Archive for July, 2012

Title: Cold Comfort Farm

Author: Stella Gibbons

Date Finished: 26/07/12

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club & The Literary Classics

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

It is really nice to read a book that you know absolutely nothing about, especially when it is a classic, as many people often already know the basic story/characters.  Well this was the case with Cold Comfort Farm – I knew nothing more than that it was meant to be funny.

I was given this book for Christmas last year (having asked for it!) and that just shows you what kind of book backlog I have currently.  I buy books quicker than I read them (to say the least) so what can you expect?

Anyway, I only had one major issue with Cold Comfort Farm, and that was I found it really hard to get into.  During the holidays, it is usually the time when I plough through many books without any hassle, especially shorter books like this, but it felt hard to read. I’m not too sure why I felt this way – maybe the pace of the story was a bit slow or maybe I was just on a bit of a “literary comedown” after finishing To Kill a Mockingbird.  Well, whatever the cause, this problem ceased when I reached about half way through the book.

The plot was really good for a relatively short book and it felt finished at the end (although I can’t wait to read Conference at Cold Comfort Farm and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm in the future too!)  I liked the way Flora dealt with each character separately, as though there were several little stories combining to make one.

Talking of characters, this is undoubtedly where this book stands out.  The characters are numerous, eccentric and utterly brilliant.  They are all unique and memorable and were (for me) what made the second half of this book a real pleasure to read.  Highlights have to be the ‘mad’ Aunt Ada, hiding upstairs and cow-obsessed Adam.

Gibbons’ prose is fantastic and it is true that she has a certain way of writing that just makes you smile.  I wouldn’t say I laughed as such, but certainly this book is a lot more humorous than most that I’ve read.  Interestingly, the setting certainly felt quite Victorian in a way and it is clear from the characters’ mannerisms and traditions that is it pre-WW2.  I don’t think I’ve read something that lies between Victorian writing and war/post-war writing  and it certainly feels like an amalgamation of the two, which I quite enjoyed.

Overall, I would heartily recommend this book as it is not too long and offers something completely different to other books.  I have to reiterate that the characters are absolutely amazing and are the reason I am keen to read more by Stella Gibbons in the future.


So yes, here in GB everyone is beside themselves with excitement for the 2012 Olympics and I am really looking forward to seeing all the nations compete.  Have any of you got any tickets?  My family and I are lucky enough to be going to the Table Tennis, Basketball and Athletics – we are extremely excited!  I don’t want to go on (as I’m sure there are many people who are sick of all the Olympics-hype by now) but it will be really interesting to see you all post/tweet about your favourite athletes as we all watch them do their stuff.

Anyway enough of sport, this blog is meant to be about reading!   This week I have been reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and I finished it last night (post will hopefully be up tomorrow).  I enjoyed it towards the end, but found it pretty hard to get into.  I am definitely glad I picked it for The Classics Club and think it is one I will reread at some point.

I am now onto The Crow Road by Iain Banks, a book that was given to me a few months ago, and one I really know nothing about.  I am saving The Da Vinci Code for my holiday in Majorca in a few weeks as it seems like a holiday read to me and I read Angels and Demons last summer.

Who knows how much reading I will have time for during the Olympics – we have 4 TV channels dedicated completely to the Olympics with another 24 (!!!) available online.  Sorry – it seems to be the main topic of conversation at the moment!  I hope you all really enjoy the games, if you’re watching.

The Literary Classics Reading Challenge Friday Progress:

As I have already mentioned, I finished Cold Comfort Farm last night, which is my third book out of fifteen for The Literary Classics Reading Challenge.  The post will be up tomorrow, I think.  Safe to say I enjoyed it, but it was not a particular favourite of mine.

Next up for the challenge will be either Dracula or Middlemarch for new reads or maybe 1984 or Macbeth for rereads.  I am not sure what I will fancy reading over the next few weeks.  If anyone has any tips on tackling Middlemarch then please please please let me know!

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Date Finished: 20/07/12

Re-Read? : Third time read

Challenges? : Yes – The Classics Club & The Literary Classics

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely brilliant

As many of you may know, To Kill a Mockingbird is my favourite book!  I first read it back in 2010 when we studied it in school (and I fell in love with it), then when it came to exams in summer 2011 I re-read it again and listened to the audiobook countless times.  I have to say it was a pleasure to study.  I usually aim to leave at least 18 months before I even think about re-reading a book, but I made an exception for this special book.  My sister had spilt ink and doodled in my original copy so I had bought another copy (a very nice Vintage Classics edition that you can see to the right) and I was very excited to read it.

