Saturday, 28 November 2015

Book Challenge - Part 5

I have finally reached the end of my Book Blogging challenge, which I have completed in between all the other millions of books I have read. Which is why it has taken me all year to finish Bringing Up Burns' challenge. Believe me, I have read more than 26 books this year.

But here we are on the final part. As always you can read the previous part here and that has links to all the other books in the #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns challenge. I have really loved the books I have read as a part of this challenge and I hope you have liked the way I have interpreted the prompts.

If you have enjoyed the books I have written about and are interested in everything else that I read, make sure to follow me on Pinterest where I regularly update the world with what I have enjoyed recently.

21. A book with a great first line - Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
It took me a long time to decide which book to use for this prompt. In my head, I had many clich├ęd ideas such as Pride and Prejudice or 1984. But eventually I decided on the opening sentence from Far from the Madding Crowd.

So I bet you are wondering what the opening line is. It is as follows - 'When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.'

This is a very wordy first sentence, I have to admit and probably not an obvious choice either. But I just loved it because it is so positive. They are describing a smile! Is there any better way to start a book than with a beautiful smile? It made me smile.

And I didn't stop smiling for the whole of the rest of the novel. It is an absolutely beautifully written book. Both the descriptions and the dialogue are so entertaining, which I find really rare within classic novels. I find that those authors are good at either one or the other. But Hardy had all areas of storytelling nailed.

I also adored the amount of character progression that you see within the book. At the beginning the main character, Bathsheba is a little bit of a cow. She strings along men and is generally quite rude to those around her, as well as being ridiculously selfish. But as time continues, she becomes more aware of the world and how you should behave. She has responsibility thrust upon her in the form of her uncle's farm and then there are some tragedies plus she herself is mistreated by her husband. So by the end she is a much more solemn and sensible lady, plus she is far far more likeable. And this is when she becomes worthy of Farmer Oak who she then marries.

It is a wonderfully told story, and it has made me fall in love with Hardy's writing a little bit. I must now read more of his - I think the famous Tess of the D'Urbervilles is next on my TBR list.

22. A book with pictures - Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
It's very unusual to find an adult novel which includes pictures. Even more unusual to include photographs. Yet Nick Hornby does it in his latest book, describing the completely fictional adventures of Sophie, a Blackpool beauty who accidentally becomes a leading comedy actress in one of the most popular BBC series of the 1960s.

As I say, it is entirely fictional, yet I guess the photographs and carefully included factual detail (such as political trends of the time, the other series that are mentioned, other comedians etc etc) all make you wonder whether it is actually real. You hurriedly start googling for a Sophie Straw and a series called Barbara and Jim.

Hornby, famous for About a Boy, has this winningly readable style with snappy dialogue and likeable characters. The book isn't actually substantial in terms of plot, yet you really want to know what happens to the characters as they progress through the making of the TV series. It is almost like a sitcom in yourself and you become emotionally invested with the characters and want them to succeed.

23. A book from the library - Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I haven't been to the library for a very long time and even with this prompt I cheated a tiny bit. I actually own this book as I bought it from a charity shop for a pound but it is, in fact, an ex-library book so it does kind of count.

Lots of people read this book for GCSE but I never have and this was the first time I have read it. But wow what an excellent book. The speed of the descent that the boys took into savagery was frankly terrifying but believable. And it does genuinely depict what would happen if the authority figures were ever removed from our society. I don't doubt for a second that there would be an attempt to keep order, but people would argue and everyone would want power and that's when the war would begin.

At the time of publication, lots of people complained about the ending and how, amongst all the anarchy (which is kind of heartbreaking) it is very neatly resolved by the ship turning up at just the right moment. I, however, don't think like that at all. My immediate thought was that Ralph never escaped his attackers and he was killed by them. So the officer who came to rescue them along with Ralph taking charge once more and Jack being reduced to a little boy again, was just his version of heaven rather than a depiction of real events. Golding was far far too clever, and his view of humanity was too perfect, for him to just wrap it all up in a nice little bow like that. And considering the only other good characters were killed, I think it would be very unlikely that Golding let Ralph live and order be restored.

