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Bout of Books 16

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 9th and runs through Sunday, May 15th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 16 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I really enjoyed Bout of Books when I took part in January 2015. Unfortunately owing to a bunch of issues I’d been unable to participate again… until now.  Fortunately for me, this Bout of Books falls on the week where I’m going on holiday with the specific priority of reading. I’m packing a suitcase, going to a small cottage on the Isle of Arran with my boyfriend, and all I plan on doing is reading, eating, and drinking wine.  It’s a much needed break after a really stressful year or so, and I’m really looking forward to visiting an island I’ve been to twice before – once when I was eight, and once when I was fourteen – with fresh eyes. Over the next fortnight I’ll be picking my books and packing, and I can’t wait to share all this with everyone and get back into doing what I do best – chatting about books.

 

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This week I will mostly be reading…

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This week, I will mostly be reading:

Pictured above, from top to bottom:

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz and other stories – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer

Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

I finally managed to regain a little momentum towards the end of last week.  I finished Emma and my review for it has gone up.  I’m still stalling on Gormenghast because I’m finding it, physically, a hugely inconvenient book to read as it’s so large and heavy.  I’ll finish it at some point, but I’m trying not to let it become an albatross around my neck as I’m enjoying it immensely.  As well as finishing the original Emma, I’ve read the Alexander McCall Smith modernisation of the same book, as well as All the Bright Places over the weekend.  I’ve already written reviews for both, and those will go up Wednesday and Friday respectively.  Fair warning: neither review is particularly flattering.

So, for this week, what’s coming up?

Everything is Illuminated is still my priority behind Gormenghast.  I hope it will help spur me on even more out of this slight reading slump (I have my own suspicions on why it started but don’t want to say too much on a public blog).

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is a nice short one.  I’m hoping it’ll be a more positive experience of Fitzgerald than my last attempt, which was reading half of Tender is the Night and heartily disliking it.  I’ll probably give the latter a go again at some point.  (For the record, The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books).

The Grand Sophy is one I’ve been looking forward to, as many have compared it to Jane Austen in terms of wit and romance.  I’m hoping that I find it to my taste.  I tend to sway wildly one way or the other with these things.  For example, Cold Comfort Farm is often said to be witty in the same vein as Jane Austen and I didn’t find much to smile about in that one!

We’ll come to the close of January this week.  For starters, I’d like to say thanks to everyone who’s followed my blog, or commented, or liked posts over this month – it’s been a really positive experience!  This is probably the longest I’ve persevered with a blog as I tend to get discouraged really easily.  I’m trying to remember I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, and it seems to be working.  You’ll also perhaps remember that, at the start of the month, I posted a picture of the books I hoped to read this month.  I’m obviously a little over-ambitious – including those above, I still have seven of those plus half of the Gormenghast trilogy to read.  I shall not let that discourage me!  Depending on what I get done this week, those books will most likely role over into next month.  However, I’ll keep one mantra in mind: it’s up to me.

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Review #2 – Emma (Back to the Classics – 19th Century Classic)

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Dates: 3 January – 23 January

TL,DR: Mr Knightley still > Mr Darcy.  Discuss.

Firstly, this is my first book that I have read for the Back to the Classics challenge: a 19th Century Novel.

Let me just get this out of the way:  I love Jane Austen.  I’ve read all of the major novels.  I’m not an expert or anything, and I haven’t read much in the way of the juvenalia or Sanditon or anything, but it’s telling that I would have a hard time ranking five of those six novels in any sort of sensible order.  This one, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion are probably my favourites, but I don’t have an order in which I could sensibly put them.  Then Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey sort of bounce around somewhere below that – they both have things I mildly dislike but I don’t think I’d go so far as to find actual fault in them.  I loathe Mansfield Park but that’s down to me just plain (probably unreasonably) hating the main character.

But if I had to pick one heroine that I identify the most with, for worse and for better, it’s Emma.

I feel like she’s got a bit of that “only-child” syndrome (despite not actually being one).  She’s headstrong, and self-assured, and like a lot of people, definitely thinks she could run other people’s lives better than they could.  Unlike Emma, I’m not comfortably wealthy (or, at least, I wasn’t brought up wealthy).  So my machinations have mainly been contained to complaining archly to my boyfriend.  But, I don’t know, there’s just something about me that loves Emma’s silliness, loves how she really does think she’s doing the right thing, and how she learns to finally actually do it.

Her relationship with Mr Knightley can seem a little bit weird to a modern audience.  He’s a bit older than her, and he can tend to be a bit paternalistic towards her.  What I liked about their relationship, though, and why I tend to be forgiving towards it, is that it has a naturalness and, in particular, an honesty which I felt was refreshing.  Mr Knightley is never double-faced to Emma (or at least not intentionally.  It’s arguable that his jealousy of Frank led him to criticise him more strongly than was necessary to Emma, but I’d wager that was not consciously done, as such).  He tells her what he thinks because he respects her enough to know that she can handle it.  In a lot of ways, he does actually treat her as an equal – he knows the upstanding kind of person she can be and he expects her to live up to that.  Mr Knightley would never be rude or sullen in the mode of a Mr Darcy.

