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AliceTitle: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Author: Lewis Carroll

Date Finished: 17/04/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I wouldn’t usually have classified this as two separate books (Wonderland/Looking Glass) as they are both reasonably short and I read them in the same volume, but when I looked on my Classics Club list, I realised they were down as two separate items so that is the way I will have to treat them ha ha!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I gave this book 5/5 because I really loved reading it.  I knew the story quite well from various children’s versions that I read years ago and of course from the two film versions, although I haven’t seen either in a long time.  It was a really entertaining read and I enjoyed it a lot.

The plot is rather bizarre to say the least but Carroll (rather drily) manages to just carry on as normal as the scene completely changes for no apparent reason.  I liked all the characters too, especially The Queen of Hearts and Bill the Lizard!  Everything was really vivid due to Carroll’s brilliant prose – we can really picture everything there, guided of course by the amazing illustrations in the book.  I also enjoyed the mix of poetry in the book although sometimes I did only skim it!  The nonsense disguised as logic and bizarre reasoning really make this book special and I would definitely recommend everyone to have a good re-read of this, if you only really read the story as a child!

Through the Looking Glass

This book only scored 4/5 for me because I didn’t love reading it quite so much, although it was very good!  I didn’t know the story at all and I was slightly disappointed that the characters from Wonderland weren’t in it…I soon realised that it’s a different world!

The plot is slightly more structured (?!) in this book, since the overall structure is a bizarre live game of chess so it was easier to see where the book was headed – each new square being a new type of scene.  The characters were again very vivid and totally unique – my favourites were definitely the Knight and the bizarre messengers!  As I wasn’t familiar with the story, it was harder to picture the overall scenes that well (I’ve never seen a film of Through the Looking Glass) although the illustrations did help a lot again.  I would recommend this book too, in fact really I think you should just read the two books as one like I did since they are usually together anyway and are both short enough to read as one without it being a long read at all.  I’m very glad I decided to read these books this Easter Holiday as I really enjoyed both of them!

LOTR3Title: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Date Finished: 12/04/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely brilliant

I really really enjoyed the first two LOTR books and The Hobbit so I was very excited to get to read this volume these past couple of weeks.  I’d managed (somehow) to avoid seeing the films and overhearing people talk about it all my life so I really didn’t know how the story was going to end.

The plot is really good (as always) in this book although maybe slightly weaker than the previous two volumes – I do think I enjoyed this one the least out of all the three.  I just felt at times it was just slightly too predictable compared to the other two.  Although the ending is slightly anticlimactic, this can’t really be avoided when you have been reading over 1000 pages of build up!  Nevertheless I was enthralled by this book, especially in the middle and I definitely wanted to keep turning the pages.

The characters are as phenomenal as before, and it feels like everyone gets their story and part to play in the plot, which is a nice touch.  I liked the way slightly more minor characters, like the men in Gondor/Rohan had storylines weaved into the main plot as well.  I was a bit gutted we didn’t really get to meet Sauron – I was kind of hoping for a hugely dramatic stand-off between him and Gandalf over the Cracks of Doom…in fact I think this was the area I a bit disappointed in really – that it all ended without one last battle with everyone involved, but hey ho!

I felt like there was slightly more assumption of the history of Middle-Earth in this volume than the others – everything before was always clearly explained (e.g. the histories of the One Ring etc) but some of the facts about “The King” etc were somewhat assumed that we would know; after reading the appendices, of course it all became very clear but at some points some of the formalities and who was actually in charge of who and in what land was a bit confusing!

It seems as though I’ve only commented on the flaws of this book, but that’s not how I see it at all – I have sung Tolkien’s praises so much in my previous posts that I think (so as not to repeat myself) it was better to focus on some things I didn’t enjoy 100% for a change; also if I mentioned everything I love about this series, the post would be far far too long!  I wholly recommend the whole LOTR series to you all, as it’s completely epic (in both senses of the word) and I really can’t wait to watch the third film!

christmas carolTitle: A Christmas Carol

Author: Charles Dickens

Date Finished: 26/03/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club 

Overall: 3/5 – just average

It feels like ages since I last posted on here – I’ve been very busy this month (as usual) with coursework and a brilliant few days in Paris with my school French A-level trip (I don’t actually do French A2 but I did AS last year!!) In all this bustle I didn’t get chance to post earlier in the month when it was my 2nd blogovesary!  Thank you so much to everyone who has continued to read my little blog over the past two years – your interest is hugely appreciated!

