Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books I’ve read this year, looking back, I haven’t read many books this year! So I’ll share the ones most worth talking about.

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1-5 A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin – these beasts took me about 3 months but they were the most amazing things ever! (Except book four but no series is ever perfect).

6. Shopaholic to the Stars – Sophie Kinsella – I was actually a bit disappointed with this one but I’ve been waiting for it for 4 years, so it deserves a mention.

7. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion – One of the best books I have ever read. I’m getting the sequel for Christmas.

8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova – At 700 pages it’s a long read but it’s fascinating, all about Vlad the Impaler.

9. This is Shyness – Leanne Hall – I’ve just finished reviewing it and it was one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. (You can find my review here)

10. The Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling – Technically not a new book, I re-read it for the one hundredth (and something) time when I was stressed about something. I find re-reading my favourites very therapeutic, don’t you?

That’s my list! I think I need to read more new books next year – that can be my resolution! How about you? What have you read? Link up below!

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Top Ten Character-driven books

This week’s TTT is top ten character driven books and is, as always, hosted by the delightful The Broke and the Bookish.

I love Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m seriously struggling not to repeat myself. This is a really special one for me, because as anyone who reads my blog will know, I LOVE characters. I think they make or break a story.

So here I go:

1) GOT – I talk about this every bloody week so I don’t need to say anymore. Love you George. a-game-of-thrones-the-story-continues-the-complete-box-set-of-all-7-books

2) On Beauty – Zadie Smith. This is writing back to Howard’s End by Forster. You don’t need to read Howard’s End to enjoy it (in fact I would recommend never reading Howard’s End). Smith is a character master. They’re the most vibrant characters and she explores fantastic themes of race, academia, and of course, beauty.

3) Sherlock Holmes – A.C. Doyle. I think with any eponymous novel there is certain necessity that the work is character driven but I think we can all agree Holmes’s is very interesting. Watson too. Irene and Moriarty? In the original they’re not that fascinating. In fact, they’re barely in it.

4) One Day – David Nicholls. Again, I know, I talk about this every week. But it’s one of my faves and you can’t talk about characters without talking about Dexter and Emma, after all, it’s the story of their lives.

51pSErJc3oL5) The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon. This story is all about the mystery of the characters, the plot moves slowly at time but the reveal is worth it.

6) World War Z – Max Brooks. There is no real plot to this book, no characters as such either. But I wanted to include it because the book consists of a series of interviews and they just feel so alive. Brooks really captured lots of different voices which I loved.

7) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I think Atticus Finch may be one of my favourite ever characters. Reading through a growing child’s eyes took some amazing talent on Lee’s behalf. It’s a wonderful story about people.

8) The Hours – Michael Cunningham. This is the story of three women, in three different times. Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It explores themes of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (except in a readable not modernist way). This is not a happy book but it is a very interesting one.

9) Where Rainbows End – Cecilia Ahern. I have a real soft spot for this book. Ignoring the logic issues of this book, it’s just lovely. CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndThe whole thing is written in letters, emails etc over the lives of two people who love each other but always seem to just miss each other. Heartbreaking. Lovely. Read it in a day.

10) The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric. I go on a lot about this one too … but it’s great. So many different voices tell the story. There’s the mad Minguillo, the madder nun, the lovely doctor, the battered heroine. Ah it’s amazing. Read it immediately.
What about you? What’s your TTT?

Judging Books by their Covers . . .

As a figure of speech, ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is a lovely sentiment, look to the inside and don’t be superficial. It’s a really great lesson. But when you’re talking about actual books, you know what, I completely judge a book by it’s cover.

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The cover is the first thing you notice, it can make you want to pick the book up or make a mental note never to touch it.

My friend Maddie refers to the chick lit section of WHSmiths as ‘the pink and purple bit’. She’s got a point. Chick lit covers are 9/10 pastel shades or varying degrees of pink. You don’t even need to read the title to know that’s their genre. The same goes for the supernatural, there’s a lot of black. In fact the more you think about it, the more you can pick out a genre and audience before actually reading the title of the book. (Also try googling these and looking what images come up: historical novels, teen novels, chick lit novels… you’ll start noticing similarities).

I’m not saying that the first impression is necessarily the right one, but I can’t help it. If the cover’s appealing, I’ll read the title, if I like that I’ll flick to the blurb, if the blurb’s good, I’ll read the book. This has backfired on me for better and worse.

CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndFor instance, Cecilia Ahern ‘Where Rainbows End’, has, in my opinion, an appalling title, 12367267-2an unappealing cover and a crap blurb – but you know what, I really enjoyed the book.