One thing I enjoyed even more this time around was the relationship between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill.  Because I was properly watching out for it this time, I noted a lot more of the clues from before Mr Knightley airs his first suspicions of the truth.  I enjoy Frank’s enthusiasms, even though they don’t always come from a place of sense.  And I like Jane a lot more than I did previously.  Also, this book has some of Austen’s best side characters – Mrs Elton is a particular treat.  She’s so excruciating that I couldn’t help but cringe every time she opened her mouth.

Emma has had several modernisations recently, including the Austen Project one I mentioned earlier, but probably more notably the Emma Approved series brought to you by Pemberley Digital, the Youtube channel that created The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  It’s not as good as LBD – the characterisation and cast weren’t quite as on point – but it’s definitely worth a watch if you enjoy Austen and like modernisations of her work.  In particular, the actors who play Emma, Mr Knightley, and Frank, are really interesting, fun interpretations of what the characters could be in a modern day setting.  Harriet is a bit one note, and I had a strong dislike for their characterisation of Jane Fairfax, but I think that was mainly due to the slight change to the nature of her relationship with Emma which I felt made it deeply inappropriate for her to behave as she did.

There’s very little for me to say about this book that hasn’t been said already.  I’d encourage anyone who’s read Pride and Prejudice to go here next.  Emma is a deeply flawed heroine, but I think that’s why I love and identify with her so much – even the most flawed of us can come good.  Even the most flawed of us can be loved.

I give Emma ten out of ten.

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Top Ten Tuesday – Freebie time!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favourite Epistolary Novels!

Thanks again to The Broke and the Bookish. So, inspired by a conversation that I had on Twitter last week (if you want to follow me there it’s @beingsuzie by the way) I wanted to make a list of my favourite epistolary novels.  I really, really love these kinds of novels; I suppose I just think it’s an interesting way to get into the heads of characters – especially when they often  leave so much to the imagination about the surrounding people in the main character’s life:

For the avoidance of doubt:

An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.

Thanks,Wikipedia!

  1. I Capture the Castle – this remains, to me, the ultimate epistolary.  Set (largely) in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere in England, with a cast of characters including the frustrated writer Mr Mortmain, Topaz, a hippy-like model, Rose, beautiful and longing to see something else of the world than what she already knows… and of course, Cassandra, my favourite forever, who chronicles all of this in her journal.  Despite the improbable circumstances, there’s something so true about the emotions as portrayed in Cassandra’s diary – even those of others.  Highly recommended.
  2. Les Liaisons Dangereuses – how could I not include this?  It’s a surprisingly easy read, a rip roaring tale of passion and betrayal.  The machinations of Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquis de Merteuil are just deliciously evil and the excess of drama is balanced really well with the more realistic undertones of characterisation.  Also, props for including such a complex female character as the Marquis.
  3. Finding Cassie Crazy (and the other Ashbury books) – these books are so much fun!  They’re also probably the first books I read that were set in Australia.  I’ve picked the second one, but really the first three are all amazing in different ways.  Though I don’t think the idea of the original project (exchanging letters between a private school and a state school) is very realistic it makes for a very realistic portrayal of the lives of teenagers.  It was so much more emotionally authentic to my experience of growing up than a lot of American YA.  The fourth book is not really very good, but the first three remain some of my favourite books even now.
  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I probably don’t need to say much about this one.  I know it gets a lot of stick for being pretentious but I really liked this.  I think that Chbosky is a a pretty incisive writer and he writes about the big emotions pretty well.  Realistically, I think this is one you have to read when you’re a teenager, especially if/when you’re going through a period of feeling isolated from your peers and having difficulty understanding what you feel about growing up.
  5. The Moonstone – I unexpectedly loved this! Often touted as the writer of the first mystery stories, Collins has such a wonderful sense of glee and wonder in his writing, coupled with some of the most wonderful and amusing character sketches that I can think of.  You can see the mutual influence that he and Dickens have on each other, but this is definitely lighter than a Dickens novel – that’s not a criticism, just an observation.  The story centres around the titular moonstone and the mystery surrounding its disappearance.  It’s told through a series of statements by the people peripherally involved in the incident, and still feels exciting and innovative nearly 150 years later.
  6. The Remains of the Day – this story is just heartbreaking. The meditations of a butler on his increasingly obsolete profession and the relationship between his master and himself.  Definitely worth a read if you like Downton Abbey as you can see the same themes of the decline of the British aristocracy.
  7. Attachments – this is just so much fun and easily Rainbow Rowell’s best novel to date (though Eleanor and Park is also very good).  Although the premise of reading someone’s emails without their knowledge is pretty creepy I think it’s handled fairly well.  The relationship between Beth and Jennifer is just so beautiful and touching that it really carries the book and makes it worth reading.
  8. Flowers for Algernon – don’t read this if you’re feeling even mildly depressed or sad.
  9. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 – has the funniest first five pages that I have ever, ever read.  Honestly, you can tell this book’s age, but it doesn’t matter because there is so much that is funny and recognisable in this book.  I’ve only read one of the sequels, but this first book is a classic of British literature for a reason.
  10. The Color Purple –  I expected this to be kind of miserable and, I’m not going to lie, there are some horrible bits in there.  But there is a running undercurrent of hope in Celie’s letters and this is an important book for people to read for many reasons.

