30 books 30 days: Week One

This is my wrap up of the first week in my April TBR challenge. I think it was around the third or fourth day in April I decided to do this challenge having thankfully already read two manga collections and a short novel which helped my number count from the beginning. In the first week of the challenge I have read seven books!

1: Deathnote Vol II by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

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Read: April  3rd making it the fourth of April when I started this challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this volume and hope to do a series review once I’ve read the subsequent volumes. Doing a review in this way will allow me to give an honest review without being concerned with spoilers etc.

 

 

2: Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

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Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.

Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

Also read on April 3rd.  This is a slow paced romance which I did enjoy however this one was just an average read in my opinion. I did not particularly love any of Kawakami’s characters although I did find the writing beautiful and appreciated the added Haiku study.

 

 

3: Orange The Complete Collection 1 by  Ichigo Takano

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On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one, Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? This is the heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!

Again read on April 3rd. This manga series is unlike any I’ve read before (although I have only ever tried four different series excluding this one) and while I know some people believe it has no staying power, I think it has a sort of subtle brilliance. The storyline is sad and juggles both reality and science fiction. I like the cast of characters and will be continuing with the series.

 

 

4: The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

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Having sifted through everything I have heard about the tiger and his wife, I can tell you that this much is fact: in April of 1941, without declaration or warning, the German bombs started falling over the city and did not stop for three days. The tiger did not know that they were bombs…

A tiger escapes from the local zoo, padding through the ruined streets and onwards, to a ridge above the Balkan village of Galina. His nocturnal visits hold the villagers in a terrified thrall. But for one boy, the tiger is a thing of magic – Shere Khan awoken from the pages of The Jungle Book.

Natalia is the granddaughter of that boy. Now a doctor, she is visiting orphanages after another war has devastated the Balkans. On this journey, she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death, far from their home, in circumstances shrouded in mystery.

From fragments of stories her grandfather told her as a child, Natalia realizes he may have died searching for ‘the deathless man’, a vagabond who was said to be immortal. Struggling to understand why a man of science would undertake such a quest, she stumbles upon a clue that will lead her to a tattered copy of The Jungle Book, and then to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

Read on April 5th. I may end up writing a review for one book per week of this challenge. You can find my review in two parts: (Part One)  (Part Two)

 

 

5: A Streetcat named Bob by James Bowen

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When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea just how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet.
Yet James couldn’t resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.

Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other’s troubled pasts.

A Street Cat Named Bob is a moving and uplifting story that will touch the heart of anyone who reads it.

I believe this was my first non-fiction book of the year which I finished reading yesterday, April 6th. Bowen’s story made me laugh and very nearly cry. I thought it was fast-paced and easy to read. However, I feel like the book did not have a conclusive ending, it seemed as though the book was ended on a whim.

 

6: 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.

Also read yesterday, April 6th. I had several problems with this novel. The first being that Agnes Grey is supposed to be a loveable and moral character. Personally, I did not like Brontë’s protagonist who, in my opinion, made no real, honest human connection after leaving her family’s home. It’s fair to say from the last statement that I was not a fan of the romance either. That being said I am more than happy to acknowledge that Agnes Grey is, for its time, a feminist novel and is therefore indisputably of high importance. I realise when writing this that I will have to write a separate review of this novel as I clearly have more to say than I had initially thought, which is also a good thing, if you are interested this review will be up over the weekend.

 

7: The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, translated by Joyce Crick

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‘When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into some kind of monstrous vermin.’

With a bewildering blend of the everyday and the fantastical, Kafka thus begins his most famous short story, The Metamorphosis. A commercial traveller is unexpectedly freed from his dreary job by his inexplicable transformation into an insect, which drastically alters his relationship with his family. Kafka considered publishing it with two of the stories included here in a volume to be called Punishments. The Judgement also concerns family tensions, when a power struggle between father and son ends with the father passing an enigmatic judgement on the helpless son. The third story, In the Penal Colony, explores questions of power, justice, punishment, and the meaning of pain in a colonial setting. These three stories are flanked by two very different works. Meditation, the first book Kafka published, consists of light, whimsical, often poignant mood-pictures, while in the autobiographical Letter to his Father, Kafka analyses his difficult relationship in forensic and devastating detail.

For the 125th anniversary of Kafka’s birth comes an astonishing new translation of his best-known stories, in a spectacular graphic package.