 

On the other hand, Claire Merle ‘The Glimpse’, has, an intriguing title, an interesting cover and a good blurb – yet I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages it was so bad.

So what about you? Where has your cover judgement let you down? What have you picked up that was an unexpected delight. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & The Bookish. Each week they release a Top Ten Theme and invite everyone to join in and make their own Top Ten List.

My list was much harder to make than I thought. Turns out I go for books more the authors, but here are the authors I own the most books by:

1. Arthur Conan Doyle – I have the complete Sherlock Holmes (I haven’t read every single story yet but I will!)

2. Sophie Kinsella – All the Shopaholic books and Can you Keep a Secret. She’s the queen of chick lit and I’m very excited for the new Shopaholic.

3. J.K. Rowling – come on …

4. C.S. Lewis – All the Narnia delights – haven’t read them in eons

5. Anthony Horowitz – The Power of Five is amazing – I still need to read the last book.

6. Belinda Jones – From my chick lit teen days

7. Meg Cabot – (See above comment) – I loved her Missing series

8. Oscar Wilde – I’ve cheated with an anthology but there was a whole module on him

9.  Roald Dahl – I love his stories and I can still recite the Cinderella Revolting Rhyme off by heart

10. George R.R. Martin – My current book series! I’ve got one more left to read, come on George hurry up and get the next one!

What are your faves?

Reading Like a Writer: Game of Thrones Edition

Thanks to the lovely people at Casual Readers I’ve just published my first ever guest blog. And here’s another look here!

I don’t know about you but I reread books, sometimes more times than I can keep count of. Every time I pick up an old faithful someone will ask, “that again? But you know what happens!” It doesn’t matter that I know what happens, I still enjoy the journey. There’s another reason too, as an aspiring writer, rereading stories teaches me how the the author has created their story.

I can’t help but read like a writer. Reading like a writer and reading like reader is the difference between reading actively and passively. There is nothing wrong with reading passively, we all know it’s lovely to read and turn your brain off but writers, even if they’re only amateurs like myself can’t help but look for the how and why.

I’m going to use George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of books as an example (and I’m going to try very hard not to include any spoilers). I started the first book A Game of Thrones about six weeks ago and I still have one and a half books to go before I’ll have finished the series. But I developed a theory about one of the main characters half way through the first book, although I don’t yet know for certain that I’m right, I have every reason to believe Martin is pointing in this direction.

In the very first book you’re introduced to a character called Jon Snow (portrayed by the beautiful Kit Harrington), he’s the bastard son of Lord Stark and he’s been raised in his father’s household as one of his children. But Jon’s life isn’t quite like his highborn brothers and sisters, the Lady of the household despises him, he is colloquially known as the bastard and his father keeps his mother’s identity a closely guarded secret.

Why? Was my first question, what is the point of giving Lord Stark a bastard? Good writers don’t introduce big characters like Jon Snow without a purpose, but as a bastard Jon is fundamentally limited in Martin’s world, so why make him a bastard?

My second question regarded the identity of Jon’s mother, it wasn’t who she was but rather why she was a secret. One explanation could be that Lord Stark didn’t want to upset his Lady wife but other than seeming a pretty flimsy excuse, he has no trouble telling her to keep her nose out when she asks. So why the secret? A Game of Thrones is written in the perspective of different characters, Lord Stark could tell the reader her identity in any of his chapters but he doesn’t. In my experience, a writer explaining away someone like they have Jon’s mother is for two reasons. One, the writer hasn’t actually thought it through (a bad writer), or two because it will become significant later and Martin has invested in his world too thoroughly for it to be anything but the latter.

By half way through book one, I’d reaffirmed that Jon’s parentage was important because the question of his mother continued to be raised. Also by this point, I’d gotten to know Jon’s father much better and the more you read of him, the odder it seems that this man even has a bastard. Lord Stark is honourable to his core, you know it and other characters know it, but siring Jon while he was married seems far from the honourable picture Martin has created of Lord Stark. In fact, it starts to seem distinctly out of character. Lady Stark is forever miffed by Jon and the way Lord Stark fiercely protects the identity of his mother, she says he must have loved her very much.

But the only woman Lord Stark loves other than his wife and daughters, is his sister. The same sister who was set to marry the king before her untimely death, and Lord Stark did make her a mysterious promise on her deathbed…

Before I seal my lips, I’ll present you with one last question, why has Martin included such a rich background for a character that died before the story starts?

A friend of mine read GOT at the same time as me and didn’t come to the same theory. Another friend has finished the entire series, he holds the same theory but didn’t come to it until very late on. The difference between my friends and I was that I read this as a writer, I was looking for clues and asking why right from the beginning.

