Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday | Books That Were Hard to Read!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read'. So, without further ado, here are my ten!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I love the Brontës, always have and always will, but when it comes to their novels it's Emily's I've always struggled with. I think the main reason I struggle with Wuthering Heights (and often find the book a little boring!) is because of the narration; first we're told the story through Heathcliff's lodger and then it's Nelly. Personally I'd have found the book a lot more enjoyable if I could read from Cathy or Heathcliff's POV.

The Withered Root by Rhys Davies: To be fair I didn't read this book properly. I had to proof-read an edition of it in the summer during my publishing internship and I despised it. If I hadn't had the enjoyment of correcting all the little mistakes (yep - that's how boring the actual story was) then there's no way I would have read it to the end.

Green Rider by Kristen Britain: I tried reading this book earlier this year and I'd like to give it another try in the future. I bought it a few years ago because it had a pretty cover, and while I enjoyed it when I initially began to read it, it quickly began to drag. Maybe one day I'll try again!

Eragon by Christopher Paolini: I'm sorry Eragon fans, but I hated this book. I managed to get through about two thirds of it before I had to put it down and I have no intention of picking it up again. It was so boring. And before anyone tells me 'the second book is when it gets really good', I shouldn't have to wait until the second book in a series to enjoy the story.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling: This book was on the reading list for my Victorian Popular Fiction module at university. I tried to read it - I really did - but I had to give up after a few chapters. I found the writing style so difficult to read and I wasn't all that interested by the story either.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I liked this book a lot and I did finish it, but gosh it was a challenge. It's not even a very big book, but it's so description heavy, even though the description is beautiful, that reading a couple of pages felt like reading a chapter. Finishing this book felt like an accomplishment, and while I did enjoy and I do think it's gorgeously written, I think it's pretty over-hyped.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: I tried reading The Count of Monte Cristo at the start of the year, but it's one of the few books I own that intimidates me with its size. I really want to read it, though - I've heard great things about it and I think it could become a favourite of mine if I could just get into it. If any of you are interested in reading The Count of Monte Cristo with me I'm going to host a read-a-long starting November 1st - there's a group that you can check out here if you're interested!

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin: This is another book I'd like to try reading again one day. I tried reading it last year and I was very excited by the premise; I love historical fiction and historical crime is a lot of fun, so the prospect of reading a historical crime novel with a female lead sounded fantastic to me. Unfortunately I found the book pretty disappointing; for a book set during the reign of Henry II there were a lot of modern ideas and terms being thrown about which threw me off a bit, so I felt more like I was reading a book about people in historical costumes rather than people in Medieval England.

Dante's Inferno: I enjoyed this read and I'm glad I can say I've read it, but it was hard work! It wasn't so much the language I found a problem (though it wasn't easy!) but the inclusion of people from Dante's life; I had to look at the footnotes a lot to understand the significance of various scenes, but it was worth it!

Persuasion by Jane Austen: This is another book I'd like to try reading again some day, but I first had to read this book when I was in sixth form and I really, really didn't like it. I had to force myself to finish it so that I could use it in my English coursework, and since then I've disliked Austen's novels. Now that I'm older, however, I'd like to give her another try - it's just hard to talk myself into reading the an author whose books I associate with boredom!

Which books made your top ten?

Monday, 29 September 2014

My Top Fifteen Songs From Musicals! (Part One)

I love musicals, though sadly I don't get to see them as often as I like. The best place to see musicals in the UK is London, but it's just so expensive. That doesn't stop me from listening to the music, though! And I listen to it a lot.

I was going to make a top ten list of my favourite songs from musicals, not only to share my love of musicals but also to try and showcase some of the lesser known musicals out there, but as I was compiling my list I realised I couldn't narrow it down to just ten songs, so instead I have fifteen! 

This post is the first of three, so without further ado, here are the first five of my top fifteen songs from musicals!

(These are in no particular order, I just love them all!)

Home - Beauty and the Beast

I mentioned a little while ago that Beauty and the Beast is my all time favourite film, and the music from the Broadway production is just gorgeous. Sadly I've never seen the musical, but I'd love to. If I'm perfectly honest I love pretty much all the songs from this musical (in fact I love pretty much all the songs from all the musicals I'll be mentioning!) but this one in particular is very special to me.