Table of contents:

Meditation
The Judgement
The Metamorphosis
In the Penal Colony
(Autobiographical) Letter to his Father

I finished reading this collection today. After reading The Trial a couple of years ago I was really excited to read more Kafka, my favourite part of this collection was the letter he wrote to his father. While I did not enjoy this collection as much as I hoped, or as much as I enjoyed The Trial, I still find Kafka’s writing beautiful.

 

 

Sophie

Try a Chapter Tag

I have decided to do the Try a Chapter today. This challenge if you are unaware consists of reading the first chapter of however many books you wish (I am doing 5) and then comment as to how you think the book will go, your first impressions etc. The 5 books I have chosen are the following.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens- 4 pages
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar- 2 pages
White Noise by Don Delillo- 2 pages
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini- 5 pages
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood- 3 pages

Anyway here we go…

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens- 4 pages

I have never read Dickens before, I have watched a Muppets Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist before but I somehow get the impression that the novels are much different after reading this first chapter. The main character in this Chapter is Pip, who is visiting his mother and fathers gravesite as well as his 5 younger brothers as well. Quite a sombre event as he dwells over the 6 tombstones, this however is rudely interrupted by what Pip can only describe as a pirate comes into the picture shouting and threatening Pip not to run away or he will kill him. He then interrogates Pip and asks for a favour he asks for as much food as possible and a file (a file and some wittle’s as he says) he also states that if he doesn’t bring these then the mysterious younger man hiding in the area will not hesitate to disembowel him. Pip then runs home to fetch the items requested.

So quite a violent first chapter, however I did find it quite funny that in order to scare Pip into doing what he wants there is a mysterious little man there to act as the enforcer. This just seems too funny to me and happily unexpected. I do enjoy a book that can make you laugh and so far this has. I do hope Pip doesn’t get killed as he seems to have had a pretty crappy life so far. Fingers Crossed.


The Cardturner by Louis Sachar- 2 pages

A short first chapter and not much really happens. I have read Holes and of course seen the movie and enjoyed those so I am intrigued by this novel. I did have a quick look at the blurb just to try and work out where the story is going and it turns out it is about the card game bridge. I have never played this game and can’t say I have ever been bothered in learning how to play but there is a time to learn everything and hopefully I will be able to gleam the rules by reading this book. The first chapter is about Alton Richards and his ‘favourite uncle’ Lester who was only his favourite Uncle because he was hugely wealthy. His mother has forced him to worm his way into his Uncles good books hoping that he will be looked upon favourably on the event of his death.

A very strange concept and a one I am intrigued to carry on reading. It feels very much like a strange indie movie that you watch and at the end even though you’re a little confused you also come to the conclusion that is a goof film. So for that reason I will be reading further and hope things heat up.


White Noise by Don Delillo- 2 pages

At only 2 pages long it is hard for much of an impact, it has made me intrigued but for the most part a little confused. Everything seemed to be quite chaotic in the first few paragraphs as the scene unfolds with all of the students arriving with their parents to college for the first day of the year. Then all of a sudden the narrator is discussing his job as the Chairman of the department of Hitler studies at the College on the Hill. I can picture him standing in his office looking out over all of the cars pulling up and unloading all of the students belongings into their new dorms over the road. The narrator who is the main character also goes on to confirm that he actually created the idea for Hitler Studies which became a huge success with someone who later died in a ski lift accident in Austria (seems a little coincidental don’t you think?) The final paragraph is a little out of the blue and describes missing pets posters attached to the streetlamp’s around the street.

A strange ending but quite an intriguing concept. Clearly this is going to be quite a serious book due to the topic it is likely to cover. However I can’t help but sense that there may be a bit of humour due to the random snippets of useless information and quirky writing style. I definitely think I will continue to read this and look for to it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini- 5 pages

After previously reading the Kite Runner I already have high hopes for this one. I loved the Kite Runner and have only heard good things about this one. The first chapter here sheds light onto the main character Mariam, a harami, illegitimate child who lives with Nana her mother in a poor part of a Herat, Mariam doesn’t leave the house and rarely does anything that she has not already been told to do. The first chapter introduces three characters. First of all as already stated is Mariam the main character, it also introduces Nana, Mariams mother and finally Jalil, Mariam’s father who comes to visit. Jalil is a very well connected and wealthy man with three wives and nine legitimate children. He has a huge house with servants, Nana used to be a servant until as Hosseini puts it, her belly swelled up, and then she was thrown out and banished. So this is already clear that these two women Nana and Mariam have been thrown out in order to try and clear Jalil’s conscience and to hide his treachery.

