March check-in: New Year Resolutions update

Standard

This is a very late check-in to see how I got on with my three New Year’s Resolutions in March (see this post for the full explanation of my New Year’s Resolutions).

Here is how I got on with my resolutions in March:

1) Write more – I was aiming for at least 250 words a day and I managed to do that every day in March – awesome! In total I wrote 9632 words which is an average of 321 words per day.

2) Improve my cooking skills – Haven’t done a lot for this resolution in March. Must do better in April.

3) Read 25 books –  I finished A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust (part of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series) on 23rd March. So at the end of March I have read 4/25 books, which Goodreads tells me makes me 16% through my challenge.

Best bits: my top three things I saw on the internet last week

Standard

Weekly best bits blog

1) This amazing bus stop advertising by Pepsi Max:

 

2) This really creepy re-telling of The Velveteen Rabbit by Mallory Ortberg from The-Toast.net:

There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this “tidying up,” and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit did not forget her either. The Rabbit did not forget anything, once the Rabbit had decided he had been cheated.

Nana had cheated the Rabbit, and he would remember it.

Click here for the full story. (The original story was by Margery Williams.)

 

3) This story about chocolate biscuits which made me realise I have been eating them upside-down since I was a child. My mind is blown.

February check-in: New Year Resolutions update

Standard

In order to keep me motivated to achieve my New Year Resolutions I decided to do a monthly check-in post, as close to the last day of the month as I can. In this check-in post I will monitor how well I am doing with my three New Year’s Resolutions (see this post for my full explanation of my New Year’s Resolutions).

Here is how I got on with my resolutions in February:

1) Write more – I was aiming for at least 250 words a day and I managed to do that every day in February – hurray! In total I wrote 8735 words which is an average of 312 words per day.

2) Improve my cooking skills – In February I was experimenting with roasting vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes) to see which I preferred. I also cooked a version of the vegetable lasagne (using a different recipe than the one I used in January) and it worked out pretty well. I even served it to actual people who said they enjoyed it! Hurray again. I will try to post the recipe soon.

3) Read 25 books – I read More Than This (click here for my review) by Patrick Ness in early February for my book group and I have been trying to read A Dance with Dragons 1: Dreams and Dust (part of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series) for the past few weeks. So at the end of February I have read 3/25 books, which Goodreads tells me makes me 12% through my challenge.

More Than This – Review

Standard

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Warning: here be spoilers! Huge gargantuan spoilers.

More Than This is a young adult novel by Patrick Ness. It may also be a sci-fi novel and a dystopian novel. Or it might be neither of these. And that’s where the problem lies for me. The blurb of this book is:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked, bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange, deserted place? As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

That’s a lot of questions right there. And having read the 480 pages of this novel I am still not much clearer on the answers. Our protagonist Seth dies before we even get to chapter one of the story. Or does he? He ‘wakes’ in a seemingly abandoned world which he explores alone for 172 pages until he encounters some other characters and the book takes a new turn. Throughout part one of this book it seems likely that Seth has died and is experiencing some kind of afterlife. Or else, as Seth puts it, it’s all a dream ‘the last dream before death’. After Regine and Tomasz are introduced in part two, the story becomes more to do with what happened to the people of this abandoned world, and why. Seth’s former life abruptly goes from being his real life to potentially being a virtual reality.

I liked the characters in this book. I couldn’t help but have sympathy for Seth; a boy whose whole life was tainted by a decision he made when he was eight years old. I liked the fierceness of Regine and her ‘never give up’ attitude. I especially liked Tomasz who was incredibly sweet as well as being brave and resourceful. I wasn’t as keen on Seth’s friends in his ‘virtual life’; H and Monica were fairly one dimensional and I liked Gudmund and his relationship with Seth until the twist towards the end.

The biggest problem I had with this novel was the ending. I felt that there was a big build up, where so many different ideas were set up, and then instead of culminating in a stunning finale the novel just ended. It was hugely anticlimactic and I found myself very disappointed that I would not get to find out the truth.

Throughout the novel we are teased with the idea that the world Seth wakes up in may all be in his head, or perhaps it is hell. Or maybe the world he was in before wasn’t real. Things in this world seem too coincidental. Seth will think about something, for instance, that it’s weird that there are no animals in this world and a second later:

Foxes, he thinks. Actual foxes. At the very moment he thought about them. Almost as if he’d called them into being himself.

The virtual reality plot was eminently plausible to me so I found myself very frustrated when it seemed as if this was going to be the confirmed reality only for doubt to be thrown on it when, right at the end of the novel, Seth says:

If this was my brain trying to make sense of stuff…the Driver would be there, half-burnt, insane with revenge, waiting for one last attack before we do whatever it is we’re going to do.

And then that’s exactly what happened. The Driver appears, against all probability and that’s the moment that really pulled me out of the book. When it ended without telling us either way which version of reality was the ‘true’ one I was left with a feeling of huge disappointment.

Have people discovered a way to live their lives online (so fully immersed that they don’t even realise they aren’t in the ‘real world’)? Or was it, as Seth puts it just a dying brain making up one last story? Did the manner of Seth’s death (the fact that he hit his head in a particular place) mean that he got a second chance to live? Will he make things right with Gudmund? Will he confront his parents about the way they have treated him? Did his brother Owen survive the attack by the escaped prisoner or was he murdered, as the grave in the ‘real world’ would suggest? What happened to Regine and Tomasz once Seth went back to the ‘virtual’ world? Even if he came back, were they doomed to wander around in the ruined ‘real world’ until they all eventually died? Or would the people inhabiting the ‘virtual world’ wake up and reinhabit the ‘real world’?  If not, would they survive now that Seth, Tomasz and Regine had destroyed their caretaker? Was the Driver just a caretaker and why was he so intent on harming the trio if, once he had incapacitated them, he was just going to heal them anyway?

