R is My World

I kind of disappeared from my blog about seven months ago. A lot of things happened and a lot of things changed. So what really happened? The short and long answer is I fell in love. I started running to become fit and before I knew it I was running five times a week and getting better with every run. I still enjoyed reading books, but didn’t talk or write much about them. From one book and run to another I became more secluded in my own world and I realised I was missing something from my ‘previous’ life. I have missed talking about books and meeting people who, like me, attend book events. I went to Peter V Brett and Joe Abercrombie events and it jerked me out of my sole fitness obsession back to what I have always loved. Now, I try gradually to get back to talking about books here on my blog.

Peter V Brett

Peter V Brett

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Joe Abercrombie

I have booked lots of Edinburgh Book Festival and Bloody Scotland events and am really looking forward to getting immersed in the bookish ambiance. I can’t wait to meet old friends, who I used to attend events with, and new ones. Another exciting thing is that I am a juror for the British Fantasy Awards again this year. Together with two other jurors we are going to pick the best fantasy novel:

Best fantasy novel (the Robert Holdstock Award)
Breed, KT Davies (Fox Spirit Books)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books)
A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Moon King, Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)
The Relic Guild, Edward Cox (Gollancz)

All six titles are great books and it is going to be extremely difficult to pick just one winner, but I am looking forward to the book banter with my co-jurors. 🙂

The Guardian on the British Fantasy Awards shortlist: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/21/british-fantasy-awards-shortlists-lavie-tidhar-man-lies-dreaming?CMP=twt_books%5Egdnbook

R is my world – I love getting up early for a run and that’s something from someone who is not a morning person. I fall asleep happily after reading that one more chapter. The biggest problem I have had is finding the right balance between my running and reading. Reading past my bed time and getting up earlier than usually has made me feel like a zombie occasionally. My training for my very first half-marathon leaves me totally exhausted sometimes and finding time for more reading is not easy. I am not even going to mention how I neglected my amazing partner who has been very supportive throughout my whole journey – for that I love him even more; if it’s possible. The positive thing of the whole personal journey is that I not only got really fit but also did find something new I love and something that makes me really happy. I realised how much more I am capable of and that I love seeing myself getting better than my yesterday’s self – even if my legs do hate me sometimes. 😉 So if you see me reading a book in my running shoes just steer me towards the nearest coffee shop for my fix of caffeine and cake. Another bonus of running is this incredible amount of cake that can be consumed guilt free. Yesterday I had a brilliant day – a 10 mile run, then cake, coffee and my feet up for reading.

RUNNING

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Neil Gaiman Fortunately, the Milk – Review

Fortunately, the Milk

Have you ever given it any thought as to what strange things could happen when you just nip out to the shop for milk? Whatever I thought could happen, isn’t as interesting and peculiar as the new story by Neil Gaiman titled Fortunately, the Milk.

A father left in charge of his two children has to go out to get milk for breakfast. It sounds very mundane, but it’s far from it in every single way. The story seems unreal. I mean who could believe that all these things happened? There are arty yet very slimy aliens – their re-designing ideas are very unusual, but maybe fun. There are pirates – I don’t know how they can call themselves pirates – who don’t know what ‘walking the plank’ means, with really mean intentions. And there is Professor Steg, a remarkable hero who saves the dad from many tricky situations. The professor is also a brilliant inventor, including an inventive vocabulary.

Professor Steg

Gaiman-esque dad and Professor Steg form quite an uncanny time travelling duo. The adventures get better and better with every turn of the page. They encounter bizarre, or perhaps slightly misunderstood, tribesmen, worshipping Splod, the Volcano God, who are awed by the visit from the man with the milk. As if from the frying pan into the fire, the odd couple run away from the heated volcano situation almost into the thirsty and very toothy jaws of wumpires – though they seem to be a more curious than hungry type. In the nick of time, Professor Steg and the dad get saved by the superhero intergalactic dinosaur police.

Galactic Police

Believe it or not, the dad gets home safe and sound with the milk. Explaining his shortish absence to his children is a completely different matter. As impossible as it all might sound, it is a true story and is beautifully told in Gaiman’s unique imaginative language. The book is illustrated by the insanely talented Chris Riddell. The story and illustrations form an amazing book which will delight all children and adults (or a child inside every adult).

I loved the whole story, not because I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s books, but because this is an incredibly funny and imaginative story that made me laugh and want to join the coolest Galactic Police.