The plot in To Kill a Mockingbird is really fantastic and it is a very well thought-out story.  The pace seems the perfect balance of a very slow old town with the exciting adventures of Scout, Jem and Dill.  The first volume deals with the children playing infantile games and just generally being kids.  This is when they try to make Boo Radley come out.
The second volume depicts a more grown up Jem, even though Scout says ‘He ain’t that old.  All he needs is somebody to beat him up and I ain’t big enough‘ which I think is just brilliant.  This is when Scout and Jem have to cope with Atticus, their father defending a black person in racist 30s Alabama.

The symbolism in TKAMB is stunning.  There are so many motifs and themes.  The main ‘Mockingbird’ motif covers many characters, such as Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, even Mayella Ewell to an extent.  Also there are the strong themes of sexism (which Scout has to contend with), prejudice, racism, courage (notably Mrs Dubose), justice/injustice and many more.  I think it is a book that people can learn so much from.

In terms of characters, I think TKAMB is easily on a par with Dickens – the characters are sublime!  Each resident of Maycomb is so unique and interesting, you can never get bored whilst reading.  There is wise Miss Maudie, gossiping Miss Crawford, firm-but-fair Calpurnia all supporting the main characters.  I could write whole posts on each character individually! (Don’t worry, I won’t!)

I love Harper Lee’s prose and the way she uses Scout’s voice as the narrator makes the book have such a massive impact on you – a child can see what is wrong so why can’t the adults?  This aspect is so powerful, I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be moved by it.
Also, the setting is really interesting, as we’ve all heard stories about how racism was still in full flow not long ago, but this makes it real.  We can see for ourselves the awful conditions and treatment black people had to suffer.  One of my favourite quotations from the book reflects this: ‘the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too‘.  Some of the events in this book really bring that quotation to life.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough: I think EVERYONE should read it.  Ok, I may be a little very biased, but this book has so much to say, and says it so well, that you absolutely have to read it.  Even aside from the books political/historical/social significance, it is still an amazing story with amazing characters, so what is not to love?

Well the summer holidays are finally here!  Even though the weather has been completely abysmal so far (stupid jet stream) it is just amazing to be able to relax a bit!  I am getting a lot of reading done too 🙂

Not much has been going on really (compared to normal) and everything feels quite slow.  I think this is because we know the Olympics are coming (and we have a week in Majorca afterwards) but they are not here yet and we’re not sure what to do!  I personally am enjoying the downtime but I know in a few days I will be active and busy again!

In terms of reading, I have done well this week – I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife on Monday – post here – and I finished a re-read of my favourite book ever, To Kill a Mockingbird, late last night – post will be up tomorrow.  Today I will start Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons which will hopefully live up to its glowing reputation.

The Literary Classics Reading Challenge Friday Progress:

Well this week I finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which is my second book out of 15 for the challenge and absolutely loved it (it is my favourite book).  The post will be up tomorrow.

I am going to start Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons today which will be my third book for the challenge.  I am really excited about reading this one – I have heard a lot of good stuff about it but I don’t have any idea what it’s about!

Good luck to everyone else – I hope you get to read some great classics over the summer. 🙂

Title: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Date Finished: 16/07/12

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

I really didn’t have any idea about this book before I set out to read it, aside that many people had watched the film and found it sad and that it is meant to be a very good read.  It was nice to have no expectations and to really form my own opinion.

The whole idea is very interesting and superbly well thought-out – I was very impressed.  I found the plot brilliant and very captivating.  I read from just over halfway through to the end of the book over the last two days because I couldn’t put it down which shows how ensnared I was.  I am yet to watch the film (although I will asap) so I don’t know how it compares, but I certainly did not get the “heart-wrenching sadness” bit.  I mean, it was sad at the end, of course, but nothing unbearable and it ended well.  Maybe the film ends slightly differently to the book.

The characters were also seriously good.  Clare and Henry are two people I don’t think I’ll forget in a long time and Niffenegger develops them very well over the course of the book.  All the other supporting characters are interesting too, like Gomez & Charisse, Kendrick and Alba.  It was very easy to picture the characters and I hope the film will live up to my interpretations.  A lot of the characters were quite realistic but there were still some, like Ben and Gomez, who seemed pretty fake to me.

I really enjoyed the way Niffenegger writes and the structure was complex but good.  Her prose is great and even though Americanisms often annoy me, it is a book written by an American set in America, so they are pretty justifiable!  Also, the way each different section of time in the book is titled with the date and how old the respective characters are is really helpful, as it is pretty confusing to keep track of, especially at first.  Having said that, after the first 100 pages or so, you just seem to accept that the book is non-chronological, and it stops being an issue.

I noticed that Niffenegger herself was actually born in South Haven, like Clare and I think this makes the whole book very personal.  I got feelings of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird (which coincidentally I am reading next).  I think this was due to the use of the first person and the sense that the author was putting a lot of themselves and their experiences into the story.  It is a lovely feature for a book to have, in my opinion.

Overall, I really really enjoyed reading this book and I think it is one that most people should have on their shelves – it is easy to read and has a very powerful storyline.  Not one of my favourite books ever, but maybe one day I will re-read it (once I have forgotten everything that happens) and I am sure I will spend a lot of time recommending it to people over the next few years.

Hello everyone, I feel as though I haven’t done a weekly wrap up in ages!  So much has been going on recently.

It seems like years ago that I finished my exams (it’s only been a couple of weeks) and then there was sixth form induction, which was good and reassured me that I have picked the best subjects for me (French, Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths and Physics).  Then I went camping with my friends in Bude, Cornwall last week which was very eventful but great fun and really worth all the rain and mud (British summer is literally non-existent at the moment).  Then there were the Wimbledon finals which were bittersweet to watch – Murray lost but they all played very well and the matches were very exciting.
This week I have been trying to relax as much as possible, although I have been into school a lot due to my maths A2 lessons carrying on.  Also, it was the school concert on Wednesday evening in which I played the clarinet with the orchestra and my jazz group and also sang in the chamber choir; that was great.

Yesterday I had my first actually completely free day in a very long time, so I took myself off to Bristol to do some [well-earned] book shopping!  I returned with three new Penguin English Library titles – The Moonstone, Gulliver’s Travels and The Warden, to go with the two I already own – Great Expectations and The Mill on the Floss.  I ADORE this series of books…as you can probably tell.

Luckily I have been able to get some good reading done this week! 😀  I finished The Subtle Knife earlier this week – my post is here – and now I am onto The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I am enjoying so far.

The Literary Classics Reading Challenge Friday Progress:

I feel as though I have been doing pretty well in this challenge – I signed up at the very end of May with my 15 books and so far I have read one – Great Expectations which I greatly enjoyed.  I have been on a slight classics break since then because I fancied reading some completely different stuff but I am ready to go back to the classics soon so up next is To Kill A Mockingbird, a re-read of my all-time-favourite book! I can’t wait!

After To Kill A Mockingbird, my aim is to read at least 5 more classics from my list – hopefully more, but I think Middlemarch will take me a looong time!  Good luck to everyone else participating in this challenge – it is great to read your thoughts on the classics.

If anyone else wants to know more  about this challenge click here for all the information.

Title: The Subtle Knife

Author: Philip Pullman

Date Finished: 11/07/12

Re-Read? : Second time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

This is another re-read for me – I really do like re-reading! (You can read some of my thoughts about it in this post) and I am so glad I have read this again.  The His Dark Materials series was another childhood favourite of mine, and I especially enjoyed listening to the trilogy on audiobook.  I wasn’t sure whether the magic would still be there for me, after a few years, but since I re-read Northern Lights (the first in the trilogy) back in December 2011, I have been itching to get on with the others – they were just as gripping as ever.

I feel like even though I have heard the story countless times, and I know what’s going to happen, there is still something new I can take from the books, which is great.  The joy of re-reading.

The plot is great and quite intricate for a children’s/young adult book.  I love the way we are introduced to a couple of new worlds but not all at once and the way that the characters we all love manage to find their way back into the story pretty quickly.

The characters are completely brilliant and (although the plot is amazing) the reason I gave this book 5/5.  They are all just so iconic.  Lyra and Will are the perfect pair and completely unforgettable, but the supporting characters like Mrs Coutler, Serafina Pekkala, Lee Scoresby, Grumman and all the rest are all superb as well.  You know the characters are great when you can remember all about them after not reading a page of the trilogy for years!

I also like the way Pullman writes and I find it so easy to read – I flew through this book.  There are no grammatical errors either, which is always good!  I love the way Pullman weaves in bits of made up language and sayings etc from the different worlds (although I don’t really get how they all can converse in English..).

The settings are very well depicted and you can really feel yourself there.  I would seriously recommend this book to adults as well as teenagers/children, because there is more to the series than meets the eye – the whole book is quite damning of Christianity and the Catholic church in general and poses quite a few questions about religion.  Some Christians have said this writing is sacrilegious but I found that it strengthened my faith, as obviously there are gross exaggerations and it is a work of fiction!  

Whatever your religious standpoint, this series is great and in my opinion really worth a read.  I can’t wait to read The Amber Spyglass (the final instalment) but I will try and keep it back until I really can’t hold on any longer – I will appreciate it all the more that way!

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Title: Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Date Finished: 30/06/12

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

This post is probably going to be relatively short, as I don’t want to just echo what I wrote about the other books in this series – The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  In retrospect, I should have probably waited and written one big post on the whole trilogy.

I have to say first of all, that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first two, which is odd because I really thought I would.  It didn’t grip me in the same way for some reason.  I did read it quite quickly, but a lot slower and less compulsively than the first two.

The plot was slightly disappointing to me.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still shocking and exciting, but there weren’t as many completely unexpected twists and turns as in the first two.  Also, I found myself able to quite easily predict what was going to happen, again unlike the other books.
I think that the main reason I didn’t read this book so obsessively was that there weren’t any actual ‘Hunger Games’ which are what kept me constantly reading the first two books.  I know Collins tried to make the penetration of the Capitol like the Games, but it just wasn’t the same.

I really didn’t like the ending of this book and after I stayed up way too late finishing it, I certainly felt a bit deflated.  It just seemed so unfair to end that way after such an eventful book.  It almost seemed like a cop-out and I’m still not sure why.

The characters were still pretty good – Katniss did seem a bit whiny especially in the first few chapters and definitely the last couple but the twist with Peeta was brilliant.

All I have said about the readability of Collins’ prose still stands – see the other posts.  Also, I liked the way we got to see a bit more into some different areas – 13, the Capitol etc.  It made it much more interesting than to just read about District 12 again.

This post does seem quite negative, but confusingly I awarded Mockingjay 4/5.  This is because I did read the book quickly and I did enjoy it; it was just too hard not to compare it to the (brilliant) first two books.  I still would recommend the whole series to anyone and I cannot wait to finally see the film.

Reading Habits

I have seen this post flying around recently, so thought I’d join in.  I am currently camping in Bude with my friends as you are probably aware, so this is a scheduled post – I’ll get back to you soon.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favourite reading snack:
This usually depends what time of day it is – sometimes I will snack on some fruit or sweets or anything lying around, but I get the majority of my reading done in bed and I never eat then.

What is your favourite drink while reading?
Well I am a Brit so I do love a good cup of tea, especially in the Winter, but mostly I just like water or orange juice in the summer.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Well this is an interesting one.  The idea of writing in book certainly doesn’t horrify me, but I don’t do it that often.  For books written in English I very very occasionally underline or highlight or annotate a particularly meaningful sentence but this is very rare.
However, when I read Harry Potter in French, I absolutely covered it with notation – I looked up the majority of words I didn’t know, underlined and translated them.  Also, I wrote a glossary of specific HP things at the front, such as teachers, the Hogwarts houses etc etc.
I like the idea of using some paper as a bookmark and making some notes on that; I think I will try this with the next classic I read.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I try and keep my books in good condition, so that they last longer and are still nice to look at after reading!  However, I do think that breaking the spine is (in most cases) inevitable and acceptable…but I do (subconsciously) break it evenly!
So as you can see I am quite proud and careful with my books, therefore a usually use a bookmark, especially as I have collected some very nice ones over the years.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both?
I definitely read mostly fiction, but that is not to say I don’t read non-fiction.  I occasionally read biographies and like the idea of reading more historical and scientific/mathematical books in the future.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
I can stop anywhere, but I prefer to stop after a chapter, as that usually means I am not halfway through something important.  I think it is very restrictive to read only in chapters and think in modern day life it is a luxury most of us cannot indulge in.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
The short answer is no.  I don’t think I have ever been irritated enough to throw or drop a book – I am quite a tolerant person and never usually read things that I don’t expect to be good anyway!

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Well when I read in French, I look up most words I don’t know but make a logical guess at the others (I do study Latin so can usually have a good crack) – it would take too long to look up every word.
In English, I look up (or make a note to look up later) words I don’t know and if it’s quite common or a false friend I sometimes make a note of it.  There is a dictionary permanently beside my bed and I have one on my phone too.

