Monday, September 8, 2014

London, baby!

So I'm currently sitting on the floor at Melbourne Airport next to the only power point I could find (I managed to drain my phone battery almost completely on the bus getting here) waiting to board my flight to London. Which is essentially code for "I may not be around much in the next couple of weeks". But rest assured, friends, I will return soon enough and tell you all about it.

For the time being, allow me to tell you that the worst part of travelling alone is that it requires taking EVERYTHING WITH YOU EVERY TIME YOU MOVE TWO STEPS. Seriously. I bought a(n oddly bacon-flavoured) vegetarian pizza earlier and when the little "your food is ready" buzzer thing went off, I had to pack up all my crap and carry it the five metres to the collection point. And in the time it took me to do that, someone stole my table. RUDE.

And right now? I could really use a wee and a large bottle of water for the flight and some kind of snack food to shove in my bag in case I wake up starving in the middle of the flight. But my phone needs charging and I can't really be bothered packing everything up right now. So I will be waiting until the last possible minute and then making a mad dash for the bathroom.

Aaaaah, the woes of the single traveller...

I apologise if this post makes no sense. I'm running on four hours' sleep because last night, my brain decided the best way to celebrate a forthcoming trip to London was to play the Doctor Who theme on a loop until after 2am. Thanks, brain. Thanks a lot...

Catch you on the flip side! Or, if you can't wait that long, you can always follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram!!

K xx

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the ninth book that I've read for Classics Club so far, and that means I'm 15% of the way through my list. Now, someone remind me not to leave all the ones I'm dreading until the end, yes??

Bilbo Baggins and I go back a long way. Back, in fact, to 1994 when my mum read The Hobbit to me and my little brother as a bedtime story over the course of several weeks. I've read it maybe twice since then, but the last time I did a reread was probably in about 2009, so it's been a while.

I'm pretty sure everyone knows the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventure to the Lonely Mountain, whether it's from the book version or the two (soon to be three) movies that Peter Jackson's managed to drag out of a 350 page book. But what surprised me this time around was how obvious it is that it's a children's book. Maybe it's that I've been reading more middle-grade books since I started working in a primary school library, and so it's more obvious to me?? Whatever it is, there's something about the descriptions, about the language used, about the simplicity of much of the dialogue that just makes the intended audience incredibly obvious.

It shows through too in the fact that much of the violence of the story - and it IS a violent story. There's a dragon, trolls, giant spiders, and an enormous battle for starters! - takes place quickly and in very brief terms. The Battle of the Five Armies takes place over the course of seven pages, and at least one of those pages is basically Bilbo going "Oh shit, we're all going to die" and then getting knocked unconscious. Smaug being defeated takes about a page to describe, and the dwarfs have no idea it even happened until days after the event. It's all surprisingly low-key when compared to the story that Peter Jackson tells us.

I loved the story, as I always have. But what I loved most this time around were Tolkien's illustrations. Despite being simple, black and white line drawings, they really bring the story to life. Especially when it's apparent how much the illustrations have influenced the set designs in the films. All you have to do is look at Tolkien's drawing of the front hall at Bag End to see the similarities:
All in all, I love the somewhat childish story Tolkien weaves. It gives you this warm fuzzy sense of nostalgia while still being full of action. And I'll be very interested to see how Peter Jackson handles the remaining chunk of the book (I mean, he inserted that ridiculous dip-the-dragon-in-melted-gold scene to The Desolation of Smaug, so......) when the final film comes out at the end of the year.

In short, there's a reason this book is a children's classic and remains on bestseller lists across the globe - it's really freaking good.

Have you read it? What did you think? And are you equally intrigued by how Peter Jackson is going to turn, like, one chapter of a book into a two and a half hour movie?!

K xx

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review - Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire
Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury Publishing UK & ANZ

5 stars

I stumbled across this series back at the beginning of the year because the first two books were part of the Kindle post-Christmas sale. I'm really picky when it comes to high fantasy - I either love it immediately or I hate it with a fiery passion, and the odds of me loving it are about 1 in 10. So I'm not usually willing to spend a whole lot on high fantasy books. So when I came across Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight for about $2 each, I figured it was worth a shot. It took me a while to get into the first book, but once I did, I was sold and immediately read Crown of Midnight, which I loved even more.

All of which is a VERY long-winded way of saying that I was indescribably excited when I got approved for an ARC of Heir of Fire. Right. Fangirl gushing aside, let's get on with the actual review, shall we?

I LOVED IT. It's long, yes, but it's worth every single second that it takes you to get through those 565 pages. The story this time around is split between multiple characters in multiple locations, which I think was part of why I loved it so much. We still get Celaena's story - she's abroad learning about her own kind and how to use her fae powers. And, for the first time, we see what happened to her between finding her parents dead and being rescued from the river. Celaena's opening up properly about her past for the first time, and we can see just how broken she really is.

But we also get narration from Chaol, who's struggling with the idea of going home. We get Dorian's story, who's learning more about himself and what his father's been doing, and making new friends along the way. And we get the story from Manon Blackbeak's perspective, which was definitely the most interesting for me. Look, I know that the witches are antagonists in this world, I know that. But Manon is such an AMAZING character that I couldn't help but love her. Yes, she's cold and brutal and part of a really messed up society. And yet I still found myself cheering for her time and time again. I can't wait to see what the rest of the series has in store for Manon and her wyvern, Abraxos.

We also get a new major character, the fae prince Rowan Whitethorn. I'll admit, I had a tough time with Rowan to begin with. He was all broody and demanding and kind of a jerk. But as we learn his story, and as he and Celaena bond, I came to really like him. Celaena + Rowan = BroTP, you guys. I love that there's no hints of romance between them. They're just two soldiers thrown together by circumstances, and they form a really significant friendship as a result. It's pretty great to see that kind of non-romantic relationship in young adult fiction.

It's darker than the first two books, and the ending was pretty mindblowing. The writing felt cleaner and more developed, and the changing narration worked beautifully. It's very action oriented - moreso that the previous books - and there are few signs of the "which pretty dress shall I wear today?" Celaena that we knew in Ardalan.

In short, fabulous new characters, awesome new settings, incredible character development and darker, more compelling writing. Heir of Fire is definitely a strong contender for my favourite book of the year. And given that I've read over 170 books this year, that's really saying something...

Does this sound like something you'd read? (Hell, even if it doesn't, you really should. Because it's amazing. If I could give it more than five stars, I would.)

K xx

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Heir of Fire is available in Australia and the UK on 11 September, and is already available in the US.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Packing is hard, yo

So I leave for London on Monday night. And let me tell you right now, I am WOEFULLY underprepared for this trip. Have I started thinking about what I want to do/see in London? Nope. Have I thought about what clothes and shoes I'm going to take that will adequately cover me for all possible weather conditions? Not even. Have I gone to the supermarket and stocked up on miniature toiletries? LOLNOPE.

My suitcase is out of the cupboard though, so I guess that's a start?

I'm slightly nervous about getting from Heathrow to my brother C's office in the middle of London, especially when jetlagged and dragging a suitcase behind me. It will involve changing trains and remembering to stand on the right so that I don't get murdered (or at least sighed at excessively) and generally going up and down escalators with a suitcase.

C's given me detailed instructions on how to get to his office which will hopefully prove to be idiot-proof. He even included a street view picture of his office so that I know what it looks like. And if I prove too jetlagged to follow simple instructions, he's informed me that I should ask the staff at the tube station where McDonald's is, and use the free wifi to let him know that I'm an idiot and to come rescue me.

All I know at this point? Is that I'll be taking a lot less luggage than the last time I went to England. Admittedly, I was going to England for several months to study. But I'm still not sure it warranted 40kg worth of luggage...

As for the rest, I foresee this gif coming in handy next Tuesday:


K xx

*Obviously, I have already packed the Tim Tams and Kraft mac and cheese that C's requested.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Goodbye, VEDA

Back in April, my 101 in 1001 came to an end, and I put together my Life List. One of the things on that list was to complete VEDA again. Not only did I do that yesterday, but Emily and I organised the whole stinking thing. So I think it's safe to say that I kicked that goal's arse.

Once again, I have a VEDA hangover. Except this time, it comes with oh-God-I'm-like-ten-days-behind-on-watching-videos, and considering I was VEDA co-captain this year, I feel...obligated?? finish watching everyone's videos. God even knows how long it's going to take me...

ANYWAY. That's why I haven't been around a whole lot over the past month. That, and I was working on backlogging about 20 posts for Snark Squad...

I think my editing and camerawork improved between last year and this year, as evidenced by the fact that when I went back and watched my videos from last year, at least half of them were out of focus. Well done, Past Kirsti. Well done... As always, you can check out the entire playlist here (you know, if you have a spare hour and eleven minutes. Which is a vast improvement on last year's hour and twenty-eight minutes). Or, if you'd prefer to just watch me make a fool of myself for three and a half minutes, you can watch my outtakes video. You're welcome, internet.

K xx

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TTT - Books I Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

It's time to link up with the Broke and the Bookish again!

I found this week's topic really tricky, because I've been hoarding books recently for my upcoming 22 hour flight to London. Plus, there are quite a few books that I want to read but not enough to pay money for them, so I'm waiting for my local library to get them in. Anyway, I managed to come up with ten in the end. Hurrah.

1. The Colony - Grace Karskens
A history of colonial Sydney, this one's available on Kindle but I imagine it's a lot better in hard copy as I'm fairly certain it's full of illustrations and plates and maps. But the hard copy version costs a small fortune. One day, I'll get hold of a copy. One day...

2. Sisters' Fate - Jessica Spotswood
This one's just been released in the US but it's not out in Australia yet. And I AM DYING. Because I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeed it. 

3. Blood of Tyrants - Naomi Novik
My library has every other book in the series, but they don't have this one despite the fact that it came out like FOREVER ago. Sigh. 

4. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
I really want to read this, but the price for the e-book has been ridiculous up until now. $16??? I could get it in hard copy cheaper than that! And yet, every time I'm at the library or bookshop, I forget to look for it. 

5. The Crane Wife - Patrick Ness
I'm not sure why I've not bought this one yet because I've loved every single one of Patrick Ness' books. And yet...

6. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - Maria Semple
I've heard AMAZING things about this one from a lot of people. But it's another one where the e-book is just sliiiiiiiightly too expensive for me to justify it at the moment. 

7. Masquerade - Kylie Fornasier
I want to read this one, but it's not at the top of my to-read list. It's more on the "I'll get to it someday" list. 

8. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick
Another one that's on the "Hahahahaha, I'm not paying that much for an e-book" list. 

9. Whispers Underground - Ben Aaronovitch
This one ALWAYS seems to be out on loan when I'm at the library. Sigh. 

10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
For some inexplicable reason, this one isn't available on the Australian Kindle store and my library doesn't have it. And I can't quite justify paying $20 for the paperback. One day, book. One day.

What's on your list?

K xx

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bout of Books 11 - Wrap Up

Er, whoops? This weekend ended up being really busy and I ran out of time to write an update post for the last three days. So I'll shove it all in here instead!

Books read: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Pages read: 206
Total pages: 1300
Total books finished: 3

Books read: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Pages read: 213
Total pages: 1513
Total books finished: 3

Books read: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Pages read: 208
Total pages: 1721
Total books finished: 4

Wrap up
There were times over these three days when I felt guilty about not reading more. I mean, I managed a book a day on Monday and Tuesday, and then the remaining five days were taken up with two books. But considering those two books total nearly 1100 pages between them, maybe I didn't do so badly after all!

I just barely met my goal of reading at least 200 pages a day, aside from Monday and Tuesday, but I DID meet it on every day (except Thursday when I only managed 198 pages. But the next chapter was REALLY LONG, you guys, and I was really sleepy...). And every single one of these four books came from my to-read pile, so I smashed that goal out of the water.

I failed spectacularly on competing in a challenge though. This week ended up being a lot busier than I'd anticipated. Between two dinners out, two meals with friends at home, my niece staying over (and important discussions about which Hogwarts house she'd be in), making a 60th birthday cake, AND attending my uncle's birthday party, I'm kind of impressed that I managed to read over 300 pages more than my target!

I'll try again next time on the challenge front and hope that it falls on a week that's less busy!

All in all, it was pretty successful and I loved every single one of the books that I read.

How did your Bout of Books go?

K xx

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bout of Books 11, Days 1-4

Uh, whoops? I had grand intentions of posting updates more regularly than this. But somehow this week turned out to be busier than I'd anticipated. As a result, I haven't read quite as much as I'd planned, and I haven't yet met my goal of participating in a Bout of Books Challenge. But I'm doing okay on my other goals, so at least I'm not TOTALLY failing!

Books read: A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks
Pages read: 330.
Total pages: 330.
Total books finished: 1

Books read: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Pages read: 359
Total pages: 689
Total books finished: 2

Books read: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Pages read: 207
Total pages: 896
Total books finished: 2

Books read: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Pages read: 198
Total pages: 1094
Total books finished: 2

I had grand plans for finishing The Silkworm yesterday, but was forced to abandon those plans just before midnight when I realised that I had to get up at 6.15am and I should probably get some sleep. Still, I'm enjoying the lower-key challenge this time around, and all three of these books have come from my TBR pile, so it's going pretty well!