So far I can kind of see where this is going, without having a sneaky peak at the blurb I would say that Mariam is going to be discovered by Jalil’s three wives and all hell is going to break lose. All I can really say is that I am excited to see how it continues as Hosseini is an incredible writer. I can’t wait to continue reading.


Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood- 3 pages

As already know that this is a bit of a thriller I am not that surprised that this chapter didn’t leave much of a clue as to what is going on. It simply try to get your attention in order for you to keep on reading. This is a flashback as the final sentence is ‘This is what I told Dr Jordan’. It states that the main character, name not yet disclosed, is a prisoner, however it doesn’t state whether this is a prison (Jail) or someones house as she gets locked into a cellar. It all is a bit confusing as to whether or not the character is good or bad. A hard chapter to analyse as there isn’t much to go on.

I am looking forward to reading this further as I can only assume it will start to make more and more sense as the novel goes on. I am intrigued enough by Sophie’s recommendation and the first chapter that I will be continuing this also.Maybe not the next thing I pick up bit I will be picking it up again.

Happy Reading

 

Danny

 

Baileys Women’s Prize 2017 Part 1

This will not be a post reviewing the Baileys Women’s Prize Long-List as between us we have read 0/16 books. That being said, this post will be my first impressions of the selected novels after reading not only their blurbs but also a free sample of each. I will then decide if I would like to continue reading these novels or whether I think they could make the shortlist.

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Upon her arrival in London, an 18-year-old Irish girl begins anew as a drama student, with all the hopes of any young actress searching for the fame she’s always dreamed of. She struggles to fit in—she’s young and unexotic, a naive new girl—but soon she forges friendships and finds a place for herself in the big city.

Then she meets an attractive older man. He’s an established actor, 20 years older, and the inevitable clamorous relationship that ensues is one that will change her forever.

A redemptive, captivating story of passion and innocence set across the bedsits of mid-1990s London, McBride holds new love under her fierce gaze, giving us all a chance to remember what it’s like to fall hard for another

I have owned McBride’s previous Baileys Award-winning novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing for years and yet it remains unread on my shelf. Therefore I’m interested to see what I make of this one, will it encourage me to finally pick up her other Baileys novel?…

From the blurb I find that the 90s setting really interests me as this may be the decade of recent times that I have read the least. However I’m hoping it won’t have the Sex and the City feel to it that I’m imagining. I also read Brooklyn last year and thought that similar plot aspects were done really well in Tóibín’s novel. Therefore I’m wary of the character differences and whether I will enjoy this reading experience as much. The plot does not seem wholly unique to me therefore, on first impressions,  I believe this novel to have been selected because of its author. Hopefully I will enjoy this one despite my initial concerns.

After reading the sample I am reminded of why I have yet to read A Girl is a Half-formed  Thing, I simply do not like McBride’s writing style. In my opinion it seems as though McBride tries so hard to be poetic and unique in her prose that the readers attention is constantly drawn to the craft of the novel rather than the plot which can be distracting. The prose in this almost stream-of-consciousness opening, and at times the dialogue, feels unnatural.I did find myself at times reading aloud in order to concentrate on what was happening. However as the novel goes on it admittedly gets easier to read, this may simply be due to the fact that our first person narrator comes into more human contact and these exchanges are much less scattered.

As the reading experience did become more enjoyable to me the more I read, I would continue reading this novel although I suspect it won’t make my personal shortlist.

 
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What is the difference between friendship and love? Or between neutrality and commitment? Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in ‘neutral’ Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But Gustav’s father has mysteriously died, and his adored mother Emilie is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav’s childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.

As time goes on, an intense friendship with a boy of his own age, Anton Zwiebel, begins to define Gustav’s life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav’s are entwined.

Fierce, astringent, profoundly tender, Rose Tremain’s beautifully orchestrated novel asks the question, what does it do to a person, or to a country, to pursue an eternal quest for neutrality, and self-mastery, while all life’s hopes and passions continually press upon the borders and beat upon the gate.

This is the novel I have heard the most about. I have only ever seen and heard rave reviews of Tremain’s novel although I am sure there are also criticisms. From the plot alone I believe I will enjoy Tremain’s novel as I usually like novels set during this time period (1947.)  I also think I will enjoy the friendship that forms between Gustav and Anton, two boys from completely different backgrounds and upbringing.

