Lemony Snicket – The Wide Window

The Wide Window

After escaping from the clutches of Count Olaf yet again, but forced to leave Uncle Monty’s house by his unfortunate demise, the Baudelaire children find themselves on Damocles dock, being put into a taxi by Mr Poe to take them to their Aunt Josephine’s house overlooking Lake Lachrymose. The children are not hopeful that she will be a better guardian than Uncle Monty, and unfortunately it’s looks like they may be right.

Because Josephine is frightened of absolutely anything. The door mat, the door knobs, the telephone, the cooker, everything. So much so that their meal on the first night in Josephine’s home is cold cucumber soup, and they have to put a pile of tins in front of their bedroom doors so they will know if a burglar enters the house.

But the siblings can handle this, as long as they are safe from the clutches of Count Olaf, after all, there’s a great big library overlooking the lake and they still have each other. But alas, not. Aunt Josephine is forced to take them into town to get supplies to stock up for the coming hurricane, and there she meets a man called Captain Sham. But poor Aunt Josephine won’t listen to the children’s protests that he is actually Count Olaf – after all, the Captain has a wooden leg, and Count Olaf definitely did not!

When the children wake up the next morning to find a hole in the library window and a note apparently from Josephine saying that she entrusts their care to Captain Sham, it looks like Count Olaf may finally get his hands on the children.

But the children won’t give up that easily, and they come through with ingenious ways to escape from this horrible horrible man.

I LOVE this book, and not just because the ‘Lachrymose Leeches’ have been a running joke in our house for the 15+ years since we first read it together. These are only short books, but very enjoyable and great for reminiscing!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2000
Number of Pages: 214
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 1st February 2017 – 2nd February 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.91
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Lemony Snicket – The Reptile Room

The Reptile Room

Before reading this book, I looked at some of the reviews on Goodreads and it seems like a lot of people complaining that this book (and the series) are quite similar to the first book. Well, its a children’s book and the whole series is devoted to Count Olaf trying to get his hands on the Baudelaire children, so obviously they’re going to be slightly similar.

But I have no problem with that. You know kind-of what the plot is going to be but it’s completely different in execution to the others. I actually love how the author can dream up such wild plots for his books, he must have an incredible mind.

In this book, the Baudelaire children have been shipped off to their Uncle Montgomery’s house. He is a herpetologist (which means he studies reptiles), and he seems to be the perfect guardian for the children. But when his new assistant Stephano arrives, Violet, Klaus and Sunny immediately know that this isn’t Stephano, it’s Count Olaf.

But of course, they’re only children and they are very distressed by the death of their parents, so no-one will listen to them. And this obviously doesn’t go very well, in fact some may say that it was disastrous for Uncle Monty.

Another great read, I love reading about how the children can get themselves out of each situation with their inventive genius, their bookish knowledge and their very strong teeth!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 1999
Number of Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 22nd January 2017 – 28th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.94
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Lemony Snicket – The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning

These books take me back to my childhood, we read them as a family as they came out, but I’m not sure now that I ever actually reached the end of the series. As the Netflix series has just been released (which is great by the way), I thought I’d take the chance to read them all again.

The Baudelaire children might be the unluckiest children in the world, and we are introduced to them in this first book of the thirteen. We’re also introduced to scheming Count Olaf and his cronies, and of course the hapless Mr Poe.

A lot of the reviews of this book on Goodreads seem to be quite negative about the way that this book is written and that it’s quite patronising (that means that it talks down to you), with the use of describing the meanings of words mid-sentence.

But I think it’s done quite naturally through the book and I think these people may have forgotten that these are children’s books, and this way of writing means that the author can introduce younger readers to bigger words. I used to have to write down all the words I didn’t know so that I could ask my mum what they meant later, so this would have been a relief for her!

Saying that they are children’s books, the actual plot is quite adult – for example in this book Count Olaf tries to take control of the Baudelaire fortune by marrying Violet, the oldest child (but still only 14 years old). But it’s done in quite a light-hearted way so that although as a child you would feel the peril, it’s not horrifying!

I’m so looking forward to re-reading all these books!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 1999
Number of Pages: 162
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 14th January 2017 – 21st January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.88
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Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey

Agnes Grey

I realised recently that I have never read anything by Anne Brontë, and I decided that I had to remedy that situation. She seems to be the most overlooked of the Brontë sisters, hidden away behind her sister’s bigger novels; Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

But I’m not entirely sure why, as I found this book utterly delightful. You can tell more from this book than from Charlotte or Emily that the Brontë’s were daughters of a Pastor as there are definite Christian themes to the book.

