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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study

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If you’re following my reviews, you’ll have probably noticed that I haven’t read very much this year, I just haven’t found myself wanting to pick up a book and read very much.

But if I needed a book to renew my desire to read, Poison Study was perfect. My friend Abi bought it for me for Christmas, so I should have known it would be awesome, I literally couldn’t put it down.

I always used to think that a standard chick-lit book was my favourite genre, a nice bit of smushy romance and nothing too deep, but I was wrong, I love books with a bit of magic or otherworldliness about them to make them more interesting.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on the plot of this book so I don’t give away any spoilers, but I have to say I loved the main character, Yelena. A strong young woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to try and get it, who doesn’t need (or want) a man to save her, and who has a kick-ass attitude that you can’t help but love.

She was sentenced to death for killing a man, but on the day of her execution, she is given a last minute reprieve; the Commander needs a new food taster, and the rules dictate that this role be offered to the next prisoner sentenced to hang.

But it doesn’t feel like a reprieve for long, as Yelena is forced to drink a poison that will require her to drink an antidote every day for the rest of her life. Eliminating the chances of escape as only her tutor and keeper, Valek, has the antidote.

And speaking of Valek, he was such a well written character; enigmatic and mysterious and completely loveable despite his seemingly mean exterior. The one thing that confused me though was that either we are never told how old Valek is or I missed it, but for some reason when I pictured him in my head I pictured a pot-bellied old man. So *spoiler alert* when 19 year old Yelena starts to fall for Valek and the feelings seem to be mutual, I had to quickly re-draw my mental picture before my mental picture got weird!

The pacing of the book was absolutely perfect, fast enough to keep you on your toes and stop you from putting the book down to go to sleep, but slow enough that it didn’t feel rushed and you felt like every inch of the story was given the attention it deserved.

I am so, so happy to know that this book is the first in a set, and even happier to know that Abi also bought me the next two parts, so I can continue straight away and find out what is coming for Yelena. After the ending that I just devoured, I’m desperate to know what happens next.

Kody Keplinger – The DUFF

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I’ve had this book for ages and it’s been in my suitcase on at least 3 holidays, but I never actually got around to reading it. I guess I was a bit scared that it would be a bit too childish.

But after reading, I don’t think I had much to worry about. I mean, obviously it’s a book aimed at teenage girls, but it wasn’t as dumbed down as I thought it would be, and I found myself caught up in the story much more than I thought I would.

As the title says, the book is about a girl who considers herself ‘the duff’ of her group – the designated ugly fat friend. That is, she does after a boy rather kindly points it out to her. Bianca hates this guy with a passion, but as you can probably guess, she ends up falling for him.

But the book wasn’t all wishy-washy love, it also tackled some more difficult subjects like her parent’s divorce and her father’s alcoholism. This was a saving grace for the book as it stopped it being too girly and childish. Even the evolving love story between Bianca and Wesley had a lot of substance to it, not just a girl mooning over the hottest boy in school.

I had a couple of favourite quotes from the book, mostly coming after Bianca realises that although she considers herself to be ‘the duff’, her two best friends also consider themselves as ‘the duff’ of the group. It’s so true that as women, we seem to focus on our own flaws and see the best in other people, putting ourselves down and making ourselves feel inferior for no reason.

“Calling Vikki a slut or a whore was just like calling somebody the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off the inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like one of these sexist labels described her at some point.”

Rowan Williams – Being Christian

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It seems like a long time since I read this book now, I’ve been really busy with work and not had time to come on here and update my blog.

Since January, I have been attending classes at the vicarage to prepare to be Confirmed at Church, and this was a book that I read in the run-up to my confirmation just before Easter (Palm Sunday on 20th March).

Despite being written by a previous Archbishop of Canterbury, the book was written in a very straightforward way, easy to understand for those of us still getting to grips with our faith. The subtitle of the book is ‘Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer’, and throughout the book, Williams teaches us what each of these four things means as a Christian and how they relate to our faith.

Each chapter was written in a very concise way (the book was only 84 pages in total), so it’s not too daunting for a newbie, and for those of us a bit further along the journey, it was a great help along the way.

Being written by someone as knowledgeable as Rowan Williams, the book was filled with bits that made me stop and think, and places where I had to go back and re-read because a phrase resonated with me so much.

I especially appreciated the Eucharist chapter in the run-up to my Confirmation and my first Communion in the Church of England, and in fact some of my favourite quotes came from this chapter.

