August rounded up

I must apologise if it has been a quiet month here at I Hug My Books, despite plenty of reading fun behind the scenes, it seems I’ve had little or no time to share my thoughts. On a positive note though, this means that I have many upcoming reviews soon to be published and I can’t wait to let you all know about the great books I’ve recently discovered.

I started August by finishing How To Be A Woman by Caitln Moran, a book I absolutely loved and which had a huge impact upon me. It made me truly rethink so many of my principles and although I didn’t agree with all of Moran’s opinions it did remind me of the importance of nurturing and acknowledging my own feelings.

I then moved onto The Hunger Games, a book totally different to How To Be A Woman but one I still deeply enjoyed. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a book that you can just get your teeth stuck into. I couldn’t put it down from page one and frankly that’s sometimes all I want from a book.

I then moved onto a book I probably would never have read had it not being chosen for my book group. The book in question was Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and my review is soon to be published. I enjoyed this book, but in the midst of a month of brilliant reading, this book finds itself firmly at the bottom of the pile.

Last, but by no means least, I read The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This book links beautifully with Zafon’s other two novels The Shadow Of The Wind and The Angels Game and it took me no effort at all to become addicted to this story. So much so that no sooner had I started it then I had finished it. I must say it’s definitely spoilt my reading appetite, nothing I’ve picked up since seems quite as worthy. Fingers crossed it wont be too long till Zafon’s next offering.

So that was August for me. I’ve just started Q by Evan Mandery, I do hope the story picks up soon, because even though I’m only fifty pages in the story is really dragging. But what about everyone else? What did you read in August? Anything you could recommend? Anything that really got you talking? And what do you have planned for September?

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen finds herself selected as a contestant for the annual Hunger Games her world is turned upside down. Whisked from her squalid and impoverished home in District 12 she arrives in the dazzling and overwhelming Capitol. Soon she will be thrust into the arena, an unimaginably cruel and sadistic place created and controlled by the game keepers.

Katniss belongs to a new world, a scary and often dark place which emerged after an apocalyptic event saw the end of the world as we know it. In her world twelve districts are ruled by the resplendent and domineering Capitol. Whilst the Districts live in poverty, the Capitol shines with wealth. There were once thirteen districts, but when they all conspired to overthrow the Capitol, the thirteenth was destroyed. Now every year a boy and girl from age twelve to eighteen is picked from each district to compete in the Hungers Games. A fiercely cruel game set to remind each district of the Capitols omniscient power.

To win the competition the contestants must fight to the death in the arena. The last remaining contestant is the victor, but as Katniss prepares for the mission ahead she can’t help wondering if, after killing all contestants, will she really be a champion?

The Hunger Games takes all ideas of morality, love and humanity and turns them on their head. How far can one person go to survive if it means slaughtering innocent people?

I recently read an article where Collins explained that part of her inspiration came from the multitude of reality shows that congest our tv’s. I can see her logic. We live in a world obsessed with reality programmes, we morbidly watch as unlikely groups of people are banded together to live in confined quarters for our viewing pleasure. Team this with our ever increasing desensitisation to violence and you can conceive of a world like Katniss’s where The Hunger Games exists.

Although I do suspect that much of this stories success and appeal lies in the simple fact that Collins is, to put it simply, a brilliant story-teller. Often The Hungers Games is not the most eloquently or poetically written novel. Nor does Collins spend too much time deeply reflecting in any detail the impact of the world she has created. Some writers might have given more time and devotion into intricately exploring the reality of Katniss’s world, but where this novel lacks any intense musings, it more than makes up for it in an intoxicating, vivid and relentlessly captivating story.

I for one was hooked with this book. I loved the speculative nature of it, teamed with Collins talent for building suspense and drama. From page one I felt compelled to learn more about Katniss’s life, to see where her journey would take her and if she would survive. I actually felt slightly bereft upon finishing this book, what could I possibly read next that would captivate my attention so deeply?

This book is light and easy but it holds your attention and keeps you riveted throughout. Next time I find myself craving a book that I can wile away the hours with I will certainly reach for the next in this trilogy. So who else has read The Hunger Games, do you love it as much as me? Will you be reading the next one? Or perhaps you’ve read them all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

How To Be A Woman first found its way into my hands a year ago when a very lovely friend gave me it as a gift. As you can see from the note she wrote inside ‘I hope this book makes you as happy as it made me‘, she had high hopes that I would fall for Moran’s writing. Off course I was delighted to receive such a lovely gift, but if I’m being completely candid, yes I had reservations.