After reading the sample I can say that while I would definitely love to keep reading The Gustav Sonata, I personally cannot see it winning the Baileys Prize. I believe it to be too ‘safe’ a choice. That being said I loved the friendship between Gustav and Anton from the beginning and found their dialogue, in contrast to The Lesser Bohemians very natural and masterfully innocent. The prose, the characters, the plot all seem effortless and realistic thus far. Gustav lives in poverty and also helps his mother work. He is too young to remember his father but feels the effect of his loss every day through his mother. He is a young boy with already too much to bare on his shoulders when he befriends Anton. I am looking forward to finding out how the story progresses from here.

 

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In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

This is an author I am very interested in reading for the first time due to one of her previous novels Brokeback Mountain. After reading the plot I believe this will be the heaviest of the selected novels thus far, and that also unintentionally speaks for the length of the books.

As with The Lesser Bohemians it took me a little longer to be immersed in this novel. I believe this is a result of the samples I have read and their various time settings. Thus far Tremain’s novel is a much easier read, and as previously mentioned, is a much safer choice meaning it took me a few pages to adjust. However I loved the descriptions of the woods and really enjoyed the theme of nature. There is mystery centred around the ‘sauvages’ and also, similarly to The Gustav Sonata the theme of poverty is clear from the outset. I would genuinely love to continue reading Proulx’s novel. I believe it to be the hardest plot to execute well of the three and therefore think that it is the most worthy winner so far. That being said I am obviously basing this judgement on samples of each book therefore my opinions are not fully backed up.

 

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Father and Son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, are men of the land. Suffolk farmers. Times are hard and they struggle to sustain their property, their livelihood and their heritage in the face of competition from big business.

But an even bigger, more brutal fight is brewing: a fight between each other, about the horrible death of Cecelia, beloved wife and mother, in Zambia ten years earlier. A past they have both refused to confront until now.

Over the course of a particularly mauling Suffolk winter, Landyn and Vale grapple with their memories and their pain, raking over what remains of their fragile family unit, constantly at odds and under threat of falling apart forever. While Vale makes increasingly desperate decisions, Landyn retreats, finding solace in the land, his animals – and a fox who haunts the farm and seems to bring with her both comfort and protection.

Alive to language and nature, Midwinter is a novel about guilt, blame and lost opportunities. Ultimately it is a story about love and the lengths we will go to find our way home.

In contrast with the previous selections, this is the first novel and author I have no previous knowledge of. After reading the blurb I will say that I would not normally read this novel. I don’t believe I will enjoy this one although I would love to be proved wrong. I expect this novel will be depressing and slow-paced and also expect myself to get far too frustrated with the characters and their ‘even bigger, more brutal fight’ which I assume amounts to them not talking to each other.

Ok, I may be getting picky but even the dedication of this novel aggrivated me. I thought, as you might now, that I was overreacting until I read the prologue and found that I was already not enjoying this novel.  Foxes are mentioned in the prologue with the first line being “Think about a fox” this made me really worried about enjoying the novel as not only was this too early to be talking about the foxes in my opinion but I typically have a hard time when books feature animals purely for the purpose of metaphor. This may also be problematic for me when reviewing two of the other longlisted novels. I also believe that the prologue gives the plot away and wish I did not have to continue reading, but for the sake of this post I do.

The drama was already exaggerated and overdone a couple of pages in when Vale explains his frustrations as eloquently as “I felt this fuckin’ mad rage in me” and “It wasn’t slow like my walks usually are it was angry.” It was after this second quote that I stopped reading. My initial response is surprise that this novel was selected, perhaps if I read on I would learn why but for now I’m not willing to accept that risk. I am fully willing to admit that my dislike of this novel may be fully down to personal taste. Nevertheless Midwinter will not be making my personal shortlist.

 

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Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact that they are both over eighty.

But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late to expect these two to change?

Another novel and novelist I had not heard of prior to the Longlist. My first impressions from the plot is that the author has a lot of work to pull this off. Done well, this novel could be both heartbreaking and hilarious. I will also say that these characters have the potential to be memorable from what we know of them already, I particularly like the fact that both are ‘successful women with impressive careers’ which is mentioned before the fact that they are widows.

However if done badly then this novel will be yet another where the two main characters work solely to reflect each other and in doing so seem entirely two dimensional. I go into the sample with an open minded hoping for the best…

After reading the sample I would definitely continue reading Omotoso’s novel. Race is a key theme as is wealth which gives the novel the depth it needs. I enjoyed the writing style and the fierce protagonist Hortensia, who when the novel opens is a Black woman married to a White man facing prejudice from the local townspeople. The Woman Next Door grabbed my attention and feels as though it could be of a higher importance than it initially seems.

