christie’s better known works, so perhaps the assumption had been made that most readers were familiar with these stories anyway.

As I mentioned several weeks ago in this post, as an aspiring writer I have been greatly encouraged by reading Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, if only because I was surprised to see that one of my literary idols used eerily similar methods of plotting to those I have developed for myself. In that spirit, this book is a must-read, not only for Christie fans, but for aspiring novelists looking for hints on plot development.

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The book was better…

This topic can hardly be seen as controversial. I’m sure it’s something that as readers, all of us have said at one time or another. When books are adapted for the screen (whether it be cinema or television) changes are going to be made. From poor casting choices to major plot alterations, stories are adjusted to differing degrees. On rare occasions, these changes bring something new and exciting to the piece, but for the most part they are going to disappoint someone.

I’m usually pretty laid back when it comes to my opinion of screen adaptions. If something adheres to what I see as the ‘spirit’ of the book, I’m usually happy. Take the Harry Potter series, for example. The world created in the films was almost exactly as I had imagined it when reading the books. They kept most of the main plot points in their places, and although I was disappointed that Peeves didn’t make the cut, I was still able to enjoy the parts that did make it onto the screen. My only concern with the films was that towards the end they left out a lot of explanatory details which may have confused people who hadn’t read the book…but that didn’t affect me personally.

People often express concern when they hear that a new adaption is going to be made of a favorite book. I was very concerned when one of my favourite series was recently adapted for TV. I’m not going to name names, mostly because

  1. They tell me the author was actually pretty happy with how the TV series turned out
  2. I’m afraid I may not be very nice about it

All I will say is that it’s a series of crime novels, and while I quite like the way the lead character is portrayed

  • several of the main characters are nothing like I imagined they’d be
  • several key characters were cut, and new characters were added in their place
  • due to the format, most of the story lines were cut down to a ridiculous degree
  • several new subplots (one completely out of character) were added to ‘tie the series together’

Let’s face it, they never tried any of that (insert the appropriate expletive here) on Agatha Christie’s novels…

Now that I’ve had my little rant, let’s get back on topic. I like to read the book first when I can. I’d much rather see the author’s original vision than someone else’s interpretation. I prefer to picture the scenes for myself, rather than rely on what I’m shown on the screen. There are some adaptions out now that I’m holding off from seeing until I’ve read the book/s.

  • The Hunger Games trilogy
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

There have been times when for one reason or another I’ve seen the screen adaption first. If I like it, I’ll usually go on and read the book, and nine times out of ten, I’ll find that I still enjoyed the book more than the movie. So how about you? What screen adaptions have you loved or hated? Why??

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I haven’t posted that much this week…why? There are two reasons.

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out a couple of decent plots for short story competitions I want to enter in the next few months.
  2. I’ve been reading a lot, but not finishing anything.

ImageAs it turns out, this picture is just a sample of the books currently on my TBR list. I took it a bit over a week ago, and in that time I have finished exactly one book in this pile. I am half-way through another two. Note that I said this is only a sample.

It does not include

  • Novels in a series that I’ve already read but want to revisit before the next release
  • Books I haven’t actually gotten my hands on yet
  • A couple of books I’d totally forgotten I’d bought (that happens to everyone, right?)

In reality, my TBR pile is probably close to twice this size…and I’m really starting to lose track of it. I’ve even resorted to listing books in a word document, and ticking them off as I read them, but lately it feels like for every book I tick off, I’m adding another two or three I haven’t got to yet.

I’m sure I’m not alone here…since I started blogging I’ve found many other bloggers publishing long lists of books they want to read (which is possibly a factor in the recent blow-out in my own list!) I’m open to suggestions. How do you deal with the TBR?

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