Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1837
Challenges: The Classics Club
Rating: Three and a half out of five
Reread

Synopsis:
The story of an orphan named Oliver, who runs away from his life in the work house and as an apprentice for a coffin maker and escapes to London. It is here that he runs into Fagin and his band of thieves and criminals and reluctantly is drawn into the seedy underworld of London and the lives of villain Bill Sikes, the artful Dodger and the prostitute Nancy. Oliver is not like those that haunt the criminal streets of the city and seems defined to escape this life and live the life of a gentleman.

My Thoughts:
As a child we used to have a VHS that had Oliver and Annie on it and I can remember watching the video on repeat at my aunty’s and singing along to the songs. I loved Oliver and the whole setting of Victorian England and the story stayed ingrained in my mind for years to come. It wasn’t until I was 19/20 that I saw an adaptation of Oliver that changed it from this charming musical romp to a more sinister and dark tale of murder, crime and mystery. It was this TV programme that made me want to read the novel, primarily because of the character Monks who has a mysterious grudge against young Oliver and this is the third time I have read Oliver Twist. This time I did read it for The Classics Club Spin and I think if it wasn’t for this I might not necessarily have picked it up this time round. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the story, as I did, but I don’t think it was the right book for Christmas time and the chaos that this brings. I found my mind wandering in the middle section of the novel, which was easy to do as I have read it before. I did enjoy the last one hundred pages or so as the narrative unravels and different characters get their comeuppance, although I do good a little whimper when poor Bullseye dies. I’m not denying that Dickens is a fantastic writer or that Oliver Twist doesn’t deserve its place as one of his most famous novels, but I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read it. That being said I do love his depiction of London and the darker side of the city, especially the idea that it really is luck of the draw if you end up destitute on the streets or saved by a kindly benefactor.

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2015 Reading Challenges

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I am taking part in a few reading challenges in 2015, some that I have already started and some new ones too. I always debate joining different challenges because I’m not very good at sticking to deadlines, however I have found it easier to take part in challenges that are a year long, so I have chosen a few more of these.

2015 Challenges I am still completing:

The Classics Club. I joined the club when I first started blogging in 2012 and although I have been steadily plodding along with my list of 50 books, I’m not making fantastic progress. I have currently read 17 of my 50 books (I’m on number 18 now) which isn’t really very good for over halfway through the challenge, so hopefully 2015 will see me reading a few more.

Reading the Twentieth Century. I started this project earlier this year and I am slowly working through it. I haven’t set myself a deadline as I like the idea that it is easy going and not pressurised. I am currently just shy of the 20% mark on my list, so things are going well.

2015 New Challenges:

TBR Pile 2015. I took part in the TBR Pile for the first time this year and I really enjoyed it. I had 13 books on my list and read 12 of them, which is the target. I liked this challenge as it allowed me to read some of the books that had been languishing on my shelves for longer than a year and because it was a year long challenge I didn’t feel as though I ought to be reading a book from that list in order to complete it. Hopefully I will be as successful with my list in 2015.

Reading England. This is my latest challenge and I did debate joining it. The idea is to read books from different counties in England and set yourself a target of how many counties you think you will read. I mostly read British literature so this should be ideal for me. I am also hoping that it will help with ticking books off of some of my other lists, especially The Classics Club.

I think I might try and limit it to these challenges for the year and try and focus on them, but as always I am bound to get swept up in some other challenges that take my fancy as the year progresses.

Bella by Jilly Cooper

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I always wait a day or two between reading books as I tend to become wrapped up in the world of my previous read, so it was a mixture of this and a need to read something light hearted that led me to Jilly Cooper. Every time I write about one of her books I mention how much I love her and this is obviously still the case. Whilst I have been slowly working my way back through her Rutshire Chronicles, this time I decided I wanted something shorter- mainly so I can start my Classics Club Spin, Oliver Twist before Christmas. With this in mind I picked up Bella. When I was 18/19 I bought all of the Jilly Cooper books with eponymous titles and stormed through them, meaning I haven’t read one in eight years. I’m not sure why I picked Bella, I think it was just the first one that I picked from the bookcase.

Bella is the story of Bella Parkinson, a young British actress who is taking the theatre world by storm. When the wealthy and handsome Rupert Henriques falls in love with her, she is soon swept into his world; unfortunately the rest of his family cannot stand her, especially his cousin, Lazlo. Lazlo soon realises that Bella is hopelessly in love with her ex, Steve and is determined to make her break her engagement with Rupert. Both Bella’s and Lazlo’s pasts come back to haunt them and put the former in serious danger.

I had forgotten what happened in Bella, but regardless of this I knew I was going to enjoy it as Jilly Cooper books never fail to put a smile on my face. I have been meaning to return to this series of books for ages, but despite taking one or two on holiday as back up reads I never quite got round to them. The last 150 pages had me hooked and, after a long and tiring week at work, it was lovely to come up and have a long soak in the bath with my book. Yes, I’m aware this is hardly literary greatness, but sometimes a comforting, familiar read is just what you need on a cold winter’s evening. Having said that I always find some relevant quote when I read a Cooper book and this might be one of my favourites:

‘But darling, one loves the most ghastly people when one’s eighteen. You wouldn’t be able to see what you saw in him if you met him now’

How true!

