Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Review

2016 has been a very good reading year for me - both in quantity and quality. In total, I read 86 books, which exceeds last year's total of 80. I also read quite a number of very good books and discovered several new favourite authors.
 
My total includes 67 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 4 poetry; I'm fairly happy with these proportions. Not surprisingly, my most-read fiction genre this year was classics, with 32 books. However, I am surprised that fantasy/sci-fi came in second, with 14 books; this is clearly something I've been reading a lot more of this year than in previous years. Besides this I read 12 historical novels, 11 contemporary fiction, and 10 mysteries (some books have been counted in multiple genres). Only 3 of my reads were re-reads - I intend to improve upon this next year.
 
In total I read 73 different authors this year - this is my highest title to date, but this is mainly because I read quite a few books which had two or more authors. 47 of these authors were new to me. My most-read authors of the year were Kate Douglas Wiggin and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, both with 5 books.
 
Some of the best books I read this year were:
 
Fiction
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
One Corpse Too Many and Monks-Hood by Ellis Peters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Escape from Rome and The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Five Glass Slippers by various authors
 
Non-Fiction
Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians by Chris Armstrong
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
 
Re-Reads
1066 and All That by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Book Review: In Wartime

Summary:
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From one of the finest journalists of our time comes a definitive, boots-on-the-ground dispatch from the front lines of the conflict in Ukraine.
 
Ever since Ukraine’s violent 2014 revolution, followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the country has been at war. Misinformation reigns, more than two million people have been displaced, and Ukrainians fight one another on a second front—the crucial war against corruption.

With In Wartime, Tim Judah lays bare the events that have turned neighbors against one another and mired Europe’s second-largest country in a conflict seemingly without end.

In Lviv, Ukraine’s western cultural capital, mothers tend the graves of sons killed on the other side of the country. On the Maidan, the square where the protests that deposed President Yanukovych began, pamphleteers, recruiters, buskers, and mascots compete for attention. In Donetsk, civilians who cheered Russia’s President Putin find their hopes crushed as they realize they have been trapped in the twilight zone of a frozen conflict.

Judah talks to everyone from politicians to poets, pensioners, and historians. Listening to their clashing explanations, he interweaves their stories to create a sweeping, tragic portrait of a country fighting a war of independence from Russia—twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR.

I enjoyed reading this book; I found it interesting and informative, and it was well written. It describes recent and current events in Ukraine,  focusing particularly on the experiences and opinions of people caught up in the conflict, although there is also a fair amount of background and historical context given. As I knew very little about Ukraine before starting it, this was very helpful. It probably would help to have known a little more before going in as I found it hard at times to keep track of the people and places mentioned, but this wasn't a great disadvantage.
 
I liked the focus on telling people's stories; it helps to understand where people are coming from and the different viewpoints people have, and how they are affected by various events. The book also includes quite a few photos. There's definitely plenty of food for thought here as well.
 
I'm afraid this isn't a very good review; I don't really know how to review non-fiction. But it was a good book and I would definitely recommend it to people who are interested in knowing more about the topic it covers.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
 
I probably won't be posting much, if at all, over the next week or two but hopefully will return in the New Year. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2016

 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2016. I've read a lot of new authors this year - 43 according to my stats - and discovered quite a few new favourites, who I am looking forward to reading more from in the future. Here are my top ten:

1. Dorothy Sayers (Gaudy Night, Whose Body?)
2. Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth)
3. Stephanie Ricker (A Cinder's Tale, The Battle of Castle Nebula, The Star Bell)
4. Jacqueline Harvey (Alice-Miranda at School)
5. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
6. G.K. Chesterton (The Innocence of Father Brown)
7. Susie Day (Pea's Book of Best Friends)
8. Paula Byrne (Belle)
9. Suzannah Rowntree (The Rakshasa's Bride)
10. Henry Van Dyke (The Story of the Other Wise Man)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review: Rose in Bloom

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Summary (from Goodreads): In this sequel to Eight Cousins, Rose Campbell returns to the "Aunt Hill" after two years of traveling around the world. Suddenly, she is surrounded by male admirers, all expecting her to marry them. But before she marries anyone, Rose is determined to establish herself as an independent young woman. Besides, she suspects that some of her friends like her more for her money than for herself.
 
