I don’t really collect quotes from books, so this is quite tough for me to answer, but there are a few quotes and passages that I really like and that have stuck in my mind:-
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
“I shift, an infinitesimal movement, towards him. It is like the leap from a waterfall. I do not know, until then, what I am going to do. I lean forward and our lips land clumsily on each other. They are like the fat bodies of bees, soft and round and giddy with pollen.”
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell
“He takes Iris’s hand. He lifts it. He places it slowly, very slowly on his chest. Just above his heart. Iris can feel it jumping and jumping, as if it wants to be free…
“That’s my heart,” Alex says, without moving his eyes from the television. He has kept his hand over Iris’s pressing it down into his chest. His voice is even, conversational. “But it’s yours really.” ”
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
” “You have a very lovely and unusual name”
“My father was a lovely and unusual person” ”
Bring up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel
“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not the disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if only you can see it.”
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
“It was strange…that even in the weirdest circumstances, the most trembling episodes of one’s life, the greatest divides from home and familiarity, there were these moments of undeniable joy.
On a sunny morning in Boulou, Barley and I boarded the early train for Perpignan.”
Of all of the above quotes, my favourite is the quote from Madeline Miller in Song of Achilles. This is my favourite ever description of a kiss in a book, and I absolutely love the image of their lips like bees.
In preparing to write this post, I have been looking back over old notebooks to see if I had written any quotes down. I was surprised to find that I had written down quite a few passages, though some were far too long for this blog. What I did find is that I write down a lot of real life quotes from magazines and newspapers, and it wasn’t until flicking back through the old notebooks that I realised just how much I do this.
I was recently given a notebook for my birthday and I am going to start using that to pull together in one place all of the little bits of writing that I discover when reading, but also real life quotes too. It will be my own little book of inspiration.
As a child, my family knew what a bookworm I was and so I was given a lot of books as gifts, especially from aunties and uncles. One year, I was given two sets of children’s classics, containing books such as Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables, Robinson Crusoe and many more. I haven’t yet read any of them. It is so shameful, but nothing pre-20th century was going to tear me away from The Babysitter’s Club at that age.
I have been meaning to get around to collecting these from my parent’s house and finally reading them, and so I suppose that those classics have technically been on my to read list the longest.
As for a book which is currently on my bookshelves, the one that has been sitting there the longest is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I picked this on up on the first ever World Book Night in 2011. I got quite a bounty of books that night and I have read them all save for this one.
To be honest, I don’t even know what this book is about. The blurb gives few clues and describes it as being about four people thrown together in 1970s India after the Government declares a state of internal emergency. It sounds like it has potential – one of my current reading trends is reading books which are set in other countries and cultures, so I think I probably would quite enjoy this. I’m not quite sure why I haven’t yet picked it up – I think it is partly because I don’t know anything at all about the story (though obviously I could easily find out), partly because I have so many other books on the to read list that this one just keeps getting inadvertently neglected, and partly because my initial impression of the book is that it will be quite a heavy and serious read.
I think I owe it to this book and to World Book Night to prioritise reading it, I just have to finish the book I’m reading now and then there are the library books ….
This is quite a hard question for me, as I don’t tend to read books that are funny. Or rather, some books have some funny moments, but on the whole they are not intended to be written or read as comedy.
The exception to this is the two Bridget Jones’ books – they really make me laugh every single time I read them and they just don’t get old for me. But I’ve already written about Bridget Jones in a previous post so I’m not going to repeat myself.
Then there is my beloved Harry Potter, That has some moments of pure comedy. I’m thinking Ron belching up the slugs, Ron getting attacked by the brains, Ron asking out Fleur and pretty much anything involving Professor Lockhart! But I have also written about Harry Potter so many times that I’m decided to put a bit more thought into this and came up with…
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
This is the story of a family coming apart at the seams in the wake of the eldest daughter Katie’s remarriage to Ray. Her father, George, is looking forward to a comfortable, quiet retirement, her mother, Jean is having an affair and her brother Jamie seems to have the perfect life until he fails to invite his partner Tony to the wedding. As for Katie, she has no idea if she actually wants to marry Ray or not. And so, chaos ensues.
