The Island

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The most magical thing about reading is that with a good book you can be transported to another time and place and sometimes this can make you want to travel, to see more of the world and discover more about the history of different countries and cultures. This is how The Island has made me feel. I visited Crete with a friend and her family when I was about 14, but when you are a young teenager you don’t have the freedom to travel as you wish and truly appreciate the beauty of the place you are experiencing. Now I want to go back. In fact I don’t just want to go back I want to travel to other exotic places too!

Alexis is in her mid twenties, unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend and longing to find out more about her mother’s mysterious past. Sofia has never spoken about her upbringing in a small village in Crete, but despite her reluctance to discuss her past she agrees to give Alexis a letter to take to an old friend and promises that this will help her discover more about her Cretan family. On her arrival in Plaka, Alexis is surprised to discover that just across a small stretch of sea is the island of Spinalonga- Greece’s former leper colony. She is even more surprised when she meets Fotini and is told that her great-grandmother Eleni is buried on the island. And so begins a family history plagued with tragedy, passion and fate.

The majority of the novel is set in the past, starting in the 1930s and taking the reader through the German Occupation of Crete during the Second World War to the lepers leaving Spinalonga in the 1950s and to the reasons why Sofia left Crete an never truly returned. Despite a slow start to the novel, mainly due to the fact it was set in the modern day and the scene needed to be set, as soon as I got to the part in the 1930s I was swept along with the story and the romance of life in the small village of Plaka. The Petrakis family are devastated by so many tragedies from the moment Eleni is diagnosed with leprosy. At the time lepers were cast out of society and sent to live in isolation so as not to infect others. It was heartbreaking reading about Eleni’s split from her family and her two young daughters, Anna and Maria. Unfortunately this was not the last tragedy to hit the family and over the decades they are victims to disease, ill fated love, passionate love affairs and true selfishness on the part of one sister and selflessness on the part of the other.

Leprosy is not a disease I know a great deal about; I have vague childhood memories of people telling me that lepers lost their limbs, but that is the extent of my knowledge. Conditions on Spinalonga when Eleni first arrived were appalling, with no electricity and little clean water provisions. However the island is probably one of the few places that truly benefited from the war and it soon began to thrive as a successful community. It was interesting to read how the island developed over the years and how the battle against leprosy began and the lepers were finally able to leave their isolation. I can imagine it is a haunting place to visit even now.

I really did enjoy this book and there were many occasions when reading it when I was shocked and was shouting ‘no’ at the pages in disbelief. I love the feeling of being surprised by a storyline, even if it is a sad way, and The Island delivered this 100%. As I have said, I preferred the parts of the novel set in the past as there was more of a romantic and mysterious element to the storyline provided from the different time and culture. Luckily for me the majority of the novel was set in the past, so this was the perfect romantic read. Although don’t get me wrong, there is much more to this novel than just some light hearted, fluffy romantic story. The Observer is quoted on the front of my copy sating that this is ‘a beach book with a heart’ and I wholeheartedly agree. If you are looking for a compelling read for your summer holidays I would definitely recommend The Island.

I handed this book out at school as part of World Book Night and all of my copies were quickly snapped up. Some of us who have been reading it have decided to create a mini book group based solely on this novel and are planning to meet up and discuss it in the first few weeks of the new term. The comments I have heard so far have been great so I am looking forward to hearing more about their opinions on The Island.

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The Great Gatsby (2013)

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Last night I made my first visit to my local cinema. It is in a beautiful old fashioned building, with chandeliers, wooden beaming and a stage in front of the cinema screen. It is beautiful. I am rubbish at going to the cinema and it is usually some months between each visit and it takes a very special film to ensure I make the time to go and watch it on the big screen.

The Great Gatsby was special enough!

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Set in the 1920s, before America is hit by the devastation of The Great Depression, it is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway and focuses on his relationship with his mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby hosts the most elaborate and fabulous parties and yet no one knows who he is really is. When Carraway eventually meets his neighbour he is drawn into the illicit love affair of Gatsby and Carraway’s cousin, Daisy. It is a deep rooted past love affair that was always destined to burn out and it does in a shocking way.

I was very excited about The Great Gatsby and I ignored all reviews, refusing thread them until I had the opportunity to make up my own mind. Unfortunately even now I am not sure how I truly feel about this film adaptation. There were many parts that I loved; I appreciated the difference between Daisy and Tom’s life and the life he leads with Myrtle, enjoying the sharply drawn contrasts between the classy and the grotesque; I liked how the grotty out of town area that was overlooked by ‘the eyes’ was dark and dismal, again providing a perfect contrast between the lives of the wealthy and privileged and those who had to work for a living. Leonardo Di Caprio was amazing (as he usually is) and really brought Gatsby to life. He was in control, yet fragile and it was clear at every point how he had been affected by love in the past. The parties were incredible and beautifully shot, I came away wishing I lived in the 1920s so I could do the Charleston and dance the night away – admittedly I do dance many nights away, but not like that.