It’s hard to pick a favourite quote from such a good book, but this really stuck with me:

“One of the most transformingly surprising things about Holy Communion is that it obliges you to see the person next to you as wanted by God. God wants that person’s company as well as mine. How much simpler if God only wanted my company and that of those I had decided to invite. But God does not play that particular game. And the transforming effect of looking at other Christians as people whose company God wants, is – by the look of things – still sinking in for a lot of Christians, and taking rather a long time…”

Jesse Andrews – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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I really wanted to love this book as I’ve had it on my shelf for about 3 months waiting to be read. But I just couldn’t love it. I think the book suffered due to the obvious comparisons I was bound to make to The Fault in Our Stars, which was supremely awesome.

Whereas in TFIOS I found myself crying at multiple points, I just didn’t get enough attachment to the characters of Greg, Earl or Rachel to get emotional about the outcome of the book. I read the inevitable death as an unknown person rather than a close friend, which is how I felt in TFIOS.

I did find the book amusing, Greg is a funny character and I loved the constant changing writing styles which kept you on your toes and did make the book feel more like the diary of a teenager. And while I didn’t get emotionally attached to any of the main characters, I did find them extremely likeable and relatable as young adults.

I’m going to give the book 3 stars out of 5, I loved the writing style, but the lack of emotional connection in what was obviously supposed to be an emotional book just let it down a little for me. I think I’ll still give the film a try, even though judging by the book cover, the actors in the film bear little resemblance to the awkward teenagers described in the book.

Mike Erre – The Jesus of Suburbia

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I feel quite conflicted about this book. For around 80%, I would say I sat reading and nodding in agreement, occasionally reading the same passage over and over again as it just felt so spot on that it was like someone had taken my thoughts and put them on paper.

But then also quite often, it felt like the author was doing exactly what his book was supposed to be criticising, claiming to know what God would want and denouncing the Church as it currently exists as ‘failing’.

He’s an American author, and the book was specifically about the Church in America, which obviously I have no knowledge of, but I imagine that the same thoughts can be applied to the Church across the world.

The main thought of the book is that we have diluted the Jesus of the Bible to a tamer and more palatable Jesus, using him to make ourselves feel better about our lives. And spending our time learning all about Jesus without actually putting into practice the things he was preaching and making the changes that he wanted to in our lives.

I’d love to read this book again in the future and give it another chance, as my faith develops I might find I get a different message from it.

There were a few great quotes that stuck with me, and I’ll share a couple here:

“Who, then, are the best missionaries, the best demonstrators of the gospel? The pastors? No way. We’re ‘paid’ to be religious. I think it is the mortgage brokers, moms, students, janitors, baristas and executives who fill our churches. How does God reach lawyers? By dressing up some of his children as lawyers and putting them to work. How does God reach college students? By dressing up his children as college students and sending them off to school. As Jesus put it in Matthew 28:19, As you are going through life, make disciples of all nations.”

“We say to God, ‘Show me and I’ll believe’. Instead, God says to us ‘Believe, and I’ll show you’. This is the life of following Jesus Christ. We say ‘God, show me your will and I’ll obey you’. God says, ‘Obey me, and I’ll show you my will’. God isn’t looking for a bunch of ‘I should do this because that’s what good Christians do’ kind of people. He is looking for ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world’ kind of people.”

Nicky Gumbel – The Jesus Lifestyle

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After finishing the Alpha course before Christmas, I was definitely ready to dive in deeper. As well as signing up for classes to prepare for Confirmation in March (exciting!), I decided to buy a few books to learn more. The first one I chose was one recommended in the Alpha handbook (and written by the creator of the course).

The book takes to pieces Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and explains how each piece relates to ‘real life’, and how we should put it into practice each and every day. It reads kind of like a self-help book, giving you practical steps for making a better life. But instead of the usual self-help books trying to help you get more money or success, the sole purpose of this book is to help you become closer to Jesus.

I found the book very revealing, so many times I sat thinking, ‘that’s me’, making me realise how many ways I’m falling short of living a ‘good’ life. But thankfully, that doesn’t mean the end. The book shows you just how much of God’s love and grace is shown within the Sermon on the Mount. Parts of the text that I’ve previously skipped over or not paid attention to are revealed in much greater depth and my eyes were opened.

There are so many quotes that I could pick out as my favourite, but the one that has stuck with me most was from towards the end of the book, and it grabbed me so much that I read it multiple times before moving on:

“Many have pointed out that when reading the Sermon on the Mount, we recognise that we cannot possibly live up to it without help from outside. The standards it sets are unattainable and therefore we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He alone can enable us to live up to the pattern of life Jesus has set out. Jesus promises us that God will give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Only as we repent, put our faith in Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit will we be able to put into practice the words of Jesus.