I read this for the 14th Classics Club Spin. It was my third time participating, and the first that I actually completed my book on time. I'd been meaning to read this for quite some time - since I read Eight Cousins in fact, which was more than three years ago! Because of this I found the beginning part of the book a little confusing as it took me a while to remember who everyone was and so on. But that was more a fault of mine than of the book, and once I got going, I really enjoyed this, more so than Eight Cousins.
 
I thought it was a sweet story. The main question of the story of course is who Rose (and Phebe) will marry but there are other things going on too, as Rose and her cousins mature and try to find their paths and vocations in life. I definitely enjoyed getting to know these characters more and, although I liked some of them a lot more than others, they were all well-drawn and interesting characters. There were one or two pretty sad parts, but the ending was happy and satisfying.

Despite the author's preface claiming that there was no moral to the story, there did seem to be a fair amount of moralising in it, but this was generally coming from the characters rather than the authorial voice, and is part of what is expected from this sort of novel. I didn't find it detracted from the story for me.
 
Overall, I did enjoy this book a lot. It wasn't quite up there with Little Women, but that would have been a hard one to match! I would definitely recommend this, especially if you've enjoyed some of Louisa May Alcott's other books, but I would suggest reading Eight Cousins first.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Monthly Recap: November

How is it already the end of November?! Christmas is nearly here!
 

What I read:
November was a pretty good reading month for me. All of the books I read were pretty good, and there were a few that were really good.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (****) (review)
Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (****) (review)
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston (****)
The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence (****)
The Princess Virginia by A.M. and C.N. Williamson (****) (thoughts on these three)
Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin (***) (This was entertaining, but I didn't enjoy it as much as some of the author's other books)
Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin (****) (I really enjoyed this; it reminded me quite a bit of children's classics like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm)
The Old Peabody Pew by Kate Douglas Wiggin (***) (Enjoyable, but nothing really happened)
 
Book of the Month: This is actually pretty difficult, because The Fellowship of the Ring was very good, but I feel like in terms of sheer enjoyment, The Archers of Isca probably wins. Whose Body? and Mother Carey's Chickens definitely deserve honorary mentions though, as they were both very good too.

Posts:
 
Currently Reading:
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
In Wartime by Tim Judah
God's Undertaker by John Lennox
 
What I Plan to Read Next:
(not that I ever stick to these)
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea
The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild
 
I'll probably read some Christmassy books in the next few weeks too, but I haven't quite decided what yet. I'd also like to reread some old favourites, since that is definitely something I've neglected far too much this year.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

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This is the first in Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, but the second that I have read. Gaudy Night was really good but, since many people consider it the best in the series, I was worried that this book wouldn't live up to it; especially as GN focuses mostly on Harriet Vane, who doesn't appear in this book, and I wasn't sure I would enjoy this as much with only Peter. I needn't have worried though; although this isn't quite as good, it's definitely still very enjoyable.
 
The mystery itself was interesting; it begins with the rather bizarre circumstance of a man discovering a body in his bath, having no idea how it got there. Naturally this is rather intriguing to Lord Peter, who decides to investigate, working with a friend in the police. There are quite a few twists and turns along the way to the conclusion (which I guessed just after Lord Peter had solved it, but before he revealed the solution), which is certainly original. Some aspects were a little gruesome but this wasn't overdone.

Another aspect of the book that I really liked was the characters, who I look forward to getting to know better in later books; it was good to see more of Peter himself in this book, along with his devoted servant/sidekick Bunter, and his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, who are all great characters. It was also just a fairly entertaining read all round. I especially enjoyed the occasional references to detective novels; there are a few times when characters say things like "if we were in a detective novel this would happen, but obviously this is real life," which I found quite entertaining.

There are a few offensive comments made by characters in the book, particularly with regards to the Jews, which has caused some controversy; although the impression I got was that these reflected the views of the characters saying them (and of many people at the time the book was written), and are not necessarily those of the author. Other than that, I can't think of many things I didn't like about this book.

Overall, this was a great book, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

This tag seems to have been going around for quite a while now, as I've seen it on a lot of blogs. I haven't been specifically tagged for it, but it looked fun so I'm going to steal it and fill it out anyway :) It originated from The Library Lizard.
 
What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
Just one?! I've long had an interest in reading about Ancient Rome (started by the Roman Mysteries series, which I loved when I was about thirteen) but I also feel a strong draw seventeenth-century England (the Civil War and so on), although I'm not entirely sure why. More recently I've developed a love of the Middle Ages. Basically anything before about 1700 :) Although I enjoy books with more recent settings too!
 
