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2014 Round Up

It has been quite a year for me in book terms. Although I embarked on my BBC Top 100 project in 2013, 2014 was the year where I really started to commit to the idea and mark my progress. I joined Goodreads last December and then started this blog in June all so that I could engage with reading in a much more diverse and social way. On Christmas Eve I completed my first ever Goodreads 50 books challenge. Previously I would have easily said that I read 50 books a year but now I realise that it was probably half that.

Most important for me is the response that my little book blog has had. It amazes me that people want to read my 500 word rambles on books that are being discussed far more eloquently elsewhere. I can hardly believe it every time I get a little notification in the top right hand corner saying that someone has followed my blog and every like and comment fills me with happiness.

So I would just like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to you all. I saw a post not long ago about how you can go weeks in the real world without meeting a single person who reads and yet there is this amazing community online where people are so passionate about books that they have to share their experience. Thanks for being a part of my experience.

I hope that this holiday season brought you joy and new books, have a very happy new year and I hope that you will join me as I carry on adventuring into 2015.

Claudia x

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The Big Read

No. 1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien Read 22/7/14

This is another book that is going to be very hard to review. All I can do is be honest, I don’t care if I have nothing new to add to the conversation on The Lord of the Rings or if my opinion isn’t cool enough or whatever. I can only say how I truly feel.

I grew up with the Peter Jackson film trilogy and although it never grabbed me as a child as Harry Potter did I have many fond memories involving, LOTR Top Trumps and actions figures. Now I was defiantly too young to love Lord of the Rings when it first came out and as with most things from my childhood I rediscovered them as a teenager with renewed vigour. And yet despite the fact aged 18 Lord of  the Rings overtook Harry Potter and even Star Wars as my favourite fantasy series I couldn’t bring myself to read the books.

This is because everyone, literally everyone I knew told me that they were impossibly hard to read and completely inaccessible. Even my English Literature teacher told me that they were so difficult she only succeeded in reading them on the third attempt. And this made me dread the experience. I knew I was going to have to tackle them at some point for my BBC challenge but I waited until the summer holidays when I had nothing to do but read, so I could focus all my energy on beating this insurmountable force.

I will tell you now, everything that everyone ever told me about The Lord of the Rings was a lie. I could hardly believe it! What was all this fuss about it being so challenging? Wuthering Heights is harder to read than The Lord of the Rings and I read that when I was 15! I was furious I had been denied the immeasurable pleasure of reading the greatest fantasy adventure ever written because of a load of rubbish about how hard it was.

In reality The Lord of the Rings is wonderful to read. The language is utterly absorbing and transports you to Middle Earth so completely you forget about the book and the words and you just live the story. It doesn’t have the detail of the films, nor the emotion but I don’t mind that. The beauty of The Lord of the Rings is in the complex structure of that universe and its peoples. There is less focus on characters and more on plot and it has the feeling of a Medieval epic, a Shakespeare play and The Canterbury Tales all rolled into one.

I know I shall read it again and again throughout my life. In fact I intend to buy a beautiful edition to sit on my bookshelf so that I can just admire it that is how powerfully the experience of reading this book has remained with me. I am not embarrassed to love The Lord of the Rings and I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea and many people think it nerdy but I couldn’t care less.

Rating: 5/5

Would recommend to: read before you die even if you don’t think you’ll like it. It will enrich your life.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – A Less Boring History of the World, Dave Rear Read 8/7/14

I like to read non-fiction every once in a while when I am bored with novels or just see something that grabs my fancy. This was the case with this book, I love world history and it looked like a funny summary of all the major events that shaped our planet.

I must admit I was a little bit disappointed. It is very brief, I mean I expected it to be brief how much world history can you cover in under 300 pages? But I learnt more about the history of the world in my Costume History class than in this book.

It has a very British approach to history making rather light of everything that should be a bit more serious and providing rather pointless details for the sake of amusement. That being said it gives rather a fair representation of all nations, except the French because hating the French is a British institution, and is quite willing to admit that Britain isn’t all that marvellous either.

It was quite funny. I can’t remember anything else about it.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: leave on the shelf.

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Other Books 2013/14

Other Books – The Help , Kathryn Stockett 7/7/14

From my Goodreads review:

“Having read the other reviews I’m a bit nervous to say that I really like this book. I love social commentaries in general and I think that this one hits a really nice balance between thought provoking and enjoyable.
There were times that I giggled and smiled and times where I had to stop reading for a minute in shock to process what I had read and think “there was a time and a place in the world where that was normal”.
Sometimes I think that if a social commentary is too heavy handed with its criticism the reader can shrink from the message because it is too painful to absorb. But this one balances the social point with characters you like and care about (and cry about) and for me as a result of this, the message is all the more prominent.”