 

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With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O’Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.

I have never read The Night Circus although I am aware of its huge popularity. My first impression of this novel from the blurb is that it seems action packed! The Lonely Hearts Hotel already feels layered and the characters are already exciting and perhaps dynamic. I am hoping that this novel can pull all of these elements off while being realistically heartbreaking as the main characters are orphans as well as being fantastical in terms of the circus and New York setting.

Failing to disappoint after its dramatic blurb, the opening chapter is shocking. Pierrot’s birth is the theme of chapter one where it is revealed that his mother, aged 12 was raped by her cousin and sent away to an establishment for pregnant girls and given a horrific new name ‘Ignorance’ or ‘Iggy’ as some sort of supposed lesson. My concern is that similarly to Midwinter this novel has too much drama from the beginning. This may prove boring in the longrun and I expect will be very easily overdone. In the sample I read there was already a hanging. The children at the orphanage are also beaten for silly reasons some of which are listed and then the author writes ‘It was sad for all the children’ sad? they spend their lives doing slave labour and being beaten and they’re just sad?

Also the nuns believe “It was necessary to thwart all love afairs in the orphanage. If there was one thing responsibile for ruining lives, it was love. They were in their pathetic circumstances because of that most unreliable of feelings.” I had an issue with this part of the novel as it was not then explained how misled the nuns are, writing a rape scene in the first couple of pages and then referring it to love is dangerous. That being said, we as readers are not supposed to agree with the nuns, nevertheless I thought that this section was unnecessary. I did not finish reading this sample either and am not interested in finding out what happened to these characters that we were supposed to like purely because worse characters didn’t. I personally would be a little disappointed to see this one make the shortlist.

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From “one of Britain’s most original young writers” (The Observer), a blistering account of a marriage in crisis and a portrait of a woman caught between withdrawal and self-assertion, depression and rage.

Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.

My first impression of this novel from the blurb was that the success of the novel depends entirely on its main character, Neve. An ‘acutely intelligent’ narrator could be instantly likeable or annoying. Also a tumultuous relationship could be frustrating to read about particularly if the characters are immature. I initially cannot see this novel becoming one of my all time favourites. Also, the blurb seems extremely short in comparison to the others on this list.

As the blurb suggests, after reading the e-book sample I can confirm the narrator of Riley’s novel and Edwyn, her partner are definitely a toxic pairing. I cannot say much about what I have read so far as it is mainly setting the scene of an unhappy relationship and the unhappy history that is Neve’s love life. In all honesty the writing style never blew me away and I definitely prefer other novels on the list from what I’ve read so far. Interestingly, I believe this is the shortest of all the longlisted novels and I would therefore continue reading this one as I am intrigued by this fact alone.

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The Second World War is over, a new decade is beginning but for an East End teenage brother and sister living on the edge of the law, life has been suspended. Sent away to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Kent to learn the way of the patient, they find themselves in the company of army and air force officers, a car salesman, a young university graduate, a mysterious German woman, a member of the aristocracy and an American merchant seaman. They discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach and only by inciting wholesale rebellion can freedom be snatched.

Initially, from the blurb, I was excited to read the sample of Grant’s novel. I am interested in reading about the sanatorium. This is the second novel on the longlist set in 1949 and the second novel set in London, at least at the beginning.

The novel is fast paced and its characters are interesting, Lenny is trying to avoid being drafted when he discovers he has TB. I am unsure about the relationship between the twins as there seems to be a reference to incest. Although I’m not sure about this and would have to read more to pass a judgement. Either way the sample is difficult to read at times for example here…

“Plus, they were Hebrews, and that lot were only out for themselves, particularly the refugees. You had to keep an eye on them, they were swarming these days like bees “

The sample did capture my attention all the way through and I would continue reading this novel as I believe it to be a unique, easy read. Despite being set in the same time period this novel had a completely different feel and writing style to Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata. In comparison I liked Tremain’s characters more but believe this novel to be more original.

Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have Nothing

 

“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.”
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.

With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.

Wow. The first line of the blurb captivated me. That was unexpected. To a certain extent I did expect to enjoy this novel as not only is it long listed for this prize but was also long listed for the Man Booker Prize. I also tend to enjoy novels set in China. I am really looking forward to reading the sample of Thien’s critically acclaimed novel.