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What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
This is another hard one, because I have a lot of favourite authors who are no longer around :) I think I'd like to meet Elizabeth Gaskell, because I really enjoy her books and it seems like she was a nice person. I'd also like to meet C.S. Lewis. Besides others :)

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
Alice-Miranda at School, which I read earlier this year and I know I would have loved when I was eight or nine (I enjoyed it quite a lot, mostly for that reason).
 
What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
There are quite a lot of books that I'd hope I'd still be remembering and re-reading when I'm older! Some that I've read fairly recently that fit into this category are To Kill a Mockingbird, Gaudy Night and Gatty's Tale.

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What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
I enjoyed the world of the Cendrillon Cycle books by Stephanie Ricker, especially in the latest instalment. It's a future that is exciting with lots of possibility for exploration. (Although I haven't read many books with futuristic settings that I would like to live in!)

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
My favourite book ever is probably Anne of Green Gables, which is set in the late Victorian era - so I'll go with that.
 
Spoiler time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Yes, I do this sometimes, though not too often. Sometimes I can't deal with the level of tension in a book, or if a story appears to be heading in a direction I don't like, I might peek ahead and see if I want to continue with it or not. I'm not usually that bothered by spoiler, although it depends on the type of book.

If you had a time turner, where would you go and what would you do?
So many options! I honestly don't know where I'd start. I think I'd be too afraid of messing with time to actually do anything, more than just observing, but I think I'd like to go and see various great events from the past. I can't think of anything specific right now though, although I feel I should be able to.

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in different time periods?
I really like the concept of time travel as I think it includes lots of possibilities that could be really interesting to explore. That said, I haven't actually read that many books that include it, and it often isn't done very well. I have quite enjoyed the first few books of Sarah Woodbury's After Cilmeri series (although this kind of ends up as alternate history). And of course Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, although I don't really think of it as a time travel book since that is only a small part of the plot. But it was always my favourite Harry Potter book and probably my favourite book at one time.

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What book/series do you wish you could go back in time and read again for the first time?
That's quite hard ... I'd actually like to be able to read Harry Potter for the first time again since I don't really remember reading the first few books and I'd like to know how I felt about certain plot twists and whether or not I would have seen them coming.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Mini-Reviews #4: Historical Settings

 
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The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence
The sequel to Escape from Rome; this was almost as good as its predecessor! This book focuses more on Fronto, the eldest sibling, although we also get a lot more of the other characters than the book description implies. I love the characters in this series so much, so that was great. Like the first book, there is a fast-moving plot but it is also quite character-driven, which I like. The ending does feel a bit inconclusive, as there are a few plot strands left quite open, but since this is part of a series that is understandable (although it is quite a long wait until the next book comes out!) There was one twist in the story that, as a Roman Mysteries fan, I found very exciting, but I won't spoil it for you! All in all, this was a very good book, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the story develops through the rest of the series.
 
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Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
For a Jane Austen sequel, this was actually pretty good! It tells the story of what might have happened had Elizabeth accepted Darcy's first offer of marriage, in Kent. I'm not sure I can quite accept that, but if you can get past the premise, it's a pretty good book. The development of Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship feels fairly realistic, if a little fast; they have quite a lot to work through, since in this version of the story Elizabeth never receives Darcy's letter trying to explain what she perceives as the injuries he has done to those around her, and since she is not entirely honest about just how much she disliked him (until his proposal began to change per perception of him). The author also does a good job of delving into the implications of their decision - for example, what will Bingley's reaction be to his friend doing something that he had recently convinced him not to do (getting engaged to a woman of low connections who doesn't love him)? How will Elizabeth's family and her neighbours react, and how will they get on with Darcy? The characterisation and dialogue is mostly true to the original novel and the time period - although there are a few modern turns of phrase, and one or two historical inaccuracies, these are not major issues - and I enjoyed spotting a few quotes from the original novel.
 