People Will Say We're in Love - Oklahoma!

Contrary to what I just said, this is probably the one musical on this list whose soundtrack I've never listened to in its entirety. I should really get on that! This song is so much fun, and to be honest it's on this list purely for Hugh Jackman the lyrics: "Don't stand in the rain with me; people will say we're in love", which I think are beautiful.

The Cat and the Moon - The Lord of the Rings

This is a really, really fun song! If you're a fan of folk music that gets people dancing and you haven't listened to this song then you need to listen to it right now. Now, go on!

Shadowland - The Lion King

This is the one musical in part one that I have actually seen! My parents took me to London when I was ten years old, which was very exciting for someone who'd never been before; while we were there we decided to see a show and my parents let me pick one, so, being the Disney lover that I am, I obviously chose The Lion King. And it was amazing. In fact I really want to go and see it again. 

This song is gorgeous - I love that there's more of Nala in the musical than there is in the film - and it's stunning live, too. If you ever get the chance to see this show then you have to see it!

Some Things Are Meant To Be - Little Women

We finish part one with a more melancholy song, but it's still beautiful. I love the story of Little Women, and it's just as great in musical form!

I've always had a fondness for Beth because I played her in an amateur dramatic production of Little Women when I was eighteen, but a lot of the time I think she's seen as a tool for Jo's story (which, in some ways, she is). I love this musical because each of the sisters is given a voice, and this song in particular does a wonderful job of expressing the love that Beth and Jo feel for each other. I have two sisters myself, and this song just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and sad.

I'll be back soon with the rest of my list!


Friday, 26 September 2014

Banned Books Week!

This week it's Banned Books Week, so, just like last year, let's celebrate our freadom!

Why not read one of these famous classics which are, or have been, banned:

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

When George Orwell completed Animal Farm in 1943 no publisher would print it because of its criticism of the USSR, Britain's ally during the war. When it was finally published it was banned there and in other communist countries. In 1991 a play adapted from the book was banned in Kenya because it criticised leaders, and in 2002 the book was banned in schools in the United Arab Emirates because it involved a talking, anthropomorphic pig which goes against Islamic values. Today Animal Farm is still banned in Cuba and North Korea, and is censored in China.

"Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear."

During the American Civil War, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was banned in the Confederate States because of its views on slavery. In 1852, it was banned in Russia during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I because of its ideas regarding equality and because it "undermined religious ideals."

"Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted."

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was banned in Ireland in 1932 and in Australia from 1932-1937 because of its references to sexual promiscuity.

"I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other."

In 1955, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was banned in South Africa because it was believed to contain "obscene" and "indecent" material.

What have you been reading this week?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday | My Autumn TBR!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find out everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List', and considering Halloween is getting closer I've decided to set myself a spooky/supernatural TBR!

by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . . 

by Stephen King

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic "Billy the Kid" Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in "Old Sparky." Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

by Thomas Harris

Seven years have passed since Dr Hannibal Lecter escaped from custody...

Seven years since FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling interviewed him in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. The doctor is still at large, but Starling has never forgotten her encounters with Dr Lecter, and the metallic rasp of his seldom-used voice still sounds in her dreams...

by James Herbert

Three nights of terror in a house called Edbrook. Three nights in which David Ash, there to investigate a haunting, will be the victim of horrifying and maleficent games. Three nights in which he fill face the enigma of his own past. Three nights before Edbrook's dreadful secret will be revealed - and the true nightmare will begin.

by Daphne du Maurier

Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamourous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers...

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print,Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

by James Bradley

London, 1826: Gabriel Swift has left behind his father's failures to study with Edwin Poll, the greatest of the city's anatomists. It is his chance to find advancement by making a name for himself. But instead he finds himself drawn to his master's nemesis, Lucan, the most powerful of the city's resurrectionists and ruler of its trade in stolen bodies. Dismissed by his master, Gabriel descends into the violence and corruption of London's underworld, a place where everything and everyone is for sale, and where, as Gabriel discovers, the taking of a life is easier than it might seem.

Ten years later, another man teaches art in the penal colony of New South Wales, his spare time spent trapping and painting birds. But as becomes clear when he falls in love with one of his pupils, no one may escape their past forever, and the worst prisons are often those we make for ourselves.

by Bram Stoker

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

by Mira Grant

The year was 2014. The year we cured cancer. The year we cured the common cold. And the year the dead started to walk. The year of the Rising.

