Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

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At age 19 Anne Brontë left home and worked as a governess for a few years before becoming a writer. Agnes Grey was an 1847 novel based on her experience as a governess. Bronte depicts the precarious position of a governess and how that can affect a young woman. Agnes was the daughter of a minister whose family was in financial difficulty. She has only a few choices for employment. Agnes experiences the difficulty of reining in spoiled children and how wealth can corrupt morals.

There are some spoilers in this review.

As I am not a fan of Jane Austen I did not expect to enjoy the works of the Brontë sisters. This is due to the fact that until now, everyone I have spoke to who is a fan of one is also a fan of the other. I first read the Brontës at University starting with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë followed by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. While I did not enjoy Jane Eyre, to my surprise, I cannot say the same for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I believed that I had already found my favourite Brontë which was a bold claim to make having neglected Emily’s works. I hope to read Wuthering Heights this year.

 

Having enjoyed Anne Brontë’s second novel I was eagerly anticipating Agnes Grey which I requested from my local library. My first impression was almost the opposite to my first impressions of Charlotte’s work Jane Eyre (Jane as a child was far more interesting.) I enjoyed (only) the beginning of Jane Eyre and felt that, Agnes Grey in comparison was lacking a certain entertainment value, it seemed already to a slow burner. However, I expected I would soon get more immersed when the plot began to unravel. It is in fact overall slow-paced and less action packed than Jane Eyre which in my opinion is positive as Charlotte’s novel has perhaps too much going on.  I compare the two novels due to their authors and the fact that they both centre around a governess.

 

I realised fairly quickly that there was a feminist narrative in Anne’s novel, a bold move for a female author (albeit under a pseudonym) in 1847. As a feminist of her time Agnes was, on occasion, the provider of great wisdom and can therefore be a positive influencer as her role of governess requires,

 

“Filling her head with all manner of conceited notions concerning her personal appearance (which I had instructed her to regard as dust in the balance compared with the cultivation of her mind and manners)” (102)

 

However I was not fond of Agnes’s character as I found her to be far too critical of others to be a moral, likeable person, often going over the top with her descriptions of others, for example:

“My only companions had been unamiable children, and ignorant, wrong-headed girls, from whose fatiguing folly, unbroken solitude was often a relief most earnestly desired and dearly prized.” (155)

This quote in particular had me loathing Agnes as I failed to view her as more amiable than the children in question. As their governess I would have thought that she would want to make these children better people rather than wanting to run away from them in what can only be described as dramatic despair. Our protagonist then shares her fears that in solitude she will, heaven forbid, become less intelligent and less moral. In all honesty I felt I was almost choking on her morality that was being forced down our throats on almost every page.

One of her primary criticisms of Miss Murray is that she is too boy-crazy. This, in itself, is fair and Agnes gives good counsel to her pupil on such matters several times throughout the novel questioning her liking for having “so many conquests” (135) by asking “what good will they do you? I should think one conquest would be enough.” (135) However, twenty pages later we read Agnes informing her readers that

“The gross vapours of earth were gathering round me, and closing in upon my inward heaven; and thus it was that Mr Weston rose at length upon me, appearing like the morning star in my horizon, to save me from the fear of utter darkness” (155)

It was at this point of the novel when I began to like the character of Miss Murray more than Agnes herself. Miss Murray is, at the very least,  more aware of her flaws whereas Agnes sees nobody else but Mr Weston who exhibits “human excellence.” (155) Her liking for Mr Weston, which happens far too quickly (we first hear her discuss him on page 139) without ever having a meaningful discussion with him, immediately consumes her. She thinks of Mr Weston for the rest of the novel which takes away her independence, which was until this stage of the novel the one quality I could praise her for. As, though she is kind, she is kind only outwardly, therefore I assume her intention for any act of kindness is her own reputation. Her kindness in fact, seemed somewhat of a joke on page 165 when she hears of Mr Weston’s sorry tale and notes “I pitied him from my heart; I almost wept for sympathy” almost wept? almost? is this yet another moral brag? I should mention she goes on to say “but’, thought I, ‘he is not so miserable as I should be under such a depravation.” did you pick up on the human excellence that is Agnes Grey?