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The Princess Virginia by C.N. & A.M. Williamson
Princess Virginia has always fancied herself in love with the Emperor of Rhaetia (who she has never met), so when he offers to marry her, she ought to be delighted - however, she decides that she only wants to marry him if he truly loves her, so she decides to travel to Rhaetia under an assumed name and try to win his love. Naturally, not everything goes quite as planned, but everything comes right in the end. It's a slightly ridiculous story, but a very entertaining one, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Ten of My Favourite Movies That Were Based on Books

 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is a movies freebie, so I've decided to list ten of my favourite films that were based on books. I've included miniseries as well, because there were a few that I couldn't not include. There were quite a few others I could have included, but here are ten films/miniseries that I really like and could watch over and over again:
  1. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  2. Wives and Daughters (1999)
  3. Les Miserables (2012)
  4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  5. North and South (2004)
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
  7. Cranford (2007)
  8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
  9. Ballet Shoes (2007)
  10. Little Women (1994)

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring

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So, I have finally finished part one of The Lord of the Rings!
 
Some thoughts:
 
I am completely blown away by the depth of the world-building. This reads more like a historical narrative than a story set in a made-up world. The level of detail and the different languages and cultures within the world feel real. I think this is one of the main strengths of this book for me - it makes me want to discover more about this world, and it feels like really it is only scratching the surface in this book. Some of the descriptive passages are also beautiful. I rather enjoyed most of the songs and poems as well, and felt that they added to the authenticity of the world, as many of them tell legends and well-known stories within Middle-Earth.
 
As for the story itself, I have to admit that I found it rather slow going at times; there were sections where really not a lot happened. So that did make it a little hard to get through at times. The pace did pick up a bit as the story progressed, and I'm expecting it to be a lot quicker in the remaining two books. I also found it quite difficult to keep track of all the people and place names, let alone their legends and traditions. I think it is a book I would appreciate more on rereading.
 
All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, although sometimes it was more of an awed, appreciating enjoyment than anything else. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, and hope to reread this someday too.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Ten Books I've Added to My Wishlist Lately

 
 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is Ten Books I've Added to My Wishlist Lately. So, here are ten books I've recently discovered that I want to read:
 
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Lady in Waiting by Rosemary Sutcliff
I much enjoyed the last of Rosemary Sutcliff's books that I read, and this one, about Walter Raleigh's wife, sounded interesting.
 
Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales by Elisabeth Grace Foley and others
A collection of six historical fairytale retellings which is coming out in December.


Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
A classics mystery set in 1930s Oxford sounds like something I would enjoy.
 
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
Another mystery - this is a genre I've been getting back into recently. I can't remember much about this but I obviously thought it sounded good when I added it.

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Human trafficking and modern slavery is a major issue today that I would like to know more about.
 
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
I've read a few reviews of this recently and it sounds quite intriguing.
 
After reading and enjoying the first book in this series recently, I'm looking forward to reading the rest.
 
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The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
This book was recommended to me recently and sounded good.
 
Hild by Nicola Griffith
A novel about Hilda of Whitby, who I find quite interesting as a historical figure.


The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Another book I can't remember much about, but I remember it sounded intriguing.
 
 
Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought, if so!
You can see more books that I've been on reading and adding to my TBR list on Goodreads.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Mini-Reviews #3: Children's and YA


Here are my thoughts on four books I've read recently. Read previous mini-review posts here and here.
 
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My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
I really liked this book. It retells the story of Lady Jane Grey, set in an alternative version of sixteenth-century England where some people (Edians) have the ability to turn into animals. Others think that this ability is unnatural and that Edians should all be destroyed. It's very well done and very entertaining. Definitely recommended, especially if you are a history fan.

Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff
This was my second attempt at reading this author; I have to admit I didn't especially enjoy The Eagle of the Ninth, but I'm glad I gave Rosemary Sutcliff another try! I really enjoyed this book. It was in essence a fairly straightforward story, about a boy trying to escape from slavery and find a place to belong, but it was very well done. I think the tension between "light" and "dark" moments was exactly right; there was enough suffering and danger to make the story authentic and to make you care about Beric, and what happened to him, but it never got so bleak as to be depressing; generally it was just at the darkest moment that Beric's fortunes seemed to change, and the ending was happy, although it relied on one or two convenient coincidences. Overall, I thought this was a very good, and very enjoyable book, and I'm definitely going to be reading more from the author in the future.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest
I did enjoy this, but I didn't love it like I was expecting to. I'm not sure why that was - I think I just didn't feel enough interest in the main events of the story. I liked the characters - the sister/family relationships especially, although we only get little glimpses of them. But I definitely would like to read more of this in future books; I own one other in the series, and will look into getting the rest (they are a little bit pricy though; I was lucky to pick up the two I own cheaply at a charity shop).

Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day
I really liked this. It was quite reminiscent of Hilary McKay, who is one of my favourite authors. It's quite a simple story, the story of three sisters who move to London when their mother becomes a  successful author. Although excited at first, it's not quite what they expected; Pea (the main character) finds she has a hard time making friends, and there are other aspects that don't quite go to plan - like when they arrive in their house and find they've forgotten to buy furniture, so only have a small amount from their old (much smaller) house. Overall, this was a quick but entertaining read. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series (there are four books in all, plus a companion book about the Llewellyns' next-door neighbours).

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Favourite Authors: Charlotte Mary Yonge

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Image: Public Domain

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was an extremely popular and prolific author in the Victorian era, which her writing career more or less spanned; her first book, Le Chateau de Melville, was privately printed in 1838, and her last, Modern Broods, was published in 1900. Despite this, she is almost forgotten nowadays. However, she was very influential at the time and was admired by many contemporary authors such as George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Christina Rossetti, and (especially) Louisa May Alcott. Although her books were definitely "of their time" in terms of the prevailing morality and sensibilities present in many of them, which is one of the reasons why they are not read much today, I think there are still things that can be appreciated about them today (although they are not for everyone). She is most known for her Victorian domestic chronicles, which detail the lives of (usually very large) families of characters, most of whom are interconnected (which can be confusing). She also wrote a fair amount of historical fiction, as well as non-fiction. (There is a complete list of her works, with links to download many of them for free, here.)
 
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Her most famous book is The Heir of Redclyffe (1853), one of the bestselling books of the Victorian era, and generally considered to be one of Charlotte Yonge's best. In short, it's a story about a series of misunderstandings between two cousins which lead to tragic consequences. It's also a good example of a Victorian domestic story and the characters and interactions between Philip, Guy, and their other cousins, the Edmonstones, are the main point of the story really. Characterisation is probably Charlotte Yonge's strong point, particularly in this book, and I really like some of the secondary characters, Charles and Charlotte Edmonstone in particular. (It's also mentioned as being read by both Jo March in Little Women and Rebecca Randall in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) The sequel, The Trial, is also pretty good.
 
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Another book is The Daisy Chain, which is about a family of 11 children, whose lives are changed near the start of the book by a carriage accident involving several members of the family. The story  basically chronicles the lives of the children (focusing mostly on the middle few) as they grow up: there are school and home troubles, ambitions, romance, marriage, births, deaths. The central character is Ethel, who is at first awkward and bookish, and whose dream is to build a school and a church for Cocksmoor, a poor area near where they live; this is the central climax of the novel. This book was supposed to be a part of the inspiration for Little Women, and, although I prefer LW to this, it's still worth a read. It's also a good starting point for the "linked novels", and some characters from it return in other books.

The Pillars of the House is in a similar vein to The Daisy Chain, although in this case there are thirteen children, who are orphaned fairly early on in the story, leaving the responsibility of looking after the family largely on the shoulders of the eldest two children, the "pillars of the house" of the title, Felix and Wilmet (who at the start of the story are aged 16 and 15). Again this chronicles the ups and downs of life for the family, with some children getting more attention than others. At around 1100 pages it's very long, and does drag a bit at times, but this does allow for a lot of development of the characters, and the book covers a long period of time (about 18 years). It isn't as good as The Daisy Chain, but the characters are mostly well-drawn and likeable and the younger ones are probably more fleshed out than some of the May family are.
 
I've not read any of her historical novels, except for The Little Duke which I didn't particularly care for (although it's among her most popular books, so don't let that put you off), but I intend to (The Chaplet of Pearls, which is set in 16th century France, is on my Classics Club list). I do find I usually have to be in the mood to read one of her books though, so I'm not sure how soon I'll be picking it up.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

October Recap


What I Read

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Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi. A story about a girl growing up in Egypt. This was OK, but I didn't love it. Read my review to find out more.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest. A classic children's book about twins who go to boarding-school determined to live up to the achievements of their four older sisters (which, not surprisingly, proves much harder than they expected). I enjoyed this story, but I didn't love it as much as I expected to.

Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess by Meg Cabot. This is the first in a spin-off series of The Princess Diaries for younger readers. It was a very quick read, which I thought was OK, but it would probably be good for the target audience.