So what are your favourite epistolary novels? Please recommend me some!

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This week, I will mostly be reading…

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This week,  I will mostly be reading…

Pictured above, from top to bottom:

Emma by Jane Austen

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake

So here’s what I’ll mostly be reading this week! You’ll notice that there’s not been much of a change from the start of this month.  I’ve not spent as much time reading lately as I’d like.  This is odd, as I’d been going really well until the turn of the year.  Hopefully it’s just a tired patch.  Anyway, the first book there is Emma, which I’m about 40% of the way through as of today.  I’m only making slow progress with it as I’m not reading it at home, only on my commute and lunch break.  I’m really enjoying rereading it, as I’m picking up on so much more of the foreshadowing of things that happen towards the end of the book than I did the first time through.  I’ve got Alexander McCall Smith’s modern rewrite lined up for afterwards, and I’m really looking forward to that too.  I like modern rewrites a lot, even though they don’t always do anything innovative with the text.

Everything is Illuminated is what I’ve got lined up for after I finish Gormenghast. I’m kind of nervous to read this one.  I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close near the end of 2013 when I was in a pretty big reading slump and was generally pretty depressed.  Although it was pretty self-conscious and a bit pretentious,  I really enjoyed it and it really spoke to me, especially the meditations on grief.  So I’m hoping that this one will still work for me now that I’m in a much better head-space.  Foer has a bit of a rep for being pretentious and not being as clever as he thinks he is, so we’ll see how I get on with this one.

Finally Gormenghast.  I’m about one third of the way through the second book in the trilogy, and I hope to finish it by the end of this week (I said this last week, and the week before…) The thing about these books is that they’re very dense.  Even though I don’t find the language difficult, or what they’re describing hard to imagine, there’s just so much of it.  It’s been said by many that Peake writes like a painter and that’s true – his imagery is so alive with colour and artistry that it works so much better for me than most other extremely visually descriptive writing.  If I could make one small criticism, he’s a little a repetitive.  For example Steerpike’s “high shoulders” or Fuchsia’s “inky black” hair is referred to at least once every couple of pages.  I’m not sure, maybe it’s intentional, but it doesn’t really work for me.

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#TBR2015RBR – Checkpoint 1!

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First thing I want to say is apologies for going awol at the end of Bout of Books and generally not posting this week.  I’ve had a terrible week – I’ve started a new job and the commute has been a bit annoying.  And it’s just generally been awful: on Monday I got locked out of my flat, Tuesday I got soaked on the way home, Wednesday my lunch exploded in my bag and balsamic vinegar got everywhere, Thursday I twisted my ankle, and Friday I got stuck out in the driving snow for an HOUR while I waited on a taxi as it was impossible for me to walk to the station as I have to walk down a really steep hill and I would have broken my neck.

So that’s where I am right now.

Anyway! I’ve really been enjoying the concept of the TBR Challenge, so here’s my first update post.  I’m going to post a review of the first book that I read tomorrow (even though I’m not counting my first full book as actually read until I finish the Gormenghast trilogy).

My Progress: 0.33 of 12 Completed / 0 of 12 Reviewed

I may have flew a little too close to the sun with wanting to get the whole Gormenghast trilogy finished in January.  It’s a lot longer than I thought! My one volume edition looks a lot shorter than it actually is.  I’m also really enjoying it so I don’t want to rush through it and not savour it as much as I should! If I get to the end of Gormenghast itself I’ll be happy, and I’ll definitely read Titus Alone before the end of the year too.  I’ll have a review up for Titus Groan before the end of the weekend.  This is a seriously, seriously good book.

Question of the Month: Which book on your 2015 list has been on your shelf the longest?

I don’t remember exactly when I bought a lot of these books.  However, I think the ones that have been on my shelf the longest are the ones that I got for my 21st birthday (three and a half years ago, eek!): the Gormenghast trilogy, Tam Lin, Big Fish, and Dreams Underfoot.  All of these are books I was looking forward to reading, so I don’t know why they’ve been there so long! I sometimes have a problem with saving books I think are going to be good for when I’m “in the right mood” or “when I can really appreciate them” instead of just reading them!