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Despite all this the film didn’t quite leave me breathless and wanting more. I felt it was slow getting started and did not have the opulence and beauty that I usually expect in a Baz Luhrman film, at least not right from the start. It certainly became more interesting as soon as Gatsby became a part of the film in person and his relationship with Daisy was beautifully portrayed. The ending was incredible and even though I have read the book I was still shocked as I had forgotten key points.

My favourite part of the whole film came when Nick was discussing the attitude of privilege people like Daisy and Tom Buchanan. He mentioned how they storm into people’s worlds, leave a mountain of destruction and devastation and then move on leaving someone else to pick up the pieces, never giving a second glance at what they had just left behind. Obviously this was said in a much more lyrical fashion, but it certainly highlighted how every action has a reaction regardless of how you might view it.

Overall, it was a good film. It wasn’t spectacular, but I would certainly recommend it.

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat

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A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton is the sixth book on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist (which means yay two more to go and then I can decide on my winner). Shockingly it does exactly what it says in the title; it is about a boy and a bear in a boat. The boy is taking a journey and the bear is his captain. We never really find out where they are going and at times it seems as though the bear is very lost, but they persist on their way, encountering sea monsters, strange island/rocks and a ghostly ship.

And that is about it! Nothing else really seems to happen; they travel along in the Harriet and the boy moans a lot; they lose the Harriet and the boy moans and is sorry for the loss; they find the Harriet and then they lose it again. Do they ever get to wherever it is they are going? No. Do we ever find out where they are going? No. Do we even learn why on earth the boy willingly got in to a boat with a talking bear? No. So really I was left with so many more questions than I like at the end of a book, particularly a children’s book.

I read the majority of this book last night as I went to bed early and I was very conscious of the fact I needed to finish it by Friday ready to discuss with my small enrichment class. The benefit of this is that I stormed through it, as I think if I had kept dipping in to it I would have lost interest. It also made me think about the purpose/message of the book and for me it seems to be the idea that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The boy moans about being on the Harriet yet he misses it when it is gone and he feels the same about the presence of the bear in places. It also shows how you need to be adaptable when striving for your goal as many obstacles will get in your way, yet if you persevere you will get there. Whilst these are admirable messages to include in a book, I’m not sure they will be easily identified by the eight year old target audience. Of course the writer might not have included these themes and it is me over thinking it, but never mind.

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Do I think A Boy and a Bear in a Boat is a winner? Sadly not. It is a (and I hate to use this word) nice story, but it was hardly memorable in my eyes and began to get a bit tedious in places. I am hoping the next two reads; Midwinterblood and The Weight of Water will offer some form of competition as at the moment I think there is only one possible winner and unfortunately I don’t think it will be my favourite Code Name Verity.

Classics Club Spin Take Two

I loved taking part in The Classics Club Spin last time and was desperate for it to happen again as I am rubbish at choosing what to read next.

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The rules are as follows:

1. List 20 books from your Classics Club list.
2. Number them 1-20.
3. Wait until Monday when a random number is selected.
4. You have May and June to read that book.

Last time No 14 was picked and so I read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. I am going to stick with the same list, just adding a new book to replace Villette Due to work and the fact I won’t be on holiday during this time I haven’t selected any of the longer/tougher books n my lists, wisely choosing to safe those until the summer holidays.

Books I have Studied

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

3. Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

5. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Dickens List

6. The Old Curiosity Shop

7. Great Expectations

8. Little Dorritt

9. Oliver Twist

10. The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Random List

11. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

12. Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie

13. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

14. The Beautiful and the Damned/em> by F. Scott Fitzgerald

15. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence

The Austen List

16. Persuasion

17. Emma

18. Sense and Sensibility

19. Mansfield Park

20. Northanger Abbey

So yes here is my list and I eagerly anticipate Monday and the magic number.

Code Name Verity

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Never judge a book by its cover or by the blurb alone. However I already knew the second I saw this book that it would be one of my favourites on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist 2013. I’m a sucker for a war story.

Code Name Verity begins from the perspective of Julie, although we don’t learn her name until much later in the novel. Julie has been captured by the Gestapo in France; she made the fatal mistake of looking the wrong way before crossing the road and was nearly hit by a van, which instantly reminded me of the scene in The Great Escape where the escapees respond to the Nazis in English thus giving themselves away. Julie is well aware that she doesn’t have long to live and is prolonging her life by telling the Gestapo all that she knows about the British War Effort. She has been tortured. She has been bribed. She promises she is telling the truth.

Julie was flown into France by her best friend, Maddie, who had to crash land her plane after they were hit on the way into the country. Throughout her writing we learn a lot about Maddie’s life and now her Julie became such good friends despite coming from entirely opposite backgrounds; one is a Scottish aristocrat and the other a Jewish girl raised by Grandparents who own a motorbike shop in the North of England. We switch to Maddie’s story when Julie is coming to the end of her narrative and paper supply and it is here that the major plot twists of the novel occur.

