October Round Up

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October is my favourite month, mainly because it is my birthday month. I do also love the change in the weather, the colours of the leaves and the nights closing in- even though this last one makes me want to sleep lots. I had a lovely birthday that lasted for much longer than the actual day and perhaps the best bit was a gorgeous lunch at River Cottage in Axminster with my family. I was only expecting it to be five of us but when I arrived at the restaurant other members of my family were there to surprise me, which was lovely.

This October started off on a bit of a low note. My flatmate got a new job elsewhere and so I started the month with the news I needed to find somewhere new to live. Now this wasn’t a bad thing, but the bit that worried me is that I didn’t know when I needed to go/if I could afford to live alone/if I could find someone I could happily live with etc. As always I was worrying for no reason and hopefully all is sorted and I will be able to move next week. This was only a minor low point and was pretty much sorted within 48 hours but I guess sometimes we naturally worry if there is some uncertainty. If I’m honest, the thought of it scared me a little bit, but then I remembered that when I was a little bit younger (and let me stress now I am 27 so hardly old) I thought nothing of moving to strange new cities for uni or for a job and I survived all of that so living alone in the city I already live in should be a piece of cake.

This led me to the scarier decision of the month. Back in July my friend and I were talking about things we wanted to do before we were 30. There are a few things on my list, but the top two are to learn French – which I am doing and I am terrible at- and to travel outside of Europe. Since August I have had Australia in mind, well actually that’s a lie, I have had Australia in mind for any years. When I was at uni I worked at an Australian bar and dated an Australian guy, who moved back there but we have kept in touch. Anyway in October I booked my flights for a four week trip next summer holidays. The reason this is a scary decision, it’s just going to be me on my big adventure! To get me in the mood for my trip I have joined a reading event for November and will be taking part in AusReadingMonth.

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More of that in November. Now for October reading.

Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam by M.C.Beaton

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay

A Storm of Swords: Part 2 by George. R. R. Martin – to be reviewed

Challenges

TBR Pile 2014
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh is book 11 from my TBR Pile 2014. I only have one book left to go to complete this challenge and I am really enjoying it. I am confident I will complete my list for this year and I am looking forward to taking part next year too, with a few books in mind already.

Reading the Twentieth Century
Both Decline and Fall and Murder Underground count towards my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge. I am slowly chipping away at this challenge, which was my intention as I have not set myself a deadline for completetion. Hopefully I might have another 10% review by the end of the year, but if I don’t never mind.

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Murder Underground

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I was first drawn to Murder Underground by its fabulous vintage cover; it was the woman’s outfit that sold it to me I am sure. The second factor that drew me towards this book was the hilarious, P.G.Wodehouse-esque name of the murder victim, Miss Pongleton. When the strangled body of Miss Pongleton is found on the barely used staircase of Belize Park tube station her fellow boarders at The Frampton are intrigued and determined to solve this mystery for themselves. A mystery that throws up several red herrings, missing jewels and some a list of suspects longer than a tube line.

It did take me a while to get into this book. I don’t know if it was the book or the facts started reading it back home, in a house full of dogs rushing everywhere and people rushing around them twice as fast. I always find my reading back at the family home difficult as I don’t get as much time on my own to just chill out and read and this can make me a teeny bit cranky. Although saying that the past two days have allowed me more reading time so I started to enjoy Murder Underground a bit more. And I guessed who the murderer was long before it was revealed! This is a miracle as usually I never get it right…maybe that’s a sign of a poorly written crime novel?

Murder Underground did fill me with a sense of nostalgia and I think a lot of that was linked to the setting in general. I have a bit of geeky love of trains. Now let me say this before you start making any assumptions, I am not a trainspotter. I do not care about modern trains, but I do like old fashioned trains and steam trains. I also love The Tube in general and always find the idea that this complicated system was created over 150 years ago amazing. I am also somewhat intrigued as to how the whole ticket/barrier system worked before technology took over, and this world is captured perfectly in Murder UndergroundThe idea that people live in hotels always makes me think about Fawlty Towers or reminds me of reading Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont. It is a world I never experienced and a world that I am sure I will never know, but I do love reading about it. I think it is the general gossipy nature and nosey-ness that comes with living in such close proximity with people you aren’t related to. For me this was the best part of the novel. I don’t know why but I didn’t really engage with it. It was a good story and pretty easy to read, but I am a devoted Agatha Christie fan and I think sub consciously I was aware that this was not quite as good as a Christie crime novel. It is silly to compare, I know, but I guess sometimes it is inevitable. I wouldn’t discourage people from reading this novel, but I can’t say it is a contender for the best book I have read this year.

Murder Underground is one of a handful of novels republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics. These novels have been out of print for decades and republished in fancy new covers. As with Persephone Books, I love the whole reprinting lost treasures and I think it is a fantastic idea to have a series focused purely on crime from The Golden Age. I will certainly be reading more from this series, especially as my mum bought one of the books when I bought this one.

Challenges

Murder Underground has taken the 1934 spot for my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge.

Australia Reading Month

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I spotted a post for Australia Reading Month a few weeks ago on Brona’s Books blog and I did debate joining at the time. I had told myself, and lots of friends and family, that I intended to visit Australia next year or at least before I was 30 and I bought myself a Lonely Planet guide book and everything to spur me into booking my trip. When I first saw this challenge, I did a little research into potential books to read and then it kind of fell by the wayside as work began to take up more of my time and energy. I confess I almost forgot about it, apart from the fact I saved the image above in my photo album on the iPad.

In the past few weeks a lot has changed; I turned 27; I found out my flatmate was moving for a job and I basically needed to find somewhere else to live (I have *fingers crossed* found the perfect flat) and I BOOKED MY FLIGHTS TO AUSTRALIA! So I am going to take part in this challenge to make me even more excited than I already am.

I have three books on my list and I will be happy if I manage to read at least one of them. The main aim is to read books that are either by Australian writers or predominately set in Australia. To help me with my planning for my trip, my friend bought me two books set in Australia and I am including these and one other on my list:

Down Under by Bill Bryson

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Now I have decided to commit to this challenge I am very excited to start it and I know it will make me even more excited for my Australian adventure and help me with my planning.

My Sister’s Keeper

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Imagine your healthy toddler is suddenly struck down with a life threatening illness. Imagine no one in your family is able to provide her with the help she needs to fight this illness…no one living that is. As a toddler Kate is diagnosed with leukaemia and after multiple tests the doctors deliver the devastating news that none of Kate’s relatives are a genetic match and their only hope is the donor register. Or having a child who is a genetic match for Kate. And so Anna is born. From the moment Anna is brought into this world she helps her sister, from the umbilical chord that helps Kate fight the cancer to blood transfusions and bone marrow, all of which helps prolong Kate’s life. It is only when Anna is asked to donate a kidney at the age of thirteen that she hires a lawyer and applies for medical emancipation; the right to make her own decisions about her body. It is a novel that explores how far parents will go to save their child and the impact such a devastating illness can have on a family.

My Sister’s Keeper is a novel/film that has been on my radar for a while, but I have never really felt any inclination to read it, having dismissed it as too depressing and sentimental for my liking. However having used the trailer-alongside the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars– to explore the idea of ‘sick-lit’ and the positives and negatives of this type of literature and having seen the beginning of the film in class, I decided to give it a go. This is not a book I have ever had any intention of reading, but I’m pretty glad that I did. I am also happy that I have managed to avoid the film for the last few years, especially as it is often on telly.

My Sister’s Keeper is told from a variety of perspectives: Anna’s, her brother’s, her parents’, her lawyer and the woman appointed as her guardian during the court case. As I have mentioned when discussing previous reads with this type of narrative style, I really enjoy multiple narratives and the insight into different characters’ thoughts and feelings it offers. It made My Sister’s Keeper more of a moral dilemma as just when you are beginning to agree with one character, you start to understand how a different character feels and think maybe they are in the right. It certainly tackles with a horrible moral and ethical dilemma; should we be allowed to genetically create babies in order to help those who are suffering with terminal or life threatening illnesses? There is no easy right or wrong answer to this question and all I know is it is one I hope never to have to face. However this wasn’t the part of the novel I found most shocking/unexpected. It was the ending. I certainly don’t want to give away any spoilers, especially as I managed to avoid any during the whole time I have referred to this novel in teaching, so I shall say no more. If you have read My Sister’s Keeper I am sure you can guess exactly what I am talking about.

My Sister’s Keeper does not count towards any of my challenges, mainly because it was a novel I just randomly picked up because I felt in the mood to read it. I feel I have been doing this a lot more in recent months and choosing books I might previously have let pass me by. I can only see this as a good thing and as long as I am reading I am happy.

Decline and Fall

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I went through a phase of buying Evelyn Waugh’s novels and although I really enjoyed A Handful of Dust the last one I read, Scoop I absolutely hated and found myself slowly plodding through it, waiting for it to be over. I would say this had put me off, but I added Decline and Fall to my TBR pile and was determined to make my most recent Waugh experience a good one.

Decline and Fall starts with the protagonist, Paul Pennyfeather, sitting in his room at the fictional Scone College, Oxford, where he is unsuspectedly targeted by the Bollinger Club and is soon running through the college grounds without his trousers on. This leads to him being sent down from Oxford and disowned by his guardian. To make ends meet Pennyfeather takes a job at a boys’ school in Wales. It is at this school that Pennyfeather meets the glamorous mother of a pupil and leaves to tutor her son and later become engaged to the wealthy woman. Unfortunately, on the morning of his wedding he is arrested for trafficking prostitiutes; a business he has nothing to do with, but is all his future wife’s. Of course he ends up in prison, but through various means the novel comes full circle and Paul Pennyfeather ends up studying back at Scone College.

I am very pleased to state that Decline and Fall reminded me why I enjoyed Waugh’s writing in the first place. The whole novel is a series of unfortunate mishaps, each one leading Pennyfeather to a slightly bigger fall than the one before. His writing is pure satire and throughout the novel he pokes fun at the ridiculousness of the British upper classes during the interwar period. I love how certain characters kept reappearing at different points of Pennyfeather’s life and that he wasn’t the only one suffering from a run of bad luck. I do think some of my favourite chapters focused on the school in Wales, mainly because of the stark contrast to modern schooling. It isn’t so much the use of the cane, but the idea that the teachers didn’t need any real qualifications and that they just turned up and taught whatever the hell they liked. Perhaps one of the biggest similarities to modern teaching is when Pennyfeather is told he needs to organise Sports Day the day before it is due to take place; I’m not saying I have to organise an entire day of sports at the drop of a hat, but I certainly know how it feels having something like that sprung on you.

Decline and Fall is not the best novel I have read all year, but I am glad that it has reminded me why I liked Waugh’s writing in the first place. I could even be tempted to pick up Madresfield a book about the house behind the inspiration for Brideshead Revisited.

Challenges

I had hoped this would count towards my Reading the Twentieth Century, but it was published in 1928 and I already have a book for that year.

Decline and Fall does count for my TBR Pile 2014, so now I only have one book to complete my 12 books for the year.

Agatha Raisin Reading Session

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When I need some light hearted reading I tend to favour authors I know I can rely on to provide an easy read to help me escape the stresses of normal life. I first discovered M.C.Beaton through her Hamish Macbeth series and I remember devouring them over the course of a summer spent working at the National Trust. I avoided Agatha Raisin for a while, although I remember hearing the brilliant radio series starring Penelope Keith. Maybe I picked up my first Agatha Raisin in the past eighteen months and I am slowly working my through them. I recently read three in a row, which is a rarity as I usually break them up with some other reading.

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham focuses on a hairdressers and the charming male owner is not all he seems. After seducing Agatha and shampooing the secrets out of some of his loyal clientele he is poisoned with ricin. Can Agatha resist investigating?

In Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden Agatha has escaped Carsely to the seaside, mainly to allow her hair to grown back after an unfortunate incident at the hairdressers. It is here that she visits a white witch for some hair growth cream (and a love potion), unfortunately Agatha later discovers the witch in bed…with her head bashed in.

Now I feel I missed a book that bridges the gap between Witch of Wyckhadden although according to books, the next in the series is Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam. Again Agatha is far from home, after a fortune teller assures her she will find happiness in Norfolk she sets off for a new cottage. There are some mysterious lights at the bottom of her garden that the villagers insist are fairies. It is here that Agatha decides she should begin to write about her crime solving adventures, unfortunately having completely the first chapter of ‘Death at the Manor’ there is an actual death at the manor, leaving Agatha looking like the prime suspect.

The great thing about following a character through a series of books is the sense of familiarity and comfort that their adventures bring. I always feel this way when I return to well loved characters and I know I felt this way when I picked up the first of my Agatha Raisin trio. They are cosy, comfortable crime novels that don’t require a great deal of brain power, which is what I needed for this part of the school term. I love how I can hear Penelope Keith’s voice as I read about Agatha’s adventures and the different ways she manages to work her way to the centre of so many murders.

Having said this, by the third book I was ready for a change of character. I found myself losing interest in the plot and the whole murder/strange new village idea. I think I wanted Agatha to be back in Carsely with the villagers she knows and loves. I wanted a bit more about her troublesome relationship with James and where it would go next. I also feel that maybe reading three books all on the same character in such quick succession was a bad idea as it started to feel like a chore. It reminds me of the summer I read all seven Harry Potter in like two and a half weeks and despite being a HUGE HP fan, I was sick of him by the end of my reading. I guess this has just reinforced that I should break my reading of series books up with another little read in between. I wonder if I will ever learn my lesson?

September Round Up

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I have mixed feelings about September. I love the fact it is the start of a new school year as I like starting things a fresh, just like I will always half like Mondays because of the idea of starting again. However it also makes me feel a little scared in case things don’t start well or I don’t enjoy the sudden return to work and the crazy workload. Luckily this year I am feeling positive about work and I am still feeling positive about it at the end of the month so I’m taking this as a good sign.

As predicted September saw my reading slow done considerably. This was to be expected, but I am still happy with the amount of reading I have completed this month and I think my reading enrichment at school allows me to take a step back and just relax and remember to read. In September I read:

Ian Fleming by Andrew Lycett

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The First Casualty by Ben Elton

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham by M. C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden by M. C. Beaton

I have yet to review the last two books.

Challenges

Both Ian Fleming and Girl with a Pearl Earring count towards by Reading the Twentieth Century Challenge
Girl with a Pearl Earring also counts towards by TBR Pile for the year and I am making good progress with this challenge, with only two more books left to reach 12.

I don’t really have any reading plans for October. I think it will be a case of going where ever the mood takes me. Part of me wants to read the next book in A Song of Fire and Ice, part of me fancies a classic, like Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and then another part of me feels like a light hearted chick lit, so who knows.