It’s actually been a while since I have read this book, so I don’t remember all of the fine details of the plot and the characters. What I do remember is an overall impression of this book making me laugh. George and Jamie in particular provided some great moments.
I was first introduced to Mark Haddon by a friend who recommended that I should read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. She described this to be as being really sad. So I gave it a go, and I actually found her comment quite condescending (and I told her so!) as it is not a sad story at all – it deals with some difficult issues in a remarkably positive way and by the end I was left wondering how much time we actually waste in not saying what we mean and not meaning what we day.
A Spot of Bother is similar to this. It is dealing with a family where every member is going through their own personal crisis whilst they are supposed to be trying to pull together for a wedding. It covers some potentially heavy issues, such as adultery, being a single parent, sexuality etc. However like The Curious Incident, it does not get bogged down in being too serious and provides so many comic moments that overall it is a very positive and light hearted read.
I have The Red House sat on my bookshelves waiting to be read and I hope that it will provide the same comedy and lightness as A Spot of Bother. I am also adding A Spot of Bother to my re-read list to remind myself of all the laugh out loud moments that I have forgotten since I originally read it.
Today’s topic is about the most surprising plot twist or ending. I’m going to be talking about two books by Lionel Shriver – The Post Birthday World and We Need to Talk About Kevin. If anyone hasn’t read these books and doesn’t want to read any spoilers then stop reading now…
Lionel Shriver is truly one of my favourite authors. Her writing is powerful, frank and so full of honesty. There is not a single wasted word in a Lionel Shriver novel. One of my favourite aspects of Lionel Shriver’s novels is her endings, because they always leave me thinking for ages afterwards.
The Post Birthday World is the first book that I read by Lionel Shriver. I think it was a freebie, because I had never heard of her before and probably wouldn’t have picked it out myself. It has a similar premise to the film Sliding Doors, as it tells two versions of the story of the main character Irina – one where she stays in a safe, loving but dull relationship with her long term partner Lawrence, and the other where she embarks on a passionate affair with a married friend, eventually leaving Lawrence for her much more volatile relationship with Ramsey.
It is cleverly written throughout, as many aspects of the two stories mirror each other. In one story, she has the affair and leaves. In the other, Lawrence has an affair and leaves. There are ups and downs with both sides of the story as well. But my favourite part of the whole book was the ending. Ramsey (in one story just a friend, in the other her lover) dies of cancer and the final chapter is his funeral. But we are not told whether Irina is attending the funeral of her friend or of her partner.
It leaves the reader with the question – was it better for her to have stayed safe and never had an affair with Ramsey, or was it better to have experienced this hugely passionate love but then lost him?
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Wow. What a book. This is a story about the mother of a child (Kevin) who commits mass murder in his school. The story is told through a series of letters written by Eva to her husband, Franklin. The letters range over the early parts of their relationship, their decision to have a child, her difficulties with Kevin as a child, the birth of their daughter Celia and the eventual build up to the shooting.
Some of it is very tough to read. Eva is a classic unreliable narrator who portrays Kevin as some kind of abnormal child from birth and cannot see her own failings as a mother. There is one scene when she throws him across the room as young child and he breaks his arm. Even this she twists into being Kevin’s fault, and describes him looking at her with triumph as he knows that he now has one over on her.
The ending totally took me by surprise and I did not see it coming at all. We knew all of the way through the book that his attack in the school was going to take place, but what Lionel Shriver kept so cleverly concealed was the attack that happened at home first of all. The whole way through I believed that Eva was writing to her estranged husband. We find out at the end that he is actually her dead husband, having been killed by Kevin before he went on his rampage.
Maybe I’m just slow and perhaps other readers of the book will have picked up on this much sooner than I do. It is not often that a book takes me by surprise in this way, but I had genuinely not seen it coming and that just reinforces to me what a clever writer Lionel Shriver is to keep her secrets so well concealed.