Professor Steg by Neil Gaiman

Author: Neil Gaiman

Title: Fortunately, the Milk

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Format: Hardback, 160 pages

Published: 17/09/2013

ISBN: 9781408841761

Anonymous Gifted: The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas – Review

Book Sculpture

Back in November 2012, I wrote about amazing book sculptures (http://wp.me/p2xxG1-12) which were made by an anonymous artist. I then decided to get this book to flick through it anytime I wanted to see the sculptures again.

This book is a lovely story about the book sculptures. Each chapter takes you round all the great venues in Edinburgh which were lucky to receive them as a gift from this talented book lover. Every story gives you some information about the sculpture and how it was found. It also includes some brilliant pictures too.

It is a very inspiring and warm story about someone who loves books and wants other people to see their beauty in a different form. It’s a poignant celebration of reading and literature. It’s also incredible how each of the sculptures captures the spirit of Edinburgh: the City of Literature.

The anonymous artist gives her reason for making them in the last part of the book. She also gifted her notes on how to make your own Poetree – the very first book sculpture gifted to Scottish Poetry Library.

If you had a chance to attend one of the exhibitions last year, this book is a perfect keepsake and if you didn’t, then it’s an opportunity to see them all together, as after the exhibition tour finished, they went back to their home venues where they can be seen.

 

Author: Anonymous

Title: Gifted: The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas

Publisher: Polygon

Format: Kindle Edition, 96 pages

Published: 08/03/2013

ISBN: 9780857905741

 

World Book Night

2013_WBN_Logo

World Book Night 2013

I applied to be a World Book Night giver this year, as my experience from 2012 was both exciting and shocking.

Last year I was giving away copies of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I chose it because it’s funny and it is one of those books that might make people fall in love with reading. At the time I lived in Paisley and decided to give books away in the town centre and on public transport. There was a mixture of reactions – the majority negative. Paisley is a lovely little town in Renfrewshire. It has many places where books can be bought, including an amazing second hand bookshop (Abbey Books on Well Street), lots of charity shops and a couple of mainstream bookshops. Also, there are lots of libraries which have a wide range of books. Despite all that, most of the people I spoke to on the day said that they didn’t read. There were different reasons why – most of them said that they either didn’t like books or couldn’t find the genre they would enjoy. People’s reaction to me giving books away and trying to pass my enthusiasm for reading was mostly filled with suspicion or they looked at me as if I had just run away from the local psychiatric hospital. Those who gave me a chance to explain were very nicely surprised and happy to get a book. One man on the bus told me he didn’t read, but would give it a go. A lady in the shopping centre said reading was a waste of time. I tried to convince her otherwise. She did let me say what I thought of reading, but said that she was a single mother with three children and two jobs. I gave her a list of shorter books which she could borrow from the local library. I met her months later and didn’t recognise her when she stopped me in the street. She told me that reading was her way of ‘going on holidays’ she didn’t have to pay for.

Those people I spoke to had never heard of World Book Night – a few of them said it was a great idea, but some of them maintained there was no point, as people either read or not. That same day I also organised a Book Swap, which people really liked. On leaflets I stressed that people could come in even if they didn’t own any books and they could pick books to take home. That gave me an opportunity to talk to people about reading. Some people were actually embarrassed how little they read, but looked forward to reading more.

WBN Good Omens

That night my head was buzzing with a variety of emotions and opinions. I tried to understand people who didn’t read and how I could change their mind. I never wrote about my experience from 2012 before, as I was lost for words. 23rd April 2012 changed my perception of people versus books. I knew there were people who didn’t read, but I was taken aback by the number of them. I decided that I could try to do something every day not only for World Book Night.

I used to work with people who loved reading but I changed my job and my new work place was my challenge to start with. Talking about books, giving them away and engaging in conversations with co-workers about reading was my new challenge. I succeeded with a few. I was mostly happy about helping a young girl, who didn’t read – there was no reason why, she just didn’t read. She was into vampires, so I gave her Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. She loved it and kept asking for different books. I used to be a book hoarder. Ok, I still am, but it gave me an opportunity to pass on books which I decided I wouldn’t want to read again or keep for any other reason. That’s what I do, I read and pass books on. I love the feeling of giving someone the opportunity to escape to another world.

For World Book Night 2013 I applied to give away Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It’s an amazing book. I chose it not only because I loved it, but also because it’s relatively short and engrossing from the very beginning. I gave a few copies walking in the streets of Glasgow and on the bus. This year, to make it look more like a gift I tied a ribbon on each copy of the book and wrote a little note attached to it. I had only three rejections this year, which was a huge improvement. I also organised a Treasure Hunt inspired by Girl with a Pearl Earring in Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. There are no paintings by Vermeer but they have a brilliant collection of Dutch paintings.

