Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Top Ten Authors I Need to Read More Of


It's rare for me to join in with Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish, but something about this theme really struck me.  I am terrible for reading author backlists - I keep on discovering amazing authors and adding all their titles to my wishlist, but I never get around to actually reading them.  So without further ado, here are the ten authors I need to read more of:

  

  • Geraldine Brooks - I absolutely adored People of the Book when I read it during my historical fiction kick a few years back.  I even own copies of March and Year of Wonders, I just need to pick them up and read them!
  • Angela Carter - There are no words for how much I loved her dark fairytale retellings in The Bloody Chamber.  I'm very keen to try Nights at the Circus in particular.
  • Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca became one of my favourite books as soon as I tried it.  I loved the twists and turns, and how unreliable the narrator was.  I think Jamaica Inn will be next.
  

  • Jane Harris - Gillespie and I was another deliciously creepy book with an unreliable narrator.  I've heard The Observations is just as good.
  • Eva Ibbotson - Eva's books are fluffy and fun and like a warm bath in the middle of winter.  There's so many of them I want to read!
  • W. Somerset Maugham - I'm only just getting into modern classics, and I adored The Painted Veil. I have a whole set of his books, but think I will be trying The Magician next.
 

  • Marisha Pessl - Night Film was just awesome!  I know it's very different, but I really want to try Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  • Brandon Sanderson - Steelheart was good, but the Mistborn trilogy is the one I really want to try.  I love some epic fantasy when I'm in the mood.
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  • John Steinbeck - He's my husband's favourite author, and I loved East of Eden.  The ones I really want to try are Cannery Row and Grapes of Wrath.
  • Lucy Knisley - And finally and graphic novelist.  I loved Knisley's account of he time in France in French Milk, and fully intend to get my hands on Relish as soon as possible.

Have you read any of these authors? If so, what did you think?
If you're taking part in Top Ten Tuesday this week, I'd love to visit your list.



Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sam Sunday #59: Twelve Weeks Later



In some ways, it's strange to think that Giles is twelve weeks old today.  Like any set of first-time parents, we didn't really know what was about to hit us!  I love being a Mum and I love watching him learn new things - how to smile, laugh, grasp things with his hand, coo and recognise the people around him.  I love his chubby little wrists and how he smiles at me every single morning when he wakes up.  I love his dimples, how he is always wriggling and how he strokes my arm when I cuddle him.  Being a parent has changed me, and made me more open to other people, but it's so hard too.  I see many posts about how amazing being a parent is, and it truly, honestly is, but it's rarer to see people acknowledging just how difficult it is too. And I want to be able to be honest about my experiences.

One thing that has made it hard for me is that I'm still recovering from his birth.  I know I mentioned it a little bit on here, but I really did have a traumatic experience.  It's not an exaggeration at all to say that without immediate medical assistance after he was born, I might not be here today.  I was expecting the pain of contractions, and they were pretty awful (the epidural was amazing), but I wasn't expecting to have so much difficulty when it got to the pushing stage.  I'm petite, Giles was a big baby, and he twisted and got stuck on the way out.  Having the epistemology and forceps was horrible, but the worst part was the blood loss after.  I had two internal fourth degree tears and I quickly lost over half of the blood in my body.  I remember feeling cold, ill, vomiting, dropping in and out of consciousness and not much else.  Every time I came to, there were a lot of doctors around me - they had to perform surgery in the labour ward as it would have been too dangerous to move me,,and I had to have multiple blood transfusions. It was so scary and it's been a difficult recovery. I'm just getting to the stage now where I feel fine most of the time.

It's been such a big adjustment, becoming a parent.  Before, I was used to a busy working life that often spilled into my own personal time.  When I wasn't working, I had the freedom to do as I pleased.  Now I am much less busy, but only get snatches of time to myself during the day, and I use my brain a lot less!  It can be difficult to be on your own with a baby for twelve hours at a stretch.  I love him more than anything, but when he's particularly refluxy and won't settle, and won't let me put him down at all, it's tough, and can be lonely too.  Thankfully we seemed to have turned a corner with his reflux in the last week, as he's much more content and will actually let me put him down for his naps now, meaning I do get little breaks in the day.  This makes a massive difference.

I've still got about three months of maternity leave left, and I'm intending to make the most of them. Once I go back to work, and life becomes super busy again, I'm going to miss this time, the days when I get to do nothing but cuddle him, play with him and go for walks in the sun to look at the trees.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I don't read much YA, but I would have to be living under a rock to not notice the massive success of this series.  With the third instalment, Isla and the Happily Ever After, recently published, I decided it was time to give Anna a go.  The basic story-line goes as follows - Anna is looking forward to starting her senior year and getting closer to her almost-boyfriend Toph when her father decides to send her to boarding school in Paris.  At first Anna is determined to hate being uprooted from her life in America, but she soon makes new friends.  One of these is Etienne St. Clair, who she finds herself developing feelings for despite him already being in a relationship.  As the year goes on, Anna and St. Clair have to deal with their conflicting feelings.