I’m not normally shy or embarrassed by what I read – I will even admit that I quite like Twilight under duress (though typing that did make me cringe). There has only been one occasion when I have been too embarrassed to own up to reading something, and it was not just a book, it was a whole series:
The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike
I was 13 years old, I had just started High School and it was one of our first English lessons. The teacher was going round the class asking us to speak about our favourite books and what we had most recently been reading. She was getting closer and closer to me and my mind was going into panic mode. I had come from a small school in a small village where your classmates come to be like family. Now I was in a big school and I hardly knew anyone. I didn’t want to be judged for what I read.
I don’t know what I actually said that I read. I might even have got away without answering the question altogether. The truth is, at that age I was vampire obsessed and The Last Vampire series was my absolute favourite.
Sita is a vampire, but she lives among humans. She is thousands of years old and so she has decreased sensitivity to the things that would normally harm vampires (e.g. daylight, crucifixes etc.) so she is able to lead a pretty regular life. Except that she is super strong and agile and she drinks blood (but not human blood). There are six books in the series, in which she has to battle the First Vampire, a bastion of evil. However, the humans that she is trying to protect see Sita as the threat and so she becomes a hunted woman.
I guess I must have thought that these books were pretty poor to be ashamed to admit to reading them, or maybe it is because I was so ahead of my time and didn’t want to admit to being a vampire lover! But even though I was too embarrassed to say that I liked them, I really did like them. I wanted to be Sita – I loved her strength and her abilities. I even started writing a story at the time about a 13 year old girl who thinks she is ordinary until she finds an old diary in the attic from which she finds out that she is descended from vampires.
I loved Christopher Pike’s vampire series so much that I read pretty much everything else that he wrote. It is my one venture into sci-fi and I loved it. I can still remember a lot of the stories quite well, having not read them now for almost 15 years.
I find it hard to be objective about childhood books because I do view them with a lot of nostalgia – if I read them again maybe I would think that the writing is terrible and the plots make no sense. But writing this post does make me want to read them all over again, and be less ashamed of admitting it this time!
- Preger Entertainment to adapt Christopher Pike’s ‘The Last Vampire’ series (herroyalguardian.com)
- “The Last Vampire” gets Movie Rights! (fangirlingcentral.wordpress.com)
This is a tough one to answer as I have read some great books within the last 12 months, but the one that really stands out for me is Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford.
Set over a decade around the First World War, Parade’s End is the story of Christopher Tietjens – a man who belongs in the 18th century and struggles to reconcile himself with the modern, changing world. Tietjens is married to the beautiful but cruel Sylvia, when he meets Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette, with whom he is constantly linked. When war breaks out, Tietjens is forced to re-address everything that he believes in.
This is not an easy read. I knew within the first couple of pages that I was going to struggle with it and that Ford’s very unique style was going to take some getting used to. There were times when I thought I would never get to the end, and times when I wanted to give up. It is hard to get used to the jumps in time in the story – there will be huge leaps forward and you will have to fill in the blanks in between from what is said in the present of the story. That can be unsettling and it is a challenge.
I persevered and I’m so glad I did, because this is not only the best book I have read in the last 12 months, it is one of my all time favourites.
It’s difficult for me to put into words what it is that makes this such a brilliant read, but I will give it a go. Firstly, it is the characters. Tietjens is so strict and regimented in his belief systems and he has such an unshakeable self-control. He does not care what people think about him at all. He is hopelessly mismatched with Sylvia, who is modern and fun loving and incredible passionate, for all that she is cruel. She needs someone to be passionately, hopelessly in love with her and doting on her every word. She does not have that with Tietjens – he is the epitome of a reserved English country gentleman, and marriage has nothing to do with passion. The book begins with Sylvia asking for Tietjens to take her back after she has run away with another man. Tietjens doesn’t believe that a man should divorce a woman and has scrupulously ensured that no hint of scandal has attached to his wife’s name. But he takes her back in such a businesslike manner that Sylvia takes every opportunity to be cruel to him just to provoke him and to try to make him drop his facade.
Then there is Valentine Wannop. She has had a tough life – from being brought up by her father to be well educated and to speak Latin as well as she does English, she is forced to take any work she can (including as a main, a secretary and a teacher) when her father dies to support her mother. She is also a suffragette, and that, along with the hardships she has faced would suggest that she should be quite a hard character – she is obviously a survivor. But she is not. She is very soft and gentle and kind. Sylvia in contrast had always had every privilege, and so you would expect her to be a soft character, but she is not – she is passionate, yes, but she is cold and cruel.
