When I first started reading his poetry, I started with the stereotypical - The Raven. I was around thirteen I believe, and despite how gorgeously it is written, I was so disturbed. I never get frightened, no scary film has ever affected me, but The Raven really did. The rest of Poe’s poetry equally shifted me, which makes him yes one of my favourite poets and one who is undervalued in my opinion. His poetry always feels like short novels, I come away from all his works remembering everything that took place like it was a scene in my head. Poetry moves people, but very few poems you remember twenty minutes after reading them like you would a plot line. Although I have read scarier stories, I haven’t delved much into horror fiction, which is a gap I never noticed before and I have therefore vowed to myself to fix the error of my ways. But for now, the first book that scared me, and shall therefore reign as the champion book within this topic.
Well, technically this isn’t the correct name for the novel. It’s official title is ‘These Foolish Things’ but I didn’t know that when I saw it on the bookshelf at Watestones. I for one am not a fan of books with movie covers, so I approached the sales assistant to ask if they had another copy and they said no. I thought that was rather odd, but I really wanted to read the book so I took it home anyway, telling myself that I sincerely doubted it would be a life classic which I’d like to have an aesthetic value equal to its content, therefore the cover didn’t much matter. Well, technically I was right but that doesn’t distract from the fact that it is a very enjoyable read! Again, like the Descendants, I was pleasantly surprised with how it was written and how easily it made me laugh. This is a chuckle novel especially at the beginning. So what is it about? Well, we first meet Ravi, a British Indian doctor and his wife, Pauline, whom have been landed, to Ravi’s displeasure, with Pauline’s father, Norman. Norman is what one would call ‘a dirty old man’, but he’s utterly hilarious for being whom he is, however, due to his character, he has been kicked out of so many retirement homes that now his daughter and son in law have to carry the burden. One evening, whilst complaining about his father in law to his cousin Sonny, Ravi inspires an entrepreneurial idea: a retirement home in India. Thus the story is established. The novel skips back and forth between all the different lives of the pensioners in Britain who eventually all unite at ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ for differing reasons. A couple of the stories are rather heartbreaking, especially that of Muriel (I would be rather surprised if you did not, after reading the events that happen to her in Britain, hold a small silence of respect and reflection). We can’t escape the nagging in our heads about old age; either we know someone who is going through this, the worries knowing our parents will go through this, the tension knowing that we shall go through this, and let’s be honest, it’s not a time of life we associate with pleasure and happiness. Moggach doesn’t deflect from that concept, but it’s realistically challenged; why should it be viewed so badly? We don’t we just make the most of it closer to the end? the inevitable can’t be changed, so why should we carry on confining to the norm, living the same life we did day in and out we have until this moment? Spontaneity isn’t limited to the youth, to the childless, and once we pick one path in life we aren’t chained to it, and Moggach shows us that. It was a an extremely entertaining novel, though I was left feeling I’d been left behind at the end of the novel, like everyone had started a life without me and I was stuck here; an irony emphasised even more-so by the huge age difference between myself and the characters, but that was what made the novel successful - I was left feeling like I was missing out on what the elderly had attained. Now that is an accomplishment when writing about old age, so Moggach, I salute you. ★★★★
I can’t believe that even to this day there is a book I read, as a child, which I can still recite off by heart: The Story of Tracy Beaker.
I read this book over, and over and over, and then I bought the cassette which I listened to every night before going to sleep, and it continued whilst I slept, hence why I’m pretty certain this novel is engrained in my head nine years later. It was the only Jacqueline Wilson book I liked, because being honest all the others I found too girly or upsetting, she wasn’t to my taste. I was more into The Worst Witch series when other girls were reading Vicky Angel. I started writing a diary because of this book, a serious diary, which I still continue to this day so I suppose I owe it a lot. I loved all the little quirks of Tracy, her little cravings, her little dreams, but also the fact her best friend went off with another girl and ditched her - my best friend did that too. It was all so relative to me, apart from the rebelling and getting into trouble, I was far too much of a goody two shoes to ever do naughty things, but Tracy said and did everything I wish I had the nerve to say and do, so I’m quite proud to say I don’t even have to pick up to know that this book starts ‘My name is Tracy Beaker, and this is a book all about me….’