I can see why Anna and the French Kiss is so popular.  It's super fun to read and the romance between the two main characters is well written.  There's no insta-love here - Anna may be attracted to St. Clair initially, but we only see her fall in love as their friendship develops and they spend more time together.  At first they have an easy-going friendship, but as time goes on, they become closer and support each other through some major life events, and it was good to read a relationship grow in such a realistic way.  It also helps that Anna is a likeable main character.  She's aware that she shouldn't have feelings for St. Clair and so does her best to suppress them and just be his friend.    She isn't perfect and comes across as a normal, relatable teenage girl, and I'm sure this has contributed to this book being so loved by so many.

So I liked Anna, but I wasn't so keen on St. Clair.  Yes, he is described as being dreamy, and he is a great friend to Anna, but I thought he was terrible in the romance department.  He knows his friend Meredith has feelings for him, and chooses to let her hope rather than address it.  He's in a relationship with Ellie, despite having deep feelings for someone else.  He's not technically cheating, but he is on an emotional level, and he continues to stay with Ellie despite knowing that Anna likes him back.  I know that some of this is necessary for the plot, but St Clair just comes across as a bit spineless.  I was also sick of Perkins constantly reminding me that St. Clair is short - who cares?!

Anyway, Anna and the French Kiss was a really fun read.  It's not perfect but it's quick and engaging and I enjoyed reading it.  I'll definitely be picking up the next two books.

Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2010
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget have been friends for years and are used to spending their summers together.  But when circumstances force them to all go separate ways one summer, they decide to keep in touch through letters and by exchanging a pair of blue jeans, that miraculously suit each and every one of them.  As the jeans travel with the girls across the world, they all have some defining experiences.  Carmen thinks she is spending a quiet summer with just her Dad, only to be confronted with a big surprise.  Lena is off to Greece to visit her grandparents, Bridget is at a soccer summer camp and Tibby is stuck at home, working in a shop.  Through the stories of the four girls, Brashares addresses common teenage experiences such as falling in love for the first time and coming to terms with new step-parents.

I really enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (although not it's awful cover!).  I'm currently reading Moby Dick, so I picked up this book as I needed something light, quick and engaging to go alongside it.  And Sisterhood certainly filled that brief.  Within a few pages, I was hooked into the story and the switching of perspectives between the four girls made the pacing really snappy. It's sometimes very satisfying to be reading a book that you can immerse yourself in completely and get through in only a few days.

What's clever about Sisterhood is that Brashares manages to create four main characters that are diverse enough for every reader to relate to one of them, or at least one of their experiences.  Tibby feels left behind and like she doesn't quite fit in anywhere.  Bridget is loud and confident, but rushes into sexual experiences too quickly.  Lena struggles with shyness and finds it hard to express how she feels, and Carmen has to deal with a new step-family.  I personally related most to Lena, as I know that I am too much of a closed book sometimes, so I enjoyed her character development and how she started to learn to open herself up and share what she was feeling.

I finished Sisterhood excited to read the next volume in the series.  I won't be picking it up straight away, but I'm sure I will be reading this who series sooner rather than later.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2002
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Classics Club: Two Years In


I can't believe that it's already been two years since I joined the Classics Club and compiled my list of 72 classics I wanted to read in five years.  Last August, I posted my first annual review, in which I was pleased to have finished 13 titles and knocked two Dickens books off my list.  This year, I'm pleased that I've stuck with it and continued to read classics at a steady pace of at least one a month.  This is a big deal for me, as I'm terrible at sticking to goals in general and reading lists in particular.  This is the only time I have ever stuck to a TBR list, so hopefully I'll continue and manage to read all 72 books by the time the five years are up.

Books read this year: 16
Running total: 29/72

Books I read this year (links to my reviews):

   

Favourite Reread: This second year was a year of new reads, with only Emma and Return of the King being rereads.  Of these, Emma is definitely my favourite.

Unexpected Delight: Northanger Abbey.  Having already read Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, I had assumed that the best of Austen was already behind me.  But I was utterly enchanted by Catherine, and Northanger Abbey is now my favourite Austen.

Book I Am Glad to Have Finished: Definitely Les Miserables.  I try to read one 'big'/scary book each year, and spinning Les Mis meant that this was the year that Victor Hugo and I became acquainted.  I had high hopes, but was ultimately let down by the meandering story-telling and unnecessary diversions. I'm glad I read it, but it wasn't really for me.

Best Modern Classic: The Painted Veil by W.Somerset Maugham.  I loved this story of a woman forced to accompany her husband into a cholera epidemic because of her infidelity.  It's full of thoroughly unlikable characters but still somehow manages to be beautiful.