The relationships between Tietjens and Sylvia and Tietjens and Valentine are exquisitely drawn. The whole way through I was debating does Sylvia actually love Tietjens, and will Tietjens ever be able to act on his love for Valentine or will his principles stand in the way?
Although set around and hugely influenced by World War One, this book isn’t really a typical book about the war – it is about Tietjens. The war provides the catalyst for change within Tietjens by which he re-evaluates what it is that he stands for; but this works both ways and the change in Tietjens is representative of the sweeping social change triggered by the war. However, for anyone interested in this book for the War alone, those parts of the book really are excellent and realistically depict the total chaos for the troops on the ground, the terror of the shelling and the snipers, and the near impossible strain that this places on a man.
If anyone is thinking about reading this book, my advice is do it. If anyone is reading it and thinking about giving up, my advice is persevere. It will be worth it. It is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about after I had put it down, and I immediately wanted to pick it straight up again to look for all of the little things that I might have missed the first time around.
I would also highly recommend the BBC TV adaptation – it ends earlier than the book does, and it skims over parts of it (such as Tietjens complicated relationship with his brother Mark), however it is a really well written and well acted adaptation.
Or to give this post it’s full title, least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise.
The split time narrative does it for me.
What I mean by this is books that focus on two main protagonists in different time periods. They tend to follow the same pattern all the time – something happens to protagonist A in the past, which ends up becoming some kind of secret or mystery. Many years later, protagonist B finds out some little piece of information that sets them on the path of uncovering the secret of protagonist A. We then follow as protagonist A’s secret is slowly revealed both by following the action as it happens to protagonist A, and by following the investigations of protagonist B, each moving on the other’s story. Protagonist B’s also goes on their own journey and their life changes as a result of learning about protagonist A.
Sounds neat, doesn’t it?
It is neat and I actually do quite like this. My issue is that it is now used to often, or maybe I’ve just read it too often because the types of books I’m drawn to are the type that will use this device.
I first read it in Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I thought it was really an original way of telling a story and both parts of the story complemented each other really well.
But I feel like this is so overused now and is such a trend in modern literature. I now steer clear of books with a split time narrative unless I am really, really attracted by the story or I don’t realise that it is going to be used.
My other problem is that it is rare for authors to write both stories so that they are evenly balanced, which means that I usually find that I prefer one part of the story over the other (and for me, it is usually the historical story).
The best example of this is The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies. This ended up on my bookshelves quite randomly as the third book in a 3 for £5 offer, so I didn’t expect very much of it, and parts of it I absolutely love. The story is described in the blurb as being about the modern day search for The Mysterious Bird of Ulieta, a bird once owned by the naturalist, Joseph Banks. To solve the puzzle, the modern protagonists, Fitz and Gabby must find out about the woman that Joseph Banks loved, who has effectively disappeared from the history books. It is a race against time, as they are not the only people hunting for this mysterious bird.
For me, this book is not about Fitz and Gabby. It is about Joseph Banks, his work and his love for his mistress, the unconventional Harriet, whose love for nature matches Banks’ own, but as a woman, she is denied the opportunities that he has. The historical story was beautifully written, the characters were well drawn and a really tender relationship flourished between them. Banks accepted how society viewed women, but he never saw his Harriet in the way that society did – he saw the real talent that she had and nurtured this.
The modern story added nothing at all to this. It is described as being a complicated and dangerous search for the bird, however the reality is that it was neither. I felt the modern story was all filler. The book would have been very small if it had only focused on Banks and Harriet, and really would have been a short story or a novella. But it would have been so much better as a result – the modern story just got in the way and left me frustrated for interrupting the historical story that I was enjoying so much more.
I do think that there still is a place for the split time narrative if it is done well. I particularly enjoy the way that Maggie O’Farrell uses it in her stories, dicing up and jumping between events in the timeline of her characters. It is very clever, because it draws the reader in, only gradually coming to know and understand the characters and the relationships between them as the story moves on. It gives a real depth to the characters and their relationships, and ramps up the intensity.