Believe it or not, I really didn’t like reading when I was a teenager. I was so obsessed with drawing and painting that I never had time for reading, I went to sleep with paper and paints on my bed and would wake up with paint all over my duvet. It’s easy to be obsessed with art when your mother is an artist, but since I moved out a few years ago I stopped painting and reading became my dominant obsession. Apart from the Harry Potter books, as a teenager, books didn’t interest me. But one day in WH Smith my mother pointed this book out to me, said the blurb sounded good and offered to buy it. I shrugged the suggestion off but accepted the book when it was given to me. It was the first book I couldn’t put down. I remember my mother coming into my bedroom the next morning at seven, seeing me sitting on the floor just finishing the book and asking astoundingly if I had actually read a book in less than a day after buying it (for you see my friends, like I said, I never read, so the idea of me not putting a book down was absurd!). Today this is easily one of my favourite reads. The plot line and structure are absolutely brilliant. Everything’s a mystery that just keeps on unravelling, Sachar just knew how to keep everything rolling until the very end. It exceeds my adoration of the Harry Potter series, yes, that’s how much I loved this book. It’s the book that made me realise that unpredictable and unwonted novels did exist, they didn’t have to be about mythical creatures and set in fantasy worlds to be interesting. If you haven’t read this novel you certainly aren’t too old to, it’s not written patronisingly and the plot isn’t limited to a child’s imagination; it’s constructed intelligently and Sachar’s art of layering is the standard of great adult fiction. I daily pray that Sachar would write just one adult novel, he has such a talent that I don’t want to admit he was merely one of my childhood authors, I want him to be someone I can carry on reading the works of today. So Mr Sachar, if you ever read this, please oh please write just one adult novel, your works are of a standard that I would love to analyse and write essays of at University! So yes, by far my favourite YA read, and my top recommendation to anyone who hasn’t read it.
Oh this is quite hard. Because the cliche answer, which also happens to be the answer which my childhood/teenage self would give, is the Harry Potter series. But if a magic fairy came down and asked me, truthfully, which one today I would love to live in, the fist one that pops into my head is this:
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Forster is one of my favourite authors, and being a young British woman whom has an Italian name, Italian heritage, and a very close cousin named Charlotte, this novel has always been my fantasy life story and thus very dear to me. I know Rome and Florence very well and I’ve never felt a tourist in this country, which I suppose is contrasting to Lucia, however I always hoped I would be somewhat close to her persona when I grew up. Sadly I lack the grace and self composure, she is far quieter and far more beautiful, but still a girl can dream. If you are unfamiliar with this novel I suggest you familiarise yourself immediately, it only a quick read but somehow survives a lifetime in your head. Lucia is a young woman visiting Florence with her cousin Charlotte, and whilst in Italy she throws aside the British formalities and adopts the spontaneous passions of the Italians after meeting the down-to-earth George Emerson. Now when I say passions I’m not talking Lady Chatterly I’m afraid, the passions are far more poetical than lustful, but that is certainly my preference in literature. Every snippet of this novel is utterly charming and enchanting, therefore, feeling a strong connection to the female protagonist myself (and vainly hopeful of sharing some resemblance), this is the novel I would choose, as it is ultimately my fantasy life story.
Ok, so two books equally enter this category and I can’t decide which one made me cry
more so I shall enter two. The first is a short story which I remember really badly effected me when I was a very young child, and that is The Little Match Girl, a short story by Hans Christian Anderson. This tale was utterly heartbreaking. My mother read it to me as a bedtime story the first time and I remember asking her to reread it afterwards just incase she had made mistake and misread it, I refused to believe it ended that way. If you’ve never read it, prepare to be ever so slightly heartbroken, but it’s beautifully poetic also so it’s worth the little tears.