There are a lot of lonely people coming to Kelvingrove every day. I work there and see these people coming and going like shadows. Some of them will talk to members of staff as they have no one else to talk to, others just come in, walk around and leave to come next day and do the same. I managed to give books to some of them. I also tried to show them how books can be interesting regardless of the subject. A lot of people think that art is a pretentious hobby of the rich people. Glasgow Museums have free entry and try to reach a lot of people from different backgrounds. Girl with a Pearl Earring was a perfect choice. People who received the copy were delighted to hear that it was a story of a young girl who worked for Vermeer’s family as a maid – a story of someone they could relate to, as one of ladies said to me. People who attended really enjoyed the challenge, chat about books, art and cupcakes I made (my secret weapon).

Treasure Hunt

Cupcakes

Girl with a Pearl Earring

I think it’s very important to try to reach out to people who don’t read. It doesn’t matter why they don’t read – what’s important is helping them to fall in love with reading. World Book Night is a brilliant project which might help people not only to find pleasure in reading, but to help them find something that keeps them happy regardless of what they have to face in life. It might be a cliché, but each book is a chance of having a different life, a chance to be someone else, to be somewhere else and to understand life from a different perspective – though when the cover is closed after the last chapter some of the book’s magic stays – an experience that enriches one’s life.

 

Yann Martel Life of Pi – Review

Reading Life of Pi doesn’t spark love at first page. I grew to love it gradually – it was like growing up with Pi in his world full of colours, emotions and dilemmas.

Pi is an interesting character whose curiosity made me question a lot of things I thought I was certain about – a lot of moral dilemmas such as religion, and what a human being is ready to do and endure in order to survive.

After losing his family during their emigration to Canada, when the ship sank, Pi faces an excruciating journey across the Pacific Ocean. This journey tests him to the very limits – not only because he lost everything but also because of what he gained. First of all, he acquires a new companion – a Royal Bengal tiger amongst other animal passengers rescued after the ship sank. Both Pi and Richard Parker, which was the tiger’s name, learn how to live together and if it’s even possible in such a limited space.

This story is not a straightforward tale of a boy lost at the sea. It gives us an inquisitive insight into the human soul. Pi’s courage and persistence take him a long way and let him experience the best and worst moments of his life. The strange friendship he gained is not built on trust, but on the constant fear of being left completely alone. For me, in a symbolic meaning, it was a symbiosis of body and mind – a boy whose body was weakened by dehydration, starvation and weather, versus a mind which took the form of a ferocious wild animal that had survival as its critical aim at all costs.

The language in the book is truly haunting. Vibrant descriptions create unforgettable images – it applies to all colourful pictures of places and people, and also to those brutal and explicit scenes of extreme measures taken in order to survive. It left me stunned at moments of total bare honesty of the situation. Also, dreams and reality mix in the most bizarre ways – ways which perfectly complement this captivating story. I really liked the intertwining chapters in the book which shed a bit of light on what his life was like after his journey.

It’s a compelling story of survival and humanity in the most challenging setting. It’s one of those books which will make you think for hours and still would not provide clear answers, as each and every reader will have a different opinion and understanding of the story.

Author: Yann Martel

Title: Life of Pi

Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd

Format: Paperback 352 pages

Published: 04/10/2012

ISBN: 9780857865533

J. R. R. Tolkien The Hobbit – Review

The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is one of those books which are read many times. There are probably many different reasons why. For me it’s the world which is described in the book. Tolkien’s language is rich and captivating.

I love the little details of Bilbo’s home – his homesickness during his adventures is understandably painful, as we know how cosy and perfect his Bag-End is.

Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain is full of unexpected events – let’s face it, in his case the whole adventure is unexpected. He’s employed to be a burglar by a group of Dwarves who want to claim treasure which belongs to them and their ancestors. There’s only one fiery obstacle – Smaug the dragon, who adores gold and all that shines. They know that and still trudge on on their journey, but soon realise that it is more formidable than they anticipated.

The book is full of adventures which involve many creatures – some of them will become Bilbo’s friends and the other ones will try his very limits; in many different ways. At the same time, Bilbo is able to explore his strengths and weaknesses. Though the Dwarves are the backbone of the story, as their nostalgia for the ‘heart’ of the mountain and their lost home drives them through thick and thin, they get to accept Bilbo as a valuable asset in their team and as their friend.

Gandalf takes the role of the matchmaker – even Bilbo didn’t realise he had certain qualities that would make him one of the best burglars – protector and advisor of this journey. He disappears occasionally but always comes back when more pressing and darker matters are settled.

One of my favourite characters is Beorn – the shifter of sorts who is a dangerous creature with a big heart. Elves, goblins, giants, trolls and more or less dangerous creatures live amongst the pages of The Hobbit.