How To Be A Woman, written by a woman I’ve never even met before?! My first reaction was one of slight stubbornness and a good douse of disbelief. Why after twenty-six years of being female would I need a total stranger to tell me the secrets of ‘being a woman’? Then I read the blurb and realised this was also a book on feminism and I’m now ashamed to say I let out a loud groan of dissatisfaction.

I’m not a feminist! I don’t need to burn my bra’s or march against woman’s right, life is good, there’s nothing to ‘moan’ about. Oh, how wrong I was, how very wrong. Two weeks after finishing this book and I can’t believe I ever made such bogus, irrational and quite frankly ridiculous statements.

Read the below extract from the book and tell me what you think?

I realised that its technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on a woman’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor – before going back to quick-liming the dunny. This is why those female columnists in the Daily Mail – giving daily wail against feminism – amuse me. They paid you £1,600 for that, dear, I think. And I beat it’s going in your bank account, and not your husband’s. The more women argue, loudly against feminism, the more they prove it exists and that they enjoy it’s hard-won privileges’.

It was from around this paragraph on that I began to see the light at the end of tunnel. After years of perceiving feminism as a simply overly angry and outdated movement the blinkers began to come off and I realised that feminism was not only all around me, but an important movement that must never die out.

I chose to go to work today and tonight I’m writing my opinions in my blog. Simple choices that we daily take for granted and yet would I swap my laptop for some washing up gloves? My own voice for that of all of male societies? No. And for that off course I must thank feminism.

So after reeling in my attention with her powerful and provoking opening, Moran continued to dazzle and amaze me with her witty, outrageous and refreshingly honest prose. No punches are pulled in her ‘part memoir, part rant’. Which details Moran’s experiences from her first period, to body images, through to pregnancies, sexism and abortion.

I didn’t agree with all of her theories or ideas. I don’t think for example think that there is more pressure on women than men to portray themselves through their clothes. Nor have I quite made my own mind up on lap dancing bars, a subject Moran debates in great detail. I believe woman have a choice to do as they please, so long as they are safe and happy.

But then another part of me does despair at women who seem to sell themselves in such a one-dimensional, objectified and sexual way. There’s nothing worse than seeing a woman caked in three inches of make-up, wearing vertigo inducing heels and the most miniscule of clothing. It wasn’t until I read How To Be A Woman that my underdeveloped and unattended opinions began to take real form. In short this is a truly thought-provoking book.

Perhaps the most admirable piece of the whole book though is when Moran talks about the reason why sexism exists. There was none of the ‘girls your boyfriend secretly wants to kill you, he must be destroyed’ anger that I had expected and instead a very honest and brave admission that woman are overlooked as the weaker sex because for so many years we have being.

We are physically the weaker sex….so to the powerful came education, discussion, and the conception of ‘normality’…without citites, philosophers, empires, armies, politicians, explorers, scientists and engineers – women were the losers’. 

Off course Moran isn’t anti woman. She’s actually pro men and woman. She just highlights the simple fact that woman have, for many years, being the weaker sex and despite great advances in feminism we’ve not even begun to show the world what we’re made off. Were coming out the shadows after years of being looked down upon, even by ourselves and we have a voice.

It does help that Moran is so side-splitting funny, there just aren’t enough books that simply make you laugh out loud. I’ve read mixed reviews of this book and I know many people who didn’t like. But I also know many people who love it. My advice is this; men and woman read this book! Try it, feminist or not. You might hate it, you might love it, either way I’m sure it will get you talking and after all that’s what good books do.

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

A new book has being doing the rounds at my work, everyone is talking about it, it’s hot on all my colleagues lips and everyone seems desperate to read it. What am I talking about? The much coveted Fifty Shades Of Grey? Thankfully not!

The book I am in fact talking about is Born To Run and it’s actually rather good. A factual story told by and based upon the experiences of journalist Christopher McDougall as he goes in search of both ancient and new secrets into the art of running. In this honest, personal and often entertaining story Chris takes us with him on his journey. After many running related injuries and a string of recommendations to hang up his shoes, McDougall decides to look outside modern science for the answers into becoming a successful runner.

His mission takes him many, many miles from home and deep into the Mexican Copper Canyons in search of the elusive and mysterious Tarahumara, a tribe of people as famous for their incredible running capabilities as for being one of the most isolated and unattainable tribes of people in history. Along the way he meets the equally mysterious and notorious Caballo Blanco and a whole string of elite ultra runners each as eccentric as the other.

