The Hunger Games

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After weeks of teaching English and seeing numerous girls reading this trilogy during silent reading time, I decided it was time for me to beginThe Hunger Games. I am always slightly sceptical about books/series of books that receive such hype, especially as I was recently left disappointed by a certain Swedish thriller series that receives a lot of press, so I think I have been putting off picking up this book, despite purchasing it months ago for this very reason. I need not have worried, I loved The Hunger Games and found it difficult to put down my kindle and actually do some school work.

For those who have yet to read this, see the film, or who have avoided hearing people rave about this series, The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic version of America; a rebellion has torn the country apart and many are living in poverty and still being punished for events from decades ago. The country is ruled by the Capitol, and each year as a reminder of the dangers of defying the Capitol, The Hunger Games are staged; a fight to the death between two children from each district of the country – think Battle Royale and you pretty much have it.

The Hunger Games follows the journey of Katniss Everdeen, a teenage/popular fiction heroine I can actually admire and who does things on her terms, but showing great humanity and emotion in such a difficult and challenging situation. I wanted to read about her journey and continued to do so out of a connection to the characters and not because I felt I should finish the book to see what all the hype is about. I am so happy there is actually a female character in popular teenage fiction who is strong, determined and resourceful, kind and intelligent. I am sure there are people out there who can name many who fit this criteria, but after a certain vampire/dark romance series giving off the whole obsessively in love, ‘I must marry him as soon as I finish school or my life will be over’ vibe, it is great that there is a balance. Not that I am crazily feminist, but I like to think we have moved on from girls only wanting to get married. Now I realise I might have shot myself in the foot here as I haven’t read the next two books, but I am praying the trilogy ends in a fitting and believable way, which so far i am sure it will; I hate an anti-climatic ending, especially one where it appears the author has chickened out of killing any major characters!

For now it is back to school work and baking, currently attempting to make jam!

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It’s time for Persephone Classics to join the bookcase!

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Finally a Persephone Classic has landed on my bookcase!

Since I joined the blogging world back in the spring I have been introduced to some fantastic authors and many books I would never have discovered for myself, which is one of the main reasons I love book blogging. Persephone Books fall in to this category. For months the ‘P’ word has been making appearances on my literary radar and I have been telling myself I WILL go in search of various authors when I am next in a bookshop/have money to spend on books. And the opportunity arose yesterday afternoon.

I was back visiting my mum and had moseyed to the next town for a look around. When we first moved to that particular part of Wiltshire three years ago, the local town had an amazing independent bookshop, with rickety old shelves groaning with classics of all kinds and from all publishers, a corner dedicated to poetry books and tables of history books; some had even taken on that yellowish tinge that old books seem to inhabit so well. Sadly this has now shut down and has been turned into a little boutique shop/cafe. Luckily for me the shop still has one bookcase dedicated to second hand books (for £1!) and it is here that I discovered Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance. Whipple’s name has also been creeping into my vocabulary recently, so I must admit I was particularly pleased with my find and I very much look forward to delving into this novel.

Weekly Wrap Up

My wrap up posts are somewhat sporadic (thank you Clueless for teaching me that word many years ago), but in an attempt to neglect work, which is terrible, and in a plea for help, which I’ll get to shortly, I have returned to this form.

I am currently on half term, which is great, although I feel a tad strange from the sheer amount of free time I have. I have been kept busy with marking Controlled Assessments, reading and thinking about what I will be teaching next term. One of the school’s new areas of Foch is promoting reading for pleasure, a valuable past time, which I am sure all in the book blogging world are keen to promote. Therefore I have a little request to anyone who reads this; I am creating reading lists for all my classes, so any recommended reads please let me know. They can be anything, from any period, any genre, any author, the more options I have the better as it is important to have a huge range of possibilities. I have also begun the process of creating a school blog so the student can take part in book blogging too. However I am a little disappointed that WordPress will not let me create a blog wi one administrator and lots of authors, but I shall overcome this somehow.

I have found lots of time for reading for pleasure for myself as well, and I still have a week to go! I finished L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between and moved on to the next in the Agatha Raisin series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. I am a little sad to find out that none of my local libraries have the next in the series, especially as I wanted to read them in order, so who knows what I will do the next time I want to read about the delightful Mrs. Raisin.

In the last week of term I asked my Year 7 classes for various recommendations, for other students, teachers, family etc. and have created a ‘Book Recommendation’ wall in my classroom. Needless to say The Hunger Games appeared several times, and since I have spotted so many students reading it and seen it EVERYWHERE I decided it was time I picked it up. I’m about a quarter of the way through the first one and I am enjoying it very much at the moment.

All in all a good weekend, and I am looking forward to devising these reading lists and hopefully inspiring more reading outside of the classroom.

The Go-Between

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‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Arguably one of the most quoted and well known opening lines of any novel; I would at least put it up there with the opening to Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca. I’m not sure where I first heard this infamous line, but I know that this novel has been on my reading list ever since…and I am pleased to say I finally got round to reading it.