A Little Princess. Sobbing comes closer to the state I was in when I first read this book. Sobbing and wailing on my bedroom floor was the state I was in when I watched the film. What is wonderful about this ‘30 day book challenge’ is that I remember books that I haven’t read in years, and that I want to read again. So this is officially on my ‘summer reading’ list this year because it’s been so long that I’m not even sure if I own a copy anymore. It’s the most beautiful story, one of my favourite children stories, right alongside The Secret Garden. What’s magical about both these stories is that, despite being stories about children and for children, they can still easily be adult’s novels. It’s so rare to find novels which can’t be slotted into an definite age range for its readership. If you haven’t read this novel, nor seen the film, please do, but prepare yourself or tears. I have never met someone who has remained dry eyed with this story.
I was, perchance, a little underage when I read this book. I was just thirteen years old and I had started watching the BBC drama on it, for it was based in the school my cousin attended at the time, a local school to me, so I wanted to watch it. Half way through one of the episodes mother informed me it was a book, bought it for me. Simultaneously, my English teacher had set us homework to read a book over the weekend and review it in front of the class. I thought it was a rather fitting coincidence so I therefore began the book. It was ever so cheeky, I think I laughed mostly for the swears and crudities which I felt naughty reading at my age, after all, this was an adult’s book not a child’s. The story is set in the 70’s at the all boy’s school King Edwards, and it’s typically about the three friends growing up and becoming ‘men’. However, we all know what happened in Birmingham in the 70’s. The IRA bombings. Political strikes. Their teenage years see some of the most dramatic and devastating urban attacks, but at the same time, they’re trying to be teenagers. It was the first novel I read which made me consistently giggle, and I’m pretty certain that was not entirely due to my girly, adolescent immaturities at the time. Coe proves himself a humorous author consistently. Though, a warning in advance, there’s quite a descriptive loss of virginity at one point in the book, which unfortunately sparked a guilty conscience in myself, and lead me to pray that none of my English teachers had read this novel as I stood before the class about to give a review on, what I had concluded, was my first shameful indulgence in pornography. ★★★★★
Oh gosh, I feel awful writing badly about a book, because obviously I’m ultimately attacking something which people out there love but I honestly couldn’t stand. If you do love this book, my review is not a critique accusing you of having ‘poor taste’ or ‘bad judgement’, it is merely that I personally did not enjoy this book for my own reasons. So, here we go.
I picked up this book many, many years ago when the hype had just literally started. This was the years before tumblr and I used xanga and photography of books (which I admired as I still do today) kept containing images of this book within the photo. Now, the sites were run by American teenagers on the majority, Twilight hadn’t hit the UK yet so I was rather curious. I really didn’t know what it was about and I naively went into Waterstones to purchase the book to see why this novel was appearing on all the sites I visited. A vampire plot didn’t bother me really, didn’t thrill me, but I didn’t mind. Like I said, this was in the years before vampires became a massive thing (today you can’t flick a channel without some vampire spinoff popping up on the screen), so, needless to say, vampires hadn’t started irritating me like crazy with their tedious overuse. As I approached the counter a young sales assistant, male, rolled his eyes and went 'urgh, this book again' as he swiped it under the laser. I really should have taken the hint then. I giggled nervously and asked what was wrong with it, and he genuinely replied 'You’ll see. No offence if you don’t though.’ I toddled home after school one day and casually opened the book to begin. I was bored from page one. I was still bored at chapter three. I tossed the book aside on an empty shelf by chapter six and never proceeded. Everything about it annoyed me. Everything about it bored me. The concept didn’t appeal to me, the wetness of the characters didn’t appeal to me, and then a year later everyone was talking about it, and once I overheard how the plot line developed I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t wasted my life progressing further with such a novel. It sits on my bookshelf and stares at me, shining away, the only book I have ever regretted buying. It serves as a reminder to me to look before I spend my money, or else this is what you get landed with. Apologies if you like the book, like I said, I have nothing against those who do love the series, it just seriously wasn’t to my taste.