There’s no time to stop and reflect on each step of their journey, because there are more and more exciting adventures with every turn of the page. Also, the Ring is found, which becomes the core of a greater story further on.

It’s not only a merry trip filled with lyrical songs and dangers of all sorts here and there, but a story which will make you laugh and cry a little bit perhaps too. The Hobbit has it all – minor feuds, mind duels, heroic bravery, magic and battles of great magnitude and sacrifice.

Nevertheless, the most important thing is that this little story can make you fall in love with fantasy, as it did with me when I first read it years ago as a child. Smaug might have been the first dragon that I grew to like – memories of reading this book for the first time take me back to my happy book childhood filled with knights, dragons and amazing adventures. I re-read it at least three times afterwards and another time just before seeing the film. I would encourage everyone to read The Hobbit and enjoy the great unexpected adventure.

Author: J. R. R. Tolkien

Title: The Hobbit

Publisher: Unwin Paperbacks

Format: Paperback, 288 pages

Published: 1979

ISBN: 0048231541

Santa Claus and the End of the World

‘This queue has not moved for the last 35 minutes or so!’ No one was really reacting to comments like that anymore. It was a long line of confused and bemused casting hopefuls.

It was supposed to be a busy day at the workshop and no one wanted to spend time waiting and stomping around to keep warm.

‘Hot chocolate, coffee, tea, whisky!’ – A stroppy looking elf girl shouted without any sales pitch enthusiasm.

‘Hot chocolate with whisky for me, dear.’ – Cupid said, taking his wallet from his freshly combed fur pocket. ‘Quite a slow day, isn’t it dear?’

‘You’re not going to talk me into taking you to the front of the queue. Not even with that smile.’ She said with just a slight blush to complement her cold, reddish nose.

‘But my face was on the stamps last year. I’m the best candidate.’ – Cupid got a bit irritated with another futile queue jumping attempt.

‘Second class though.’ – said a bold voice behind him.

‘Says the one who tripped on take-off last year.’ – No smugness in his voice anymore. ‘Quite a Dancer you are.’

‘How can you know you’re the best candidate, when they haven’t even announced the candidate profile yet?’ – Said Dasher who was having second thoughts about any glam career. ‘Unless he knows something.’ Looking sideways, he shouted at the top of his voice. ‘He knows something we don’t! What is it? Tell us!’

Everyone was staring at that point. Who knows if it was only because they were bored, or maybe they all cared and wanted to win the mysterious contest. Santa was the master of the ceremony – they knew that, but no one had any idea what the show was about. It wasn’t anything to do with the delivery of presents, as the team of 9 was strong and ready. No. It was something exciting and dark. Dark like nights beyond Lapland.

‘I think it’s just another panto. Maybe a Jerry Springer take on Christmas or something.’ – said Cupid, sipping his hot chocolate. ‘I saw him trying on a dark cape and red boa the other day.’

The jolly banter carried on for some time. An hour or two and the queue had not moved an inch. One or two creatures left, mumbling under their noses at what a total disaster it was. When the individual chats stopped all of a sudden, every one followed a caped creature that sneaked out the door and was rushing away. Vixen was first to chase. Then chaos erupted. The queue disappeared and the cape fluttered as the chased creature was running. Suddenly a red glow stopped everyone. Rudolph realised there was no escape and he had to face them. Face them all and tell them what? That he’s been chosen to be Santa’s sidekick in this crazy ceremony of sorts. Would that really matter as the world is going to end this Friday? Friday 21st of December – nothing special about it. He composed himself and turned round to look at shocked faces full of questions.

‘I… You know I’d not be able to say anything in advance, but now it doesn’t matter.’ – He shifted his weight and looked around. ‘I suppose I can reveal the plan now.’

‘Is it another panto? I want to be the Dame this year.’ Prancer moved to the front. Face to face with Rudolph now.

‘To be quite truthful, I don’t know what to say. It’s a show. The greatest show on earth. The end of the world.’ He paused and looked around again. They didn’t seem to register the gravity of the matter. ‘Only reindeer will be taken into account during the selection.’

‘I told you Norman we had no chance and yet you insisted to come and wait. Now I missed my episode of Snowydale!’ Two arctic foxes walked away before anything else was said.

Total silence enveloped them all and made them feel colder than ever.

‘What do you mean by the end of the world, Rudolph?’ Blitzen was serious, and with his voice, it dropped heavily on them. It was a serious matter. It wasn’t a casting for a ditsy play they would come to see with their families and friends.

‘Santa is looking for the Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse.’ – Another moment of silence, some feet shuffled and started walking away.

