Autumn: the Season of Book Reading

Hi everyone

So autumn is well and truly here, I can currently hear fireworks from a neighbouring house so of course it must be October (it appears to be a competition in my area as to who can get in there first!). I don’t know what it is about the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping but it seems to make the book loving nation instantly want to curl up on the sofa with a good book. I certainly realised last June why students usually have the summer off; I found it impossible to study whilst the sun was shining outside, I won’t be making that mistake again. Right now though it seems there is nothing better to do than make myself comfortable and study literature to my heart’s content (well that’s what I tell myself!).

Anyway the point of my random rambling is that I feel much more inclined to not only study 16th and 17th century plays, but to also read a book from the BBC’s Top 100 list. The library has provided once again, and the first book available is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I’m going to make a start on this book at the weekend, it’s quite hefty at 660 pages though so it might take a while, especially with an impending assignment on John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi, which is actually really good (I wasn’t as keen on Othello), to be started. I know nothing about The Secret History, which is refreshing and I’m looking forward to delving into a new author and storyline, let’s hope it’s as intriguing as the title!

I’ll update you on my initial thoughts and impressions of the book soon so stay tuned…

Jennie

So another year begins…

Hi everyone

Yes I am still alive, well just about after studying a degree full time whilst working a 40 hour week. I have had a busy year, achieving high marks in my first year courses, attempting to write assignments on my iPad as my laptop committed suicide and reading only one book, Hard Times by Charles Dickens. You don’t want to know what I thought of that one. The year has flown by, and now I’m about to embark on my third degree module which thankfully is all about the books. And the plays, can’t forget Shakespeare.

So as I settle down for the long winter nights with my iPad and Othello for company, I can’t help but think about what it was like in the good ole’ days when I used to read for fun and write about it for fun. Although remembering the hell that was Jack Kerouac, it wasn’t always so fun. So in an attempt to keep my sanity I’m going to try to read some books that aren’t on my reading list, and let you lovely people know what I thought of them. You know, continue what I originally set out to do nearly 4 years ago and hopefully not give up after 2 weeks. I seem to have gotten the discipline thing down now (she says as she purposefully ignores Othello next to her), although I will always be a procrastinator, it’s in my blood. I may even treat you all to reviews on the books I am forced to read as well, wouldn’t that be fun?

So the first order of business is what to read from the list? Now I think I should ease myself in gently, perhaps not a 700+ page book straight away. So on that basis, I’ll skip Bleak House, Ullysses and Woman in White for now which leaves the following to choose from:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Which do you think I should go for? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

It feels good to be back!

Jennie

Happy New Year Book Lovers!

Hi everyone

I know it is a bit late into January to wish you all a happy new year but it has just dawned on me that as it is a new year, there’s nothing stopping me from starting a fresh with my book challenge. Well I say nothing stopping me, obviously my inability to actually commit to this blog will probably hold me back. At the moment though I’m feeling a bit more enthusiastic so you never know, maybe 2015 will go well for me blog wise.

Last year I started this blog off with a 30 day book challenge but loss of internet (twice) and a trip to Asia led to me giving up on that, so I will try to finish off the questions that I had remaining in the next month or so. The answers probably won’t be any different to a year ago as I think I may have only read one book in the last year. I know, its shocking! I partly blame Netflix for providing too much on-hand entertainment making it unnecessary to occupy my mind with a book. But as I’m now a student working towards my BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing I have to start reading books again soon whether I want to or not, so I thought rekindling my book challenge would be a good idea.

So first up on the list is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I’ve previously seen a tv adaptation so I don’t know what I’ll make of the 945 page book already having a vague idea of the storyline. I did consider easing myself into this challenge with a nice short book but they’re all pretty long in the section of the list I’ve reached so I didn’t have a choice. At some point I need to go back and finish Anna Karenina and Gormenghast, hopefully without having to start from the beginning again with both of them, but for now I think I’ll work my way through some new stories and see where I get to. If I can get through Bleak House, Ulysses and The Woman in White, I’ll treat myself with Bridget Jones’s Diary. Maybe that is the key to success, a reward system?

Hopefully you will hear from me soon!

