Kiss and Tell

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This time last week I was just landing in Malta and ready to spend a week in the sunshine, relaxing and reading…lots! It has been a manic year at work and I was looking forward to completely switching off from anything school related and reading some light hearted chick lit. The first book I chose to read, mainly because it was the heaviest and I didn’t want to put it in my suitcase was Fiona Walker’s Kiss and Tell. I have read one book by Walker before so I knew I could depend on this book to fill the chick lit hole in my life.

Now because I am tired -currently drinking strong black coffee- and read this three books ago, I am going to use an idea I have seen on a few other blogs and include the blurb on here.

‘With tight breeches and loose morals, the horse trials circuit is a hell-for-leather chase across the magnificent parkland of England’s finest country estates. Flirtation is a compulsory sport, and love is a professional hazard, as the bravest of red-blooded riders compete for bronze trophies, silk sashes and glory.
Silver-tongued charmer Rory Midwinter is quite at home in this hedge-jumping, bed-hopping world. He has no intention of settling down- only his long-term groom Faith Brakespear has other ideas.
Tash and Hugo Beauchamp are the undisputed golden couple of three day eventing. But their mettle is put to the test by the arrival of the Devil on Horseback, brooding Kiwi rider Lough Strachen. Lough holds the key to Hugo’s darkest secret, and he intends to use it to access his rival’s beautiful wife…’

This is right up my street in terms of chick lit, a huge book following the lives of some glamorous people with plenty of gossip and scandal thrown in. One of the critics on the back of my copy states ‘Jilly Cooper, watch out!’ This is a bold statement to make, especially when it catches the eye of a huge Jilly Cooper fan and whilst I enjoyed Kiss and Tellit didn’t quite surpass Jilly Cooper in my eyes. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t a brilliant read and it was certainly a fantastic holiday choice to become engrossed in as I lounged by the pool.

There were some great characters in Kiss and Tell and I think my favourite one was Sylva, a modern style ‘celebrity’ famous for lots of different things, not really an expert in any of them. She certainly reflected some current celebrities who will do anything to get their name in the paper and who few all publicity as good publicity. At first I thought I would hate her as a character as she is the type to wind me up, but her narrative throughout the novel was entertaining and funny, so I quickly changed my mind. It did make me laugh to read about the lengths some people will go to be famous; I know it is probably an exaggerated version, but there most be some truth in it.

As I look back on Kiss and Tell my thoughts focus on the male characters and in particular the character of the villain. For me, Kiss and Tell really lacked a true villain. I wanted a bad guy I could hate throughout, who you just wish would get his comeuppance, even though sometimes you’re not sure if they ever will. There were some interesting male characters, but I found there wasn’t one truly evil one I really hated and I like that in a chick lit book, especially one this size.

On the whole I enjoyed Kiss and Tell and it was a perfect choice for holiday reading, providing that escapism I look for on a beach break. It definitely helped me kick start my relaxing week and get my mind as far away as possible from anything happening back home. I know I will return to Fiona Walker at some point- I do have another one of her books in the wardrobe after all. >

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The Stranger’s Child…or a book unfinished

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The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst is a book from my TBR Pile 2014 and begins in the early 1900s, just before the outbreak of the First a World War and from there the narrative spans a century. In the first part of the novel we meet Cecil Valance, a poet and witness his impact on the Sawle family and after his death in the First World War, we meet various other characters who are all linked to Cecil in some vague way, or if not directly linked meet someone who is.

And that’s all I can tell you about the book. According to my kindle I have read 65% of the novel, however I have decided l am giving up. It isn’t often I give up on books and I am a little sad to give up on a book from one of my reading challenges but then I reasoned, what is the point if I’m not enjoying the book? Why should I force myself to read the remaining 35% of the book when I genuinely don’t care and I know I am only going to take forever to finish reading it as I’m not enjoying it, therefore I won’t pick up the kindle. Why do I feel this obligation to complete every book I start? I shouldn’t see giving up on The Stranger’s Child as a failure, but more as a realisation that I shouldn’t waste my time on something I am not enjoying and this is good as it will ensure I read what I truly enjoy. Besides as long as I don’t do this with every book I own I’ll be fine.