The Guardian are quoted on the back of the book cover saying that Code Name Verity is a ‘female adventure story’ and I certainly agree with this. I felt a slight lull in the story about half way through Julie’s story, but her story is vital to the twists and turns offered in Maddie’s narrative and made the novel what it was; an exciting, thrilling female adventure story. I loved how all the loose ends were tied up and brought together in an unexpected way and I found myself unable to put it down during the final pages (although I had to to liberate a spider from my housemate’s bedroom, or should that be the other way round?).

Now I have finished it I am keen to do some research into the Nazi Occupation of France as it is something I know little about. I am also pretty interested in finding out more about female pilots and double agents as I imagine it will make for some exciting reading. Too often we forget about the work women did in the military during both wars and I love the untold stories. I also have a bit of a craving for an Operation Mincemeat style spy story. I do love it when I am inspired to read and discover more from just one book I have enjoyed.

Code Name Verity is the fifth book I have read from the 2013 Carnegie Medal Shortlist. It is my favourite one so far but mainly because I love war stories in general so this was always going to be an enjoyable read for me. Do I think it is a winner? That is a tough question. For me so far it is, however I am bias due to my preference of the genre. If I was to take my personal view out of it, I think Wonder is still the most likely winner at the moment due to the topic that is the focus of the narrative. Code Name Verity is definitely my favourite so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for it!

The Lifeboat

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I’m always open to book recommendations and love hearing what people suggest, so when my head teacher mentioned that she was reading Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat and that she would lend it to me when she was finished I could hardly say no. I do remember reading a review on one of the blogs I follow (sadly I can’t remember which) months ago and adding this to my TBR list.

Grace Winter is in her early 20s and, having just married Henry Winter, a wealthy banker from a good family, she is on her way back to America and to face his parents with the news he has married against their will. It is on this journey home that disaster strikes; an explosion takes place on the Empress Alexandra and she sinks. At the last minute Henry is able to get Grace onto a lifeboat, with the help of a crew member called Hardie, and she is left stranded in the middle of the ocean with 40 others, crammed into a lifeboat that was not meant for so many. Those in the lifeboat are hopeful that help is just around the corner, however it is 1914 and war is about to break out in Europe, and they cannot even be sure that anyone knows of the ship’s demise. So begins a harrowing three weeks of survival.

The Lifeboat is certainly an interesting take on human survival and the lengths of desperation people can be drawn to in such circumstances. Grace’s narrative is based on reflection; she is facing a court case and is looking back on those weeks in the lifeboat in the hope of unlocking some secret to help her. We learn how she came to be in the boat and how those in the boat helped one another in their first few days at sea. However soon hope is fading, food is becoming scarce and the sea more treacherous. It is not long before talk in the lifeboat turns to sacrifice and death and people start to show their true colours.

I’m in two minds about The Lifeboat. It was certainly an interesting concept and I like the whole Lord of the Flies survival instinct that comes from being stranded and unsure of when, or if, rescue will ever come. As time went by the characters and their relationships became more fractious and it was clear not all could hope to survive. The gender struggle within the boat was particularly intriguing; 1914 was certainly a male dominated society with women beginning to earn some rights and respect. In some ways the lifeboat is a microcosm of society as a whole; to begin with it is the men making all the important decisions and ensuring all survive, but soon the women start to take over, slowly gaining rights in their own respect. Sadly the women in the lifeboat do not do an amazing job of ruling their little kingdom, so maybe I shouldn’t dwell on that thought for too long.

Whilst I enjoyed some elements of the narrative for me it just wasn’t gripping enough. I really wanted to be swept away by this book to the point that I couldn’t put it down, and yes it was a good read, but it didn’t have me longing for bedtime and reaching for it the second I got home. I would certainly recommend it, as it is an interesting narrative, but sadly just missing something for me.

April Round Up

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As May begins it is once again time to reflect on the past month’s reading and to be honest I’m a little disappointed in the amount I read, or should I say the little I read in April. Must do better this month!

I began the month continuing on my journey through YA fiction and finished The Hunger Games trilogy and read two more books from the Carnegie Shortlist before rereading a favourite modern novel. And that was it; four books; four and a half if you include my current read.

April Reading

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

One Day by David Nicholls

On the plus side I did watch two films for my Period Drama Challenge in April and as I have already said, I am rubbish at watching films.

Jane Eyre (2011)

Little Women (1994)

Really I’m quite pleased with that achievement at least.

I took part in World Book Night again this year and gave away copies of Victoria Hislop’s The Island. I had 18 copies to give away so I sent an email out at school to see if anyone would be interested and you would not believe how quickly the replies came flooding in; I felt like a book giving fairy/elf! We are organising reading it at the same time so that we can have a mini book club meeting to discuss it, which is exciting.

Technically this is May news, but I ordered a beautiful new Persephone Book at the weekend and it arrived today.

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And it has the most fabulous endpapers and bookmark

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So I am a very happy bean and now I am going to work on improving the book reading for May.