24. A book you it again - The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Of course it was going to be this book. This is my favourite book of all time and I talk about it a lot. With friends, on Twitter, with random people I meet in the street...

I feel like it has everything - it has romance and a puzzle/intrigue you want to work out. It has such engaging characters and it is unbelievably heartwarming.

I talk about it lot on various booky blogposts and across my social media so I am not going to go on about it here. But I seriously recommend it. Go and read it right now.

25. A book that is more than 10 years old - The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
This only just snuck into being allowed for this prompt as it was published in 2003. But my god, am I glad I read it - it's a beautiful book.

The basic plot is that Eddie dies at the very beginning of the book in a tragic accident where he tries to save a little girl from a falling rollercoaster cart. And then, on his way to the afterlife, he meets five people from his past who can help to explain his life to him.

I love this version of heaven that Albom creates: that you get to meet important people (even if you don't realise just how important they are at the time) from your life and give your life meaning. This can then lead to peace and allow you to choose your heaven where you remain - which is basically the place where you were most happy on earth. It's beautifully done and Eddie goes on such a great journey from being completely dissatisfied with his seemingly pointless life, to being at peace with it and understanding that everything happens for a reason.

This is another lovely idea which Albom promotes throughout the novel - that all lives are interlinked and everything happens for a reason. Which he displays through a simple game of catch that he tells from two opposite sides - one it is just a game, the other it has much bigger consequences that Eddie couldn't have even imagined if he'd tried.

It is only a very short book - around 200 pages which I swallowed in a journey to London and back. But it is absolutely rammed with emotion and it will make you see life a little differently. Which is a wonderful thing to gain from a book.

26. A book based on a true story - War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
This book has been on my TBR list for about a year and came to the front of my mind when the National Theatre announced that the play is closing early next year. So I thought it was perfect for this prompt.

I think A LOT of books are based on real events. Obviously. For instance, if a book is based during WW1 there is going to be an element of truth to it, because the author will do their research to make it accurate and probably base it on the experiences of whoever they find.

This novel was based on a painting of a horse called Joey painted by a Captain James Nicholls. Both of whom are within the book. And although the story may not be true, I love that a portion of the characters are.

It is a very touching story. One of a deep friendship between the main character Joey (who is a horse - I love the unique viewpoint) and his original owner, Albert. They are separated for years and Joey has many adventures on his own both within the British army and behind enemy lines. And I love that about War Horse. It doesn't focus on the British viewpoint of events, but you get to see life in the German ranks too. And that helps us to remember, that they found it just as hard and suffered as many (if not more) losses and hated the war just as much. It is always a good thing to remember that the Germans were humans too and it wasn't their fault that these atrocities happened.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Why children should not be allowed on the internet

If anyone was on twitter last Wednesday evening they would have seen that SH*T WENT DOWN (excuse the expression)! It really did.

It all started when a blogger implied that Zoella didn't write her own blog. Now I don't know whether that's true (although lots of bloggers suspect it's true due to a drastic improvement in the quality and tone of her writing) and that's not what I want to discuss. But oh my days were the gates of hell unleashed on to that poor blogger, as torrents of Zoella fans staunchly defended her.

And by defend her, I mean attack anyone who dared to say a single word against her.

It is a lovely thing that Zoella has so many loyal supporters. HOWEVER, if they are going to be as rude and offensive as they were, then I would not be wholly proud of them.

The majority of these fans seemed to be around the age of 12 and female (precisely who Zoella aims her videos towards so I guess that makes sense). I got this information from various twitter bios, but even if this was not available, I could have guessed that myself. They reacted to the dissing of their idol in a suitably childish way - instead of having a calm and measured discussion, they attacked with angry and personal comments about why the blogger was the most awful person in the world to express the less than ideal opinion about Zoella.