I think the split time narrative can still be done really well, but on the whole I do think that it is overused. Most of the time, I would much rather read a straight historical story, or a straight modern story.
The original question for the day 21 post was to talk about a book you tell people you’ve read but haven’t, or haven’t actually finished.
I racked my brains to think of a book that would fall within that and I just couldn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever claimed to have read a book that I haven’t read. There are some books I’ve read and not finished, but I’m honest about that – I’m very, very stubborn when it comes to finishing books that I have started to it has to be pretty exceptional for me to give up before the end. If I do give up, I will own up to it.
So I decided to change the question to a blog that I was intending to post at some point in the future – the books I just can’t finish no matter how hard I try.
There are two that spring to mind:-
1. Vanity Fair
As far as I am concerned, I am still reading this book. I haven’t admitted defeat yet, I’m just having a little break because it is so long. My bookmark is even still inside it, so that means I’ve not given up, doesn’t it? The fact is, my little break started something like 18 months ago and I’m not any closer to picking it up and finishing it.
I absolutely loved the idea of Vanity Fair – quick witted Becky Sharp making her own way in the world and rising higher and higher before the inevitable fall. I haven’t got to the fall yet.
My problem with this book is that I can’t stomach the narrator. I know that styles were different writing in that era, but I just want the narrator to butt out. His commentary and opinions on the characters and the stories really get in the way for me. He is standing between me and the story and the further into the book I got, the more irate I became until I had to stop because I was beginning to dread picking the book up because I knew that it was going to annoy me.
2. Lord of the Rings
I have tried a couple of times with Lord of the Rings, and each time I get a little bit further into it. On my first attempt, I got no further in that the first few chapters. On my second attempt, I got halfway through. Maybe if I have another go in the future, I might actually finish.
The trouble I have with Lord of the Rings is that it is too detailed and too slow. There are some really good moments in the book, but they are separated by endless dull moments. I don’t need to be told what they eat for breakfast or how far they walk each day or any of the other trifling details. The chapters where the trees were deciding whether to join the battle were excruciating – I get that they are hundreds of years old and probably don’t make any decision quickly, but it was painful reading the plodding chapters whilst they pondered their decision.
In the end, I have up halfway through because it had taken me ages to get to that point and I felt that there was too much still to happen. I wasn’t really enjoying it by that point and couldn’t face any more of the same.
I think what these two books have in common is length and pace. If a very long book moves slowly then I become frustrated at the feeling of making no progress which starts to hamper my ability to get into the story. But I have proved to myself this year that I can slog out a long and slow book by completing Les Miserables. Maybe I should give these books another go. But they have to compete against all of the other unread books on my shelf and on my amazon wish list, all of which I am really looking forward to reading. Maybe there is not enough time in one lifetime to try to force myself through something that I am not enjoying.
Are there any books that you just can’t finish?
- The top 10 books people claim to read but haven’t (tysonadams.com)
My childhood reading was all about series of books. I read my way through Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club, The Saddle Club, Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley University. But my favourite amongst them all:-
The Famous Five
This is where it all started for me. These are the first books I remember reading myself, and they are also the first books that I remember having read to me. The first books I ever bought for myself were the first three Famous Five books from my Granny’s coffee morning at Chapel.
The Famous Five is the adventures of Dick, Julian, Ann, George (aka Georgina) and Timmy the dog. They would spend every summer together in the home of George’s parents, Fanny and Quentin, and they would get into all sorts of scrapes and adventures. They would go sailing, and camping. They helped catch smugglers and solved the mystery of the ghost train. They looked for treasure and ate picnics and went on long walks and just generally had a marvellous and exciting time!
My Dad read these books when he was a boy, and he passed his love of the books onto me when I was a young girl. He would read a chapter of the Famous Five to me each night before I went to sleep and he absolutely brought the books to life with his exaggerated telling of the stories and impersonations of the posh characters. Sometimes I would beg him to read on because I would be so absorbed in the story and in his telling of it. He would always oblige. If I was lucky, he would carry on reading to me until I fell asleep, so I could dream of their adventures.
