End of January

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I have no idea where this picture comes from but I think it is lovely and sums up a chilly January perfectly.

Books Read: Eight (!)
Challenges: Three ( TBR Pile 2015, Reading England and Reading the Twentieth Century)

It is the last day of January and it is bitterly cold here in England, although no snow in my part of the country. I have had a lovely start to the year and life in general seems to be going pretty well – famous last words – and I am including work and personal life in that. It is bizarre to think that this school term is nearly over, but so far it has been a good term and perhaps one of the most memorable events so far has been a trip to London to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. . I have blogged about the book before as I reread it last summer whilst I was debating teaching it (I decided against it) however with that said the stage production is absolutely fantastic. It is so cleverly staged and really helps you to understand what is going on in Christopher’s head. If you have or haven’t read the book I strongly recommend this play; it is incredible. I know many of the staff I went with are thinking about seeing it again when it comes to a local theatre on tour.

Not only have I had a fab month with life in general I have also had a fab reading month; January has seen me storm through eight books…well seven and a half if I include the fact I started A Feast for Crows in December. This month’s reading has included:

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie which counts for three challenges; TBR Pile 2015, Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England
The first five books in the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson which also counts for the same three challenges as Dumb Witness. *review to come*

Challenges Update

TBR Pile 2015 – I have made a good start on this challenge and read two books from my original list of twelve.
Reading England – I have read books from two counties so far: Berkshire and London. I always knew London would be one of the first counties/areas I would cross off of my list so this is no surprise.
Reading the Twentieth Century – I reached the 20% mark of my Reading the Twentieth Century challenge, although in true fashion to my crapness at maths I actually have 101 years as I included 2000, so I have currently read 21 of 101 books/years.

Favourite Read
It is difficult to choose a favourite read for this month as I have liked every book I read and they have all been very different. I think for I would have to choose the Pretty Little Liars series purely for how enthralled I was by the series and how quickly I devoured each book. I still want to read the next ones right away.

Hopefully February will be just as good for reading and life!

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Pretty Little Liars (Books 1-5)

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Titles: Pretty Little Liars, Flawless, Perfect, Unbelievable and Wicked
Author: Sara Shepard
Published: 2004-2009
Challenges: None
Star Rating: 5 out of 5

Synopsis

On the last day of Seventh Grade Alison DiLaurentis storms out of a sleepover she is having with her four best friends and is never seen again. Over time her best friends drift apart and start rebuilding their lives; Spencer is an A grade student and class VP; Emily is the star of the school swimming team; Aria has just returned from three years living in Iceland and Emily has undergone the biggest transformation, from dumpy dork to the slim and glamorous queen bee of Rosewood Day School. The girls have nothing to do with one another, but each of them has a dark secret or two, secrets that only Ali knew and when they start receiving mysterious notes from A, threatening to reveal all they have no choice but to start digging up the past. A past that leads them to question how much they actually knew about their missing BFF.

The first five books in the Pretty Little Liars series cover many scandalous secrets. From plagiarising essays to affairs with teachers, from struggles with eating disorders to struggles with sexuality, it seems that A knows everyone’s inner most thoughts and isn’t afraid to use them against Ali’s former friends. It is not long before events start taking a sinister turn and bodies start appearing.

My Thoughts

When I saw that Pretty Little Liars was coming to Netflix I decided I would try and read some of the books before I even thought about watching the series; I didn’t quite realise how many books there were but that is beside the point. As always I am sure it will take me forever to get round to the TV programme but the books didn’t take quite as long. I found the first two in my local library and checked them out before Christmas, however I didn’t start reading them until maybe a week and a half ago and in that time I have been back to the library to check out all the books in the series I could find. This is a promising sign. Sad news is that my county library system only has the first five books so I fear withdrawal symptoms are going to kick in soon…I want to know what happens next.

Pretty Little Liars is an addictive series. It reminds me of reading Gossip Girl when I actually was a teenager; I devoured this series too, loving the characters, the gossip and scandal elements of the story and the mystery of what will happen next. Pretty Little Liars is just as good, although slightly darker and more sinister. I love how the narrative revolves around a missing person as this appeals to the crime lover in me and the ‘who is behind the notes’ mystery has kept me guessing throughout.

I’m not going to pretend that this is a high brow series – because of course it isn’t – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastically addictive reads. Shepard is clever in that there are hints as to who is behind the notes (and the bigger mystery) throughout but some of them are double bluffs; A wants to manipulate the four main characters in to believing the people they trust are behind the crimes and this in turn leaves the reader constantly guessing. I have my suspicions purely directed at Spencer’s sister, Melissa, but as my experience of crime reading has taught me, I never get it right. Perhaps the cleverest thing Shepard does is end each book on a major cliffhanger, whether that is a dead body or a serious accident that leaves the reader wondering as to the fate of certain characters, it is pure genius in getting readers like myself to want the next book straight away. It is a sure fire way to get people like me to devour five books in a week and a half.