I strongly believe that this novel will be my lifetime partner and shall remain by my beside for all eternity. It is 1943 and Charles Ryder, a single, homeless and loveless army officer finds himself unexpectedly billeted at Brideshead, a grand estate house which is now being utilised by the military during the war. But Brideshead isn’t unfamiliar to Charles. It was the home of Sebastian, whom Charles befriended at Oxford University in 1923, and Julia Flyte, Sebastian’s younger sister.The novel centralises around their powerful friendship and the Flyte family’s relationship with Roman Catholicism. Charles, the agnostic of the tale, watches his friend submit to alcohol, whilst he and Julia are plagued by their own marriages and emotions. Critics have attacked the ending of the novel as being distasteful (of course I shan’t be telling you why for that would ruin the experience for you), but I don’t find it subliminally afflicting to my character in the slightest. I perhaps don’t agree personally with it’s ending, but that doesn’t make me dislike the novel. That would be like one stating they didn’t like Wuthering Heights (please do advance to the next paragraph if you are unfamiliar with the ending of Wuthering Heights) because they are, personally, anti-suicide, and they believe therefore through Heathcliffe’s actions, Brontë is essentially condoning its implementation. We all know such an analysis is pathetic. I shall never judge a book by the author’s religious preferences and beliefs, its ending marks it as artistic, and you as the reader can ultimately conclude as to if you feel it is a tragic or beautiful ending. What I shall tell you is that it is poetic, be it a tragic poetic or blissful poetic, it is entirely down to your judegement. And that’s what makes this novel so wonderful. Despite its religious challenges the novel is not short of intellectual wit (which is mainly delivered by Charles’ father and the homosexual atheist Anthony Blanche), romance and heartbreak. It encompasses every element of what makes a novel a classic and friend, and it shall forever be mine.
Earnest Hemingway, one of America’s greatest writers, married four times, but his first wife, Hadley, was whom he moved to Paris with. It was she who witnessed the beginning of his creativity, it was she who watched him casually chat to the newly published and unknown F. Scott Fitzgerald, it was she who cradled their child in her arms whilst he wrote, and it is she who lay in bed beside him, pretending to be asleep, whilst his mistress lay on top of him…
There’s always the shadow to someone’s fame, and Hadley was that of Hemingway. Whilst he rolled in his imagination, the jazz age, art and sexual promiscuouness, his shadow has to admit defeat, admit that she has lost her grip on the love of her life once and for all. This novel is painful to read, as a woman I felt like screaming at her passiveness, at her reluctance to stand up for herself. Whilst playing the role of the shadow she forgets she, too, is a human like her husband. I always enjoy reading biography styled fiction novels, and McLain owes a lot, obviously, to Hemingway’s own work A Moveable Feast when writing about his Paris years, but she adopts the voice of the wife ever so cleaverly. I had the pleasure of meeting Paula last year where I got to ask her a question. I asked “You say you got a lot of Hadley’s thoughts and feelings from reading the letters that she wrote. Now, in this novel she puts up with so much, she’s so passive, she doesn’t scream, she doesn’t yell, she lies there and takes it. Was that a personality which she indicated in her letters or was that an authoritative creation? Did she not hate herself for being so weak to her own human sense of pride? Because in the novel she never scolds herself for being so allowing of Hemmingway’s cruel ways." McLain, as elogant and charming as she was, was a little taken aback and just grinned in response “I actually never thought about that,” she replied “In her letters she never indicated self loathing or shame for how she handled the situations, but actually now that I think about it she didn’t really express much emotion behind her actions at all. I suppose you could say that is my own creation. I doubt we’ll really ever know how Hadley truly felt.”