It was also my opinion that she often used people to her own avail, including Nancy and Miss Murray. There was also her constant worrying about her reputation above all else while she was teaching her pupils not to do so that lead me to think  of her as hypocritical. It felt as though her narrative was aimed at lecturing the reader on morals when the protagonist herself was exhibiting few.

One character I was fond of was Agnes’s mother who, upon being widowed, wrote back to her father rejecting his conditions of acceptance. Agnes’ grandfather did not approve of his daughter’s marriage and subsequent children and found her choices shameful, he then, upon her husband’s death,  agreed to overlook all of her mishaps (of which there were none in reality) and add her to his will if she admitted to all of her mistakes. After writing her reply she asks her daughters “Will this do children?- or shall we say we are all very sorry for what has happened during the last thirty years; and my daughters wish they had never been born; but since they have had that misfortune, they will be thankful for any trifle their grandpapa will be kind enough to bestow?” (214) queue the applause.It is strong moments like this, of which there are a few, that make Agnes Grey an important novel in history regardless to personal taste. I personally wish these moments were more consistent. In fact the novel as a whole seems to be disjointed perhaps due to the autobiographical elements.

As you now know I had many issues with this novel. The plot is unimaginative and due to my dislike towards Brontë’s protagonist I found little value in this novel outside of the few uplifting feminist scenes, which of course were not perfect for today’s times but make this novel important nevertheless. I do not believe Agnes underwent any positive character development in the novel or formed any positive human relationships. To conclude, I will not be recommending this novel to anyone. As previously mentioned I would like to read Wuthering Heights and perhaps Vilette. Are there any Brontë novels you would recommend I read or review? If so be sure to leave a comment. This is my third Brontë novel and I have only enjoyed one.

 

Sophie

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The Reasons I read…

I was not the most academically minded at primary and secondary school, in fact I didn’t get very good grades in English for a long time. It was my weak link, and I went to extra curriculum classes in primary to catch up. I felt bad about this and as a result shied away from reading or anything really school related. I managed to get good enough results to go to college where I met Sophie who quite honestly turned my ambitions around. I then started working harder and aspired to more than before. As a result I managed to get into university and then get my degree. I have lot to thank Sophie for. I also always wanted to read thanks to my parents who have always read a little here and there.

My Dad is very much into Jack Higgins and James Patterson or any Spy Thrillers really whilst my Mum has always been more likely to read Jodi Picoult or romance although she does like the odd mystery novel. Sam, my crazy sister, likes to read almost everything but her favourite is John Green (eugh) haha. Overall my family read more than average I would say and as a result I am a keen reader.

Finally, you all know how much Sophie reads (a crazy amount) her enthusiasm has definitely worn off on me. My favourite genre would probably be Thrillers, however I do enjoy the odd Classic too such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Why do I read?

  1. Getting taken to a different world and seeing things from a different person’s perspective.
  2. Expanding my knowledge
  3. Help relating to others
  4. To get better at writing
  5. To share thoughts and have discussions with people, specifically those close to me
  6. Because Books, right?

That’s just a little insight into me.

 

Danny

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

This novella was written by Muriel Spark, an author who was born and raised in Edinburgh where the novel is set. It was such a pleasure reading about the streets of a city so central to my childhood. It was refreshing to read a (modern) classic novel that does not try to take itself too seriously or be too philosophical.  Everything about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is ridiculous to me and yet I really enjoyed reading it.

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The elegantly styled classic story of a young, unorthodox teacher and her special – and ultimately dangerous – relationship with six of her students.

First of all I’m going to say it would be almost impossible for me to explain what this novel is about without giving spoilers so the plot may seem a little vague as a result. The novel basically centres around a group of young girls who are ‘taught’ by Jean Brodie albeit unconventionally as their lessons are mainly pretending to do lessons while listening to her stories and opinions.

