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Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

Hello everyone! I’m back! (for a bit.)  I can’t believe the last time I posted on here was August 2014; the time has flown by.  The reason for my online-absence is primarily university. At the end of August, when I received my a-level results and confirmed my offer to study chemistry at Oxford, I was sent holiday work and reading to do – this took up quite a lot of my time and obviously replaced pleasure reading.  Then I went off to uni in October 2014 and lived 9 weeks of intense study and fun and came home in December completely exhausted.  I did have a really good time and I have enjoyed this past term even more.  Over Christmas I did manage to do some reading despite having lots of work and revision to do but didn’t quite get round to posting about the books I’d read.  Next thing I knew I was back to uni so that was the end of that for a while.  I’m back for Easter now and again I hope to get some reading done in between work and revision…and I hope some of you are still around to read my posts!  I’ve been keeping up with the blogs I follow since new posts are always emailed to me but I will definitely try to be more active over the next few weeks.  Thank you for still being here (if you are!) and let’s get on with some thoughts about Wolf Hall:

wolf hallTitle: Wolf Hall

Author: Hilary Mantel

Date Finished: 28/12/14

Re-read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

There has been so much hype surrounding Wolf Hall over the past few years, I was slightly apprehensive to read it in case it didn’t live up to expectation.  It’s the first historical-fiction novel I’ve read so that was nice and I’ve always loved the tudors as a historical period to study.

The story is definitely gripping in places but sometimes I found myself confused by who everyone was and definitely puzzled by who’s ‘side’ people were actually on!  I think this is more my fault than the books because I started it in August, read a bit in September, about 5 pages over October and November and then finished it in December…it’s not really the type of book to spread out like that!  Anyway, the plot is enthralling for another reason too – I knew the bare bones of some of the storylines just from general knowledge so it was really interesting to have them fleshed out with characters, detail and context.

The characters are mostly quite unpleasant I think!  Mantel does a very very good job of creating a many-layered and complex Cromwell so you never truly feel like you understand him (which is exciting).  The setting and descriptive writing is really good too, but again spreading the book out so thinly over so many months does not really suit its style.

I’m excited to read Bring Up the Bodies and the third book in the series when it is published and I will also try to watch the TV series properly – I only managed to see parts of some of the episodes because it aired while I was at university.  Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to you but I also reiterate that it’s not really one to read a page of here and there over a very long period of time!

Sense of an endingTitle: The Sense of an Ending

Author: Julian Barnes

Date Finished: 11/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I picked up this book a year or two ago when it was on offer since it had won the Man Booker prize in 2011 and looked like an intriguing read.  It had slowly but surely been making its way up my TBR shelf and it’s so small I just popped it into my suitcase for Italy in case I needed a third book for the week.  I did in fact need it after having raced through Atonement and I also really really enjoyed this book.  It is a reflective book – the narrator Tony recounts anecdotes and memories focusing on his childhood friend Adrian and his old girlfriend Veronica and later in the book events start to occur relating to his old acquaintances.

The plot is quite detailed considering how short the book is – only 150 ish pages – and Barnes employs all sorts of tactics for creating suspense, especially withholding information in the form of Veronica.  I was kept guessing to the very end and had to do a lot of thinking to actually puzzle out what had happened in the final stages of the book.  Despite its short length, I actually felt like the book had just as much depth and detail (if not more!) than most “normal” fiction books of about 400 pages…I guess this is why it won the Man Booker prize.

The characters aren’t very numerous; you can’t introduce too many in 150 pages or they just have no development and it was quite interesting to have the narrator Tony comment several times on his own reliability of narration.  One of my friends did an extended project on unreliable narrators focusing on Catch-22, The Wasp Factory and American Psycho so I could spot a few similarities here when Tony was saying things like:

Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then.  Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.

This introduces doubt and questioning for us, as we have to accept that these anecdotes and memories we are reading about may not be 100% true.  This is compounded at the conclusion of the book when events and revelations are quite confusing and you do find yourself slightly doubting some things – what really was the relationship between Tony and Veronica’s mother??

Overall, I found this a really compelling read and I thoroughly recommend it.  Its shortness and readability make it perfect for travelling or one of those afternoons where you just sit down and read for a few hours.  I am looking forward to reading some more of Barnes’ works in the future.

Atonement – Ian McEwan

atonementTitle: Atonement

Author: Ian McEwan

Date Finished: 8/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

I was very pleasantly surprised with this book – I didn’t know what to expect before I picked it up.  On holiday last week in Italy I thought it would be good to get my teeth into a more challenging read so I chose this.  It is actually much easier to read than I anticipated and certainly a lot more gripping.  The setting is (firstly) 1935 in England at a family estate – the book focuses on one very eventful day in which Briony commits a crime she will try to atone for over the course of her life.

Despite knowing the basic outline of the story already, the way McEwan manages to make pretty much every page totally gripping is amazing!  I just had to keep reading, especially in part 1 (the setting at the house).  I did rush through the ending a bit and maybe that’s why I thought it was just slightly weak compared to the rest of the book – this encourages me to put it on my re-read list and definitely to watch the film adaptation which I’ve heard lots of good things about.

The characters are a unique bunch a lot of whom I will be remembering for quite a while.  Briony, Cecelia and Robbie were very very vivid and following characters from childhood (or young-adulthood) through their lives always makes you feel like  you know them very well.  McEwan manages to comment on many types of person in this reasonably short book (371 pages) – a distracted husband, a caring but ineffective mother, lovers, deceivers, victims, manipulators and cowards.  Of course he also brings the brutality of WWII to us very vividly and manages to show how damaging the soldiers’  experiences were to themselves in later life.