Anyway back to Dickens: as you can probably tell, I didn’t really get much chance to read this month and therefore my reading of A Christmas Carol was rather bitty.  I think this spoiled the book slightly for me, as Dickens is one of those authors you really ought to settle down with and immerse yourself in their world.  Since I could’t do this, the 3/5 would probably change with a re-read.

The plot was quite simple, since the book is so short and I wasn’t particularly captivated, as the story is so well-known.  I didn’t need to turn the pages to know what happened next, which is probably another reason I only dipped in and out of the book.  Obviously it’s a nice, heart-warming story of redemption, but it is probably more suited to a cosy winter evening rather than a busy March springtime too.  The characters and setting are also well-known so I don’t really feel the need to comment on them; all were very Dickensian and I hope to enjoy it all more on a re-read.  Definitely a book I’d recommend as a winter read and not one to take on a hot summer holiday!

In the companyTitle: In The Company of Cheerful Ladies

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Date Finished: 9/03/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

This is the sixth book in the wonderful ‘No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency‘ Series, which follows the life of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only female detective.  I really love this series and I always look forward to reading the next instalment so much; can’t believe it took me a year to get to this one…where my self-discipline comes from, I have no idea!

The plot in this book is really good.  Despite there not being a central case for the detectives to solve, the mysteries of each of the character’s personal lives are completely sufficient to fill the book with intrigue!  Although, I do think there is still one mystery left unsolved…unless I just happened to miss something!

We know the characters really well now, so McCall Smith starts to introduce new characters as well, with their own stories and histories, and it seems just the right time for this to happen.  Mr Polopetsi and Phuti Radiphuti are welcome additions to the cast and I am sure we will see a lot more of them in the following instalments of the series.

The setting is as fantastic as ever, with McCall Smith really painting a vivid picture of Botswana and the relaxed prose is a pleasure to read.  I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series and hopefully I will get to it before I get to 2015!  Although thinking that far ahead means I will (hopefully) be at university and who knows what will happen to my reading schedule then!!

Anyway, as always, I really really recommend this series to absolutely everyone – you cannot fail to enjoy it (I think!).

1Q84: Books 1 and 2 – Haruki Murakami

IQ84Title: 1Q84: Books 1 and 2

Author: Haruki Murakami

Date Finished: 26/2/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

It is so refreshing to read a book which is completely and totally unique in every way and this is what 1Q84 was for me.  The setting is Tokyo in 1984 and there are two narrators – one called Aomame who is essentially a moral contract killer and Tengo who is a part time teacher and part time author.  As the book progresses we learn lots more about each of these two lonely people and start to find out what links them together and how current events affect them.  I really don’t want to give anything anyway so I won’t say any more!

The plot is really gripping – the two books are combined in one volume of 805 pages, yet the story reads beautifully easily and you just keep turning over the pages.  It is as equally gripping as some thrillers I have read yet just as detailed and poignant as some classics I’ve read!  It even has recurring imagery and motifs, some more hidden than others that are interesting to spot.  The story really develops as you go through the book – at the start everything seems quite normal but by the end it is all looking rather fantastical!  I have to say, the cliffhanger ending has definitely made me desperate to read the final book – I have already ordered it from Foyles.

The characters are so unique and due to the level of detail and length of the book you really feel like you have got to know them.  Tengo and Aomame are both quite unusual and have lots of hidden secrets and stories which are slowly revealed and explain why they are the way that they are as adults.  You also get to know quite a few other brilliant and mesmerising characters like Fuka-Eri, Ayumi, The Professor, Komatsu etc etc who are all equally engaging.

I really liked the setting of Tokyo, since I have never read anything set in Japan before although the places mentioned didn’t mean anything to me.  I would like to visit Japan at some point.  The prose is actually exquisite, which surprised me slightly, with it being a work in translation; amazing job done by the translator Jay Rubin!!  I think the last book is translated by a different person, so I will have to see how they compare.

Overall, I have loved reading this book and I am eagerly anticipating my delivery of book 3.  I really recommend this book to you, although it is quite dark in some places it is very very good indeed and completely different to anything I have come across before.

As You Like It – William Shakespeare

as you like itTitle: As You Like It

Author: William Shakespeare

Date Finished: 31/01/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club 

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

I always try to read the play before seeing the performance when it comes to Shakespeare, and as I’m seeing As You Like It at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol in March, I thought I’d better read it now.  I enjoyed it, even though I did get slightly confused as I also went to see our school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week.

The plot is of course very silly and farcical and unrealistic but it’s meant to be this way – surely no-one now or in the 1600s would have really believed that a boy dressed up as a girl who was pretending to be a boy in minimal disguise would really fool anyone!  I can’t say I loved this plot quite as much as some of the other Shakespeare I’ve read but it was still enjoyable.