The year was 2039. The world didn't end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. They uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.

Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies-and if there's one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it's this:

Things can always get worse.

by K.N. Shields

Two hundred years after the Salem witch trials, a grisly new witch hunt is beginning. 

Salem, New England, many dark nights ago. It is a time of spells and shadows, of black magic and blood. And the most famous witch hunt in history is about to begin... 

Years later, a young woman is found savagely murdered, a pitchfork thrust through her neck, her body arranged in the shape of a star: the death pose of a witch. Someone - or something - is reviving the terror of the notorious Salem Witch hunts. And only one man - a brilliant, eccentric loner with a dazzling mind and a fascination with witchcraft - can keep the evils of the past at bay. 

by Celia Rees

Ellen Forrest is sick, she feels as if the life is being sucked out of her. The doctors think that she is suffering from a disease of the blood, and she has been sent to her grandmother's house to rest, but she seems to be getting worse, not better. Can it have anything to do with the diaries she has found in the attic? Diaries written in Victorian times by her great great grandmother. Diaries that describe an encounter with a handsome young Count who comes from the Land Beyond the Forest. 

Ellen likes a vampire story, who doesn't? The difference is that this one just happens to be true…

Which books made your top ten?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Classics & Contemporaries | Social Commentary

Back in July I started this new series with Romance and promised that I'd be back in August with the Science Fiction installment. Then I ended up going on a little hiatus while I finished up my MA coursework and there was no C&C post in August! 

I thought of just bumping Science Fiction up into September and doing two C&C posts, but considering Halloween is next month, I thought it would be a lot more fun to write up Science Fiction then, alongside the Gothic post I have planned.

So today we're talking about Social Commentary, and I promise you it's a lot less boring and/or intimidating than it sounds!

Social Commentary does what it says on the tin; these are the kind of books that had something to say about the time they were written in, regarding issues from gender to class to race to poverty - you name it, someone's written about it!

Charles Dickens is probably one of the most well known authors for this kind of literature; so many of his stories explore issues with poverty and class - just think of the way he portrayed the workhouses in Oliver Twist.

In fact we're starting our Social Commentary journey in the 19th century, with a brilliant (and sadly underrated) female author...

Anne Brontë is one third of the fantastic Brontë trio, but no one seems to talk about her as much as her sisters. She is most famous for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is believed to be one of the first Victorian feminist novels, but today I'm going to be talking about her first, semi-autobiographical novel, Agnes Grey.

Agnes Grey tells the story of its titular character, who decides to take life by the horns and become a governess to help her family after her father loses all of his money through no fault of his own. As the younger of two daughters her family are initially uncertain, but Agnes is determined to prove herself and soon finds herself the governess for the children of the wealthy Bloomfields. 

Working for the Bloomfields is nothing short of disastrous; the children are spoilt and cruel, much like their parents who constantly criticise everything Agnes does. Unhappy and lonely, Agnes is relieved when Mr Bloomfield sends her back home, convinced that his children are not learning fast enough, and her mother helps her to find her new position with the Murray family.

Agnes becomes the governess to the Murray's two daughters, Rosalie and Matilda, and though she still often feels the isolation that comes with being a governess, she develops a tentative friendship with the flirtacious Rosalie and befriends the kind curate, Edward Weston.

Throughout Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë reveals how governesses were really treated in the 19th century, and through Agnes's friendship with Rosalie Murray she explores femininity and the way women were treated, even if they happened to be wealthy women. It's an exquisite little novel, and it's one of my favourites, but I think it's something of a marmite read; I loved it, but I've come across many people who found it boring.

So if you're not quite ready for the 19th century, perhaps this piece of historical fiction will be more to your taste...

Eva Ibbotson is a guilty pleasure of mine. She's well known for her children's books, but also for her YA historical romance fiction. A Song For Summer is one such novel, and, like Agnes Grey, it features a feminine heroine, named Ellen, who finds herself working with children when she accepts a job as the housekeeper at a school in Austria.

Ellen becomes intrigued by Marek, the school's mysterious gardener and fencing teacher, but as Hitler's troops advance across Europe their love is endangered by the looming shadow of war.

