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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

Lemony Snicket – The Wide Window

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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!

Lemony Snicket – The Reptile Room

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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!

Lemony Snicket – The Bad Beginning

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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!

Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey

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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.'”

Sue Perkins – Spectacles

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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!

 

Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train

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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!

Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

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You know you’ve found yourself a keeper when your fiancé goes to London and you say ‘bring me back a souvenir’, and rather than bring you back some Union Jack emblazoned tat, he goes to the British Library and buys you a book and some bookmarks – he knows me so well!

This was one of those rare books that was so beautifully written that I was able to resist the urge to read it all in one go because I couldn’t bear for it to be over so quickly. I luxuriated in the beautiful poetry of the book for a few days, and I’m so glad I did, it was just fantastic – it’s clear why it’s on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

A Whole Life tells (unsurprisingly), the life story of a man called Andreas Egger, who starts off as an orphan arriving at his Uncle’s farm and becomes their unofficial servant, worked to the bone and beaten for any indiscretion, until one day he’s had enough and leaves their home to start a life on his own.

Egger’s life is in many ways ordinary; he has his own home, he finds work, he falls in love, marries a young woman named Marie. [WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS] But in many more ways, he leads an extraordinary life. The work that he does is for the main part very risky, his life with his new wife is tragically cut short, and he is sent to war as a young man; all experiences which change his outlook on life dramatically.

But if my favourite thing about the book is this extraordinary man and the life he lives, a very close second is the gorgeous prose which just draws you in so closely that you can feel like you’re in the mountains with Andreas. There were many pieces that were so beautiful that I had to break off and read them again and again to try and imprint them on my brain.

Up here the ground was soft and the grass short and dark. Drops of water trembled on the tips of the blades, making the whole meadow glitter as if studded with glass beads. Egger marvelled at these tiny, trembling drops that clung so tenaciously to the blades of grass, only to fall at last and seep into the earth or dissolve to nothing in the air.”

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.”

“When someone opens their mouth they close their ears”

Giovanna Fletcher – Billy and Me

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I’ve been following Giovanna Fletcher on Twitter and Instagram for quite some time, but never got around to reading her books. But as I was still in hospital when I finished reading Me Before You, I decided to buy this on Kindle to keep me occupied.

And a good decision it turned out to be! I worried a little at the start as the writing style seemed a bit simplistic, but this improved throughout the book and I soon didn’t notice the writing style at all as I was completely enveloped by the story.

Many chick-lit books seem to focus on people trying to find their way into the limelight with a famous partner, but in Billy and Me, Sophie doesn’t even realise that the guy she’s fallen for is famous, and she most definitely doesn’t want to be the centre of attention.

Sophie has had a troubled past which led to her cutting herself off from the world, and she has trust issues that make it hard for her to open up completely to Billy. And when his next acting job requires him to get ‘up close and personal’ with his gorgeous ex, it seems that Sophie just can’t handle it, especially when Billy seems to have no consideration for her feelings.

I have to say, the flow of the book was great. I was swept up with the romance of Sophie and Billy’s relationship, and had no problems identifying with Sophie and feeling the huge range of emotions that she goes through.

One thing I didn’t expect though was the major plot twist towards the end of the book. To just drop something so huge on us (no spoilers here), without any prior warning was a major shock. I actually sat with tears rolling down my face as it unfolded, not wanting to read the inevitable, but unable to stop turning the pages.

Great job Giovanna, I’m so glad that I bought the sequel already so I don’t have to wait eagerly to find out what will happen next for Sophie!

I joined the library!!

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God knows why I didn’t do this before with the amount of books that I read, but this weekend I finally re-joined the library! I’d been a member since I was about 3 years old; so young that my library card had my mum’s signature on instead of mine! But when I was about 16, Leeds City Council introduced a Breeze card for young people and my library card was merged in with that. And since that expired when I was 19 years old, I haven’t set foot back in any of the Leeds Libraries.

But what an amazing place. Walk in, pick some books, walk out. And no cost! I expected to have to pay for a new card but the lovely lady at the desk at Pudsey library signed me back up in a jiffy. It was really hard not to walk out with an armful of books, but I managed to restrain myself to just 3. Until I journeyed to Leeds Central Library yesterday and picked another four! I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading now!

The best thing is how easy it is now to take out a book (or three). No queuing up at the desk, just set all your books on a machine, scan the barcode on your library card and the machine detects the RFID tags in each book to know what you’ve taken out and prints you a nice little receipt with the return dates on. How fabulously easy!

Plus, as confirmed on Twitter, you don’t even have to take books back to the same library you checked them out from, as long as you take them back somewhere in Leeds. So I don’t need to worry about taking books out on my lunch break in Guiseley/Yeadon or at the weekend at home in Pudsey, just take them back wherever is convenient!

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Review: Kayleen Barlow – I Am No Bird

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Kayleen Barlow - I Am No BirdDisclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book by the author, Kayleen Barlow.

I stayed up until 2am last night reading this book, I couldn’t stop reading and had to know how it finished. It did take me a little while initially to get into the book, but I often find when that happens that I end up loving the book even more. And this was no exception, it was absolutely brilliant.

I’m a great lover of Jane Eyre, so I loved how this (and reading in general) was central to the book. Living less than 15 miles from Haworth and the birth place of the Bronte sisters, the book reminded me how I’ve never actually been to the Bronte Parsonage, although I’ve been to Haworth many times visiting friends of my Grandma. So I think a visit back to Haworth is in order very soon!

The book has two main characters, London and Marie. They were so well described in the book that I could almost feel like I was there with them. I loved London from the start, but it took me a little while to like Marie, to start with I thought she was a bit weak, but I can see now that this was because throughout the book she grew into herself and the person that she always knew she could be. I definitely identified more with London though, a woman who loves books and would much rather stay in with her favourite characters than put herself out there and risk getting hurt.

For about three quarters of the book I was trying to piece together how the characters of Marie and London were actually related, I could see that there were similarities between the characters and I thought that London was in some way going to save Marie from having a miserable life. But when I found out how the two stories fitted together (no spoilers here), I was completely shocked, I definitely didn’t see it coming (although maybe that was in part because it was almost 2am and I should have been asleep!). It was a perfect end to a brilliant book, I was in love with both characters and the ending was superb.

Finally, although the ending of the character’s stories was perfect, the most perfect part was Marie’s entry into the scholarship contest which was the actual end to the book. I think I cried through most of it because it was so emotionally written. Bravo, Kayleen, Bravo!!

Since I can’t quote the entire essay as my favourite quote, I have a couple of particular favourite lines from the book, although the first one is obviously Charlotte Bronte, and the basis of the book.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

“You can’t rise to the surface if you’re holding onto rocks. You can’t illuminate a dark room by being a shadow. You have to let go of the boulders sinking you. Only then will you be light, and only light will dispel the darkness.”

5/5