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Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day. A MG contemporary novel about three sisters who move from the country to London when their mother becomes a quite successful author. It's sweet and quite funny at times, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. This was my Classics Club Spin book, so my thoughts will be up on December 1st. But I will say for now that I did really enjoy it.
 

 Currently Reading

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (Classics Club)
In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine by Tim Judah (Review copy)
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
A Book of English Poetry edited by G.B. Harrison

Reviews Posted This Month

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

Non-Review Posts

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Jane Austen Adaptations

I wrote about my favourite Jane Austen adaptations here, but I've been meaning to write a post about all the ones that I've seen for a long time - so here it is! (You can also read my thoughts on books based on Jane Austen's novels here.)
 

Pride and Prejudice (1995 & 2005)

 
 
I feel like my opinion is quite controversial here, because I actually really like both versions. Overall, I think the 1995 version slightly wins out, but only slightly. It's longer, and thus includes more of the story, as well as being more historically accurate, but I do also like the more fast-moving story in the 2005 adaptation, and I prefer Keira Knightley to Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth. The 2005 version was also my first (proper) introduction to Jane Austen, which does bias me in its favour.


Sense and Sensibility (1981, 1995 & 2008)

 
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The 1995 Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense & Sensibility is one of my favourite films, and I basically love everything about it. Even though they did add in some things that weren't in the book (such as giving Margaret a much greater role in the story and developing the start of Edward and Elinor's relationship a bit more), I mostly approved of these things. I think adding to or developing certain parts of the story is different to changing things (although they did change a few details), and the adaptation very much captures the spirit of the story.

The other two adaptations are pretty good too. They both have the advantage of being longer, so were able to include some things that were left out of the 1995 version (although they are still both under three hours and so still leave out some good bits; there needs to be a longer miniseries adaptation of this). The 2008 BBC version is very good, although there were some things that bothered me (such as the dramatic music which plays whenever Willoughby and Colonel Brandon look at each other, even before they have any particular reason to dislike each other), and it lacks some sort of charm that the 1995 version has, although I couldn't tell you precisely what it is. The older BBC adaptation is less good in terms of casting and acting and so on, but it's still quite enjoyable, and does stick more closely to the book. (Basically, I love the story, so am likely to enjoy any reasonable adaptation of it.)
 

Mansfield Park (1983)

 
 
 I've only seen one version of this, so I can't compare it to anything, although I believe this is the only adaptation that more than vaguely follows the book. It's not a great series, but it's not bad either. (Someone really needs to make a new version of Mansfield Park).
 

Emma (1972 and 1996 (ITV))

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This is an easy choice; I liked some things about the 1972 version (it has possibly my favourite portrayal of Mr. Knightley), but overall it wasn't great.

The Kate Beckinsale version, on the other hand, I really really like. It is quite short, so the story moves quickly which means it can be a little bit confusing (and hard to keep track of who is supposed to be in love with who at which point in the story), and necessarily quite a lot of things are cut; and also, the ending is a little bit random and doesn't really make sense. But I do think it is a really good film.

I haven't seen the more recent BBC adaptation yet, which is something I do need to rectify. (I actually watched the first half of it ages ago and didn't really get into it, but that was before I was properly introduced to Jane Austen. I also think Emma is a story which improves upon acquaintance; I definitely appreciated it more after seeing it once or twice.)
 

Northanger Abbey (1987 and 2007)

 
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The 1987 version is really terrible and downright creepy. (I watched it before reading the book, so didn't expect to enjoy it that much and was quite surprised when I did.) The 2007 version I think is quite good, although I've only seen it once and don't remember it that well; it was good, but not remarkable.
 

Persuasion (1995 and 2007)

 
 
Neither of these adaptations made a deep impression on me; I don't remember very much about either. I do remember enjoying the 1995 version. The 2007 version is also pretty good up until the last ten minutes or so which are just odd and make no sense. The endings of the book and of the 1995 film are much better. So I would probably recommend the first version.
 