I think what made this novel enjoyable was how real all of its characters seem, Miss Jean Brodie in particular. Miss Jean Brodie ‘claims’ the girls she teaches saying “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” She sculpts them, perhaps due to her love of art, to meet her needs. In this way the novella is very unsettling. This, at first, contrasts with the innocence of ‘The Brodie Set’ the collective name given to the girls that Miss Brodie takes under her broken wing.

 

Due to the various time settings of the novels we watch The Brodie Set grow and mature, first not fully understanding the world of sex and giggling at any sexual connotations, they want to please,”anxious to be of cultured and sexless antecedents.” We as readers, learn of their innocence due to a series of beautifully written and realistic discussions they have amongst themselves….

 

“Miss Brodie says prime is best” Sandy said.

“Yes but she never got married like our mothers and fathers.”

“They don’t have primes,” said Sandy

“They have sexual intercourse,” Jenny said

The little girls paused, because this was a stupendous thought, and one they had  only lately lit upon; the very phrase and its meaning were new. It was quite unbelievable. Sandy said, then, “Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife”  

 

Committed! Honestly, I love this book so much. In my opinion it is very well written which may be a result of my love for literature of the 1960s or may mean I love Muriel Spark. I am more than willing to read more of her work and test the theory. I am also overjoyed I found a new Scottish novel I love so early on in the reading year.

Throughout the novel The Brodie Set mature and find their ‘fame.’ Similarly to the way they each wear their school hat, they all have their own reputations as well, despite the fact they are never seen as individuals. There is added drama and betrayal, Spark’s novella is much much more than it seems. Themes of the novella include innocence, power, religion, theology, education, war and cruelty, to name but a few. And yet its genius lies in its execution. Will I watch the Maggie Smith adaptation? probably not…I doubt it has aged as well.

 

Sophie

Top 10 YA novels

I am by no means an expert in YA (young adult) literature. However, I have read enough to personally compile a list of my current favourites. I am currently reading Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun and have a few other YA novels I want to get to this year. Nevertheless here are my top 10…

 

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

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This book is wonderfully unique, as are most if not all of the books on my favourites list. I respect every book that makes me laugh and this book made me laugh so much. It’s witty and realistic, both uplifting and heartbreaking and never patronising which I find far too many YA novels to be. This book deals with cancer and though some people think it’s insensitive I disagree, I think it’s refreshing. This book is nothing like The Fault in Our Stars (which I hated) and I’ve never met anyone who has enjoyed both. If you’re that person please comment! This was Andrew’s debut novel published in 2012, I would like to read his other novel The Haters. If you’ve read it please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Another novel that is truly unique, The Rest of Us Just Live Here focuses on those who are not the ‘chosen ones.’ Its characters and their relationships are well-written and dynamic. Also, this novel is hilarious. It plays with and reinvents the stereotype and I’d quite honestly read anything Ness writes in the future. This was Patrick Ness’s latest novel published in 2015, he now has a new novel Release available for pre-order now. I may very well end up doing so.

 

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

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I love Leo Denton, who is a character in this book, therefore I also love this book. The cover is pretty self-explanatory yet the story is captivating from the first page. Danny is reading this novel at the moment so I won’t say anything more. This novel was also published in 2015 and is also a debut novel! Williamson’s second novel All About Mia was published this year and I’m sure I will read it in the future.

 

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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A YA Sci-fi retelling of Cinderella. I know you are judging, but I think this book is great. Cinder is a cyborg. This is a four part series which also has a prequel novella. I have since read book two Scarlet and definitely prefer the first book of the series. The world building is perfect and the villain and Cinder’s friendly sidekick are without a doubt the highlights of the novel for me. I will be continuing with the series as soon as Cress is ready to be picked up from my local library. Also, ANOTHER DEBUT NOVEL from Marissa Meyer published in 2012.