The characters are (for once) not too confusing to follow, apart from there being two Jaques (I only realised about 3/4 of the way through!) and I think all of the characters will really be brought to life for me when I see the play.  Rosalind is very memorable, if a bit silly but then who isn’t silly in Shakespeare’s comedies?  Again, the characters were good but didn’t rival my favourite characters in Much Ado About Nothing (my favourite Shakespeare so far)!

It was nice to have a French setting and the language was (unsurprisingly) amazing and I didn’t struggle to follow the story really.  As usual, I had my ladybird children’s, 60 page ‘Story from Shakespeare’ version alongside me just to read over after I’d read a few scenes to make sure I hadn’t missed any important details.  I recommend this play as it’s a nice short read and I am very much looking forward to seeing it performed next month.

TheTwoTowersTitle: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Date Finished: 26/01/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely brilliant

I finished The Fellowship of the Ring back in August and I have waited impatiently for The Two Towers to come to the top of my TBR pile ever since.  It did not disappoint.  Although I felt like I didn’t fly through this volume as quickly as the first book, I can’t tell whether that’s just the difference between reading on holiday (book 1) and reading at home during busy term time (this book).

The plot is again, of course, brilliant and I really liked the way Tolkien kept it twisting and turning without it all becoming too silly.  He gets the balance right.  I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen next and that’s such a brilliant feeling when you’re reading a book, especially one as action-packed as this.  I will avoid spoilers so I won’t mention which parts completely shocked me…I can reveal however that I absolutely can’t wait to watch the film!  And with my sister ill with flu at the moment, I’m sure we will find time to watch it together very soon!

The characters are just as great as in the first book…probably because they are by and large the same people!  I loved the introduction of the Ents – I’d heard of elves and hobbits and orcs before I read the first book but I’d never heard of Ents before so that was really interesting to read about.  I was also surprised by how much Gollum features in this book; his story is quite unique really.  I feel like all the characters have a lot of unfinished business at the moment, so I really can’t wait to find out what they all do next in The Return of the King.

The setting and language and songs and stories and history of Middle Earth are second to none – the inclusion of maps at the end of the book is perfect and everything is crafted so thoughtfully and meticulously – I expect to read all of Tolkien’s works after I have finished LOTR – I am sure I will never have enough of Middle Earth!

I recommend The Hobbit first for anyone who fancies reading some of Tolkien’s work and I really can’t wait to read book three of the series.  Hopefully the second film will be just as good as the first (which was awesome!).

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

The WardenTitle: The Warden

Author: Anthony Trollope

Date Finished: 12/01/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

This is a book I’d never heard of at all before I read – I remember back when the Penguin English Library editions were first released in 2012 that in the first month I wanted to buy Great Expectations and The Mill on the Floss but the offer in the bookshop was 3 for 2 so I just picked up this one too.  I put it on my Classics Club list and hoped for the best!

The story follows the warden of the hospital in Barchester (a fictional cathedral town) and various other members of the clergy as they struggle with reformers.  It was very refreshing to read something so very English and ’19th century’ and I was definitely intrigued as to what was going to happen.  I have to say the plot wasn’t exactly heart-racing but then again it’s not really meant to be in this kind of book.

The characters (as usual in classics) are extremely vibrant and memorable, as Trollope paints a detailed picture of each one describing their various mannerisms and traits.  I liked them all really and I’m definitely keen to find out what happens to them all next in the other books in the series.  I think it’s really exciting to read a series of classics – it combines two of my favourite types of things to read.

The writing is brilliant and it seems like every word in every sentence has been meticulously chosen to given exactly the right impression to the reader of what is going on.  The setting of Barchester is also very nice as it reminds me of similar places near where I live in the South/South West of England.  There is something special about English period dramas, whether they are on television, film or in books and that is very true in this book too.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book – it felt like a breath of fresh air, although I am quite surprised I managed to find time to read this week…I received amazing news on Wednesday that I’d been offered a place to read Chemistry at Oxford University in October; I am over the moon, especially as a couple of my close friends received Oxbridge offers too!  How I will find time to read then, I do not know…!

The Redeemer – Jo Nesbo

the-redeemer

Title: The Redeemer

Author: Jo Nesbo

Date Finished: 6/1/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

This is the 4th book by Jo Nesbo in the Harry Hole series, and correspondingly it is the 4th book by him that I’ve read.  I realised as I was starting to write this post that I’d never actually blogged about a Nesbo thriller before, despite having read three; I concluded it had been much too long a gap (I read the third book in November 2011 and books one and two in summer 2011).  I don’t know why I’d waited so long to get round to this one, as I really enjoy this series.