This is exactly why children should not be on social media sites.

Some of the comments were downright nasty and completely unnecessary. If any sister, niece, friend or daughter (I am getting to that age where I could be a parent in the near future - although I am not quite the 40 years somebody accused me of being) posted anything similar online I would have a lot to say to them. The kids who were attacking any bloggers daring to discuss the issue, clearly don't have the maturity to understand the implications of the poison that they spread, poison that they would never say in real life and should never be on the internet. They don't understand that behind the computer screen is a real human being with real feelings, being hurt by their comments and, out of sight from their parents or teachers, I felt like they relished the lack of control.

Being an adult, I was able to laugh off the personal insults I received through the Twitter-sphere that evening. They were incredibly mild compared to some that others suffered. But I didn't actually say a bad word against Zoella, it was simply because I was entering the discussion that I was attacked. I knew I was not 40 or fat or ugly and my blog wasn't boring enough to send someone to sleep. But a girl 10 years younger than I, would probably have taken it much much more personally. And could have become extremely distressed by it. Therefore, to protect children, I feel like the minimum age on social media sites should be more heavily enforced.

I know the internet is a huge place and social media can be both good and bad. But that evening I definitely saw it at it's worst. I can now understand just how easy it is for online bullying to take place and this is something we should all watch out for more vigilantly.

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Sunday, 15 November 2015

Don't lose faith

I had a few blogposts planned for this week but after the sad events in Paris and around the world, I felt I had to put something about that here. It wouldn't feel right if I didn't.

The terrorist attacks that the world saw this weekend, and happen far more frequently than they should/we realise around the world, break my heart. It's hateful that humans want to destroy each other, simply for sport and to gain attention for their causes.

However, I am trying not to let the awfulness of a few humans, discolour my view of humanity in general. There is so much good in the world. Good that we often take advantage of. From little things like a bright smile or somebody letting you into a building first when it's raining; to the wonderful people who gave Parisians shelter so they weren't wondering the streets on that dreadful night. From someone saying thank you when you help them out; to the police/firefighters/doctors who save people's lives every day.

Don't harden your heart against your fellow man, and don't wish revenge. Just remember the love. It often takes the worst circumstances to bring out the best in people. But you saw both this weekend. Keep concentrating on the positive and try to ignore the hate.

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Monday, 2 November 2015


All of you who read this blog should know by now just how much I love books. I constantly have a book on the go and keep a mini review journal thing on Pinterest, including all that I have read, am reading and want to read (do give me a follow if you are on Pinterest too).

So, as I announced at the end of September, for Blogtober this year I thought I would combine it with the book bloggers' version of the event - BOOKtober. And, every day for the entire month, I recommended a book on my Twitter. But just in case you didn't catch them or for some reason don't follow me on Twitter (WHY??? Fix that right now here); here is a roundup of all my recommendations.

And just FYI - these are not just any old books. They are the books which I feel you HAVE to experience at some point in your life, either because they are important or just so DARN GOOD. They are the ones you should read before you die....

1. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffennegger.
This is my all time favourite book so of course I was going to start with this one. It is a romance but I think anyone could enjoy it as it's so beautifully written. There are a lot of characters in it and it has a very twisty-turny, plot. It is a wonderful story of people who draw you in and make them care for them in such a huge way. It is highly emotional, especially towards the end and it made me absolutely sob. I think all those reasons should be enough for you to read it right now.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This is a book unlike any other. It has been described in the past as historical fantasy and that sums it up pretty well. It is fantasy, yet it is set in Victorian times which is a really unusual mixture. The descriptions in this are simply stunning and they draw you into the wonderful world of the circus. Plus there are short chapters and a very intriguing plot which will keep you turning the pages.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Another of my favourite books...although it is a really horrific version of racism in 20th century America, it is actually a really light-hearted book. There are some absolutely hilarious bits and the friendship that is portrayed (that was almost on the point of being illegal back in those days) is wonderful. I really love it. And when you read it, you will understand why I took a picture of it around cooking utensils.

4. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Obviously plots are really important in novels. But actually I rate great characters above a great plot. A mediocre plot can be saved if you really engage with and care for the characters. Luckily, this covers all bases. To be honest it's going to, it's Hardy. There are some brilliant characters, particularly the main one, Bathsheba. She is so flawed and just so human. At first I just thought she was a bit of a cow but she grows up throughout the novel, some bad things happen to her and she learns from them to become a better person in the end. The character progression is wonderful and totally realistic too.

5. The Auschwitz Violin by Maria Angels Anglada
This is a very short book, but it doesn't need length. It is haunting and emotive  and really draws you into both the horror and the beautiful friendship that was present within the concentration camps. They went through it together and that's how they survived. That and luck; being in the right place at the right time, keeping your head down and saying the right thing. That's what was clear within this book. The musical parts of the book were particularly wonderful and such a direct contrast from the grey awfulness and cruelty of the camp itself. This book will stay with you for a long time.

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Another shorty but a goody. You will swallow this book whole and it has some really interesting themes within it. The ending is properly sad but if you are anything like me, you would have noticed how it was foreshadowed by events at the beginning. A wonderful little book, full of fascinating imagery and was such an interesting representation of humanity.

7. Me before you by Jojo Moyes
Moyes is a very talented writer and I feel she is slightly wasted on romantic fiction. But if that's what she enjoys writing, then I am not one to dissuade her. She creates wonderful, believable characters and there is always a surprising twist somewhere in there, which makes it so much more than your average romantic fiction. I have read and love a huge many of her books, but I think this is still my favourite. It is heart breaking at the end, but the story up until then is absolutely wonderful. I am really looking forward to the film coming out next year. Although I don't tend to watch book adaptions (as it normally ruins them) Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in the leads should do it justice.

8. The Five People you meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
I love this idea. Life is so confusing and anything that deals with the afterlife, gives such hope to its readers. But this version of heaven is one of my faves where Eddie meets 5 people who help him to make sense of his life. A beautiful idea and a wonderfully told story.

9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Not everyone gets on with Austen but I am a big fan of most of them. This was the first one of hers that I read and I think it will always remain my favourite although Northanger Abbey comes pretty close. She is the chick flick writer of her age and I love the ups and downs that the characters go through while they try to navigate that old lifestyle. I couldn't even imagine a world where all you needed to do was find a husband.

10. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I was really lucky that, while I was studying English at GCSE and A level, I had fabulous teachers who inspired my love of literature rather than destroyed it. I studied Gatsby for my AS, and it was the perfect one to read into a little. There is so much imagery and I loved the vivid descriptions of the partying lifestyle in the 1920s.

11. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I do find John Green to be a little bit of an affected writer and his characters are way too wise for their years. But this is a touching book all the same. And I love the fact that it is a different kind of cancer story, centred around the love and positivity that Hazel had in her life, rather than focusing on the fact she is going to die soon.

12. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
Someone described last week's recommendations as a 'little bit heavy' (I don't think they are but then again I probably have a better tolerance than most) so I thought I would share a few of my favourite books from my childhood. Starting with this marvellous book. I bet you guessed there would be a HP book in here somewhere. Very few people my age weren't touched by them. This one was always my favourite. It was the first one that I own in hardback so I think it was the first one where I became fully addicted to the series. And I like the fact it isn't too dark as Voldemort wasn't in it. A little bit different and really entertaining.

13. The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton
Continuing along the boarding school theme, these were my favourite books when I was growing up. I became absolutely infatuated by the idea of boarding schools (so much so I did attend one from the ages of 11-18) and I never stopped reading them from about the ages of 6-15. Loved the characters and the whole setting - it definitely captured my imagination. Which is what a book is meant to do.

14. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
My other favourite book when I was a child. I loved this story of the four sisters who had so many mini adventures together. I always wanted to be like Beth, sweet and kind and brilliant at the piano but even back then I think I was like Jo. And I am definitely like Jo now - a writer, who is passionate and loving but with a bit of a temper that comes out every so often. Yup, we could be twins.

15. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This book is guaranteed to make you slightly addicted. The structure of the book goes 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1. With each section having a different character. So the only character who's story is written all together is number 6. The rest are split...which means the entire first half is made up of cliffhangers. Each new story, you think you are not going to like the characters as much as the previous one, but you do and then you can barely wait to find out what happens to them all. It's all very cleverly done, not least because each of the characters are linked.

16. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I studied this for A level and thank goodness it wasn't ruined for me. It is a beautiful and haunting book partly set in the 1st world war. Lots of description, lots of  imagery but also wonderful characters who you just fall in love with.

17. The Diary of a young girl by Anne Frank
When you read about the World War in history books, you read statistics about the number of Jews who were killed and you forget that every single one of them was a real person. Who was murdered for no good reason. Anne Frank's diary goes a little way to humanise those people who were killed. Understated yet brilliant.

8. And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini is one of my favourite modern authors. He is actually the god of description and every single one of his books touches the heartstrings.

19. The Life and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton
There is nothing profound about this book but it is just so darn funny. If you are a fan of him and the show and celebrities in general, you will enjoy this book. It has many a hilarious tale in there and is not your average autobiography.

20. The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
I love Roddy Doyle's books. He has such a laid back style that is so easy to read and this one really made me giggle. He manages to capture human society perfectly.

21. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This really touched a nerve. The descent from order to savagery seemed quick and very intense and kind of frightening. It was a really astute look at humanity.

22. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
This is a wonderfully written book showing the depths of mental illness. It is an aspect of health not often talked about, let alone represented in literature. It takes a little while to get into the book but it is great and worth persevering with.

23. The Narrow Road to the Deep North North by Richard Flannagan
This has some really brutal parts to it. But also a lot of friendship and love in there too. I disliked the main character a lot, but there are others who you can empathise with a lot more. And you can even sympathise with the torturing prison officials to a certain extent because everyone in there was being controlled.

24. One Day by David Nicholls
Do not dismiss this as chick lit. It is a rather wonderful and A LOT better than the film, which is so often the case. Such an interesting and unique structural idea.

25. I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak
Everyone has heard of The Book Thief but very few people have read any more of Zusak's. I actually prefer I am the Messenger. It is addictive as you try to work out where the messages are coming from and why he has to do this.

26. Boy by Roald Dahl
I grew up on Roald Dahl books. But this was always my favourite. I love that it shows how he first came up with a few of the famous ideas. And you see the boy behind the author. Last year I was lucky enough to be able to read his first ever handwritten draft of Boy. It was a very cool thing to do.

27. The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
I have read a few of Toibin's and although he is very 'literary classic' he has an easily readable style which I love. This is a great depiction of the well known Easter Story, from a different perspective and makes it extremely realistic. Which is just wonderful. I love it when authors make you think in a different way.

28. Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
This book really affected me when I was read it and that's why I included it here. I couldn't stop thinking about it and at some points it made me feel quite uncomfortable due to the treatment of the main character. But if a book can stay with you like that, it's well worth a read. Plus there is a shocking twist at the end which I didn't see coming!!

29. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Another very haunting book which is wayyyyy better than the film. Beautifully told. Although the central issue is death it's not a downer at all. And it is very uplifting.

30. The picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
We should all read lots and lots of Oscar Wilde. End of.

31. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Along with Pride and Prejudice and Far from the Madding Crowd this is one of my favourite 'classics' and one of the first bits of classic literature I read all the way through (and enjoyed) because I wanted to, rather than being forced to for school. It will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. Plus the author shares my name, which obviously means I am going to be just as successful as her and be read hundreds of years in the future.

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