That’s not to say The Stranger’s Child is a terrible book, this is purely my opinion. I know there are people who have enjoyed this book, but for me it was just too much effort and not in a good way. As soon as I felt I knew a group of characters the narrative jumped decades and I felt I had to work out how everyone was connected and the links back to Valance. I’m not sure if I just picked this book up at the wrong time (a school trip to Disneyland including a ten hour coach trip and the end of the term) or if I would have felt this way regardless of when I read it.

Challenges

I was in two minds as to whether or not this counted towards my TBR Pile 2014 however I read over half of the book and I have written a post about it, so it counts in my eyes. >

TBR Pile Update

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Hopefully this works as I am writing this on Saturday with the intention for the post to miraculously appear on my blog on the 15th. I have come back home to Dorset to chill out for the weekend and collect a suitcase as in the small hours of Monday morning I am off to Disneyland on a school trip! On the ridiculous coach trip there I am hoping to begin another book from my TBR Pile, but on the whole this reading challenge is going pretty well.

I have currently read seven books from my list; this does include my extra book incase I decided against one of the original twelve. So far this year I have read:

Patience by John Coates
Regeneration by Pat Barker
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
World Without End by Ken Follett
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Alongside by fictional reading I have been mixing it up with some non-fiction and slowly reading The Six Wives of Henry VIII. This is the book I saw as my weak point of the original TBR list, mainly because I was worried about the length of such an intense non-fiction read, however I have really enjoyed it so far and find Antonia Fraser’s writing engaging. I think it was a good idea to alternate the reading of this book, focusing on one wife at a time and then reading something else in between as it means I wasn’t focusing so much on this one book.

Overall I have enjoyed every book I have read so far and as I don’t feel pressure to meet any looming deadlines I am pretty relaxed about this reading challenge and glad I decided to join.
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Reading the Twentieth Century – 10% Update

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Image borrowed from Stuck in a Book who did this challenge a few years ago.

A few months ago I decided to embark on another reading challenge. I always feel I am rubbish at reading challenges, going in all gun hoe and then fading out after a few months. However I chose to work on this Reading the Twentieth Century Challenge as really it doesn’t require anything from me but to read. I guess it might get a little tricky when it is nearing completion and finding books to suit the years I need, but at the moment it is going well and here I am at the 10% mark. One of the things I’m most intrigued by is which decade I will finish first. I have a feeling the 1970s/1980s might be the hardest, but I will have to wait and see.

At the 10% mark I have read:

One book from the 1910s (Howards End)
Two books from the 1920s (The Murder on the Links and Journey’s End)
One book from the 1940s (Love in a Cold Climate)
Two books from the 1950s (My Cousin Rachel and The Exiles Return)
One book from the 1980s (Black Venus)
Three books from the 1990s (Regeneration, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and A Storm of Swords)

I am surprised that the 1990s is the decade with the most reading so far, maybe this will continue or another decade might sneak in. It is difficult to choose my favourite book from the list above as I enjoyed them all in different ways. I think Journey’s End is up there as I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was and I am looking forward to teaching it next year. I also loved A Storm of Swords as I love George R. R. Martin’s writing and his characters are memorable. If I had to choose my least favourite it would be Black Venus as I rarely read short stories and some of the ones in this collection just weren’t really my type of story.

I am still undecided if I am only going to allow each author to make only one appearance on my list. This might make the reading challenge longer, as I have lots of Agatha Christie on my summer reading list, but it will hopefully mean I discover many new authors. The beauty of this challenge is that I don’t have a definitive list of books to read, I just pick up what I want, when I want and if it fits in to the challenge then fantastic. With that in mind, I look forward to what surprises the next 10% brings. ;

Love in a Cold Climate

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I’m not sure when I first discovered The Mitfords; I have a feeling it could have been 5/6 years ago when I was still at university but who knows for sure. I can remember coming across a copy of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love in a London bookstore and wanting to buy it purely because the main character is called Linda, but I really don’t know when I actually first started reading books about them and by them. I have read several books about this extraordinary family of six sisters and have been fascinated by their glamorous and complicated lifestyles set against the backdrop of some of the twentieth century’s most memorable events since my first reading.

Having read The Pursuit of Love a couple of years ago I have had Love in a Cold Climate on my shelf for a while now. In fact I have read the book that follows this – Don’t Tell Alfred so I’m not sure why I missed this one out. Love in a Cold Climate is told from the perspective of Fanny and is seen as the follow-up to The Pursuit of Love, with the attention moving away from Linda and instead to Polly, another young girl from an aristocratic family who have just returned from India. Polly’s mother, Lady Montdore is desperate for her daughter to make a successful marriage and having thrown a ball for Polly to come out in society she is keen for any hint of love on the horizon. Unfortunately for Lady M, Polly falls desperately in love with her uncle (no blood relation), the Lecherous Lecturer and as soon as she can she elopes to the Continent with him.

I love Nancy Mitford. Her humour is so dry and it comes across in her writing. There are so many examples of hilarious and awkward situations and just subtle – or not so subtle – underhand comments masked as flattery.

People used to gaze before my beard grew, like mad, even in Nova Scotia. You are so fortunate not to be a beauty, Fanny, you’ll never know the agony of losing your looks. ‘

How do you go back to enjoy your afternoon tea after a comment like that?

As I was reading this novel I also noticed the lack of sentimentality some of the characters had for vervain situations, especially as far as death is concerned; I almost wonder if that is quite a British trait as my sister readily admitted last night that she feels more sympathy when animals are hurt or die and much more anger when they are abused that she does for people sometimes. I promise you she isn’t heartless and certainly doesn’t go around kicking small children, but I see that attitude in Mitford’s writing and especially in the real life depictions of their family life.

Love in a Cold Climate is a fantastic read full of dry humour and such bizarre social situations. It is set in a world that seems so far from the modern day, despite it being less than 100 years ago. It is a world of debutante balls, marrying for status and where the male relative rules the roost, leaving poor women with only marriage as an aspiration. Having read about The Mitford sisters it is clear that Nancy Mitford’s novels are inspired by her own life and those around her, especially her own parents who are depicted in the form of Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. Their eccentricities are hilarious; I love that Uncle Matthew writes down the name of anyone he hates and puts it away in a drawer convinced that said person will die within the year and although this death rarely happens he is always slightly guilty if anyone in a drawer actually dies. Sometimes I think a world without technology and the hustle and bustle of modern life would be quite fun, especially as you would have to be imaginative and make up these little quirks. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that I enjoyed this book and I almost feel as though I need a reread of some of my other Mitford books.

Challenges

TBR Pile 2014

Reading the Twentieth Century

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Six

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I’m pretty sure I joined in with this last year, but if I didn’t I definitely am this year. Jo at The Book Jotter created a halfway round up of the year, which surprise surprise happens at the end of June and is a reflection on various books you have read and enjoyed this year. Now I am the first to admit that my reading has been somewhat sparse the first six months of the year, but I am determined to spend a lot of the summer sorting this out. For now here is my little list of categories with six bookish answers.

1. 6 books I enjoyed
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
Regeneration
World Without End
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Patience
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
2. 6 authors I’ve read before
Agatha Christie
Jane Austen
Ken Follett
Pat Barker
Daphne du Maurier
J.R.R. Tolkien

3. 6 new authors for this year so far
D.H.Lawrence
John Coates
Elisabeth du Waal
Mark Black (History in an Hour)
E.M.Forster
Antonia Fraser

4. 6 books to read this summer
Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
A French Affair by Katie Fforde
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Holinghurst
A Storm of Swords by G.R.R.Martin
Wicked by Jilly Cooper
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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a modern mystery novel that takes its title from a Sherlock Holmes story. A dog is murdered in the middle of the night, stabbed with a garden fork and his body is discovered by Christopher a teenager who is different from other teenagers his age. Christopher has Aspergers Syndrome and sees the world differently; he struggles with emotions and reading them in other people and why the world isn’t as logical as a maths problem. Christopher appoints himself detective and begins looking for clues as to who could possibly have killed poor Wellington. This is not a mystery novel in the conventional sense, it’s true there is a murder but this isn’t the only mystery in Christopher’s life and soon his quest to discover the murderer leads him on to even bigger discoveries about his life and the people around him.