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Interestingly, this is the eldest novel on the list published in the year I was/we were born, 1993. This novel is pretty well regarded in the book community and is one I would like to reread soon. This is a YA dystopia which is a genre that has proved extremely popular in the last decade or so.  This book has staying power.

 

The Program by Suzanne Young

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Set in our world with the only difference being a major epidemic of teenage suicides, which is worryingly not as far-fetched as we could hope. The Program is about a society forced to take measures to protect its teenagers against depression where teenagers are, as a result, forced to pretend they’re happy incase their parents or teachers suspect they are depressed, if so they must join ‘the program.’ This is the first novel of a series and was published in 2013. I really must buy the rest of the series as I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, it’s haunting.

 

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

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The X-men novel of YA literature. The Darkest Minds also has a ‘problem generation’ expect this time the children HAVE power (at least supernatural power.) The only problem I had with this novel was its ending, although it is the first book in a trilogy therefore its conclusion is less of an issue. It was published in 2012 and the concept of power is interesting. I have yet to read the final book of the series as it was hard to find for a while however I have requested it from my local library and will hopefully pick it up soon!

 

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

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This is the penultimate novel in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments. As you can see, this is my favourite novel in the series and has some truly epic scenes. City of Lost Souls is a Shadowhunter novel, shadowhunters are demon hunters in order to protect the world and its ‘mundanes’ (us.) There are also other magical species/beings in the series such as warlocks, werewolves, vampires and the Fae, this series has it all.

 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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Another 2015 published novel. Six of Crows has a few really well written characters and I loved the world building, although this is a separate series which is set in the world Bardugo created for her previous series The Grisha Trilogy. This is an action novel about a heist and is very entertaining. I will read its sequel though this novel is low down on my top10 list.

 

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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I read this novel today and liked it more than I expected I would, although I probably don’t love it as much as you would think. I only knew a few quotes and not much of the storyline prior to reading and it was the cheesy quotes that put me off reading it until now. However I found the novel generally well written and I loved Patrick. Other than Patrick I didn’t get emotionally attached to the other characters in Chbosky’s novel and am looking forward to seeing if the movie changes this. What I do love is pretty much all of the songs, books and movies referenced within this novel. Despite the fact I enjoyed but didn’t love The Perks of being a Wallflower I have a deep respect for its originality. I also respect the fact that all of its characters go through real issues and sometimes mental illnesses, it paints a realistic portrait of today’s society. Chbosky’s novel was published in 99.

 

P.S. I decided not to include Zusak’s The Book Thief and Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in this list as they are not always referred to as YA though they would be my all time favourites. I also wanted to feature other novels and was worried I discuss certain novels perhaps too much.

 

Sophie

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road – Review

Prior to reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac I was really optimistic, I had heard lots of good reviews and lots of people were talking about it. Not to mention it has appears on so many ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists. Already it sound like I hate it but that is not the case. It’s not that it’s a bad book; it is just a very difficult book to read when you have a busy lifestyle.

I am going to discuss the plot a little and try not to spoil anything for our readers. The Story is about Sal Paradise who is the narrator and his travels across America. There are five parts of the novel that are five different stints of being On the Road. Sal’s friend Dean Moriarty is a prominent story line in the novel. The novel is set in 1947-1950 in America in the post-war beat culture. Its all about the Jazz scene in America at that time.

The first stint On the Road was my favourite by far the endless ‘newness’ that Sal discovered and the fact he was constantly just scrapping by, getting a job here and there when required. At this point in the novel I was really enjoying the novel. Dean’s character, in other words he is a bit of a character, shines through. At some points you feel as though Sal would like to be like Dean and not have a care in the world and some times you get the impression that he feels sorry and even wants to avoid him at times. The first stint ended due to the inevitable lack of money and Sal needing to go back home to New York to his Aunts house to recoup both energy and money.

The novel continues in the same vain with slightly different experiences along the way. This is the main issue I have with the novel. I feel like every chapter is almost identical to the one before and it just feels like you are constantly reading the same thing in a different location. The fact that it feels like a chore to continue at times puts me off massively.