Now I’m a little sad that my county library doesn’t stock any of the following books so I can continue with the mystery and scandal, but maybe it is time to read something slightly more grown up. I have enjoyed the pure escapism this series has brought so far and it has provided that much needed light relief that I always crave from my reading during term time.

Reading the Twentieth Century – 10% Update

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Last year I decided to take part in my own little Reading the Twentieth Century project. I haven’t set myself a deadline, instead I am running this alongside some of my other projects and hoping books fit in. I am interested to see which decades I complete first/last and which author appears the most, although I think I can already guess that one. When I posted my first update at the 10% mark I was debating whether or not to include just one book from each author, but I have decided against this. I would quite like to see which authors appear more than once.

Here I am at the 20% mark and I have ticked off a few more decades, although I still haven’t completed one.

One from the 1900s (The Hound of the Baskervilles)
One from the 1910s (Peter Pan)
Three from the 1930s (Peril at End House, Murder Underground and Dumb Witness)
One from the 1940s (A House in the Country)
One from the 1950s (Ordeal by Innocence)
One from the 1970s (Bella)
Two from the 1990s (Ian Fleming and Girl with a Pearl Earring)

New decades for this update include the 1900s, 1930s and the 1970s, with three books from the 1930s in this update alone. The 1990s is still the most read decade at the moment as I have read five books from this decade, if I include 2000, which I realise actually makes my list 101 books long, but I have never been that good at maths. At the moment Agatha Christie is the most read author and I have a feeling this might stay the same throughout the challenge. The only decade without a read so far is the 1960s so maybe that will be ticked off by the next update.

It is difficult to choose a favourite read from this 10% but if I had to choose it would be A House in the Country as it wasn’t what I expected and I really enjoyed it. Equally my least favourite book wasn’t what I expected: Murder Underground. I think I have been spoilt by too much Agatha Christie and when I read a book from the same genre and era and it doesn’t live up to it I certainly notice.

Another great 10% completed from my list and I wonder how long it will take me to reach the next 10%.

Dumb Witness and the start of TBR 2015

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Title: Dumb Witness
Author: Agatha Christie
Published: 1937
Challenges: TBR Pile 2015, Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
After a serious fall down her stairs, Miss Emily Arundell writes to Hercule Poirot with suspicions that someone is attempting to murder her. Her fall is blamed on the dog, Bob and the ball he likes to push down the stairs, however with her money hungry family visiting, Emily is convinced the real culprit is among them. Could it be the fashionable and out-spoken Teresa? Or is her rakish brother, Charles to blame? There is always quiet, unassuming Bella, who has married a Greek doctor, but then again. After all she remembers putting Bob’s ball away herself. Unfortunately by the time Poirot reads Emily’s letter she is already dead, not from the fall, but from the liver disease that has plagued her for many years. Of course Poirot isn’t entirely convinced this is the case, especially when he discovers that Emily’s family do not benefit from the will, instead her companion, Miss Lawson does. He is anxious to discover the true culprit behind the fall and ensure that no one else comes to any harm; he is adamant that the guilty criminal could strike again.

My Thoughts
I love Agatha Christie and I find she is one of my go to authors; when life is getting a tad stressful and I need some light relief I know I can depend on a Christie novel to cheer me up. Of course Dumb Witness is no exception. It is a novel I have never come across before, having never seen a TV adaptation or heard it mentioned in various readings. As always I failed to guess the murderer, well I had an idea but only in the last twenty pages and my motive was completely wrong. As I have said before this is part of the beauty of Christie’s writing, I like the idea of guessing and hoping that one day I will get it right. Perhaps the most memorable characters were Teresa and Charles, both of whom seemed to exude an attitude of rich and spoilt which contrasted well the the Victorian morals of Emily Arundell. The differences in attitudes and opinions of generations is always interesting and I quite like the idea of a rich, disapproving, old aunt in the country – it reminds me of Jeeves and Wooster, although slightly less jovial. A great read and one less book from my Poirot reading list.

Challenges

Dumb Witness ticks boxes in three challenges; TBR Pile 2015; Reading the Twentieth Century and Reading England as some of the novel takes place in Berkshire. It is the first book on both my TBR Pile for the year and for Reading England so I am pleased to have gotten off the ground with these two challenges.

A Feast For Crows

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Title: A Feast For Crows
Author: George R. R. Martin
Published: 2005
Challenges: None
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis
The war for the Iron Throne is still raging through the Seven Kingdoms. The Lannisters have a king on the throne but their reign is by no means secure and there are many who are just waiting to see them fall. There are ever increasing signs that winter is well and truly on the way and with the corpses hanging from trees or floating down rivers at every turn, it is clear Westeros is a kingdom rife with uncertainty and devastation.