Jennie

Challenge 13 – Your Favourite Writer

Hi everyone

I have a confession to make: I have NO IDEA who my favourite writer is.  I think the problem is that I haven’t read enough books to be able to single out one author.  I think if you look at my book collection and how many times I’ve read some of the books you might assume that my favourite writer is Stephenie Meyer or J K Rowling, but I have, or will be covering, both of these authors already in this challenge and neither have really written enough books for me to give them this accolade in my opinion.  So instead I’ve thought about the authors who I read, without fail, their new offerings no matter what the reviews say.  I would never call them my favourite writer but then I’m always happy to sit down with a fresh copy of their latest book.  This narrowed it down to two authors for me and I went with this one because even though her work is a little more frivolous than the other her books are still a treat to read. So for the next few posts I will be following a theme based on this author, hope you enjoy it…

Sophie KinsellaSophie Kinsella

I first read Sophie Kinsella when my mum gave me the fourth book in the shopaholic series, Shopaholic and Sister, as a present.  Needless to say I was a tad confused as I had no idea what had come before this book and some of it didn’t make sense but I enjoyed the book enough to go back and start from the beginning.  I loved the antics of Becky Bloomwood, shopaholic, and her quirky but kind friend Suze and her slightly dippy but caring parents.  The humour Sophie Kinsella injects into all her books is just right; I’m not one for cringey humour usually but the balance between satire and almost slapstick is just perfect enough to keep you giggling.  There have been times when tears of laughter have been brought to my eyes or I’ve had to look away from the page in horror at what is unfolding before me.  The protagonist in her books is always a strong female character who somehow gets herself into a few scrapes, things might take a turn for the worse but then she stops feeling sorry for herself and fixes her own problems with as much class and decorum she can muster.  After reading the Shopaholic series I then went on to read Sophie Kinsella’s other work which I believe I enjoyed even more, however I wasn’t as keen on her work published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham.  It isn’t particularly humorous like her more recent work under her alias and I found the characters weren’t as bold or likeable.

I do have to say that her last two books that I have read, Mini Shopaholic and Wedding Night felt a bit rushed and seem to be missing some of the spark that comes in abundance in her other books, they were still enjoyable but not fantastic.  I am still an avid fan though and I would recommend any of her books if you want something girly, fun, light-hearted and I would say distinctly British.  You can’t go wrong with that combination!

Jennie

Challenge 11 – A Book You Hated

Hi everyone

As everyone says, hate is such a strong word, and such a strong emotion to apply to a book that you have read.  Unfortunately I have experienced a surge of loathing when reading a book so I have an answer for today.  I have read a few books now for my top 100 books challenge that I found a bit boring, or a bit confusing or a bit slow, but there was one book that I truly hated.  In any other circumstances I would have stopped reading it and sent it straight back to the library but I had to finish it to review it for my challenge so for 3 months I tortured myself by reading a little bit of this book at a time.  I kept hoping it would get a bit better, or that the ending would make sense of the rest of the book so that when I looked back on the story I would feel enlightened.  After all it couldn’t have been voted by the public to number 90 on the list for nothing.  Oh how wrong I was.

On The RoadOn the Road – Jack Kerouac

My feelings towards this book are so strong that I actually feel the need to physically destroy something just looking at the cover.  If I was to give you the full synopsis for this book I’m sure you would think it sounds like a really interesting and insightful story line.  And I would agree it is, but the writing is so bad that anything exciting in this book is completely lost.  In anyone else’s hands this would be a good story but the book is too autobiographical for Jack Kerouac so he just rambles on about the insignificant things and glosses over anything remotely interesting.  It’s like he’s forgotten he was supposed to be writing a story for others to enjoy and therefore has taken all of the enjoyment out of it.  With every chapter all I could think was that I could write this story better than him; I could describe what it was like to live in these places at that time better than him, even though he actually lived in those places at that time and I, obviously, didn’t.  This book is just that bad.

Please don’t read it, unless you are a masochist.  If this is ever put on your set reading list at school or university I seriously you suggest you plan a coup and overthrow the person responsible.  Trust me, it would be worth the repercussions.

Jennie

Challenge 10 – Favourite Classic Book

Hi everyone

Second post today!  I’m trying to catch up so I’m just going to keep posting until I run out of things to say.  I’ve not read a lot of classic books, not because they don’t appeal to me but just because I feel they need a certain amount of concentration and so I’m always “I’ll read that book someday” but I never quite get around to it.  This was one a the things that appealed to me with the top 100 books list as all of the classic books I wanted to read were there so I thought I would finally get around to reading them.  I am trying to avoid talking about books from that list for this 30 day challenge but the book I have chosen for this post is one of my all time favourite books so to not mention it here would be criminal.

Pride & PrejudicePride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

It probably isn’t a very original choice but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy winner.  I first fell in love with this story when I watched the BBC adaptation 18 years ago and I watched that series so many times in my teenage years that I could quote most of it.  I was pleasantly surprised when I finally read the book about a decade later at how faithful the tv series is to the book.  However there was something magical reading the words I knew so well on paper; it allowed my imagination to go further than what I remembered from the tv adaptation and become absorbed in Austen’s world.  I won’t prattle on about how Elizabeth Bennet is such a strong, feminist role model or how forward thinking Jane Austen was as it’s all been said before and also when I finally reach number 2 on my book list I will be rereading this and reviewing it properly so I don’t want go on too much here.