Other Adaptations

 
 
 I also quite enjoyed Death Comes to Pemberley, Lost in Austen (mostly) and Becoming Jane (although it's been a few years since I last watched it).
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Also, webseries! I quite enjoyed The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, although I didn't think it was amazing, but I really enjoyed From Mansfield With Love. I've started watching several other webseries adaptations but haven't got that far - I'm not very good at watching these consistently when they come out. Let me know if you have any suggestions as to what else I should watch!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Favourite Authors: Noel Streatfeild

I've decided to start doing a series on my favourite authors, probably focusing more on lesser-known authors, but including some better-known ones as well. I'm not sure how often I'll post these, but I'll try to keep it fairly regular.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32697871
Mary Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986) was an author who wrote a great many children's books (and also some adult books, although I haven't read any of those). Recurring themes in her books include: family (most books focus on a group of siblings or cousins); children who are especially talented, mostly in the performing arts (acting, dancing, or music), although other talents and interests such as sports (swimming, tennis, skating) also appear; dealing with financial difficulties (sometimes in creative ways). The best known of her books is Ballet Shoes, her first children's novel, published in 1936.
 

What I like about her books:
  • Portrayal of family life: her families are mostly fairly realistic (except in terms of the amount of talent possessed); they don't always get on but are mostly loving families still. There is a lack of parents in quite a few of her books (as in many children's books), but the sibling relationships tend to be very well done.
  • Wish fulfilment: many of the children are very talented, and get to dedicate a lot of time to doing what they love, perhaps even making money from it from a young age, and a few become famous. Even if you've never really wanted to be an actor or a dancer, it's easy to fee like you do when you're reading the books.
  • Details of everyday life: I like that she often tells you how various details are organised, how much things cost, and so on. For example, Party Shoes goes into quite a lot of detail on the difficulties of creating costumes for a pageant the children are putting on, when rationing was still in place. It makes the books feel more realistic, in spite of the amount of talent the children possess; and despite this, they still have to work hard to be good at what they do and to overcome various difficulties.
  • Her books cover quite a long time period - from the 1930s to the 1970s; most of her books are set pretty much exactly when she wrote them. So from a historical viewpoint it's interesting to see how things changed over this time; in Ballet Shoes for example we have characters who are quite poor (or consider themselves to be) but still living in a big house with servants; which is certainly not the case in later books. Several books take place during the war and rationing of food and clothes also presents problems in some books. In the later books, the characters travel a lot more, often by plane, film acting becomes more common as opposed to stage acting (although both are there), and the children sometimes attend comprehensive schools (when they aren't at stage schools), rather than just private or grammar schools. And there are lots of little details and attitudes that change over time, that make it quite interesting to read some of her books from different decades.

Some of my favourites of her books are:
(some of these have been published under more than one title)

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Ballet Shoes: The best-known of Noel Streatfeild's books and probably the best, this is the story of three orphans who are adopted by Great-Uncle Matthew (Gum). Pauline, Petrova and Posy are very different girls who attend a stage school (not all willingly) and discover their respective talents, performing in plays etc. to help earn money which they are struggling for. Meanwhile hoping for Gum to come back and sort things out. Despite the title, it's more about acting than ballet, although that does feature since Posy, the youngest, is obsessed with it.

Theatre Shoes (Curtain Up!): This is a sort of sequel to Ballet Shoes, set in wartime London. Another trio of siblings are given scholarships by the Fossil sisters to attend the stage school that they went to, giving them the chance to discover their talents (or, perhaps, lack of).

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Skating Shoes (White Boots): Harriet is advised to take up ice skating as a form of exercise to help her recover from an illness. To her surprise, she turns out to be very good at it, and makes friends with another girl, Lalla, who is the daughter of two skaters and has been raised to be a star in it. Unusually for a Streatfeild book, Harriet's siblings don't feature much in the story, but there are some good home scenes in it too.

Ballet Shoes for Anna: This is another book about a ballet-obsessed girl. Anna and her two brothers are orphaned by an earthquake in Turkey, and have to go and live with an aunt and uncle in England, who are unsympathetic to Anna's ballet dreams (and to the children in general). Since they won't pay for Anna to have ballet lessons, she and her brothers have to come up with inventive ways to make some.
 
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Travelling Shoes (Apple Bough): This is my second favourite of her books. Another family of four children, all named after famous musicians; Sebastian, the second oldest, is a world famous violinist, despite being a child - but since he isn't old enough to be allowed to perform in England (he has to be twelve), he and his parents and siblings travel the world so he can play in lots of other countries. The other three, especially Myra, the eldest, are getting fed up of this and want to settle down somewhere, but their parents are keen to keep the family all together (rather than leaving the others with their grandparents for example). So the book follows Myra's desire to find a home for them, whilst Wolfgang and Ethel (the two youngest) discover talents of their own.

Have you read any of Noel Streatfeild's books? Which ones did you enjoy most?