Book I Finally Got Around To: East of Eden.  My husband has been nagging me for years to read some more Steinbeck, so I'm relieved that I loved this one.  I'm looking forward to The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row, both of which are on my list.

Authors I Am Finished With On My List: Louisa May Alcott, Anne Bronte, Emily Bronte, Isak Dinesen, Daphne Du Maurier, Elizabeth Gaskell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Victor Hugo, Zora Neale Hurston, Aldous Huxley, Henry James, W. Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain and Jules Verne.  Of all of these, I'm really looking forward to reading more James and Maugham.

I'm still enjoying reading classics, although I'm finding that my tastes are changing.  If I modified my list now, it would be very different from the one I compiled two years ago.  But I've decided to stick to my original goals, and save my new ideas for the classics club list, version two, that I'm sure I'll be compiling in three years time.

If you're in the classics club, how are you getting on with your list?

Friday, 29 August 2014

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan


A Natural History of Dragons is the story of a young woman trying to overcome the prejudices of her age in order to become a scientist. It's set in a fantasy world similar to Victorian England (but with the inclusion of dragons) and follows a fictional memoir format, with Lady Trent looking back on her early life and first scientific expedition.  Isabella (Lady Trent) recounts her childhood and how her fascination with her father's library led to her passion for science and dragons.  After a chance encounter with a dragon as a young child, she is keen to devote her life to studying them.  But in this world, the role of a young lady is to act politely ignorant and find a husband, something Isabella finds herself chafing against.  It's only when she meets a man who is a scientist himself, and supportive of her radical-for-the-times ambitions, that she is able to make contacts and secure a place on an expedition to the dangerous mountains of Vystrana, where she hopes to catalogue and understand dragons of all species.

I really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons.  It's set in a Victorian-type world, and the writing style harks back to that era too.  It reminded me a lot of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in this regard, and it's something I definitely appreciated.  Isabella's voice felt authentically Victorian, and I loved the slower pace, although this is something that might not be for everyone.  I've read quite a bit on the history of science and I loved the little echoes of this process in Brennan's book, it felt as though this all could have happened, if only dragons were real.  We get to read about the 'scientific' reason why dragons can fly, despite being so heavy, and what their wings are made of.  Little details like this can really make a book for me.

Of course, I loved the theme of a woman overcoming the prejudices around her, and it was interesting to see the contrast between Isabella at an early age, and Lady Trent writing her memoirs, sometimes reflecting on the naivety of her younger self.  A Natural History of Dragons is the first in a series, and I can't wait to read the next installment.  The only problem with the book, and the reason it wasn't a 5 star read, was that the secondary plot involving smugglers and deception in the village felt a little bit forced to me and didn't engage me.  I wanted to read about dragons and science, not worry about who wanted Isabella out of the Vystrani village.  Still, I'm very much looking forward to getting my hands on the next volume.

Source: Library
First Published: 2013
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Read Alongside:

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke - A story of magicians set in Regency England, where everything is the same but magic exists.  This one has a similar writing style and is one of my favourite books, I really need to revisit it soon.
  2. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier - Historical fiction centred around Mary Anning, who discovered dinosaur fossils along the Dorset coast of England.  This has similar themes of a woman trying to break into science, and is an excellent read.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sam Sunday #58


Another week gone, and we're now heading into the last week of Tom's summer holiday.  It's been a busy week, as we've been catching up with friends as much as possible.  Giles is still at the easily portable, doesn't require much equipment for naps stage, so it's nice to get out as much as possible.  We've also had to do a bit of shopping as he's outgrown all of his 0-3 months clothes at only 2 months, and I wasn't prepared for it! He also had his first check at the doctors this week, and it seems like he has reflux, which explains a lot (his crying, fitful sleeping, being sick, grunting).  It's not a severe case, and he will eventually grow out of it, but it means he can be harder work than other babies, mainly as the most comfortable position for him is sitting up, which requires assistance at this point.  The doctors visit also meant his first lot of injections, which did not go down well!

I haven't been reading much this week.  I'm slowly but steadily working through Moby Dick, which I'm actually really enjoying in small doses.  Apart from that, I haven't really picked up a book at all.  In the small bits of time I get when I'm not holding Giles, it seems like there's so much to do that I just don't get a chance. I've always been resistant to audiobooks but I'm considering trying again as they don't require hands!  My blogging has also fallen to the wayside - I managed to get up two reviews but I've not had much time for commenting.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed in the next couple of months.

I have however finally joined instagram, which I'm intending to use for bookish and personal photos.  If you love endless photos of babies and books, please feel free to follow me (and I'll return the favour) here.

How was your week?  What are you reading at the moment?