The story focuses on Inspector Harry Hole in Oslo, Norway attempting to solve another bloody, brutal and haunting murder case.  This time, a Salvation Army Officer has been shot but everything spirals out of control for both the murderer and the police as the hit-man realises he has shot the wrong person.  Obviously in thrillers like this, the plot is really the most important part of the book, and Nesbo always seems to manage to balance drama and unpredictable twists with just an ounce of reality which makes the whole thing a lot more readable and believable.  The plot in this book was really gripping, and unlike usual, I really didn’t make any guesses about what was really going on until it was actually revealed; this made it a great read and I struggled to put it down!

The characters are also really vivid and I didn’t struggle with remembering who people were.  I think this is definitely a benefit of writing a series – I already knew Harry, Halvorsen, Beate, Rakel etc and all their traits so Nesbo could focus on introducing other important characters and could spend more time on describing them.  I have to say Beate is just a great person and – don’t worry I won’t spoil it – the death of someone quite main in this book really upset me!

The setting in Norway is also a reason I really like these books – something really appeals to me about Scandinavia even though (from this series) it seems to be absolutely freezing and dark all the time..oh and full of murderers and rapists!  Nesbo also uses good language and a very engaging style (commendations to the translator, Don Barlett, of course) which really helps when reading a fast-paced book.

I really enjoyed this book and I will be reading The Snowman (the next book in the series) when it gets to the top of my TBR pile!  I really recommend this series to anyone who likes crime/thriller novels and definitely to those who loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.  I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series though.  If you are not a fan of rather bloody/graphic/dark crime novels then this probably isn’t for you!

Wrap Up of 2013 and Plans for 2014

2013 has been the busiest year of my life so far…as I think back to last New Year’s Eve, there have been so many changes but mostly in a good way I think.  In February I went on an amazing visit to Uganda and then reciprocal visit of the Ugandans to Bristol in April was just as fun.  My hard work and revision paid off when receiving my AS results in March and August and we had a really relaxing (and full of reading!) family holiday to Corsica in the summer holidays.  I was elected Head Boy of my school and that has brought a lot of work and commitment but is really rewarding.  Since coming back in September for my final year at school, I’ve applied to university to study chemistry and I currently hold 4 offers from my 5 universities so I am really chuffed with that.  Christmas was quiet and calm which was just what we all needed I think!

In terms of reading, I haven’t been particularly brilliant – I had a good start to the year and a great summer of reading but apart from that I was only able to snatch at a few pages a night in term time, which is obviously not really enough!

I have several reading goals for 2014:

  • 1: Better my 2013 books total.  I read 27 books in 2013 so that means I need to read at least 2.3 books a month to better it.  Ideally this would mean trying to read a good 3 books a month, but I know that often this can be very optimistic!
  • 2: Better my 2013 pages total.  I read 10038 pages in 2013 so that means I need to read an average of 837 pages a month to better.  Maybe I should aim for at least 850 pages a month to make it a nice round easy target…
  • 3: Spend at least 30 minutes a day reading.  Now this may seem quite a small amount, but during busy school time 30 minutes is very long!  I want this to be 30 straight minutes with no checking the internet, watching TV etc at the same time.
  • 4: Keep up my classics reading.  I have been pretty good this year about sticking to this (10 classics in 12 months) but I want to make sure I still read at least one classic every month, even though I know this can be hard with classics being so long and taking much longer than ‘normal’ books to read.  I’m really looking forward to the readathon!
  • 5: Stay an active blogger.  By this I mean post about almost every book I read; continue to read other blogs; participate in challenges and events; reply to comments and comment myself.

These goals are obviously similar to last year except the targets are a bit lower – it’s good to have targets but really it doesn’t matter very much as long as I’m enjoying reading!  That’s definitely the case at the moment :)

The next Classics Club readathon is coming up on the 4th of January and I really recommend that to you – it was great fun last year and is from 1.00 pm on Saturday until 1.00 pm on Sunday (for me in England) so that works out quite nicely really.  I am currently reading a physics book and The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo but the idea is really to read a classic from your list if possible…so I am hoping to alternate between these two titles and The Warden by Anthony Trollope too.  I also have quite a lot of work to do so who knows how many hours I will actually be able to dedicate to reading.

Again, thank you to everyone who reads this blog, I hope 2014 is a brilliant year for you and we all continue to discover amazing new books and authors.

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