Monday, 4 May 2015

Book challenge

I am a total book nerd - something I say a lot and am very proud of, but from looking at my blog, you probably couldn't tell. I definitely don't have enough literary things on here so I have decided to fix that by taking part in the #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns challenge.

I did in fact start this challenge at the beginning of the year but stuff happened, and things got in the way - as is so often the case with life. The idea is, you are meant to read a book every couple of weeks and I am on track with that. So all is good. And I have been reading some wonderful books because of it:

1. A book you own but haven't read - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I counted my books the other day and they came to over 250. And, out of those, there are at least a hundred that I haven't read. So it has become my aim to not buy any more books until I have read all the ones that I already own.

Guess what? I've failed. I am just too tempted by bookshops.

Anyway, in a bid to make my own books seem more exciting, I have come up with a 'lucky dip box' where I have written the titles of all the books that I haven't read on post it notes. I stuck them in this box and I choose one at random from there. So this is the one I picked out.

What a fantastic book. Why have I waited so long to read this?? It really is one of a kind and not a kind that I have ever come across before, being fantasy fiction that is set in a historical context. It doesn't sound like it would work, or even that is very exciting but it really was.

Everything was great about it. The characters were well fleshed out and extremely likeable so you really cared about what was happening as it progressed. There were beautiful descriptions of the circus itself and an enticing plot which was addictive to read. Finally, short chapters helped to build suspense, keeping the pages turning and to encourage you to carry on for much much longer than you would have.

There was an air of mystery that surrounded this book, which was extremely fitting considering the subject matter and the plot. So you found out information as the characters did and many of those answers didn't come until right at the end of the book. Hugely frustrating but I loved it at the same time. It literally kept you guessing until the very last page and it held my attention unwaveringly throughout. I can not praise this book enough. Such class.
2. A book that was made into a movie - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I haven't actually seen this movie as I have always wanted to read the book first. And I have owned the book since about 2010 when someone recommended it to me, but the length and the supposed confusing nature of the book has put me off for years. Finally though, I have read it. And what a book it is.

The basic plot is...well, it's not basic at all actually. The book is split into 6 parts, each depicting a different life, with a different set of characters, set in different times and falling into different genres. Essentially this is 6 books in one.

The novel starts with Adam who is in the 1800s, moves on to Robert, who is in 1931 Belgium, to Luisa Rey who is in the 1970s, to Timothy Cavendish in the early 21st century, to Sonmi-251 in some post apocalyptic future, to Zachary in the far more distant future. And then, having only written half their stories in each part Mitchell writes his way backwards from Sonmi, all the way back through to Adam's conclusion. Therefore in effect, the book is a kind of mirror, a definitive symbol in how human nature refuses to change throughout this whole expanse of time. People still fight each other, destroy each other, are cruel to each other but also love each other and find happiness and friendship. They don't adapt or develop and our basic instincts are still the same whether we are in the 1800s or in a future century. This can be seen in the title as well. A cloud essentially stays the shape, for hours, days, sometimes weeks but is blown around all over the place.

In addition, each story is connected to the others in some way. There is an ongoing implication that all the characters are reincarnations of the others through the inclusion of a comet-shaped birthmark. I found this plot point, slightly gimmicky in what is otherwise a very sophisticated novel. It's inclusion at all is so far fetched, that I would have preferred if it hadn't been there, but for it to be in the shape of a comet is just one step too far. Especially as it's mentioned over and over again.

This book should appeal to almost anyone. With 6 different genres being included, it would be hard not to. But the first story - The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing - won't be to everyone's taste. I found myself inwardly sigh as I battled against the highly stylised language. I got there in the end though, and the rest of the novel was far more addictive. Particularly the first half. It is completely made up of cliffhangers, as each story is interrupted with the next one (a feature which is also in Robert Frobisher's composition, the Cloud Atlas Sextet during the second part) so you want to keep reading in order to finally find out what happens to each character. It is surprising that Mitchell actually succeeds in making you care for each individual character, enough for this structure to work. You find yourself becoming disappointed that your journey with a character comes to an end, wonder if the next story could be as good and then fall in love with the next character too so the whole process starts all over again. And this happens 6 times.

This novel really is a masterpiece. A truly beautiful masterpiece. I could have talked about so much more within the book. The imagery (it's full of it), the readability (high) and many other things besides. But frankly we could be here all day. What I will say is this...David Mitchell is most definitely a gifted storyteller, like no other that I have come across. It is hard to do anything new within storytelling. So hats off to Mr Mitchell...because he has managed it.

3. A book you pick solely because of the cover - Perfect Timing by Jill Mansell
You know that phrase - you should never judge a book by it's cover? Well, I think I must be the only person in the world who actually obeys this mantra.

I genuinely don't ever pick a book because of it's cover. It's title - big yes. Recommendations - definitely yes. If they have been made into a film - yes. Blurb - yes. But cover, nope. So actually this prompt was so hard for me. I just found it impossible to pick a book, which I knew nothing about and which actually had an aesthetically pleasing enough cover, to say that I chose this one. So much so, having walked into my favourite bookshop, I left empty handed. I just couldn't do it.