A Song For Summer is much more romance orientated than Agnes Grey, though Brontë does a wonderful job of portraying the yearning that goes hand in hand with unrequited love, but they both have an innate sweetness which is laced with serious and thought-provoking themes. If you like A Song For Summer, then I definitely believe you would enjoy a classic like Agnes Grey!

Next we have a much more modern classic, written by one of the world's most famous playwrights!

I'm incredibly jealous of anyone who got to study Arthur Miller's The Crucible in school. I had to read Death of a Salesman instead and I loathed it. The Crucible, however, is right up my alley!

The Crucible is Miller's take on the famous Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century. Originally published in the 1950s, it is believed to be an allegory for "McCarthyism", the practice of accusing people of treason or disloyalty without evidence, when the American government began to blacklist suspected communists. 

It's a brilliant commentary on hysteria, manipulation and morality, and you don't have to be a history enthusiast to enjoy it! (Though those of you who do enjoy your history might just appreciate it all the more).

However, while The Crucible is a modern classic, and therefore less intimidating than something as huge as War and Peace, it is a play, and often plays are a lot more fun to watch than they are to read.

But have no fear! I have a very recent novel that might just spark your fancy...

Katherine Howe is no stranger to the Salem Witch Trials; not only is she believed to be descended from two of the accused witches, but her first novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, is all about witchcraft. Her recent YA novel, Conversion, isn't all that different.

In Danvers, Massachusetts Colleen Rowley, a student at St. Joan's Academy, is trying to get through high school and all the stress that comes with it. She's been reading The Crucible for extra credit, and when the school's queen bee, Clara Rutherford, falls mysteriously ill with seizures and violent coughing fits, an illness which soon spreads to her circle of friends, Colleen's suspicions begin to rise.

After all, Danvers used to be known as Salem Village where, centuries before, another group of girls suffered from the same epidemic...

I think the very fact that Conversion's protagonist is reading The Crucible herself makes it an ideal read for anyone out there who's not quite ready to read Arthur Miller's famous play. Ultimately, Conversion takes the famous story of the Salem Witch Trials, or at least the epidemic that led to them, and places them in the 21st century. So if you enjoy Conversion, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy The Crucible!

There's another genre (though I suppose Social Commentary is more of a sub-genre) done and dusted! Check back next month for Science Fiction and Gothic, just in time for Halloween!


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Waiting On Wednesday | The Penguin Book of Witches

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly feature hosted over at Breaking the Spine as a way for us readers to share the upcoming releases we're most looking forward to!

My pick this week is: The Penguin Book of Witches ed. by Katherine Howe

Expected Publication Date: 30th September, 2014

Publisher: Penguin Classics

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft, never failing to horrify, intrigue, and delight.

Why I'm Waiting: I'm a big history nerd, and this year I've been working on a novel featuring witches and witchcraft, so this book is calling to me! I own so many novels about witches, but I'd love to get my hands on a book full of actual historical accounts of witchcraft. I think this book will be really interesting!

What are you waiting on?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday | Authors I Need to Read More Of!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

This week's theme is 'Top Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More', which sounded like way too much fun to miss! So, without further ado, here are my top ten:

Eva Ibbotson

One Book Read: A Company of Swans

Diana Wynne Jones

One Book Read: Howl's Moving Castle

J. Sheridan Le Fanu

One Book Read: Carmilla

Katherine Howe

Margaret Atwood

One Book Read: The Penelopiad

Rainbow Rowell

One Book Read: Attachments

Wilkie Collins

One Book Read: The Moonstone

Susan Fletcher

One Book Read: Corrag

Shirley Jackson

Geraldine Brooks

One Book Read: Year of Wonders

Who made your top ten?

Monday, 15 September 2014

End of Hiatus!

So that little hiatus that was only supposed to be a week long ended up lasting for almost a month. Oops!

I have to say, however, that it was really helpful. I needed to put all of my concentration into finishing up my MA - which is now finished! - and now that I've finished university (possibly for good if I decide to never go back!) I can start putting my efforts back into blogging, and I'm really looking forward to getting back into the blogosphere! I may post something later this week, but the likelihood is that from next week is when I'll be back to my regular posting.

Speak to you soon!