How's your Bout of Books challenge going?

K xx

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flourless chocolate cake

So I made a birthday cake for my mum over the weekend, and decided to try a recipe I'd not used before. It turned out pretty damned well if I do say so myself!

I don't have any proper photos of it because I was busy making the recipe into a vlog for VEDA at the time, but I DO have a photo of the finished product, which is probably about all you really need. It's a really simple recipe and it turned out surprisingly well, so I figured (in light of the fact that it's been incredibly quiet around these parts recently) that I'd share it with you guys.

4 oz (115g) dark chocolate
125g unsalted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa

Chop chocolate and butter into small chunks. Melt together in a double boiler. Remove from heat, stir in caster sugar and vanilla. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in eggs one at a time. Add cocoa and mix until just combined. Pour into a greased and lined 8" cake tin and bake at 190 degrees C (375 degrees F) for 20-25 minutes or until a thin crust forms on the top. Cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

I'll be perfectly honest, the hardest part about this cake? Was getting it out of the tin. In the future, I think I'll be doing what several people said they do in the comments and making 1.5 times the recipe in a 9" springform tin!!

Does this sound like something you'd make?

K xx

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Eight books down, fifty-two to go...


I had a small heart attack this morning when I went to cross this book off my handwritten list of Classics Club books and couldn't find it. I instantly became convinced that it wasn't on my list at all and that I'd read this 850 page whopper for no reason. Luckily, it was just a case of not being able to read my own writing. I think I would have cried otherwise...

I first read Anna Karenina in year 11 literature, and we had a pretty rough time together, Anna and I. Still, with the exception of the big train station scene, I'd forgotten practically everything about the story and managed to convince myself that my vaguely remembered dislike was just because I didn't enjoy the assignments I had to write on it. Unfortunately, my vaguely remembered dislike proved to still apply 15 years after the fact.

I...did not enjoy this. There were elements of it that I enjoyed, to be sure. But for the most part, this was a long hard slog. I found myself tuning out and reading the same page over and over again, and had to force myself to pay attention to read it in 30 page blocks to actually get through it.

I think the main problem for me was that I didn't find any of the major characters engaging. I didn't like Anna or Vronsky at all, Oblonsky drove me nuts, Dolly was kind of a wet blanket, and the most interesting of the lot - Levin and Kitty - became dull as dishwater once Kitty had their first child. I mean, I get that Anna was miserably trapped in a loveless marriage. But her story felt, to me, like the epitome of #firstworldproblems. And while Levin's proposal to Kitty was pretty much the most adorable thing ever, all the tangents about Russian peasants and their ties to the land or politics or horses or election processes reminded me far too much of Victor Hugo's hundred page tangents in Les Miserables: probably fascinating to people at the time, but not even remotely of interest to me.

I honestly think the thing that annoyed me most about Levin's character was the last 50-odd pages in which he's clearly suffering from depression, but everything is made right when he finds religion. Because uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. SERIOUSLY??? I know Levin is clearly the counterpoint to Anna's character - they both love passionately, have serious trust issues, struggle to bond with their children, and have mental health problems - but did we HAVE to have a "JESUS FIXES EVERYTHING!!" storyline?! Blurgh.

I did appreciate the complexity of his characters - there's no villain, no hero. They all inhabit the moral grey areas, they all experience jealousy and hatred and humility and kindness. But ultimately, I didn't care about any of them and wasn't engaged in their stories.

One thing I *did* find interesting was all the ideas about giving additional power to the peasant classes, and making them invested in the land and their work. One line only pages from the end made me flip to the front to check what year the book was first published because I felt sure it must have been not long before the Russian Revolution:
"Twenty years ago we should have been silent, but to-day the voice of the Russian people is heard, ready to rise up as one man and sacrifice themselves for their oppressed brethren." 
In that little speech, Koznyshev is talking specifically about Russia going to fight for the freedom of Christians in Serbia, but it could easily be applied to the workers uniting to free themselves from the rule of the elite in 1917. In all honesty, though, I was desperately hoping for the Revolution to happen 50 years ahead of schedule during this book just so that there would be something worth paying attention to in the story...

I know I'm well and truly in the minority in not loving this book. But I was firmly on the "HOW MUCH MORE??" train from start to finish. And no, the irony of being on the "kill me now" train is not lost on me. Final verdict? 2.5 stars, and the half star is for the adorableness of Levin's proposal...

Have you read Anna Karenina? What did you think?

K xx
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