So, if you’re looking for an utterly true and realistic read of Hadley’s true emotions, feelings and expressions, I’m afraid sadly that won’t be available. However, I get the impression McLain brought together the most realistic possibility of who Hadley was. The novel itself is brilliantly well written, it was certainly my favourite novel of 2011, and meeting McLain personally strengthened my affections for it even further. Those who haven’t read anything of Hemingway, like myself at that time, needn’t worry of the chance of being ‘lost’ or ‘disconnected’, because you can’t be. You are a reader witnessing all the greatest artsists of the twentieth century casually mingling together, unaware of who they will grow to be, unaware of their future effect on the world of art, unaware of how their casual dining together over a bar would sound as mythological and unrealistic as reading about Shakespeare having brunch with Charles Dickens. The notion of putting them together is absurd, incomprehensible. Yet the novel contains such a fantastical collection of brilliant novelists and artists all nonchalantly collecting together that you’re thrown into a state of disbelief that this was, in fact, reality. That’s such a fantastic notion. In fact it’s wonderful. You don’t realise how close artists were until you put them all into one location, one of the most wonderful places in the world, Paris. I’m unable to state how delightful this novel is; despite being biographically influenced it is not historically heavy, for you can easily forget whilst reading that it’s not a complete work of fiction. McLain is an author to keep an eye out for, I’m pretty certain this is just the starting point of a brilliant twenty-first century writer. ★★★★★
So, the Oxford English Dictionary. A masterpiece in itself. But did you know they couldn’t have done it without a murderer? An insane, Yale graduate surgeon who butchered a man and spent his life in a mental asylum devouring books, through which he developed the skill of compiling quotations which were used to illustrate ways particular words were used, making him one of the biggest contributers to the OED. This isn’t fiction, it’s all true, but the book is so well written it flows like fiction. It made me squirm, it made me squeal, but it also fascinated me. You never get through to understanding this intelligent man’s thought process, but at the same time you are left questioning what the borderline is between insanity and genius. How do the two fit so easily together with this one man? I guess we’ll never know. Am I being too generous with my ratings? No, I just happen to have some fantastic books recently.★★★★★
So, there’s a rumour going around that there’s a mole in the Circus, but who is it? Only one way to find out…send in Smiley. Smiley wasn’t ready for retirement anyway, but this is a tricky task. He’s spying on the spies. “Commander”, the old head of Circus is dead, and now the suspect could be anyone, from the new head of Circus, Alleline, to any one of his deputies. This, my friends, is not an easy novel to follow. If you’re a little novice to spy literature like myself, perhaps this is a heavy start. I wanted to challenge myself to read spy novels, I’ve always groaned at the concept of James Bond etc, but recently my curiosity has grown and this is where I started. If you are new to this kind of literature I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point; it’s heavy and detailed and I had to reread pages numerous times and flip back now and then (my poor spy novice brain got confused from time to time). However, confusion did not detract from the fact that this was yet again a brilliant read. Normally if I find a novel hard to get through I tend to put it aside for a while (either weeks or years), but this I couldn’t bring myself to part with. Now that for, for a spy book (a genre to which I have chosen to avoid in the past) is saying something. Carre is one of the most fantastic British writers I have encountered, everything about the novel was charming, in fact I read the entire novel with a very swarve British chap’s voice in my head (which came naturally, and as a woman who is easy to swoon, I can’t say I complained…). Overall a fantastic read, and I can now say…bring on the James Bond series! ★★★★★
Matt King, a descendant to one of Hawaii’s biggest land owners, finds himself taking care of his two daughters alone after his wife, Joanie, falls into a coma after a boating accident. As if he wasn’t going through enough with that, his daughter’s obscure personalities make the situation more difficult for him to grasp. Scottie, aged ten, idolises a girl in her class who acts and dresses like a slutty eighteen year old, whilst Alex, seventeen, is a recovering drug addict who drags a strange lad called Sid into the family picture. Whilst informing famly members and friends that Joanie isn’t going to pull through, Alex drops a bombshell on her father - Joanie was having an affair… This novel turned out to be, by far, the most engaging new novel I have experienced in a long time. Considering the severity of the plot line and perhaps the standard sounding list of characters, the novel steered clear from all cliches and possible predictabilities. Hemmings brilliantly wrote a powerfully realistic novel whilst simultaneously making a tragedy lighthearted through refreshing humour. Not once in this novel was a tempted to skim over a sentence or passage; I wanted to absorb every letter on the page. The thought process of Matt is so well constructed that I, as the reader, sunk into the mindset of Matt so swiftly and comfortably that after finishing the novel I felt like I was recovering from an amputation. I cannot recommend this novel strongly enough, it is certainly on my list of must reads of 2012, in fact, a book to read before you die. Yes, that’s how affected I was by this short novel. It sits upon my bookshelf with pride, it shall never be facing a charity shop in my lifetime. ★★★★★