In the book, Agnes is the daughter of a Pastor who has lost the family money and is now become quite ill. Agnes decides that she will become a governess in order to earn some money to keep the family afloat, and despite having no prior experience, she finally persuades her family to let her set out into the world.

The first family she finds are appallingly behaved and poor Agnes almost cannot bear it, but she is determined not to quit as she knows how important the money is, and doesn’t want to think of what people will think of her if she does. But when the family tell her she is no longer needed, you can feel the relief pouring out of the pages.

The second family that Agnes ends up with is barely better, but she is a little older now (as are the children under her care) and has some experience, so she can tolerate it much better. And it is here that we are introduced to her love interest: the curate at the local Church.

It would hardly be a romance novel if there wasn’t some turbulence, and when Agnes has to leave the children and return home to her mother, and then Mr Weston moves away from the village too, it seems like that will be it for the doomed lovebirds.

But we all like a happy ending, and of course this has one. My only problem was that the ‘happy ending’ was too close to the end, and it felt like we were cut off without seeing their relationship flourish, in fact when it has really only just begun. Being the daughter of a Pastor, potentially she thought she had to keep control over her writing, but the romance did lack a bit of the fire and passion that you feel from Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

The book to me is more of a look at society and and the smokescreen of civilization used by the upper-classes at that time – which Anne will have had first hand experience of as she herself was a governess. We learn more about Anne’s opinions of humankind that we do of Agnes, the main character in the book, which is probably why her own relationship takes a back-seat to the observations of the others.

I’d love to read this book again, and will definitely be looking for more of Anne’s books throughout the year. It seems like ages since I’ve read the Brontë’s and Austen etc, and I love it so much!

Just a snippet of some of the more ‘religious’ parts of the book, which may surprise you if you weren’t expecting it in a Brontë novel:

“‘Well’, says he, ‘you know the first and greatest commandment – and the second, which is like unto it – on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God, but it strikes me that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend: every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful, comes from Him: and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear, comes from Satan – His enemy as well as ours. And for this cause was God manifest in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the Devil: in one word, God is love, and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to Him and the more of His spirit we possess.'”

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 1847
Number of Pages: 251
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 5th January 2017 – 12th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.64
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C.S. Lewis – The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

For centuries people have been tormented by one question above all: If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?

This is the question that C.S. Lewis is attempting to answer in this book, The Problem of Pain. And if you’ve ever read a C.S. Lewis book before, you’ll know that he is very good about writing the book he wants to write (unlike the last book I read).

Splitting the book up into small sections, Lewis unravels the answer to this oft-asked question in such a way that you can’t doubt that he is right. He writes in such a considerd way, I found myself nodding along with what he was saying constantly.

That said, Lewis is a very clever man. And in some places, I found myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over again because I just couldn’t get what he was trying to say. Obviously the fault there is entirely mine, but I would definitely not recommend you try and read this book when you’re tired or just before bed when your mind has a tendency to drift.

I feel like this is the kind of book you can read again and again and get something new from it each time. I’d say that if you’re new to Christianity and you want the ‘problem of pain’ to be answered, there are probably books out there that are easier to read, but I doubt any of them are as coherently put together and in such detail as this.

As with all Lewis books, there are so many quotes that I could pick as my ‘favourites’, but I have managed to narrow it down to two which made me put the book down and think ‘wow’.

“The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you – you, the individual reader.”

“In all discussions of Hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends (since both these disturb the reason) but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot, it is about you and me.”

I’ll definitely be coming back to this book again in the future, probably many many times.

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 1940
Number of Pages: 176
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 7th August 2016 – 11th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.12
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Todd Hasak-Lowy – Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You

Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You

I had such high hopes for this book as it looked like quite an interesting idea – a book written entirely in lists. But at some point, I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for 8 months, so it definitely left me feeling cold. In fact, I only picked it up again because I was fed up of seeing it in my ‘Currently Reading’ list on Goodreads, and by the end it felt more like a hard slog than an enjoyable experience.

The premise definitely didn’t live up to the hype. There were so many pages that had less than 20 words on which made the book feel like much more effort than it was worth. And then some pages weren’t really lists at all. In some cases, it seemed like the author had really had to try hard to find a way to get an actual plot into a list format, so some of the list headings were very contrived.

As well as my misgivings about the structure of the book, the plot also felt disappointing too. We are reading from the perspective of Darren, a (frankly spoilt) fifteen year old boy whose parents have just split up after his dad has announced he is gay. I just couldn’t put myself into Darren’s shoes, he just felt whiny and a tad pathetic to me. He winds up on a road trip with a girl called Zoey, who then vanishes into thin air, and he spends the rest of the book pining for her, all the while dragging along a poor girl who thinks she is his girlfriend.