Ultimately, I was left with too many unanswered questions for me to be satisfied. I came away from it feeling frustrated and, to a certain extent, cheated. I invested in the characters in this book and I was very disappointed to end the novel not even knowing if they were ‘real’.

For this reason More Than This only gets 2 ** from me.

A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)

Standard

A feast for crowsA  Feast for Crows was a bit of a struggle for me. I found the Greyjoy chapters very hard to get through, mainly because none of the characters are very likeable and consequently I am not at all invested in their stories. I don’t care who assumes the position of power for the Iron Islands because all the candidates are equally awful.

I liked the Brienne chapters as well as the Jaime chapters (although I still don’t really like Jaime as a character – I just can’t forgive him for his actions in the first book) and I quite enjoyed the Arya and Cersei chapters too.

Overall, I felt as if this book were a filler; killing time until the next stage of the war begins. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I find A Dance with Dragons Part One more enjoyable.

 

January check-in: New Year Resolutions update

Standard

In order to keep me motivated to achieve my New Year Resolutions I have decided that I will do a monthly check-in post, as close to the last day of the month as I can. In this check-in post I will monitor how well I am doing with my three New Year’s Resolutions (see this post for my full explanation of my New Year’s Resolutions), as well as mentioning anything of note that I’ve achieved in that month.

Here is how I got on with my resolutions in January:

1) Write more – I was aiming for at least 250 words a day and I managed to do that every day, except one, in January. So 30/31 days were successful and in total I wrote 9202 words which is an average of 297 words per day.

2) Improve my cooking skills – I tried several new recipes in January. Not all of them worked perfectly (I may write more about that at a later date) but I know that the only way to improve a skill is by practise.

A recipe that I tried that worked out well was: Chicken tikka masala

A recipe that I felt needed more work was: Vegetable lasagne (which tasted yum but looked a bit of a mess)

3) Read 25 books – I read Let It Snow (click here for my review) at the beginning of January and I finished A Feast For Crows (part of the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series) yesterday. So I have read 2/25 books, which Goodreads tells me makes me 8% through my challenge.

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle

Standard

Let It Snow

Imagine it’s a snowy evening and you’ve settled down in front of the fire with a big mug of hot chocolate and a fluffy blanket. The hot chocolate is piled high with whipped cream and topped with marshmallows. It’s sweet and frothy and likely to make you feel like you’ve had your weekly allowance of sugar all in one go but it’s perfect for an evening when you’ve nowhere to be and nothing to do. This, for me, is what reading Let It Snow was like.

Let It Snow is a collection of three connected short stories, all of which are set over the Christmas period and during a blizzard. The first story is called ‘The Jubilee Express’ and was written by Maureen Johnson. The story begins on Christmas Eve as the eponymous Jubilee excitedly looks forward to going to her boyfriend’s house for his family’s annual Christmas Eve Smorgasbord (for those not in the know, a smorgasbord is a kind of Scandinavian buffet-type meal). Unfortunately her plans are ruined when her parents are arrested as part of the ‘Flobie Five’; a group involved in an altercation at the showroom of a collectibles company. Jubilee is put on a train to her grandparents but her Christmas Eve is further disrupted by the arrival of the ‘biggest storm in fifty years’, which causes her train to break down just outside of a small town called Gracetown. Jubilee’s decision to abandon the train for the sanctuary of a nearby Waffle House sets off a chain of events that affects not just her own life but the lives of several other characters that will later appear in the book.

The second story in the collection is titled ‘Cheertastic Christmas Miracle’ and is written by internet-favourite John Green. This story takes place late Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning and focuses on a trio of friends: Tobin, the Duke and JP. The story is told from the point-of-view of Tobin as he and his friends set out on an ill-advised journey through the snow to the Waffle House, where they have heard that a group of cheerleaders (who were travelling on the same train as Jubilee and followed her example after she escaped the train) are taking refuge from the storm and are desperately in need of Twister (the game that is, not a further weather phenomenon). Tobin and JP are very enthusiastic about their quest, the Duke less so, as the only girl in the group she is less enamoured at the thought of a roomful of cheerleaders, although the prospect of Waffle House hash browns ultimately sways her. Over the course of the night Tobin has somewhat of a revelation as he realises that perhaps his prospects for love lie closer to home than he realised and that actually the journey really is as important, if not more so, than the destination.

The third, and last, story in this collection is called ‘The Patron Saint of Pigs’ by Lauren Myracle. It is now Christmas Day in Gracetown and our latest protagonist Addie is heartbroken after splitting up from her boyfriend Jeb (who was also on the train with Jubilee and the cheerleaders, and later at the Waffle House with Tobin, the Duke and JP). Addie’s story develops over Boxing Day as she tries to discover why she sabotaged her relationship with Jeb and also tries to come to terms with the fact that several people in her life think she’s self-centred. As the title suggests, there is a pig involved and it ends up being part of Addie’s redemption quest.

Overall, I liked this book. It was sweet, light-hearted and entertaining. However, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to others unless they were specifically looking for an easy read as I felt it lacked depth, which is perhaps unsurprising in a book about teenage romance. I liked some of the characters (The Duke might have been my favourite) and found some of the others slightly annoying (mainly Addie) but the plot was fairly basic and there were some loose ends that I felt were just abandoned (such as the fate of the Flobie Five). I think the authors did a good job of interweaving the stories and characters and I think the book had a good sense of atmosphere. Let It Snow is worth a read if you’re looking to escape a stormy night, or feeling nostalgic for your years of teenage angst.

(I’ve also posted this on the website for the book group I attend – The Edge of Reading.)