I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when I was at university as part of a Detective Fiction unit. I only really have vague recollections of this, which could be because it was six years ago or it could be due to my having way too much fun being a student, either way I was keen to pick it up again. It is certainly an interesting novel. Christopher as a narrator is quite refreshing; as he has difficulty understanding different emotions and takes everything at face value he tells a very matter of fact story. This direct narrative voice means that as a reader you are at an advantage and can work out what is happening early than Christopher, which for me makes a change as I am terrible at solving the mystery in typical crime fictions.

I think Haddon has created a believable and interesting character in Christopher and his narrative is engaging. It is disjointed in places, with Christopher writing about how he discovered the body one chapter to how he hates everything brown and yellow the next. These little glimpses of his liked and dislikes help to build a clearer image of Christopher and what makes him tick and these insights make his story even more incredible. I also enjoyed the little diagrams and drawings throughout, although the maths parts of it left me looking slightly blank. I am still torn over whether or not I want to teach this next year. I know my students would love it and it is a very easy read but I don’t know if I feel really excited about it. That may be because it is nearly the holidays and I am switching off or if I just much prefer Journey’s End. To be fair I have time for both of them, so something for me to think about over the next few weeks. >

Journey’s End

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It isn’t often that I read plays; I think it is because the thought of reading one doesn’t seem natural to me which is bizarre when I think I have to teach Shakespeare and we read that. Anyway, plays aren’t really top of my TBR list. However I wanted to read R. C. Sheriff’s Journey’s End as it is one of the set texts on the exam board. This is another text I have vague recollections of observing prior to my teacher training, so it was quite exciting to pick it up and actually read it.

Journey’s End is set over a few days in the spring of 1918 in a trench dug out. The officers have just arrived in the dugout and they are aware that a German attack is anticipated in the upcoming days. As is clear from the date the war has been raging for nearly four years and therefore it isn’t surprising that not all soldiers are gun ho and pro war. Captain Stanhope, whose war career has been full of triumph, has turned to alcohol to cope with the horrors he experiences whereas another soldier in the dug out has resorted to feigning illness in the hope he will be able to escape his duty. And in to this group of men battered by war comes Raleigh, a fresh faced eighteen year old straight from public school and the play follows his first few days of war action as the realities of war sink in.

Of course I was going to enjoy Journey’s End. It was obvious really; I tend to forget that I specialised in this era of history for my MA for a reason. As I said, I rarely read plays, but I was gripped by Journey’s End from the beginning and completed it in a day. It is so simplistic and yet haunting; as a reader with some knowledge of the First World War you can almost anticipate the tragedy that will occur and yet this only makes the play more enjoyable and poignant. I loved how each member of the dug out represented a different type of soldier; from the cowardly, potential deserter to the captain who couldn’t let his troops down to the family man who played toy soldiers with his sons, all typical images of soldiers are represented. The character that most struck a chord with me was Raleigh, the fresh faced young recruit. Raleigh leaves his public school and enlists straight away, pulling strings to ensure he ends up in the same company as a former celebrated pupil from his school, Stanhope. It is clear that Raleigh hero worships the ‘older’man – I use the term older loosely, as Stanhope is in his early twenties – and that Stanhope’s successful school and army career have led Raleigh to view war as a game, similar to the rugby and cricket he excelled at at school. I find the public school ideals of hero worship and sportsmanship fascinating when discussed in relation to the First World War and the sheer number of ex public school men who enlisted. I read a brilliant book, the title of which escapes me, on this subject and it is so interesting to see the link between the two and reading Journey’s End has made me eager to read more books that explore this style of relationship.

Having read Journey’s End not only am I keen to teach it but I am also desperate to see it performed on stage. I think it is time I start looking for performances.

Challenges

Journey’s End counts towards my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge. ;