L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, set in the long, hot summer of 1900, is essentially the reflection of on old man looking back at a mysterious and shocking event that occurred on the cusp of his movement into adulthood and had a dramatic impact on his life thereafter. Leo is visiting a school friend at the imposing Brandham Hall when he is called upon by his friends older sister to deliver letters to a local farmer. Leo, naively believes these letters are of a business nature, but when he discovers the reality he is plagued by guilt and forever looking for a way out of his role as Mercury, the messenger boy, unaware that the ending will come sooner than he thinks and will hold traumatic repercussions for all involved.

The novel is told from the first person perspective of Leo, and this allows the reader a fascinating insight into his mind and how he interprets the events at hand. His innocence, and the trust placed in him, is somewhat hard to imagine in the modern day; he genuinely has no idea as to the true relationship between Marian and Ted, the farmer. This leads to a great sense of dramatic irony throughout the novel as we, the reader, are fully aware as to what is happening right in front of Leo’s eyes, and the tension built up throughout (will Leo figure it out? Will the family find out?) is what kept this novel going for me, especially as I have been crazily busy and had little time for reading over the past week.

For me there is one character that stood out, and caused me the most conflict: Marian. I constantly flitted between liking and admiring Marian, after all she was a woman trapped in a society that famously oppressed women’s rights, and therefore had very little say as to who she would marry, what would happen to her etc., and hating her. To a certain extent she is to be admired for going after the man she loved, regardless of the cost, however it is this cost that causes me to dislike her. Marian, albeit cleverly, manipulates Leo throughout the novel, and uses her femininity to ensure he stays trapped as their messenger throughout the duration of his stay. I found myself coming to the Epilogue with few good thoughts left about Marian, until the final pages, when she summed up her life and that of the twentieth century beautifully:

‘We did have sorrows, bitter sorrows…But they weren’t our fault – they were the fault of this hideous century we live in, which has denatured humanity and planted death and hate where loving and living were.’

Yes it is true that this can be seen as an elderly woman’s last chance to push the blame and responsibility elsewhere, but who can blame her? She was young and in love at the turn of a new century, a century that promised a fresh start and peace and unity across the British Empire, thus a more fulfilling and happier life for all, instead she was met with forbidden love, death, devastation, abandonment and decay. I’m not saying that the impact her selfish actions had on Leo’s life and the loves of her loves ones are to be forgiven, it’s just that Hartley so convincingly persuaded me to pity her at the end.

The Classics Club Monthly Meme #3

‘Why are you reading the classics?’

I have always loved reading, from as far back as I can remember I have never been without a book within grasping distance, but at school I HATED the various set texts we had to read, and due to the curriculum many of these were classics, of both the British and American variety. Luckily for me that is not the reason I am pursuing the classics now! For me the idea of forcing myself to confront something I disliked at school, such as science, and voluntarily blog about it makes me feel a tad uncomfortable, and I don’t see the point. Ok maybe I would learn something new, and I probably wouldn’t have as strong a dislike towards said subject, but I don’t think I could happily blog about it with passion and enthusiasm, or on a regular basis.

Fortunately for me, I had amamazing Sixth Form English teacher who ignited my passion for the classics, mainly Victorian literature, and I have never looked back since. I know that if I hadn’t met this teacher, or been in her lessons, then I definitely wouldn’t have ventured off to university and I certainly wouldn’t be an English teacher myself. She helped me to understand the importance of context when studying the classics, and how this in turn can lead to a greater understanding of the novel, language and the time period as a whole. I love the idea of curling up with a great classic, with a good cup of tea and being transported to a different time and place.

Perhaps I’ll take this question on a slight tangent, as I want to address the reasons why I have joined ‘The Classics Club’. There are many novels on my list that I have read before, or ones by authors I have read before, so you could almost argue I have read half my list before I even started. Yet there is method in the madness (!); reading/studying texts at university, when you are reading X amount of other books, coping with living away from home and, if I’m honest, going out at every available oppotunity, which in my case was most nights, is entirely different to taking your time when reading the classics and having no deadline in order to finish and discuss the novel. I want to reread these books on my own terms and savour each chapter, as opposed to rushing through and attempting to finish the final chapters when feeling slightly worse for wear. I don’t regret my time at university, and I certainly don’t regret my choice of course/lifestyle, but I look forward to giving these classics the time and attention they deserve.

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller is set in the 1920s in the small Wiltshire of Easton Deadall. The village has been left devastated by the loss of nearly all its men in The Great War. This is not the first tragedy to leave a haunting overshadow; in 1912 the village, and the Easton family, who lord over them all in the stately Easton Hall, are left confused and distressed by the mysterious disappearance of five-year-old Kitty Easton, the daughter of the house. Despite numberous extensive searched no-one has seen or heard from Kitty in nearly 13 years, with her father long dead (killed in the war) and her mother’s health decreasing, the familiy’s search to discover what actually happened to Kitty becomes more frantic. Enter Laurence Bartram.