Ceresi Lannister is desperately trying to protect her young son, Tommen, the King. However with her allies gradually disappearing and her growing hatred towards the Tyrells and the young Queen, she is becoming increasingly more reckless in her actions. She has also severed ties with her twin, Jaime, who having lost his sword hand in the last novel, is trying his best to re-establish his authority by capturing Riverrun, despite his oath to Catelyn Stark to never harm a Tully or Stark. Sansa Stark is in hiding at The Eyrie masquerading as The Lord Protector’s daughter, the safest way to keep hidden from Cersei’s wrath. Her younger sister, Arya, has escaped the Seven Kingdoms and is attempting – unsuccessfully – to forge a life as a nobody away from the troubles she left behind. Brienne, is on a quest to find Sansa before Cersei’s spies find her. Samwell has left The Wall to protect Maester Aemon and to travel to the Citadel to become a Maester himself. Although obviously none of it is as simple as I make out, but then I am loathe to give away too many spoilers.

My Opinion
Those who read my blog regularly know that I am a huge fan of this series (A Song of Fire and Ice) and of my intentions to read the books before I watch anymore of the series. It was released over the weekend that Season Five starts in April, so I might try and read the following two books before then, as avoiding spoilers is so hard. However back to this book. A Feast For Crows has been my least favourite book in the series so far. Although it follows the same narrative style as the previous books, I found it difficult to follow in places and new characters were introduced who I didn’t quite understand/ care much about. I was also missing some of my favourite characters – Jon Snow and Tyrion in particular – although Martin does explain his reasons for excluding them from this book and they do make sense, I still missed them. As the fate of many characters have been left on cliffhangers, I have a few fears that they will be excluded from the next books and I will have to wait for the following book to be published before finding the answers to my questions, which will be so frustrating. I can only liken it to when the Harry Potter books were released.

That being said, I did of course enjoy the book and in particular I loved the hints as to what might happen next as this allowed me to start developing my own theories as to the fates of the different characters. Cersei is the character I have the most theories about, especially in terms of will she survive or not and how will she meet her fate. My friend has finished the series and has her own ideas, so I am looking forward to completing it myself and chatting with her. I am tempted to start re watching the TV series, well the two I have, just to see if there is anything else I have missed or any clues as to what will come, but that might have to wait.

A Feast For Crows is a vital part of the book series and obviously this is not a series you can read out of sequence, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite of the books so far. As always I look forward to reading the next book and seeing how the characters progress on their different journeys, but for the time being I think I need a mini break from ginormous reads and I am going to make a start on my TBR Pile 2015.

Cheerio 2014

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2014 has officially finished. It is New Year’s Day, I am not hungover, I’m watching The Wizard of Oz and reflecting on the past year’s reading. As with most people it has been a year of ups and downs, including some times when I didn’t really want to read and didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked. However having said that I read more books than 2013, having read 43 in 2013 and 49 in 2014; I am aiming for over 50 for 2015. I was going to follow a similar post to the end of 2013 but instead I am following Jessica at The Bookworm Chronicles and listing my Top Ten Reads of the Year.

In no particular order:

1 and 2. A Storm of Swords: Part One and Part Two by George. R. R. Martin.
I am loving A Song of Fire and Ice series and am currently reading book four and was given the last two books as a Christmas present. I love Martin’s writing style and the narrative is epic and so engaging. I am determined to read the remaining books before I watch anymore of the TV programme.

3. A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair.
A Persephone Book written and set during the Second World War. It follows the lives of those living in a house in the country and how they are coping with the uncertainty of war.

4. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie.
I love Agatha Christie and it was great to finally read the book that introduced millions of readers to the famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

5. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser.
This was an unexpected top read. Having languished on my shelf for many years I finally decided it was time to read it and I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this biography and how engaging and easy to understand it was.

6. World Without End by Ken Follett.
Having watched this when it was on TV and having read The Pillars of the Earth I was keen to read this epic novel and it didn’t disappoint. Set in Medieval England Follett cleverly depicts the lives of various people in the city of Kingsbridge, weaving the narrative around the various trails and tribulations they face.

7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I bought and read this book as a teenager and hadn’t really read it since. The story of a teenage girl with a secret she cannot tell anyone, even when she is ostracised from her peers she keeps it inside.

8. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien.
I tried to read this book when I was thirteen and just couldn’t get past the first one hundred pages. At twenty six I decided the time had come to try it again and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It certainly helped having seen the films several times so that I could picture various characters and settings, but as with all adaptations the book holds much more detail.

9. Bella by Jilly Cooper.
This was the only Jilly Cooper I read in 2014 and I have decided to make an effort to re-read more of her novels in 2015 and I love them and find her writing so comforting and it always hooks me in regardless of how many times I have read it before.

10. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling.
As with some of the other re-reads on my list it has been a while since I read any of the Harry Potter series and I forgot how much I enjoy them. I definitely need to continue with this series in the new year.

I had a lovely 2014 and I am sure I will continue to read lots of lovely new reads and old favourites in 2015. Happy New Year!