And now I have done my lighthearted read, it is on to Oliver Twist, a re-read and a novel I think I last read around Christmas time.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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*Contains Spoilers*

I was going to say it isn’t very often that I can remember when I purchased a book, but now I think about it I am pretty good at remembering when I bought quite a few of them. Maybe it would be fairer to say it isn’t very often that I remember exactly when and where I was when I purchased books in my childhood/teenage years. However one book that certainly breaks this is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I have vivid memories of being on a day trip to the seaside town of Weymouth (this all sounds very Victorian) with my sister, Nanna and her friend. There was all the usual seaside activities and shouting ‘step’ every time there was a pavement so the oldies didn’t trip up – how patronising – and a trip to a bookshop. I think I must have seen this book in a shop back home and been on the hunt for it ever since. Well I either bought it for myself or Nanna did and although this was over ten years ago, I still kept hold of the book obviously convinced I would one day read it again. Yesterday was the day.

Speak is told from the first person perspective of Melinda, a girl about to start her first day of high school. Despite having grown up in the town, she has no friend and doesn’t belong to, or fit in with, any high school cliques. In fact, they all hate her. Why? Well Melinda committed the ultimate crime and called the police whilst at a high school party. What no one knows is that it wasn’t because of the drinking, but because of something much more sinister and an event that has left Melinda without a voice.

Speak is a powerful read. It explores the everyday struggles of being a teenager and the difficulties of juggling friendships, different classes and teachers who just do not understand. However it also tackles something much darker than this; the horror and aftermath of rape and in particular the taboo and preconceptions of this when you are a young teenage girl and you have convinced yourself you must be to blame. Melinda feels as though she has no one to turn to and therefore says nothing, turns inwards and shuts down. It is not until page 190 that she even mentions the word ‘rape’ choosing instead to avoid any mention of what happened in an attempt to erase it from her memory. Hints are made throughout the novel and it is clear that some kind of assault has taken place but the fact Melinda can’t mention it only reinforces how harrowing and life changing this was.

Speak is an interesting and engaging piece of fiction and I certainly feel it handles the subject of rape in a sensitive and appropriate way. It puts me in mind of some articles I have taught about how teenagers shouldn’t be reading books about upsetting or difficult issues, however I feel Speak is a perfect example of why they should be encouraged to read more challenging books that explore ‘taboo’ subjects. If it encourages just one person to find their voice, how can it be a bad thing?

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

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It is 1942 and Charlotte Gray travels from Scotland to help in the war effort in London. She soon meets Peter Gregory and although he is reluctant to become attached to anyone because of his job they are soon in a relationship of sorts. When Gregory, a pilot, goes missing on a drop off in France, Charlotte is devastated and throws herself into her own war work, a mission to deliver a man to a destination in France. Having completed this part of her task, Charlotte chooses to stay in Occupied France in the hope of learning of Gregory’s fate. She is quickly swept up in the world of the Resistance and the secretive nature of this movement, where she learns of the difficulties facing those in France, from the French Jews being deported to Poland to those trying to keep their head down and survive the war.

Charlotte Gray has been on my shelf for years, but I have never really paid it much attention, which is why I put it on my TBR Pile for 2014. I am really happy that I did this as it is well worth a read. To begin with I found it hard to get in to, but I think this is more to do with work and the craziness of November as opposed to it being a tricky book. However I found the closer to the end of the novel I got the more I wanted to stay awake a little bit later to finish it. The last third was particularly gripping, especially in its depiction of the deportation of French Jews, including two young boys. It was heartbreaking to read of their journey and although their fate was never explicitly mentioned, it is certainly not hard to imagine.

For a book I spent a fair few weeks reading I feel as though I can’t write much in this post. I finished it a few days ago and since then have had a parents’ evening and a Christmas Party so I think my brain has gone into shut down mode. It is a book I would recommend and I do feel a Reread of Birdsong in the pipeline, especially as I think there was a passing remark made towards the main character from that novel. What this review has taught me is that in order to write anything that makes any sense or even remotely links back to the book, I need to write a review pretty soon after finishing.

Challenges

The twelfth read in my TBR Pile 2014

TBR Pile 2014 Final Post!

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I have completed my 2014 To Be Read Pile (master post). There have been a few changes and hiccups along the way, but I have read twelve of the books from my list and I am feeling pretty smug about the whole thing right now. My list is written below, but some of my highlights are:

Best Read
This is a tough one as lots of the books on there were brilliant reads, but in my current mood if I had to choose one it would be World Without End as it was a mammoth read, but I loved every page of it and was completely wrapped up in the world of Medieval England.

Biggest Surprise
The book I was most worried about was The Six Wives of Henry VIII mainly because it was the only non-fiction read on my list and I don’t read non-fiction very often. I read the book in stages, which certainly made it more manageable, but I also found my reading of historical fiction and watching of TV programmes like The Tudors helped with my understanding as I already knew the major characters.

Biggest Disappointment
Easily The Stranger’s Child . I just did not get along with the narrative and found it such a hard book to get into. I don’t know if this was because I read it when I was on a school trip or because I just didn’t engage with it; I am inclined to think it was the latter.

The One I Didn’t Get Round To
Elizabeth Taylor’s Short Stories. I find short stories quite difficult to read as they aren’t something I read very often. I am a little annoyed I didn’t get round to reading any of these (although there is still some time this year) but I never quite felt in the mood.

Overall I loved taking part in the TBR Challenge and I loved it so much I am taking part again in 2015. My list has already been complied and is here and I look forward to the ups and downs of reading this list and another fabulous reading year.

2014 List
1. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier (Kindle)
2. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
3. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
4. Regeneration by Pat Barker
5. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (Kindle)
6. Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier
7. World Without End by Ken Follett
8. Charlotte Grey by Sebastian Faulks
9. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
10. Patience by John Coates
11. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence
12. Elizabeth Taylor Short Stories (this might be cheating as it is short stories, but I am aiming to read at least half of them).
Reserve – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien