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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.

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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.

The Power of Six – Pittacus Lore

powerof6Title: The Power of Six

Author: Pittacus Lore

Date Finished: 26/12/13

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

Merry Christmas to you all!  I’ve had a really great festive season this year – lots of food, church, music, family, presents and best of all….lots of reading!  It’s been so nice to be able to sit and read for a good few hours without worrying about school work etc and that’s how I managed to finish this young adult novel so quickly.  I hope you’ve all had a relaxing a Christmas as I have!

This is the second book in the Lorien Legacies series, written by Pittacus Lore and I read the first (I am Number Four) in March 2011!  I had no desperate desire to read this next book, but surprisingly I really got into it and all of today I just couldn’t put it down!  It focuses on John Smith, Number 4, his best friend Sam and the newly met Number 6 as they try to evade capture by the Mogadorians and plan their next move.  The story was really gripping and certainly had some twists and turns that made my eyes widen as I was reading!

The characters were obviously typically “young-adult-esque” with a hero, his loyal best friend, a love interest etc etc but you have to expect that in a book like this.  Six is a really great character and so is Marina; both of their legacies are so cool!! (Sometimes I do have to act my age – reading classics all the time will turn me middle-aged before my time soon 😉 ) Also the characters of Ella and Hector are very engaging – I can picture all of them so well!

I like the way the book takes us round the country and the world a bit and Lore writes in a very readable style so it is really quite effortless to read these books, which is very nice at this time of year.  I have just ordered the third book in the series and when the fourth one comes out in paperback I will get that too.  I have always been an absolute sucker for series – ever since I can remember, I have much preferred reading the next book in a series to something completely new and I haven’t grown out of this.  I do recommend this book and series to anyone who fancies a bit of young adult genre excitement.

mostly harmlessTitle: Mostly Harmless

Author: Douglas Adams

Date Finished: 21/12/13

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

This is the final instalment in the ever popular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and is just as good as all the other books!  I really enjoyed reading this and now it means I can start listening to the radio series again.

The plot in this instalment is definitely hilarious and reasonably complicated but I absolutely love the “sandwich maker” storyline and all the drama involving Trillian/Tricia McMillan and Rupert too was really good.  I have to say that I prefer the ending of the radio series, as it seems to tie everything up together – the book finishes very abruptly and we never find out what happened to Fenchurch etc.

The characters are all at their best – it’s a shame not to see Fenchurch or Zaphod but Random is a great addition to the cast and Arthur and Ford are up to their usual tricks.  Also, I missed Marvin of course!  Again, I thought this book was reasonably different to the radio series, which was quite a good thing and it was also a bit longer than most of the previous books in the series (but still short at only just over 200 pages – I wish they were all a bit longer!).

I am aware that Artemis Fowl writer Eoin Colfer has written a sixth instalment called And Another Thing, which I now intend to read in the future.  I liked the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger so I think I will buy And Another Thing soon and give it a go – I haven’t come across anyone who’s read it so I don’t know what to expect.  What I do know, is that I will be relistening to the radio series of HHGTTG very soon indeed!

Classics Club Readathon #2

ccreadathon2

It is that time of year again where The Classics Club host their annual readathon – this year it is on the 4th of January and I am excited to take part for the second year running.

Last year I focused on ploughing through some of Charlotte Brontë’s Villete which I thoroughly enjoyed.  This year I am not sure where I’ll be up to with my reading by the 4th but I am hoping to try The Warden by Anthony Trollope – a book which has been on my TBR shelf for ages and I know absolutely nothing about!  Hopefully it will be as great an event as last year and lots of you will all be getting involved!

SLATFATFTitle: So long, and thanks for all the fish

Author: Douglas Adams

Date Finished: 7/12/13

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 5/5 – absolutely fantastic

It was only August when I read the third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but I couldn’t wait any longer.  The whole series is absolutely brilliant and this book certainly lived up to the first three books too.  I am reading the books after listening to the radio series and I completely recommend both media!

This book actually offered quite a lot of content that was different (or so I remember) from the the quaternary phase radio series, which was surprising but nice.  The main plot was obviously the same, but some of the details were a bit different, which made me want to read on even more.  I do like the way Arthur is back on Earth wondering why it has suddenly not been demolished…we all know something fishy (ha ha) is going on.  The flying and the story about the biscuits are just two highlights that I remember at the moment, but the whole book was great.

We meet Fenchurch in this book, which is nice because it seems about right that Arthur gets a girl who likes him back after trailing hopelessly after Trillian for 3 books.  Fenchurch and all her weirdness are a breath of fresh air too, as she is human and the settings are on Earth for once!  It was also great to return to Marvin and the end and the whole mini-story with the rain god is brilliant too.

As you can probably tell, I am a great fan of the whole HHGTTG series and I am already reading the next (and final) book, Mostly Harmless.  Since I started reading the books about  a year ago, I have banned myself from listening to the radio series, so I am really looking forward to finishing the final book and finally getting back to listening again.  I seriously seriously recommend these books/radio series to absolutely everyone!

Deception Point – Dan Brown

deception pointTitle: Deception Point

Author: Dan Brown

Date Finished: 30/11/13

Re-Read? : First time read

Challenges? : No

Overall: 4/5 – rather good

Wow it’s been a long time since I had time to post on here!  I have been extremely busy with school work, including numerous interviews at universities all round the country!  Hopefully everything will calm down a bit now, leaving me with some time to read over Christmas, but with all the stuff going on musically and at church, I doubt I will get some peace and quiet for a while! Mustn’t grumble though: I love this season and it’s a privilege to be involved in so many different things! – busy in a good way, I call it!

Anyway, back to reading – I finished Deception Point at the end of November although it would’ve been a lot sooner if I’d remembered to pack it for my interview at Manchester University!! I spent 6 hours on the train on my own that day without a book to read…I was not happy! Nevertheless, I read it reasonably quickly once the story had gripped me and I did enjoy it, although at points it was ridiculously unrealistic.

The plot is designed to keep you guessing and gasping all the way through but was definitely ludicrous at points.  To be fair, I’ve come to expect this from Brown’s books and now I’ve accepted how ridiculous the storylines are, I can appreciate how masterfully he manages to keep the suspense building in every sentence on every page.  His books are very hard to put down, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need when reading.

The characters were pretty standard if you’ve read other Brown novels: a hero, a clever, attractive woman, a villain who is infallible until the end and a scapegoat who turns out not guilty at the end!  I didn’t particularly engage with the characters that much, but again, in these kind of books you are not really meant to.  This all sounds a bit negative – I’m not putting Brown down, I am just commenting that the format is quite predictable; it’s not a problem for me.

Overall, the plot was very unique (and silly!) and really did keep me guessing right until the very end and I would recommend this to anyone who wants a good holiday read.  Thanks to everyone who still comes along to read this blog 🙂