I absolutely treasure The Famous Five. I was very young and so I remember snatches of them rather than whole stories, so I can’t pick out one book from the series for this post that I love above all others. I imagine that if I read them again now, I would find reference to a lot of sexism and probably some racism that I had not picked up on as a child. But I think I would literally forgive them anything, because all of the wonderful stories that I have been privileged enough to read in my life started from there.
- 30 Day Book Challenge (Day 14) (jessdrain.wordpress.com)
Oh, this is going to be a long one. How can I choose just one author? It would be like someone to choose between their children. I have so many authors that I love, and I’m discovering new ones all the time.
Here are my favourites:-
Daphne Du Maurier
The Time Traveller’s Wife is one of my all time favourite books, and although her follow up, Her Fearful Symmetry, did not capture me in the same way, it is still an excellent read. Her ideas are really original and well executed, and her prose is wonderfully lyrical. Her books to me are works of art.
She makes the list for her complex and empathetic characters, her brilliant portrayal of New York society and her emotional endings. The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence are two of my favourite classics. I definitely plan to read more Edith Wharton.
I have read all of the Tudor series and most of the Cousin’s War series. I love her books for bringing these eras so vividly to life and for her focus on the female characters – history can so easily overlook the influence behind the scenes of powerful women and Philippa Gregory brings them back to the forefront.
For making me laugh. I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Spot of Bother. I have The Red House on my bookshelves waiting to be read. He deals with some serious issues with real humour. He also created a very memorable character in the Curious Incident, and maintained a very authentic voice throughout.
Every time I open a book by Lionel Shriver it blows me away. Her writing is so powerful and so full of honesty in every word. The Post Birthday World is one of my favourite books, and I will be talking about this more in a later post. So Much For That is a very long book dealing with terminal illness. It should be a slog and it should be depressing. But in Lionel Shriver’s hands, the pages fly over and it manages to remain so uplifting and full of humour. She is a really special writer. We Need to Talk About Kevin is the most famous one, but her other work that I have read is every bit as good.
Chris Cleeve has a thing going on where there is no blurb and no clues as to what the book is actually about. This intrigued me with The Other Hand so I decided on a whim just to buy it and give it a go. I loved every single word, and so now, I have bought into the myth. I don’t need to know anything about the subject matter of the book or the characters – if it is by Chris Cleeve, I will read it because I know it will be good.
J K Rowling
Harry Potter is a series that I absolutely treasure. We fell in love with Harry, went through some very dark times with him and she absolutely provided the ending that he deserved. I’m now really looking forward to reading her adult fiction – a copy of The Casual Vacancy is the latest addition to my bookshelves. Although crime fiction is not really my thing, I am also going to read Cuckoo Calling when it is in paperback. There is no pressure and no expectation from me – I don’t think that J K Rowling has anything to prove after bringing us something as wonderful as Harry Potter.
She is quite a new discovery for me and I’m really enjoying working my way through her books. I love the intensity of her characters and the relationships between them. She is one of those writers that pull you right into the story so you feel as if you are living and breathing with the characters through every moment of their journey. This means that her books are very memorable and I have loved everything that I have read by Maggie O’Farrell so far.
Again, he is quite new for me. I started off reading A Week in December and I have since read Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. His writing is absolutely flawless and incredibly frank at times. It is his attention to detail that really makes him stand out for me – he obviously knows his characters absolutely inside out and this makes them well rounded and utterly believable, as he is able to drop in the little details that make people real.
The Brontes – all of them
It is so tragic that so little has been published by the Bronte sisters, though it just makes what has been published that much more special. Emily and Charlotte’s work is the most well known, but I have a real soft spot for Anne and I think she is quite underrated. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an excellent read and is right up there with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. For any other Bronte lovers, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Bronte Museum in Haworth. This is the parsonage in which the Brontes grew up and it is an incredible experience to walk in their footsteps and look out the window to see the view of the moors which inspired Wuthering Heights.
What about you?
I am always on the lookout for new authors to try whose work I haven’t read before, so who are your favourite authors? Is there anyone not on my list that would be on yours?