I can’t really write much more about this book, as I don’t want it to turn into a diatribe. I’ll just finish by saying that while I enjoyed the premise, I just feel like it was let down by the execution. 600 pages that could easily have been condensed down to 100.

My Rating: 2/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 656
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 15th April 2016 – 8th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.08
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Sue Perkins – Spectacles

Spectacles

I didn’t really know much about Sue Perkins apart from the things I’ve seen her in on TV, but this book was being advertised on Kindle at 99p, and as I had really enjoyed the things I’d seen her in, I thought it would be an interesting read.

And I wasn’t disappointed. My reading of this book was a bit disjointed, reading it on the bus when it was busy and I couldn’t get my book out, or in the time waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave to ping. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I maybe didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I’d sat down to read it properly.

The first thing you notice when you’re reading this book is that Sue is funny. Like really funny. It just comes across so naturally on screen so that the book feels completely relaxed and not forced.

What you also notice is that while she treats her ex-partners and friends very favourably, she shows no mercy when describing those closest to her; her family, and of course, Mel Giedroyc. In the nicest way of course!

She will not let it lie that Mel is two whole years older than her, and there’s a particularly funny chapter relating to Mel’s flatulence and toilet troubles, where (among others) we find this jem:

“I find myself standing next to her [Mel] in a cramped bog, palms up, holding the receiver like it’s the Holy Grail. She perches below making low moaning sounds. It begins like a distant rumble, like thunder. The hairs on my arm stand to attention. Then comes the noise. Like a thousand tins of beans being hurled against a wall. The the toxic gust.”

Equally juvenile, but hilariously funny was the tale of her dog Parker in her girlfriend’s car, when he was, shall we say, quite ill. I was laughing out loud at my desk to visions of a car covered in all sorts of bodily fluids, hoping my colleagues weren’t going to ask me to explain why I was laughing!

Obviously, the bit that most people know Sue from is Bake Off, and it was lovely reading Sue’s tales of this time and learning new things that you never realised before. But it was also slightly sad reading about Bake Off knowing that she won’t be presenting it next year!

As well as Bake Off, Sue takes us on a journey through her other TV experiences, from an apperance on a talent show called Maestro where she learned how to be a conductor, to being in a car with Charley Boorman on World’s Most Dangerous Roads. Both things that I wasn’t aware of before, and I might now have to seek out for a watch.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who has watched Perkins on TV and enjoyed her work, it was so lovely to get a glimpse into her life and realising some of the hardships that she has gone through made me respect her even more. I can safely say that she is near the top of the list of people I’d like to have dinner with, I’m sure the stories that didn’t make it to the book would be fascinating!

 

My Rating: 4/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 3rd January 2017 – 5th January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.1
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Barney Norris – Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain

First book of 2017! I’ve just set up my Goodreads reading challenge for this year at a lofty 52 books, the same target as 2016, which I managed to fail by a whole 20 books. But I will be better this year, I received so many books for Christmas that I’m desperate to read and I’m determined that I will read them all!

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the book I picked as my first. When I read the blurb in Waterstones, I had great ideas about the contents of the book, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first chapter almost made me put the book down altogether, the language was so pretentious that I didn’t think I’d be able to stick with it. It felt like the author was using grandiose words and sentences for the sake of it, rather than to enhance the descriptions of the enchanting place he chose as the location for his novel, the quiet city where rivers intertwine, just like the lives of the people we are about to meet.

Then I turned into the second chapter and I couldn’t have been more shocked by the change in tone. From these grand words and lofty ideas to a woman as common as muck. It was such a change that I could have been convinced that a printing error had put two different books together.

And while I liked this new character more than the first chapter, there were parts that bugged me incredibly. I found the bad language used by the character unnecessary and over the top. Every time I read those words, it made me wince inside, and I found it hard to continue reading. I know that we are supposed to take from this that Rita had lived a hard life and she didn’t take any nonsense, but it completely stopped me from relating to her.

We are also introduced to other characters (as one might guess from the title of the book). I found the schoolboy completely relateable and his grief made me want to reach through the pages and cuddle him. Similarly the old farmer who has just lost his wife. His grief was so palpable and his situation so heartbreaking, it made me want to cry for him.