This story though is one of the best stories I have ever read and I think that is why classic books in general have spanned the centuries to still be some of the greatest books anyone could read in their life time.  They are original stories that so many books, plays and films have been based on ever since, all borrowing something from the classics or just re-imagining them in a new adaptation.  There are plenty of original stories that have been published in more modern times, but these are just books that will join the list of classic books in the future.  I have read a few Austen’s and a couple of Dickens’ but there are so many more classic books that I want to read and even more I’m sure that I’ve not yet discovered so I look forward to enriching my mind with these books for many years to come.

Jennie

Challenge 9 – A Book You Thought You Wouldn’t Like But Ended Up Loving

Hi everyone

There were a few books I could have chosen for this post.  There were books that I was forced to read in school where you already have a preconception that it will be boring and then suddenly find yourself unable to put the book down.  There were also books that I have read so far on my top 100 books challenge that I had not heard of but ended up falling in love with the characters and worlds contained within them.  I chose this book though as I believe it is not that well-known compared to the successors in the series, yet it was the first book by this author that I read, and I have to say it is his best work.  A friend recommended that I read the first two books in this series; I had heard of the second one as it was outselling everything else at the time but I didn’t know it was actually the second book in a series.  The story line on paper for this book isn’t something that appealed to me, I can’t say exactly why but it just didn’t grab my attention.  However just a few chapters into this book and it certainly had my attention, you literally feel you are being dragged along in a whirlwind with your heart beating too fast and adrenaline flooding your veins from cover to cover.  Drum roll please…

Angels and DemonsAngels and Demons – Dan Brown

As you may know, this is the first in the series of books about Robert Langdon, a Havard professor, the most famous book in the series being The Da Vinci Code, which succeeded this book.  Each book involves the protagonist somehow being embroiled in a race against time to save the victims from the evil force in the book.  To do this Robert Langdon’s expertise in religious symbology is required to solve the mystery that is unfolding.  As I said before, it didn’t really appeal to me on paper, it all sounds a bit bookish and also a bit clichéd: the protagonist is our unlikely hero, his only superpower being an unusual talent that somehow makes him the only person who can save the world.  If you think that sounds a bit dull and maybe a bit condescending, that maybe it will all be dumbed down for you so that you can follow the plot, then you needn’t worry.  I had never read a book that had so much action yet  at the same time almost made my brain hurt with the amount of information I had to take in, but somehow I never felt lost in the fast paced story line.  I have no idea if half the information in the book has a foundation in fact but when I’m reading it I don’t care, you somehow feel exhilarated as the characters work out the next clues, even though if you were to try to explain it all to some one else later you might not be able to, but at the time it all makes perfect sense.  Since reading this book I have read the next two in the series, I’ve not read the latest one yet but I don’t think Dan Brown will ever do better than this one, the combination of action, thriller, mystery and suspense is just right and I don’t think it could ever be replicated successfully.  Even if you’ve already read some of Dan Brown’s other works give this a try, it is honestly in my opinion his best and shouldn’t be missed.

Jennie

Challenge 8 – Most Overrated Book

Hi everyone

For today’s challenge there was only ever one book I could write about.  I tried to think of an alternative as I didn’t want to bore you all by ranting about how bad this book is but I felt it was unfair to give this accolade to any other book when I would do anything to remove the memory of this one from my brain.  As I’ve said before, I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon with things and I thorough;y wished I hadn’t with this book.  In my defence when I read it I hadn’t heard much about it, only that it had shocked one of my colleagues at work, but as she was easily shocked by anything risqué I didn’t realise how absurd the story line for this book could be.  I think I must have been one of the few people who read this book not knowing what it was about, I don’t know what that says about the British public that most of them were eager to read a book that they had been pre-warned about but it was a top seller none the less.  Friends of mine who have asked to borrow the book from me since did not head my warnings about how bad it is, I think they thought I was exaggerating but they soon realised that I wasn’t and proceeded to hand the book back, sometimes without finishing it.  So, again I apologise for repeating what so many others before me have said, I promise to keep it brief.