What unfolds is a whirlwind story, from the fascinating and unforgettable Caballo Blanco to the detailed portrayal of the Tarahumara. McDougall produces a rich, lively and tangible image of his extraordinary journey. You can be forgiven for thinking like I did that this is surely just a story about running? How interesting could that be? But you really don’t need to be sprinting miles and miles each day just to empathise with this story.

Despite my initial hesitations I soon became absorbed in Born To Run and from the first page the Tarahumara had me intrigued. There’s something compelling and attractive about a novel which offers us such a rare glimpse into a culture that otherwise very little is known about. The Tarahumara aren’t just runners, running is their life and McDougall’s understanding of that teamed with his discoveries and the story he has to tell make for a brilliant read.

My only issue with this book was the occasional and often tiring dips into technical and overly emphasised detail. Page by page accounts of the dynamics of a pair of Nike running shoes tended to leave me feeling slightly lacklustre. Off course I can appreciate that many other readers probably not only enjoyed these sections but lapped them up. And so I patiently persevered. My patience always paid off though and it wouldn’t be long before the story dragged me back into the complicated and often emotional world of running.

I particularly enjoyed the ending of this story and the poignant message it left me with. interestingly I finished this book a good few weeks ago and yet it’s still lingering in my head. Perhaps because I know the people of the story really exist? Or maybe because I know the events of the novel actually took place? Either way this is a spectacular novel and not one I’m likely forget.

I was also pleased to note that everyone who read this novel in my office loved it. From the geeky readers like me, to the sports lovers and most satisfying those who don’t usually like reading; they’ve all fallen for this story. Surely that’s the sign of a truly great book?

July Reflections

They say better late than never and hopefully that’s true. I’ve being meaning to sit down and share my thoughts with you on the wonderful books that I read in July and yet I keep getting side-tracked by a book that I’m currently reading and can’t put down. But enough of that for now, firstly it’s time to re-cap on July’s reading.

I began the month by reading Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, a book that on it’s on I did love, however pitted against the other brilliant books that I read in July somehow became overshadowed and paled in comparison. Every Last One, the story of a mother whose world becomes shattered and turned upside down when her family is hit by tragedy, is a compelling and intriguing story. Whilst it may not have been the best book that I read in July it is certainly worth a read.

Next up I chose a darker and more gothic novel in the form of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I first discovered Waters at the end of the year but I quickly fell in love with her writing style and talent for story telling. The Little Stranger was no disappointment, gripping from the first page, I couldn’t put this novel down. From the haunted feel of Hundred’s Hall to the complex decline of its residents. This is an intelligent and entertaining novel that you wont easily forget.

From ghosts to fantasy the next book I chose to read was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I chose this book for my book group in July and didn’t regret my choice. Whilst not everyone loved the book most did and I was happy to find a group of people with whom I could pick apart this rich and complex work. Northern Lights still ranks as one of my all time favourite books and for anyone put off by the fact that the book was originally a children’s story, fear not this book has just as much to offer an adult audience.

After immersing myself in so much fiction I decided to choose a more factual novel for my next book. This came in the form of Born To Run by Christopher Mcdougall and although I’m yet to share my thoughts on this book it’s enough to say that I was blown away by this story and was shocked to find myself so drawn into a story that essentially centres around running.

Lastly I began How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. I’m currently only half way through this book but Moran gives you so much to think about and muse over that I don’t want to rush a moment of it. Needless to say this is the book that has recently stole so much of my attention and had me up late into the night pouring over Moran’s witty and perceptive take on life and women. I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you when I’ve finished this book.

So that was July for me, ghosts, running, feminism, family tragedy and children’s fiction. It was certainly an eclectic month to say the least. As usual I don’t have any solid plans for August, other than reading Warm Bodies, a zombie novel, for my book group.

So what about everyone else? What have you all being reading this month? Anything amazing? And what do you have planned for August?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

I’ve never being one for re-reading books, I don’t have the inclination nor the patience, however if there’s one book that can break this long-standing rule of mine, it’s Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy His Dark Material.

With so many layers to this story it’s hard to get bored and a second or third reading always brings up fascinating discoveries that escaped me on a first reading. Northern Lights, the first in the series, takes place in Lyra’s world. A parallel universe like our own world in many ways but with some stark differences. Zepplin’s fly in the sky and academics puzzle themselves over elementary particles in order to understand life.