What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and am just starting to get into it.  Next up I think will be The Subtle Knife or The Time Traveler’s Wife.

What is the last book you bought?
The last book I bought was The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith and before that was The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read?
I love reading in bed but my favourite place is on the sofa in my lounge with a cushion acting as table for my book.  I find it really comfortable there.
I really don’t mind what time I read – I just like to have a good long stretch of time available so I can really get into the book.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
Of course I love both, but there is something really special about a series for me.  You don’t have to go through meeting new characters and places as much and can get straight on with the story.  Sometimes novels, especially classics, work much better as stand alones but often contemporary fiction is great in a series.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
Yes – To Kill A Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, The Millennium Trilogy, I could go on.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.) 
This is the one thing my family/friends don’t get – I don’t organise my books alphabetically,  when it seems as though it would be one of those OCD things I would do.  However, they don’t realise that there IS a method to my (semi)madness.  I  keep authors and series together mostly, but not in alphabetical order.
I have two stacks on my desk in each corner which are mostly series like The Millennium Trilogy, the Jo Nesbo books, the Bourne books and so on – they are holding up my desk shelving unit!!
I have two older bookcases which mostly contain my childhood books, children’s reference books, textbooks etc.  On top  of one of these bookcases I have all the standalone books stacked that I have read recently – which stretches back quite a while in fact.  I take a picture of this from the same spot every month and hope to make a cool animation sometime in the future.
By my desk I have another bookcase which has 3 shelves – the bottom shelf is for the Harry Potter books, some autobiographies and a few randoms; the second shelf has some series/books by the same author on like The Hunger Games and His Dark Materials; the top shelf is my literal TBR shelf – it contains my new books in the order that I bought them, which roughly corresponds to the order I will read them in.  It is currently full with a few books on top – I try not to buy too many new books if the shelf is completely full.

My Own Question: Do you keep record of your books outside of book blogging?
I do  – I have a book journal that my best friend gave to me for Christmas and I write about every book I read in there too.  In a way it inspired me to start blogging because I thought ‘I may as well type up my thoughts and discuss with others seeing as I write them up anyway’.  I also have some lists that I cross books off when I’ve read them.
I also have to massive spreadsheets – one called ‘books to read’ which keeps track of the books I have bought and what order I will read them in; the other is ‘book library’ which lists (almost) all the books I own with various details about them so I can find information on them easily.

So there you are, some details about my reading life.  Let me know if you fill in this survey yourself and I will check it out.

June Wrap-Up and July Plans

There has not been much action on my blog this week as I have been super busy – I finally finished my exams on Wednesday; had induction days for sixth form on Thursday and Friday; a party on Friday evening; concert rehearsals on Saturday and then concert and then post-concert meal on Saturday evening; special church service Sunday morning and then packing for camping.  Yes, I am tired.  Yes, I am going camping on Monday… in England …wish me luck!

I have read an average amount in June, I think.  It has been hard to find time to read when everything has been so hectic and I hope I will have a bit more time in July.

Here’s what I read in June 2012:

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens 

Submarine – Joe Dunthorne

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins (post to follow asap.)

This is good as I aim to read at least three books every month.  This was the same number of books as I read in May.  Also, my target of at least one classic every month was fulfilled in May by Great Expectations, which I really enjoyed.

Challenge Progress in May 2012:

The Classics Club :  4/60 books read  (Great Expectations)

The Victorian Challenge 2012:  3/6 books read  (Great Expectations)

The Literary Classics Reading Challenge: 1/15 (Great Expectations)

As you can see, I killed 3 challenge-birds with one stone, which is often going to be the case, as I am involved in 3 classics-based challenges.

Currently In Progress:

During camping, I am planning to read The Subtle Knife, which is a re-read of an old favourite for me.  Also, if I have time I will read The Time Traveler’s Wife but I don’t know what sort of reading time I will get – there are 25+ of us going camping!!

June Plans:

Books:  the next three books on my TBR shelf are The Timetraveler’s Wife; To Kill A Mockingbird and The Crow Road.  As I have already said, I don’t know how much time I will spend reading this month, but hopefully I can make a start on some of these titles.

Challenges:  To Kill A Mockingbird will count towards The Classics Club and The Literary Classics so that’s good..also considering it’s my favourite book, I think I will enjoy July a lot!

I hope you have all had a productive June and are going to enjoy some down time in July; you deserve it!