Bartram is the hero of Speller’s previous novel The Return of Captain John Emmett, a fantastic read that I devoured long before I joined the blogging world. Although a handful of characters from this novel appear in The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, they can easily be read as stand alone novels, and I would highly recommend them both. So yes, Bartram, a church expert, arrives at Easton Deadall in a bid to help his friend, William Bolitho, to renovate the small family church. Bolitho is attempting to breathe life back into Easton Hall by creating a maze memorial to the village’s war heroes, and this maze theme runs throughout the novel, taking on various, and unexpected forms. Laurence quickly becomes intrigued by the disappearance of Kitty and, although perhaps reluctantly at times, attempts to discover what actually happened on that fateful night when she disappeared many moons ago.

I absolutely LOVED this novel. It is filled with so many twists and turns I was kept guessing as to Kitty’s fate right until the closing pages, something that is hard to find in a modern novel. On several occasions I was convinced I had figured out what had happened, who was involved and why they did it, only to realise pages later that I was wrong and needed to guess again. This element of suspense and tension was upheld throughout the novel, with mini mysteries supporting that of the fate of Kitty Easton. This was particularly important to me as a reader, as I felt I wasn’t being set up for a huge anti-climax; the plot was not simply working towards one resolution and focusing solely on that, it was exploring the lives of other characters, and the trials and tribulations of surviving the war and growing up in the shadow of such utter devastation.

There is something about this time in history that appeals to me, I love both contemporary literature of the period, and modern day literature that aims to recreate this fascinating period. The links to historical context rang true throughout, and I found myself turning down pages like crazy as I came across descriptions/passages that I just had to remember, but I am just going to discuss two of them here. The men of Easton Deadall followed in the footsteps of Kitty’s charming and forceful father Digby and joined him on the battlefields in France. Digby was from a generation of priviliged upper class men who truly believed war was a game just ready to won, and were proud to lead the men on their estates into the glorious battlefields of France and on to everlasting victory:

‘To death, more like, Laurence thought. He had come across men like Digby at Oxford: on the river, at college balls, follwoing a beagle pack. Men so handsome and so physically able it was hardly surprising they glowed with confidence.’

This image of Digby as the stereotypical upper class soldier hero resonates with the reality of the period. These men genuinely believed they were invincible and that they would come back from war in a few months, bathed in a glow of patriotic pride. A doomed dream.

It was not just the men who made huge sacrifices in the First World War. Women of the period lost their entire generation of men: brothers, fathers, sons, childhood sweethearts, husbands and friends. For some women this was not the only sacrifice they made. The life of an upper class woman was evolving, they were no longer expected to stay at home and play the dutiful wife, but were beginning to make huge leaps and bounds in terms of equality. Two of the female characters originally met at university, and the sacrifices and actions of one is summed up beautifully:

‘Eleanor is passionate, about injustice, about people she loves, but she is also…dutiful. She was a nurse in appalling conditions in France. She gave up her academic life, swapping quiet libraries, summer punts on the river and tea parties for bloof, pus and vomit, caring for boys turned into leaking carcasses for a war she didn’t even damn well believe in. That she didn’t even have to be a part of.’

The hardest thing about finishing this novel, and actually sitting and writing the review, is that now I cannot decide if I want to stay in the First World War period or venture elsewhere for my next read…

Weekly Wrap Up

I love October! Not just because it is my birthday month, but because I love the weather. One of my favourite things about living in Britain is the sheer unpredictable nature of the weather, and yes I realise I might be the only person in Britain who feels this way. I love the crunchy Autumnal leaves and the changing of the trees, the blustery days and the dark nights. Unfortunately it has been raining a little more than I like this past week, so I have yet to experience the beautiful weather, but the weather is defying me and it is lovely and sunny today.

So yes it was my birthday this week whoo! I’m typically selfish and I love birthdays, not only my own, but other people’s the whole gift/card buying process. I had a lovely birthday this year. It was a little sad as I was away from my family, but I had a great time in school, with presents and a cake from my tutor group. They were very sweet and all hid and jumped up and shouted “SURPRISE” when I walked in in the morning. I had some lovely presents and two particular books ones I just had to blog about.

My old university housemate appears to be on a mission to domesticate me, I guess the year of looking after me and making me chicken pie prepared her for future birthdays, and this year she did not disappoint. I was very happy to unwrap an amazing looking cookery book called Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache filled with many lovely recipes for cakes, cookies, biscuits, scones, drinks etc. I am excited to try out a first recipe tomorrow.

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I also received a book from my mum, and a book I credit the blogging world for introducing me to. I have read numerous rave reviews about the writing of Elizabeth Taylor, so I felt it was about time I experienced her for myself and with a little help from my mum I soon will be. I gave her a few possible book suggestions, as I love surprises and she chose The Complete Short Stories of Elizabeth Taylor. As with my cookery book, I cannot wait to dive into this book and discover the writing of Elizabeth Taylor for myself.

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All in all it has been a fabulous week, although I haven’t done much reading. Life at school has become crazy and I have assessments and reports for all of my classes looming in the upcoming weeks, but I am determined to make more time for reading as I have so many great books on my shelves and on my wish list that it would be a shame to neglect them all and turn into a workaholic.

Hope you have all had a fabulous week too?