So upon reading further I have discovered that the first line of the blurb is also the first line of the novel. This has to go down as one of my favourite first lines in literature which I may do a blog post about soon, would anyone be interested in seeing that feature? And does anyone else have this post on their blog?

I immediately love the writing style and am moved from the first page which describes her diseased father in a really human way that does not seem robotic like first-page descriptions often are, “My father has a handsome, ageless face; He is a kind but melancholy man.”  It is the details I love “His eyes, dark brown, are guarded and unsure.” These descriptions are so vivid that I found myself immersed in the narrator’s life. The sample of this novel was heartbreaking and in a way not exclusive to its narrator “the truth was that I had loved my father more,” I felt for every member of Li-Ling’s family.

 I enjoyed reading the discussions between Li-Ling and Ai-ming but it was the relationship between Li-Ling and her mother that I was automatically invested in. I have a feeling this novel will make it onto my personal shortlist. In short, I have high hopes for this one.

Sophie

The Art of Being Normal – Mini Review

A Mini Review on where I am currently up to in The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson. According to my Good Reads app I am 73% through the book. I would therefore like to reflect on what I have read so far.

I knew that this was going to be quite different to my usual read, but hey what are challenges for. I may drop spoilers in here so please tread carefully. The book comprises of 2 boys in High School. The first chapter is David Piper, it is only one page, well actually half of a page and it basically states that David is not quite happy with himself, in fact he states that he would like to be a girl as he believes that he was born the wrong gender. It then becomes about how now named and seen as David is coping with this and what society thinks of her and why she can only tell her 2 really close friends the full truth.

This is definitely an insight in to how, I can only imagine, a lot of people feel and is not recognised by society as acceptable and as a result ridicule and bullying ensues. The other character in the novel is Leo Denton who shares the limelight of the novel; he comes from the wrong side of the tracks and is expected to be a bit of a psycho as he came from a bad school into David’s nice (posh) school. His transfer is one that is on the lips of many students, how can anyone get expelled from that school and he must have been really bad etc.

Leo and David become friends after an incident in which Leo sticks up for David when her bully is abusing her. This lumps them both in detention and as a result they become friends. Leo is a lot more against the relationship than David is, keeping up his reclusive hard-man routine.

So far I am enjoying the book, I don’t think I am enjoying it as much as Sophie and Amy did however I feel like this is simply because it is just so different and isn’t something I would normally pick up.

I did however enjoy the twist and look forward to completing the book. I hope it continues down the same road and there are more twists to come. I also hope that everything works out for the characters as I have become quite invested in their wellbeing.

That’s it for today. I’ll let you know what I thought of it further when I’ve finished.

Danny

My Year in Books: 2016

How many books did you read this year?

93 books which was pretty good considering my reading dramatically decreased after April.

What was your number one TOP FAVORITE of them?

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The Magician’s Nephew by C. S Lewis, fantastical and hysterical, what’s not to love? Also I actually forgot I read it last year until doing this post so my 2016 favourites post is factually inaccurate, I apologise.

Favorite new-to-you author that you discovered this year?

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Best new-to-you book by an author you already liked?

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I love Hemingway’s writing and was surprised to find this novel a romance! It made me cry on its last page and I’m a huge fan, he also remains one of the only writers to make me care about setting.

 

What book were you surprised to like?

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I was surprised to like this novel simply because I didn’t know too much about its plot, ultimately I’m glad this was the case and I’d like to watch the movie this year.

 

What was the funniest book you read this year?

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I love Mindy Kaling’s humour and how down to Earth she remains. I did a review of this audiobook which you can read here.

What book made you cry?

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It is far too easy to make me cry. In the end it was the relationship between the sisters Rose and protagonist Eilis in Brooklyn that made me cry.

What was the most beautifully written?

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I loved Dostoyevsky’s writing, I also have a review of this novel that you can read here.

 

Most thought-provoking or life-changing?

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Sky Burial by Xinran which also has a beautiful cover.

 

Most unputdownable?

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Fruits Basket was far too charming and lighthearted to want to put down.

 

Most shocking or disturbing?

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And not in a good way.

 

Most imaginative?

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This made my top 10 reads list for last year. Ness’s novel is about a group of teens at a local high school who are not ‘the chosen ones.’ It’s hilarious.

 

Who was the most memorable character of the year?

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People are probably tired of hearing me talk about this fictional character but Leo Denton was my favourite character of the year.

 

Most memorable friendship or romance?

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The Six of Crows gang!