The army wife, I found her so annoyingly self-absorbed and whiny that I couldn’t feel any empathy for her situation. Yes, her husband is away and her son is at boarding school, but she’s so obsessed with how abandoned she is that she doesn’t stop to think about how she can improve that situation, or what her potential actions mean for those around her.

Then the fifth and final character, a security guard at the Old Sarum English Heritage site. He’s such a minor part in the book that it hardly feels like he should be mentioned here, but if only to complain about the return to pretentious language and flowery ideas that I found completely annoying.

The blurb of the book starts:

“One quiet evening in Salisbury, the peace is shattered by a serious car crash. At that moment, five lives collide…”

This is what drew me in to want to read the book, but the crash isn’t mentioned until we’re well into the book, and even then, some characters have such a minor involvement in the crash that it feels like a very tenuous link. I just didn’t feel like the five lives really ‘collided’, so much as minorly bumped, and I felt let down by my own expectations for the book.

It’s not that I hated the book, there were many parts that I liked, I just didn’t feel connection to the story in the way that I had hoped. I’ll leave you with a quote from the first chapter which I liked when I read it:

“What I see when I watch Salisbury Cathedral cutting the air is a diagram of prayer, the hope at the centre of my life expressed as the burning arrow of the spire shot into the sky, asking us to look up beyond the everyday, see the size and possibility and quietness of the landscape, and imagine something greater than we are.”

If anything, the book has made me want to visit Salisbury and see for myself the ‘burning arrow of the spire’.

My Rating: 3/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st January 2017 – 2nd January 2017
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.74
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Anna Kendrick – Scrappy Little Nobody

Scrappy Little Nobody

This book encompasses two things that I love. Autobiographies and Anna Kendrick. Since I first saw her in Twilight (don’t judge), I’ve loved her as an actress, and I’ve always thought she’s a very relateable person and very funny (especially on Twitter).

Thankfully, her book didn’t spoil the picture of her that I’d created in my mind, I laughed out loud constantly and hard. She’s brutally honest the whole way through the book, not putting on a front to say ‘oh look at how perfect my life is and how easy I found it to become a famous actress’. She details the low points with a humour and a frankness that I found surprising – unlike some other memoirs I’ve read which felt fake somehow – I’m looking at you, Lena Dunham.

From her upbringing in Maine, through to her move to LA and all the bits in between, Anna gives you an insight into the ‘real’ life of an actress, showing you behind the glamour of the film-sets and the red carpets to see what it’s really like – hint, it’s not as glamorous as you would think. But you also see a whole lot of ‘Anna the person’ as well as ‘Anna the actress’, giving you insights into how she grew up (hint – she’s just like you and me!)

The whole book felt like you were sat down having a conversation with a friend, not forced or staged, just a very natural flow of words, which I heard in Kendrick’s voice in my head. She’s kept her way of speaking in the book rather than polishing up the words and that made it so easy to read, I read the whole thing in two sittings, unable to put the book down, even when my fiance was dying to go out for lunch – I just had to read the last 50 pages!

As you can probably tell, I really loved this book and would whole-heartedly recommend it if you’ve seen Kendrick in films and liked her, or if you just want a behind the scenes look at Hollywood. Fantastic!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 271
Format: Hardback
Date Read: 30th December 2016 – 31st December 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
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Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

I can’t believe I’m so far behind the trend on this book. I heard everyone raving about it when it first came out, and I was in the middle of other books so I didn’t read it. Then the film came out, and I still didn’t read it. And by the time I finally got around to reading it, the only covers they had left for the book were the movie-tie-in covers, which I always hate to buy!

But cover snobbery aside, I LOVED this book. It took me quite a while to read as I was only reading it on my commute, and the whole time I was scared someone was going to give me a spoiler since it’s so old now!

I think this is the first book in absolutely ages where I have been completely unable to guess the ‘whodunnit’. I was wavering rapidly back and forth between two of the characters, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!

When the mystery started to come together, my heart was racing and I turned the pages greedily, desperate to reach the conclusion. And wow, I definitely didn’t expect the conclusion to be as bloody as it was!

But skipping back to the start of the book, I couldn’t help but feel an instant connection to Rachel. She’s an alcoholic, but she knows that she’s an alcoholic and she’s desperately trying (and repeatedly failing) to change. For this reason, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. And as the story starts to unfold, you begin to understand what brought her to her current sad situation. The other women are equally pitiable and it’s quite hard to start with to decide which side you should be on!

I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t yet read it either, but I would really recommend this book, and would love to know if you were as unable to guess the culprit as I was!

My Rating: 5/5
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Date Read: 1st December 2016 – 8th December 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.87
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