Review: Claire Fuller – Our Endless Numbered Days

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Cameron’s mum gave me book tokens for Christmas so I could buy books without Cameron shouting at me (she gets me), so I took myself on a trip to WH Smiths and Waterstones and came back with a few books, including this one.

The description on the back was reminiscent of Room by Emma Donoghue, a book I read in 2012 and absolutely loved. And the cover itself is beautiful, which always helps.

Peggy is eight years old when her father takens her to live in a cabin in a remote Euorpean forest. There, he tells her that her mother and the rest of the world are gone.

The book is set simultaneously in 1976 onwards, where Peggy has been taken to Die Hutte with her father and is living as ‘the last surviving people on the planet’, and also in 1985, where Peggy has made it home and is coming to terms with being back in her real life. I thought that knowing straight away that Peggy would make it home would spoil the suspense of the story, but it didn’t, if anything, everything that happened had you on tenterhooks as you wondered ‘is this it, is this when she escapes?’.

The plot and the characters reel you in with an intensity I’ve not had in a while, leaving me unable to put the book down and stop reading. It flowed so well that I didn’t even feel like I was turning pages, I was so absorbed in the book that I might as well have been inside the pages themselves. I was so taken with Peggy’s character that it was almost as if her life was entwined with mine, and there were times while I was reading that I couldn’t breathe.

The ending of the book (contrary to what you might think) actually threw up a few surprises, including a couple of moments where I actually gasped with shock at the scene that was playing out in front of me, and it made me want to flick back to the beginning and start again to see what I may have missed.

A beautiful start to 2016, absolutely fantastic.

5/5

Review: P. L. Travers – Mary Poppins

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IMG_20151231_212055I had obviously known that Mary Poppins was based on a book, but I’d never even thought to read it. I don’t know why, but it was on sale at Asda, along with Annie (which I hadn’t known was based on a book), so I couldn’t resist buying them both to see what they were like.

It turns out that Mary Poppins the book is not very much like Mary Poppins the film. I guess when you’re turning a 170 page book into a 2 hour film, there’s going to be some embellishments, but I hadn’t expected it to be so different.

Don’t get me wrong, the book was enjoyable, but definitely not what I had expected. There were a lot more ‘odd’ parts of the book compared to the film, which I think would have been mesmerising if I had read the book as a child, but my childlike imagination has dwindled somewhat and I couldn’t quite find the magic as I think I should have.

3/5

I Heart Fitbit! ♥

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I’ve absolutely loved my Fitbit this year. I joined the gym in March, started going in earnest with my best friend in May and it was great for tracking the calories I was burning. Until my world was turned upside down when I was made redundant, I was very happy with the steps I was doing!

Unfortunately, my old office was very close to the beautiful Yeadon Tarn, but I don’t have that any more. I will have to find somewhere new to walk so I can beat my totals next year!

Fitbit 2015

Books for 2016

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As I said before, one of my resolutions for 2016 is to read more books, although I should have been more specific as it should really be to read more books from my shelves and buy less new books. To try and accomplish this, I’ve written a shortlist of books that I want to read this year. Some have been lent or given to me by friends, others I’ve recently (or not so recently bought) and I don’t want them to languish any longer on my shelves.

So, in no particular order, here’s the books that I want to read this year:

  • Claire Fuller – Our Endless Numbered Days
  • Laura Barnett – The Versions of Us
  • Jeff Vander Meer – Annihilation
  • Jeff Vander Meer – Authority
  • Jeff Vander Meer – Acceptance
  • Jesse Andrews – Me, Earl and The Dying Girl
  • Cheryl Strayed – Wild
  • George R. R. Martin – Dangerous Women
  • Carrie Hope Fletcher – All I Know Now
  • Frances Brody – Death of an Avid Reader
  • Jodi Picoult – Leaving Time
  • Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl
  • Kody Keplinger – Lying Out Loud
  • Thomas Meehan – Annie
  • John Sentamu’s Life Stories
  • Nicky Gumbel – The Jesus Lifestyle
  • Kody Keplinger – The Duff
  • Brandon Sanderson – The Rithmatist
  • Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings
  • Anne Bronte – Agnes Grey
  • Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study
  • Maria V. Snyder – Magic Study
  • Maria V. Snyder – Fire Study

That’s 23 books, which shouldn’t be too much of a stretch, but I’m sure I’ll end up buying more books throughout the year and end up not finishing the list anyway!