 

What genre or subject matter did you try that you normally don’t read?

Celebrity Autobiography.

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I own more autobiographies and they are mostly by musicians. Bruce did not disappoint!

 

What book can you not believe you waited this long to get to?

1984

 

What books did you read based mostly on recommendation or peer pressure?

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Which of your reads did you recommend most to others?

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Did you start or finish a series?

I started and finished A Song of Ice and Fire, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games. I finished The Mortal Instruments at the beginning of the year and started reading The Infernal Devices at the end of the year and the latter was quite frankly a waste of my time. I also started Tokyo Ghoul which is AMAZING, Fruits Basket which is good though I prefer Ishida’s series. In addition I began The African Trilogy by China Achebe, The Poirot Mysteries and The Richard Hannay series by John Buchan. As previously mentioned I also started re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Clearly it was a year of series for me in 2016.

 

Shortest book?

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Longest?

Probably one from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series if not an instalment in Clare’s The Mortal Instruments. 

 

Favorite cover of the year?

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What was your favorite reading spot?

The Scottish Highlands on Honeymoon.

 

Did you read anything published within the year?

No

 

Did you watch a movie based on a book you’d read?

I watched all of The Hunger Games films as well as The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. I also watched the film adaptation of Cirque Du Freak and although I LOVE John C Reilly it left me underwhelmed, if only they put as much time into this series as they did with Harry Potter.

 

Which books were re-reads?

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What are you most excited to read next year?

So many Classics!

 

And lastly… THE LIST! All of your reads from this year, ready, go!