I really like this book and I think that the above is a pretty decent summary of my feelings, but I wish to talk about this in more detail especially due to the current situation regarding Ferguson and America in general.

This book is an excellent example of both white privileged and how to overcome it to sensitively and effectively champion the oppressed. In 1962 a white women longing to be a journalist returns to her home town in Mississippi from college to find her childhood nanny has left with no explanation. As she re-enters privileged white society she struggles to cope with the prejudice of her friends. A black maid mourns the pointless death of her son as she raises her seventeenth white child whose mother couldn’t care less. Her friend, also a maid, loses yet another job after she sasses her boss and through desperation takes a job for a family full of its own secrets. These three women go on to write a controversial and dangerous book about life as a domestic servant in Mississippi as they try to start a movement of their own.

It is unbelievable to me the parallels that exist between this book set 52 years ago and the fear and injustice in America today. The Help is such a wonderful book because it gives the black women a voice not only in the plot but also in the narrative. They are able to tell their stories from their own point of view both to the reader and to the people of this fictitious Mississippi town.

Skeeter, the young white women, has to examine her own prejudice and acknowledge her own privilege as she gets to know these women and although she often makes mistakes, it is due to her complete ignorance of the situation for the black community. What she ends up doing is using her privilege to help those in need. Aibileen and Minny, the maids, had the courage to stand up for their people but the didn’t have the voice; Skeeter gave them hers without making it about herself.

I sincerely hope that you can see why I feel that this book has more importance today than it did 5 months ago when I read it. I also hope that more people will read this book and increase their understanding of racism in America both historically and in the present day then just maybe they might stand with Ferguson.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: as I saw it put on Goodreads, everyone and their mum, and their barbers.

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The Big Read

No. 81 – The Twits, Roald Dahl Read 5/7/14

I think this may have to be a short review because there is very little in The Twits that can be critiqued. If you don’t know The Twits is the story of an evil elderly couple who play horrid tricks on each other, torment their pet monkeys by making them stand on there heads all day and cruelly capture birds to bake into pies. The monkeys however plot not only their escape but their revenge.

The Twits has the dark humour that I love about Roald Dahl; he seems to acknowledge that there are evil people in the world and children need to be aware of this. He does this in a way which is incomparably funny. Even as I read this aged 20 I couldn’t help but smile at the ridiculous, ingenious way that the monkeys get their revenge.

This book also has an amazing message for children which is delivered with humour but without irony,

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on their face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week , every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bare to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: children everywhere.

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The Big Read

No. 53 – The Stand, Stephen King Read 7/6/14

It took me an awfully long time to read The Stand. I started in February and I planned to read a chapter a day which would have had me finish on the 14th May but that really didn’t happen.  Most annoyingly I bought a brand new copy of this book from an actual bookshop and I tell you what a waste of money and paper.

I unknowingly bought the second edition which had an extra 400 pages in (great) making this the longest book I have ever read. In my opinion, this book could have been 1000 pages shorter. I am not exaggerating, the story could have been told in 324 pages.

A brief summary of the plot: a weaponised strand of the flu kills 99% of the worlds population. The handful of survivors try to make their way in the new world but they are threatened by the approaching shadow of the dark man. A psychic link results in the survivors being drawn to one of two places the home of 108 year old Mother Abigail or Las Vegas where the dark man waits.

My issues with this book.

Firstly, too many characters. I like novels where there are multiple story lines and then they all converge at one point or another but in The Stand it is impossible to keep track of them all. The narrative leaves them behind for too long so by the time the story comes back around you are left thinking “who is this guy?”. It also means that you don’t care about them because you can’t get to know them. The narrative is too busy changing between all these different points of view.

Secondly, 75% of this book is people travelling across America. I mean walking, day after day, trying to find food and being scared. That is the majority of the book but it is played out 10 times because of all the different people. First you go through the struggle with one character, then the story jumps and you have to go through the whole boring rigmarole again with every other character. After a while, you get the point. America is a big place and the people are scared. Can we have a little more progression please?

Thirdly, the ending. It is so bad. I am not sure if it just feels worse because of all the tedium you have to go through to get there. But finally, you think now we are going to have some conflict, something which is going to make me turn the pages in desperation as was promised on the cover. Nope. No. I spent over 35 hours of my life on this book that I will never get back, I worked it out that’s how annoyed I am.

And why did I do it, for all you lovely people who read this blog. There is something to be said for completing a 1324 page book that you aren’t enjoying. I just am not sure what that is. Perseverance? Hope? Stubbornness? In my case I think it’s the last one.

Rating: 2/5

Would recommend to: use as a fuel source is ever you find yourself in the midst of an apocalypse.

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