Dean Moriarty first of all comes across as a bit crazy and insightful turns out to be a complete nutcase who is actually a bit of an arsehole. I would not look up to him in the way Sal does and if anything I would try to avoid him like most of the other characters strive to do.

The fact that nothing really life changing occurs and the fact that Kerouac didn’t actually live these moments makes the novel a bit of a flop. I enjoyed it however I do not think I will be picking it up again anytime soon. I do however have it on good authority that Kerouac’s Big Sur is a much better novel and actually truthful. I therefore look forward to reading that in the future. I am however going to check out the 2012 film adaptation by Francis Ford Capolla of One the Road as I feel the story lends itself quite well to a movie.

To conclude, if you haven’t read it you have to according to all of the lists but its really not that great. Its not terrible but its not great. I am sorry if you read this and feel like I am talking a load of rubbish and you really loved it but lets face it that is the beauty of free speech. I hope you enjoyed this kind of moany review and stay tuned for further content coming up.

Library Haul

Today I joined my local library and went a little bit crazy. I ended up carrying 17 books all the way home, only four fit in my bag so it turned out to be quite the work-out as some of the books are quite heavy. I went looking primarily for Graphic Novels, unfortunately I only left with three as the others I had read before or the first volume was missing.

I left with 13 fiction novels, one non-fiction and, of course, three graphic novels.

The three graphic novels I picked up are:

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Adolfo. I class Hosseini’s novel as one of my favourite books therefore I’m excited to see how well it’s adapted.

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I then picked up The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman which “memorialises Spiegelman’s father’s experience of the Holocaust- it follows his story frame by frame from youth to marriage in pre-war Poland to imprisonment in Auschwitz” (Independent) This graphic novel was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and I am so excited to read it. The illustrations are in black and white and it is very reminiscent of classic comic-strip style.

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The final graphic novel I checked out is Y: The Last Man which has a huge fan base. It was made by Brian K Vaughan, Pia Guerra and José Marzán, Jr. Inside it is much more colourful than its title page but I’m excited to form my own opinion on this series. I believe this one is about a plague.

Onto the novels I picked up…

I have a deep love and respect for any novel that can make people laugh and have heard that this novel is exceptionally funny…

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I don’t believe I’ve read a Muriel Spark novel before and as I would like to read more literature from my home land this year I am highly anticipating this one.

 

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Another extremely popular novel I picked up was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey which is a thriller narrated by a character with a mental illness. The concept alone is intriguing and I have heard that it is a very quick and easy read, as one would expect a thriller to be.

 

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I have a follower on Instagram who enjoyed both Elizabeth is Missing and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer which I also picked up so I assume if you like one you’ll like the other. This is also a thriller or psychological drama and is supposed to be best read in one sitting. Challenge accepted.

 

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Sebastian Faulks is a novelist I believe I read for the first time last year. I have read Birdsong and A Possible Life and thoroughly enjoyed both. To be honest I picked this one up purely because I want to read more of his work. The blurb does not give too much away but it will go through various time periods I think trying to tell a family history though I am unsure. I’m hoping I will enjoy it as much as Birdsong.

 

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Similarly, I have also read Lloyd Jones before and have always meant to pick up another of his novels. I read Mister Pip years ago and I enjoyed it so I was pleased to find Hand Me Down World hidden in the shelves. Again, the blurb is crazy and leads me baffled so I guess I’m going into this one blind.

 

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In contrast, I have also read a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and, as you may know from my Unpopular Opinions Book Tag post, I found it bland and predictable. However I never rule out an author until I have read at least two of their novels. Picking up this book from the library allows me to give Ishiguro’s writing another chance and means that even if I don’t enjoy it at least I didn’t pay for it. Are you a fan of Ishiguro? and if so what is your favourite novel? Is there anyone who loves him but didn’t enjoy Never Let Me Go?