FiftyFifty Shades of Grey – E L James

Yes, you guessed correctly, probably the worst book written this century and definitely the worst to top every book chart known to man.  Apparently the series has sold over 90 million copies worldwide (Wikipedia) and the speculation surrounding the film dominated social media and entertainment websites over the last year.  I don’t think another book could be as overrated as this one: the writing is poor at best, the author needs to learn some new adjectives and she’s not breaking any new ground here, there are plenty of fiction books already published about this subject.  If she had written it from the angle of the relationship being abusive then it would have been a more illuminating story but after ending this book in a weird way, the series carries on as a severely warped love story.  I am not the first to say that I quickly became bored by the sex scenes, and the characters and the story line as a whole were so unrealistic that it soon all became a farce.  Please, if you have never read this book, don’t read it.  Read anything else in the world, even if you love a trashy read you will not enjoy this book and there are plenty of decent yet suitably trashy book series out there for you to curl up with, please don’t waste your time and your brain cells on this one.

I’m sure I will become a complete hypocrite in 2015 and watch the film, but it will be because I have already been burned once and I’ll want to know if the film will be as bad as the book, I can’t see how it could be but you never know.

Jennie

Challenge 7 – Most Underrated Book

Hi everyone

Hope you have all had a good Christmas! I have been so busy this last week that I’ve got a bit behind with my daily challenges.  I didn’t want to rush out a response for each day and not put any thought into it so instead I put the blog on hold and waited until I had time to do it justice.  I’ll try to catch up this week though so there should (hopefully) be a few more posts in the next few days.

As I keep saying, these questions are getting harder and they are also making me feel a bit inadequate about the amount of books that I’ve read.  In my head I have read a lot of books, but when it comes to thinking of responses to these challenges I have started to doubt that assumption.  I am beginning to think that I have in fact read some books quite a few times and then forgotten half of the rest of the books I have read.  Which leaves me with limited resources to draw upon for this challenge.  However I do feel inspired to carry on my top 100 books challenge in the new year, as the whole point of starting it was to read a more varied collection of books and to also read some of the books that I have always wanted to read but haven’t quite managed to yet.

Now for today’s challenge of most underrated book I didn’t wanted to revisit a book I had already reviewed for my book challenge or write about a book that I will be rereading in the future for that challenge so instead I had to choose a book from what was left.  In the end I chose this book as when the book first came out the reviews weren’t very kind, although anything that was to be published by this author was going to come under heavy scrutiny, and I feel that in the main the reviews were unjust and this publicity would have affected a lot of people’s opinions of this book.  So it may have had a vast amount of publicity and most of the reading public would have heard of this book but it still may not have been picked up on many people’s radars due to the bad press it had received.  Hence the most underrated book accolade.

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling

As you may already know, The Casual Vacancy is probably as far as you can get from the world of Harry Potter in terms of content.  It is set in what seems to be a sleepy, rural town and is essentially a piece of social commentary looking at all walks of life from the large houses with the picturesque views to the run down council estate encroaching on the way of life the more conservative residents of Pagford are trying to cling to.  Obviously everything in the book is fiction, but reading it I felt that a lot of the characters and the lives that they live could be found in any town.  However the characters weren’t necessarily clichéd, or at least on the surface they may have been but as the story moves forward and the story lines for each character unravel and intertwine, you see more of each character and they become more 3D and more real.  It is through their actions that you begin to see who they really are: their opinions and how they treat their fellow neighbours allow the reader to judge them.  But that is one of the themes of this book, judging people on face value, and you soon learn that you as a reader may have judged a character too soon as the plot twists unfold.

Now I do have a very large confession to make, I am cheating slightly on today’s challenge as I have not actually finished this book (yet).  I’m just over halfway through, the book is set in parts so I am at the beginning of part three.  I can see where some of the reviews were coming from; the book is not necessarily gripping: it flits between several different characters and it is sometimes hard to remember where you left off with one character by the time you make your way back to them again, but in my opinion it doesn’t mean that it is not a good book.  As you would expect from J K Rowling, the writing is easy to read but still high quality, her characters as I’ve already said are brought to life one page at a time, and she is so descriptive with the town itself that I really feel I can imagine it fully.  Reading this book so far I could just imagine a televised series shot in a documentary style way, following each character just like the book does.  Maybe this should have been a script instead of a book, but then I feel that J K Rowling’s writing talents would have been wasted if she had done that – we would have had the tv producer’s opinions and views and not hers which would have been a big shame.

I would recommend this book as a slice of what English life is probably like for most people.  It is not the streets of London or Manchester in the latest gritty, British drama about drug dealers, it is not the quintessential England you see on Midsomer Murders or the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, or even the flashy, over-the-top characters on one of the many reality tv shows.  It is a mix of the rich and the poor, the well offs and the down and outs, those with a good upbringing and those who are having to bring themselves up, and about how they associate with and live their lives next door to each other without perhaps seeing life from the other’s point of view.

Jennie