I will hold my hands up and admit that I don’t know if I’m right about Jon’s identity, but if I’m wrong all Martin’s signposts have been planted wonky.

Please let me know what you think! I think I’ll start ‘Reading Like A Writer’ as a monthly thing, so let me know your thoughts or any book ideas!

But it’s a Classic …

Put your hand on your heart and answer honestly, how many classic stories have you ever read just because you wanted to? … If you’re anything like me the answer will be under five.

Almost every classic novel or story I’ve read has been at the hand of a reading list, I’ve rarely ever picked one up to read for the sake of reading. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent classics out there and some that are even easy to read (‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Persuasion’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ …) but in my experience, whether I’ve found them worthwhile or not, reading classic novels can be a slog.

Let’s look at the facts:

– Generally they are very long

– Generally they are very wordy using archaic language of their time

– Generally the plot moves very slowly (have you ever tried to read ‘Robinson Crusoe’?)

And by the time you come to modernism in the early 20th Century, the plots are so damn incomprehensible that you’re no closer to understanding them at the end than you were at the beginning- (I mean ‘Ulysses’ was written to be difficult to read).

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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big bibliophile and I think teaching literature to the next generation (and a lot of the current one) is vital. But more than that, I enjoy reading and therefore I want to read books I enjoy and that can exclude a lot of classics. So what qualifies as a classic? Why do we read them if they’re difficult?

According to Wikipedia, a classic book is “a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, either through an imprimatur such as being listed in any of the Western canons or through a reader’s own personal opinion.” Pretty vague, right? By definition, the very basis of a classic novel is completely subjective. (And any lit student knows what a pain in the bum subjectivity is).

For me classic literature falls into three columns: easy books I enjoyed, difficult books I could appreciate and difficult books that I didn’t appreciate. In column one, let’s take Austen, I enjoyed ‘Persuasion’ because it was easy and I can appreciate it’s importance lies in the way it documents social norms of Austen’s time… but let’s call a spade a spade, if Austen were writing now she’d be a successful chick lit author. Then in column two there’s Dickens, I can appreciate ‘Great Expectations’ and I’m glad I read it, but I enjoyed it more after I’d read the final page. Finally in column three, there’s ‘Caleb Williams’ by Godwin, the most boring book I’ve ever read and even after a lecture  I fail to see why it’s important.

So here’s my question, do you enjoy classics or do you read them because they’re worthwhile? Which ones did you enjoy? Which did you think were worthwhile? And which would you banish to room 101 for being schoolroom torture?

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Colouring in the Words

So far I’ve accomplished three things this week, seriously hurting my neck from trying to do an 8 minute abs work out, getting an abysmally low score on a pub quiz and beginning going over my book. I’m sure my neck and general knowledge will get better and but my book’s a bigger problem.

Just to catch you up if you haven’t read my previous post, I’m writing a book about five recent graduates who steal a load of money to help them get by in a time where they have no idea what to do next, so of course thievery seems like the best option available. It’s supposed to be funny and a bit ridiculous but have enough heart to relate to the graduates out there going through the same thing (minus the robbing).

So far, I can say the writing’s not bad (yay) almost good the more the story progresses but I work on that later. My concern now is that the story isn’t substantial enough, it feels a bit flimsy. I’ve got good motivation, I’ve got well rounded characters and I have a clear plot but my story still feels a bit thin (unlike me because I’m unable to do anymore exercise – damn my weak core).

I’m one of those freaks who likes grammar, I actually enjoyed editing essays at uni, but editing the big picture and moulding the plot is so much harder than fixing sentences. I wish I could lay my whole book out in front of me and absorb everything at once but no visual metaphors are helping right now. My lack of objectivity here is a big problem, I’m too close to tell whether it’s a good story, I’m finding problems everywhere and mucking about with sentences where I should be fixing content. My confidence is ebbing and my nerves are frayed from a whole load of small, medium and big spiders appearing at very inconvenient times.

When I’ve read the whole thing once, whether I’m happy with it or not, I’ll hand it over to someone else to read, namely my good friend (and the superior writer) Phoebe. I can trust her to be brutally honest with me and she can trust me not to get all offended and cry. I’m essentially asking her to strip my story down and point out every flaw she sees, it’s not going to pretty but it will be helpful. I figure I’m in for a lot of criticism down the line so I may as well begin it with my friends, who will hopefully be gentle.

I need your help too! If you were reading a graduate story like this, what kind of things would you want in it? What do you think would give it meat (so to speak)? Any comments and anecdotes are more than welcome!

(Apologies for the aesthetics of my blog – I’m new to wordpress and I’ll make it look nicer once I figure it out a bit more!)

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