But even more exciting and perhaps endearing are Daemon’s. Daemon’s are the humans external soul which always take the form of an animal. Everyone in Lyra’s world has a Daemon and the to be parted from it brings about unbearable pain.

At the beginning of the novel we meet Lyra and her Daemon Pantalaimon and it’s here that we are first introduced to their tender and touching relationship. We also get our first glimpse into the wild and carefree life of orphaned Lyra, playing in the clay beds with her best friend Roger and waging war on the local children.

But unbeknownst to Lyra there are dark and mysterious forces at play in the world. haunting rumours are filling the air of evil Gobblers who steal children from their very homes, taking them to the unruly North to conduct unspeakable and cruel crimes all in the name of ‘Dust’.

When Lyra’s friend Roger is stolen by the Gobblers, Lyra is determined to save him. But then she meets the irresistible, fascinating and beautiful Mrs Coulter and is soon whisked away with the promise of an adventure. Her young eyes will become widened as she discovers the world around her, a curious place filled with strange and unfathomable mysteries. But can she really trust Mrs Coulter?

Soon she comes to realise that there is an epic war taking place in the world as Pullman grabs his readers and drags them into a world of true imagination. We meet armoured bears who rule the darkest regions of the North and witches who fly on cloud pine branches. Pullman expertly builds a sense of Lyra’s destiny and the part she must play in the great battle against Good and Evil.

Witches talk of a propehcy There is a curious propehcy about this child: she is destined to bring about the end of desinty. But she must do it without knowing what she is doing, as if it were her nature and not her destiny to do it. If she’s told what she must do, it will all fail; death will sweep through all the worlds; it will be the triumph of despair, for ever.

With this story come some engaging and compelling themes reflecting Pullman’s true atheist background. All masterfully blended in a story of real warmth and heart.

Were left wondering is it better to grow old and innocent, never committing sin or pain? or is better to experience and live life fully even if it lets pain and darkness in?

***BOOK GROUP THOUGHTS***

Thankfully most people loved this book but off course you can’t please everyone and it’s good to be reminded of this from time to time. One person decided not to finish the book whilst another stuck with it to the end but failed to become bowled over by Pullman’s story.

The rest of us seemed a lot more enamoured with the story and enjoyed analysing it, pouring over the many themes and our different reactions and interpretations of them. Incidentally this book is a perfect book group choice.

We were each impressed by Pullman’s talent for producing on one hand a simply compelling and fascinating story and on the other creating an urgent and important piece of literature.

It’s being a while since I read the sequel to this book, The Subtle Knife, but after receiving a first edition of the trilogy for Christmas I think it’s about time. So what does everyone else make of this book? Do you enjoy it just as much as me, or perhaps you feel very differently and hate this story?

If you have some time for a little light-hearted fun then take part in thie quiz which tells you what your Deamon would be. If you do try the quiz then be sure to post your answers below and your reactions to them.

The Prisoner Of Heaven & Other New Offerings from Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If there’s one writer sure to bring to joy to all who read his books then it’s Carols Ruiz Zafon. I’m yet to meet a reader who hasn’t fallen for his captivating and daring story telling. The fact that The Shadow Of The Wind is the only book to entertain and please every member of my book group is a further testament to Zafon’s success.

Imagine my excitement then when I was asked to review Zafon’s latest book, The Prisoner Of Heaven. Of course I didn’t need to think twice and I can’t wait to get stuck into this much-anticipated novel. The Prisoner Of Heaven reunites us with the much-loved characters of The Shadow Of The Wind. Daniel and Bea Sempere have had their first child and their dear friend Fermin Romero De Torres is soon to married. But then a deeply buried secret threatens to become uncovered unveiling a world of trouble and dangers in a plot that promises to be as dramatic and spell binding as Zafon’s other works.

The Prisoner Of Heaven went on sale July 10th and I’m sure many have already tucked into this latest offering. But if this wasn’t exciting enough there’s another treat in store. Harper Books have also released a free short story from Zafon titled The Rose Of Fire. You can read it here. Fans of Zafon are sure to love this story which takes us back to the Cemetery Of Books, whilst I’m sure first time readers will also love the chance to try his work.

I do hope you all decide to read The Rose Of Fire, a brilliant read and completely free! I’d love to hear your thoughts and off course I’d love to know how everyone feels about the release of The Prisoner Of Heaven, perhaps you’ve already read it and would like to share your thoughts?

Happy Reading everyone.