 

My next selection is also Japanese Literature and is Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. She is one of Japan’s most popular and contemporary novelists and I have wanted to read this book for such a long time! so excited I finally have a copy! This novel is about Tsukiko who finds herself sitting next to her former high school teacher. Over the coming months they share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass they come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly towards love. I want to read a novel of each genre this year and this sounds like the perfect choice for romance.

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The next novel I picked up was winner of The Orange Prize for Fiction 2011. Its author Téa Obreht was born in the former Yugoslavia and was raised in Belgrade. The novel is of course The Tiger’s Wife.  I will insert the blurb as I think it’s enchanting. I have high hopes for this one.

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My grandfather never refers to the tiger’s wife by name. His arm is around me and my feet are on the handrail, and my grandfather might say ‘I once knew a girl who loved tigers so much she became one herself.’ Because I am little, and my love for tigers comes directly from him, I believe he is talking about me, offering me a fairy tale in which I can imagine myself- and will, for years and years.

 

Now for the only non-fiction novel I picked up. In all honesty it is my least anticipated read because I do not know anything about the author, Caitlin Moran. Also the two quotes on the book cover are from Nigella Lawson and Jonathan Ross and I unfortunately trust neither. However it is highly recommended on social media and is supposed to be very witty.

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Back to the fiction…

I also carried home Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. I have only just now remembered how I know the author’s name….I have been challenged to read another of his novels this year! (see Annual Reading Challenge) This novel was long listed for the Man Booker in 2013 and is set in Shanghai and centres on five newcomers who hope to make their fortunes and find their way in the big city.

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Now for a 613 page novel which did not make it easy for me to carry all of these books home…

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This book is also very well known and I believe largely well liked. I would also prefer to go into this one blind.What intrigued me about The Bone Clocks was that I have heard from people who have read it that it is difficult to place into a single genre, and while that might be said of all novels I remain interested.

 

Up next is the 2014 winner of the Man Booker Prize and I now realise this blog post is also an unintentional pop quiz. It is of course Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North which I have actually been told not to read because it is so bad. However in a really odd way it is this strong opinion of Flanagan’s novel that makes me want to read it. So if I don’t enjoy this novel then really I can only blame myself…

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And finally the last two novels I picked up are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which I am sure you have seen all over bookstagram and booktube lately. And The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon which I believe is a fantasy/sci-fi series written of course by a female author.

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Obviously I don’t know how many of these books I will get to but at the moment my intention is to read all of them…

Wish me luck!
Sophie

 

 

Reading Update

Throughout February we have both started reading again. I give Mervyn Peake credit for this, as it is Titus Groan the first book of ‘The Gormenghast Trilogy’ that I’m currently reading and adoring.

(S)

Thus far in February I have read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov which you can find my opinion of here, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding  and Deathnote by Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba.  I recently featured Deathnote in my Top5Wednesdays post. I hope to do a review or perhaps a Movie Adaptation review of The Lord of The Flies soon. I am currently reading Titus Groan as previously mentioned, I have 100 pages left so hope to finish this within the next 24 hours.

This month I would also like to finish reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, a contemporary dystopia that I’m enjoying so far. As previously mentioned in my February TBR post, I would like to get around to reading my first novel by Daphne Du Maurier and my second Steinbeck novel. Other than this fairly optimistic goal I would like to read Greenmantle by John Buchan on recommendation from an Instagram friend. I read the previous novel The 39 Steps last year and am looking forward to the next instalment. I would also like to read a short story from the collection Legoland by Gerard Woodward.

If, on the rare chance I get through these novels, I have some other books high up on my TBR list- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Dead Poets Society: A Novel by N.H Kleinbaum and The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

(D)

I have most recently finished Tokyo Ghoul 2 by Sui Ishida, I am looking to complete On the Road by Jack Kerouac in the next couple of days and then I will move onto the 5 books I have previously mentioned that I have been challenged to read as well as continuing with the Tokyo Ghoul series.