I was given another opportunity though when the shop where I worked closed down. There were a bunch of books in the kitchen which had been there forever and were going to be thrown out. Cue horror filled lunge for them. So I chose three of them based solely on what they looked like, not reading the titles or blurbs at all. While my colleague took the other three. And this was one of those three.

Perfect Timing was exactly what I expected it to be, from looking at the cover: a slightly unsophisticated romantic novel. When I was a teenager, I used to be addicted to chick lit but I have become snobby in my old age and don't tend to read it at all. There's just nothing to them. Admittedly this one was quite well written. Yes it may have been unrealistic and somewhat annoyingly so but it was still entertaining to read and I wasn't unduly distracted by plot holes or grammar problems. The characters were likeable and well portrayed, although there were slightly too many of them. And it was a relaxing readable read. A good break if you needed one.

The cover, although aesthetically pleasing, actually had nothing to do with the story whatsoever. There wasn't any mention of a garden or flowers or anything like that in this novel. Which just goes to show how misleading covers can be. And this is why, I don't normally pay attention to the cover when choosing a book. Better to research what the book is actually about, rather than try to guess.
4. A book your friend loves - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I am so so glad that this was the book which my friend ordered me to read when I told him about this prompt. I now love it too. It is only very short, coming in at about 120 pages. But is so emotive and action-filled throughout that time. It tells the story of Lennie (who is very big and strong but rather simple) and his protector George. They travel around together, working on various farms and they normally have to leave due to a mistake that Lennie makes. In this particular instance, within a few days, he accidentally kills the boss' daughter-in-law. The husband of said woman, is therefore going to kill Lennie in the most gruesome way possible. Causing George to shoot him, himself in order to save him from something far worse.

I can understand why Of Mice and Men is a GCSE text. There is just tonnes that you can read into and discuss about everything contained within the book. Particularly friendship and divided loyalties. But I don't want to turn this into an English essay so if you have read Of Mice and Men, let me know and we can have a (virtual) cuppa and a chat. And if you haven't read Of Mice and Men, make sure you do give it a read. It is such an amazing book which will make you think, and then carry on thinking, for ages after you finish.
5. A book published this year - All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher
I have been doing this challenge since January but have only been able to put up this first post now because I hadn't found a brand new book which I had liked the look of enough to buy. But eventually I decided that I wanted to read this brand new book from Carrie Fletcher which came out last week.

Carrie Fletcher is the younger sister of Tom Fletcher from McFly. But this 22 year old can not simply be called Tom's little sister - she has made a name for herself in her own right. A talented West End performer, she has been in Les Mis for the past two years and uploads frequent videos to a popular YouTube channel, one which I personally only started watching after I heard about the book. Most people do it the other way around and hear about the book through the channel, but there we go, there's my proof that I am a total book nerd.

This book wasn't really aimed at me. The majority of Fletcher's audience, who call themselves the Hopefuls, are teenagers and this book is designed to help them through those difficult years. As I am a few years past that, (in fact I am the same age as Fletcher herself), I found it at times ever so slightly patronising and bossy. But the majority of the time it was extremely readable and very entertaining. I loved the little stories she threw in and the illustrations (there should have been more of both of those). She is so kooky and likeable, I am not surprised that this came across in her writing. And it has led her to be Number 1 on the Times Harback Non-Fiction List at the time this blogpost was published.

I also loved that you could clearly hear her voice when reading the book. She writes in the exact same way that she speaks in her videos. Which shows that she is one of the few YouTubers who actually did write her own book. I have already discussed Zoe Sugg's book at length (you can read that post here) and how frustrating it was for me, as a wannabe author, to watch her getting handed a publishing deal on a plate just because. But with Fletcher it is different. The majority of her videos are self-helpy type of vlogs where she discusses things like friendship, love, school, bullying...the exact subjects she talks about in her book. The two have a direct and obvious correlation and work together really well. And what she has produced will be a comfort for thousands of teenage girls, I am sure. (Alsooooo as an extra and unrelated note, I have decided that if Carrie and I had ever known each other, we would most likely be very good friends. I keep on spotting similarities between us both. For instance, she must be the only other person on the planet who wanted to be an archaeologist when she was a kid. While all my friends wanted to be vets and nurses, my obsession with history and the TV Programme Time Team, led me to want to do this job. And apparently Indiana Jones had a similar effect on her - who knew?)

This is the first instalment of my book challenge posts. Four more instalments (and 21 more books) will be coming your way soon. So look out for those. And to see what other people are reading check out the Instagram tag #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns  

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  1. I love reading to and this was a very interesting post! I have a monthly book club on my blog to xx

  2. I've heard a lot of great things about The Night Circus. Might have to pop it on my to-read list! Cloud Atlas however, is a book I have read, and absolutely adore! The film is great as well, Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish is just hilarious!