‘Where are you all going? Are you not interested in what is going to happen?’ – Comet was firm and commanding. His posture demanded respect.

‘Rudolph clearly said that Santa is looking for reindeer. I’m a bear.’ The bear’s voice was a growl. ‘I have no interest in any games like that. I wish we knew before that only reindeer would be considered. I’ve wasted enough of my time. No one is going to help me drag all the trees tomorrow, to be ready for Christmas Eve.’

‘Helga, there will be no Christmas Eve.’ Rudolph cringed at hearing his own words.

No matter what it all meant, all the creatures left. Little groups of arguments and little groups of silence. Even the reindeer didn’t seem to care. Only 9 of them left. Standing together in a circle: Rudolph, Vixen, Dasher, Donner, Prancer, Dancer, Comet, Blitzen and Cupid.

‘So what’s going to happen?’ Cupid’s voice was quiet.

‘All I was told is that we need Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse. Nothing else was divulged. Mrs Claus has been crying all day and sewing red sparkly sequins on four black capes. Like this one.’ Rudolph turned around and they saw a shimmering red on black. Colours of evil and darkness.

‘I don’t think I want to be part of it. I forfeit my place in the queue.’ He looked down on his polished hooves. ‘I’ll hit the Frozen Beak to catch up with friends.’

‘It’s not your decision to leave Cupid.’ They followed the voice emerging from behind the firs.

‘Santa! I am ready to stand by you. Whatever it takes.’ Cupid looked ashamed but admired Blitzen’s courage.

‘Thank you. I appreciate it.’ Santa stood in the centre of the circle. ‘I need all of you, but you will have different roles.’

The temperature dropped even lower as they stood amongst the trees and listened to the bleak revelations.

Rudolph was the only one who knew that Santa had already made up his mind. He observed them day and night for quite some time and had decided what to do.

There was no time to rehearse much. They agreed to follow the rules and learn what they were to do on the day.

The Elf workshop ceased its operation. There was no point in making more toys as no one would get them. Instead all the creatures lost themselves in celebrations to either prepare themselves for the end of the world or to forget something like that was bound to happen.

The night before, no one slept. The chosen Four went under a set preparation routine – fur combed, hooves polished, antlers oiled, bells fixed etc.

Only Santa was strangely composed and somewhat cheerful. Some put it down to Mrs Claus’ cherry liquor, some to the possibility that he knew what he was doing. But hope didn’t flicker in many hearts that day.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Comet the Spacebound Reindeer, Donner the Thunder Reindeer and Blitzen the Lightning Reindeer stood abreast in the capes. It was a pitch black evening and all eyes gleamed around. So many creatures came to say goodbye.

Santa took his position at the front and mounted his space snow scooter. New technology if you ask me.

‘Ready, my Four Reindeer of the Apocalypse?’ His eyes shining with pride and purpose. ‘Let’s deliver the end of the world and start a new one.’

Creatures around listened but didn’t understand what he meant. There was the end of the word coming and he was happy about it. He would get a ticket from the Snow Police for driving under the influence.

‘Did you not say that the world would end? So why are you trying to fill our hearts with hope?’ Cupid was still angry, but he forgot what the real reason was. ‘And why is your sack full? No point in giving presents, is there? Answer me you old fool!’

‘Cupid!’ Mrs Claus was taken aback by this sudden outburst.

‘No dear, they have the right to know. The mysterious period has come to an end.’ He didn’t shy from the eye contact. On the contrary, he boldly looked into their eyes and burst out laughing.

‘The end of the world? Really?’ It’s an understatement to say that everyone looked shell shocked. To add to this dramatic change of events the chosen Four joined him in a roar of laughter.

Pandemonium started. There were hysterical laughs, weeping, whining, screaming and silence.

‘People kept talking about this end of the world and I listened to their sceptical thoughts, their fearful thoughts and their empty thoughts.’ No one took a single word in. They just gazed with opened jaws. ‘The end of the world is like finishing a book. No matter what you think of it, if it’s good or bad, it comes to an end. My sack is full of brilliant books and I will, with help of my Reindeer of the Apocalypse, put an end to no reading habits! This year whoever is scared of the end of the world, which we know no one knows when and if it’s going to happen, will get a book to enter another world. Maybe more scary, maybe more cheerful, but a new world. We are bringing the end and the new beginning with each book we give this year for Christmas. Nothing else is given this year. Just books to make people happy in which they can discover new worlds and see for themselves that the end of the world will happen only when there’s no other book to read. No other world to enter.’

The End

Happy Christmas Reading Everyone! Hope you get lots of great books to lose yourself in.

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Herald Robin of the Apocalypse