This is a very very good book and I really recommend it to you.  It’s rather brutal and honest in its language and storyline but it kept me reading and gave me lots to think about at the same time too.


Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell

CranfordTitle: Cranford

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Date Finished: 4/08/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

I’d been looking forward to reading this for quite a while – a gentle, rather short classic that I knew nothing about was appealing and I enjoyed reading it.  The rather slow pace of the story and the busyness of my life at the moment meant I certainly didn’t fly through this book but during my week’s holiday at Lake Garda in Italy I managed to polish it off.

The plot focuses on the fictional town of Cranford and the daily lives of its (mainly female) residents.  It is mostly light-hearted and warm and very different from modern life, so it was quite a refreshing read.  Each chapter seems to focus on a slightly different story which, despite the slow pace, helps to keep the storyline moving.  Some plots were a bit sillier than others but I enjoyed pretty much all the chapters.

The characters are the most memorable feature of the book – Miss Matty, Miss Deborah Jenkyns, the conjuror and more.  They are all very unique and easy to picture; I think Gaskell does very well to paint such vivid portraits of them in such a short book really.  I’d quite like to watch the adaptation of Cranford to see whether they all match up to how I expect them to.  Have any of you seen it?

The setting of Cranford is quite simple, as there aren’t really enough pages to waste time with long passages of describing the town in lots of physical detail but you can picture everything easily nevertheless.  The language is wonderful, of course, and just fits perfectly with the setting.  The way women are rather obviously more important than men in this book (it is no doubt who is in charge of Cranford!) was quite a brave move by Gaskell I think, considering it was published in 1853 and I think behind the cheerful and light-hearted storylines and characters there is quite a powerful message about the roles of women and men at the time.

mill on the flossTitle: The Mill on the Floss

Author: George Eliot

Date Finished: 17/07/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

Firstly, let me apologise for the complete silence on this blog since early May!  I have been so crazily busy that I just didn’t find any time to read, let alone post.  I had lots of A2 exams which were a mixed bag to say the least, left school, had prom, had an amazing week in Crete with my friends and I’m now back home (for the time being).  Sadly this week my lovely Grandpa passed away and we are all already missing him lots but keep reminding ourselves that he lived 92 amazing and happy years so we should be happy and grateful for that.  All of this combined with reading quite a long and heavy classic – The Mill on the Floss – has resulted in rather slow progress in terms of reading but finally today I managed to finish this book!  I’m not saying it wasn’t good, I just didn’t have the time to read it quickly.

The plot focuses on a brother and sister pair – Tom and Maggie – and follows their lives as they grow from young children to adulthood.  They are originally close but life seems to conspire against them until they are driven further and further apart.  The plot is slightly predictable in some cases but still very engaging and most of the time you don’t really know what is going to happen next.  I liked the earlier plots more than the latter ones I think as it all got a bit too serious from the middle onwards!

The characters are really great – there are not many main characters so we really get to know the few that there are and follow each of their journeys over the years. I felt for Maggie a lot but aside from that there weren’t many characters I actually liked!  Tom was always so hard on Maggie I just couldn’t engage with him and Lucy was a bit dull, Philip too moody and Stephen slightly annoying!  This didn’t stop me reading about their stories though.

One of the main themes in the book would be the relationship between brother and sister and how it is broken further and further and I think this may have also contributed to why I read the book so slowly.  I am very close to my sister as we are only one school year apart, have the same hobbies etc so we have always shared everything and I find one of the worst sadnesses in life is bad relations between siblings.  As Tom and Maggie grow further apart with each page I probably subconsciously didn’t want to read on anyway as I would hate that.

Overall this is an interesting and unique book that I would recommend as a thought-provoking read – definitely definitely not as a quick read though!!

suite-francaiseTitle: Suite Française

Author: Irène Némirovsky

Date Finished: 7/05/14

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : The Classics Club

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

This is a powerful read!  I’m not quite sure where the recommendation of reading this book came from for me, but it was always on my TBR in the future list even before I started book blogging.  I assume I found it on some list of “best books to read” or something, but I would certainly recommend it.  It focuses on how the Nazi occupation of France in WWII actually affected the French people, which was a really interesting viewpoint.

The books is split into two novellas, the first focuses on Parisians and how they cope with France being defeated and Germans starting to flood into their country.  The second book is set in a rural village that becomes occupied by the Nazis and deals with how the local people adapt to their new neighbours.

The plot is quite intricate as there are quite a few main characters – a couple of bank workers, a pompous author, a rich family and more and each short chapter focuses on one of these different character groups.  Initially this can be a little confusing but you get used to the characters and everything starts to flow quite naturally after the first few chapters.  In the second novella, there are slightly fewer characters but the storylines are more developed.  I found the two novellas equally compelling but the second did tail off slightly and it took me a few days just to get round the finishing off the whole book.

The characterisation is very good but you do feel like Némirovsky has a lot more to say and the characters have a lot more to do.  I think I read somewhere that Suite Française is actually incomplete and that Némirovsky had planned to write some more novellas to make it into a whole ‘suite’, but she was taken to Auschwitz herself and died there before she could complete it.  This is probably why the ending seems a little abrupt and some of the plots seem to be slightly unfinished.  It’s awfully sad that we will never get to hear all of what Irène wanted to say with this book, but I would like to think that I might be able to read this book in its original French to see how it reads in that (I own it already).  I would also like to read some of Némirovsky’s other works, as this one was so unique and interesting.

I would definitely recommend reading this book – it is very touching and gives you such a massive insight into an area of history that many of us are (probably) quite unfamiliar with.  To see something through the eyes of people in their day-to-day lives always gives you more perception and empathy than reading history textbooks ever can, even if the actual plot is fiction, I find.  A very interesting and powerful read.

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!).