  1. Jan 4th City of Bones- Cassandra Clare
  2. Jan 7th City of Ashes- Cassandra Clare
  3. Jan 10th City of Glass- Cassandra Clare
  4. Jan 10th City of Fallen Angels- Cassandra Clare
  5. Jan 13th City of Lost Souls- Cassandra Clare
  6. Jan 13th City of Heavenly Fire- Cassandra Clare
  7. Jan 17th A Game of Thrones- George R R Martin
  8. Jan 21st The Magicians Nephew- C.S Lewis
  9. Jan 21st A Clash of Kings- George R R Martin
  10. Jan 24th A Storm of Swords 1- George R R Martin
  11. Jan 27th A Storm of Swords 2- George R R Martin
  12. Jan 29th A Feast for Crows- George R R Martin
  13. Jan 3oth A Dance With Dragons 1- George R R Martin
  14. Jan 31st A Dance With Dragons 2- George R R Martin
  15. Feb 1st My Antonia- Willa Cather
  16. Feb 8th Notes From Underground- Dostoyevsky
  17. Feb 11th The Snow Child- Eowyn Ivey
  18. Feb 17th The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
  19. Feb 17th A Farewell To Arms- Ernest Hemingway
  20. Feb 18th Catching Fire- Suzanne Collins
  21. Feb 20th Mockingjay- Suzanne Collins
  22. Feb 21st The Maze Runner- James Dashner
  23. Feb 22nd The Last Summer of Us- Maggie Harcourt
  24. Feb 24th The Revenant- Michael Punke
  25. Feb 25th Why Not Me? Mindy Kaling
  26. Feb 26th A Tiny Feeling of Fear- M. Jonathan Lee
  27. Feb 26th Sky Burial- Xinran
  28. Feb 28th A Spool of Blue Thread- Anne Tyler
  29. Feb 29th Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud- Andy Lane
  30. Feb 29th The Old Man of The Moon- Shen Fu
  31. March 4th Paper Towns- John Green
  32. March 7th Oryx and Crake- Margaret Atwood
  33. March 10th The Invention of Wings- Sue Monk Kidd
  34. March 12th The Purgatorium- Eva Pohler
  35. March 15th The Mysterious Affair at Styles- Agatha Christie
  36. March 15th The Scorch Trials- James Dashner
  37. March 15th The Death Cure- James Dashner
  38. March 21st The Year of the Flood- Margaret Atwood
  39. March 22nd The Pilgrims- Mary Shelley
  40. March 26th Scarlet- Marissa Meyer
  41. March 29th Tokyo Ghoul 1- Sui Ishida
  42. March 31st Tokyo Ghoul 2- Sui Ishida
  43. April 1st The Radio- M. Jonathan Lee
  44. April 1st Tokyo Ghoul 3- Sui Ishida
  45. April 4th Cirque Du Freak- Darren Shan
  46. April 4th The Vampire’s Assistant- Darren Shan
  47. April 5th Tunnels of Blood- Darren Shan
  48. April 5th Through the Woods- Emily Carroll
  49. April 5th Fairest Vol 1, Wide Awake- Bill Willingham, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes
  50. April 6th Vampire Mountain- Darren Shan
  51. April 7th Trials of Death-Darren Shan
  52. April 8th American Vampire Vol 1- Scott Snyder, Stephen King, Raphael Albuquerque
  53. April 9th Fangirl- Rainbow Rowell
  54. April 13th The Vampire Prince- Darren Shan
  55. April 14th Gate7 Vol 1- CLAMP
  56. April 21st Wolverine and the X-men Vol 1- Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw
  57. April 21st We Need New Names- NoViolet Bulawayo
  58. April 24th The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo Graphic Novel – Denise Mina, Andrea Mutti, Leonardo Manco
  59. April 27th Hunters of the Dusk- Darren Shan
  60. April 28th Allies of the Night- Darren Shan
  61. April 28th Killers of the Dawn- Darren Shan
  62. April 28th Tokyo Ghoul 4 by Sui Ishida
  63. May 4th The Lake of Souls- Darren Shan
  64. May 4th Lord of the Shadows- Darren Shan
  65. May 6th Sons of Destiny- Darren Shan
  66. June 2nd Tokyo Ghoul 5- Sui Ishida
  67. June 7th Six of Crows- Leigh Bardugo
  68. July 11th Tokyo Ghoul 6- Sui Ishida
  69. July 13th Birdsong- Sebastian Faulks
  70. July 14th Wolf- Ales Kot, Lee Loughridge, Matt Taylor
  71. July 19th More Than This- Patrick Ness
  72. July 20th Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café- Fannie Flagg
  73. July 20th Catch 22- Joseph Heller
  74. Aug 6th Throne of Glass- Sarah J Maas
  75. Aug 6th The Man in the High Castle- Philip K Dick
  76. Sep 22nd And the Mountains Echoed- Khaled Hosseini
  77. Nov 8th Brooklyn- Colm Toibin
  78. Nov 8th: Me Before You- JoJo Moyes
  79. Nov 9th: Poison Study- Maria V. Snyder
  80. Nov 15th: Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe
  81. Nov 22nd: Born to Run- Bruce Springsteen
  82. Nov 25th: The 39 Steps- John Buchan
  83. Nov 30th: The Art of Being Normal- Lisa Williamson
  84. Dec 1st: The Pact- Jodi Picoult
  85. Dec 7th:The Storyteller- Jodi Picoult
  86. Dec 13th: A Little Princess- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  87. Dec 14th: 1984- George Orwell
  88. Dec 14th: We All Looked Up- Tommy Wallach
  89. Dec 20th: A Possible Life- Sebastian Faulks
  90. Dec19th: Clockwork Angel- Cassandra Clare
  91. Dec19th: The Rest of Us Just Live Here- Patrick Ness
  92. Dec 20th: Fruits Basket- Natsuki Takaya
  93. Dec 23rd: Clockwork Prince- Cassandra Clare

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monthly Reading Goals: March, April, May

To help myself stay organised with my reading and my upcoming blog posts I have created a monthly plan. I will be uploading two book reviews a month, minimum. This month I’m already hoping to write a review on Du Maurier’s Rebecca. As it is my year of Classics I am hoping that by the end of the year I will have at least twelve full reviews of different Classic novels as well as various mini reviews.

 

This month I am dedicating my time to the books I have picked up from my library. I have previously posted a haul and have since then read two books and two graphic novels and today exchanged them for another two books and two graphic novels that I had requested. I will be posting my TBR for the Borrowathon next week which is a readathon running from the 19th-26th of March I will be taking part in. Along with the other books I mentioned in our March TBR I have enough to read a book a day for the rest of the month, which I am hoping to accomplish.

 

During April I will be dedicating my time to the works of Shakespeare. I would like to read five tragedies and five comedies. Please leave your recommendations! My favourites as of yet are Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. I have also read and enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale and Richard III. In addition I am hoping to watch many tv/film adaptations of his plays and perhaps some retellings. I am beyond excited to read more Shakespeare plays as I have owned his Complete Works for quite some time.

 

In May I will be making a start on the books I have been given for our Annual Reading Challenge along with Classic novels that are constantly recommended to me.

 

But for now, my next blog post will be a post dedicated to my 10 favourites, the theme for which this week is Young Adult novels.

 

Sophie