Literary Blog Hop Giveaway – Coming Soon!

literarybloghop_february

The first weekend in February I will be taking part again in The Literary Blog Hop hosted by Leeswammes. I’m really looking forward to it as it’s been some time since I last took part (October 2012!) and I feel like my blog has grown a lot more since then. There are certainly loads more reviews – I’m aiming to post something weekly in 2014 so this should continue to grow.

I love this giveaway (whether I’m taking part or not) as not only is it a chance to get your hands on a free literary book (let’s be honest, there probably aren’t many people that wouldn’t appeal to!) but it’s also a brilliant way of finding some new blogs on books, which will in turn lead to discovering books you’ve never heard of before.

I haven’t decided yet on the title I’ll be giving away yet but I’m pretty sure it’ll be something that I read in 2013 and have reviewed on my blog, so I’ll be looking over my Books 2013 page for inspiration! The blog hop begins on the 8th of February so check back then to find out which title I’ll be giving away and, of course, to find out about all of the other blogs that are joining in.

Want to be part of the fun? The last date to sign up your blog is the 4th of February – check The Literary Blog Hop blog post here for further details!

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Top 10 Book Adaptations

I’m not much of a film buff, I haven’t watched everything on any ‘100 films to see before you die’ list, and I certainly don’t think anyone would describe my film choices as particularly cool, whatever that means. But, I do enjoy watching a good film from time to time, and I always look out for adaptations of books I’ve read, or books I’d like to read. There are always discussions about adaptations, and I find it interesting that they always divide opinion.

Are you a fan of Leonardo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

Are you a fan of Leo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

A perfect example of this is the reception of Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came out last summer (I loved it, but then I hadn’t seen the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the inimitable Jay Gatsby).

I think there are often two main areas of discussion around a book adaptation:

1) How faithful it is to the book
2) How it compares to previous adaptations

On number 1, film directors always seem tempted to play with book adaptations, some striving to be as faithful as possible, or others being more adventurous with the format, such as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (which will always be my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s play), or 2012’s version of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (which I also thought was brilliant).

Another example for point 2 would be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you’ve seen the original adaptation, known as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder), then it may have been quite hard to warm to the more recent 2005 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s all a matter of which one you’ve seen first in some cases, as that’s the one you’ll come to associate most with the book. I’ve been thinking about book adaptations and wondering what my favourites have been, so I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 book adaptations on screen (in no particular order).

pride-and-prejudicePride and Prejudice
I loved both the BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, as I particularly loved the actor chosen for Mr. Bingley. I only read Pride and Prejudice last year but I felt that I already knew the story inside out – it’s such a well-known story that it could probably be adapted into many different styles, in fact, the Bollywood version Bride and Prejudice was also good fun.

lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king_xlgThe Lord of the Rings trilogy
This trilogy will always remind me of those long student winter breaks, and watching the extended versions of the films over the course of a few days with my brother who is a big fan of both the films and the books. I haven’t read the trilogy (I think I’ve read just 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring), but the world that J.R.R Tolkien created is brought to life on screen by Peter Jackson and the detail in each of them is astonishing. I miss being able to see them on the big screen at the cinema. There may also be some truth in the allegation that my love of men with beards comes from watching these films. Ahem.

Harry Potter series
I loved the books, as most book lovers of my generation do. Yes, the first few films have some cringe-worthy acting in them, but I love them all the more for it. It’s so nice to see the characters (and the actors who play them) grow up on screen. Perfect films to watch on a rainy afternoon!

Harry-potter-films

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago
The version I love is probably not the same as others have seen (I’ve heard many people love the film version starring Omar Sharif). For me it’s a TV adaptation – I think it was an ITV adaptation (starring Keira Knightley in her younger years) that came free with a newspaper many moons ago. I love the story, and it will forever remind me of winter in my old flat as I watched it whilst wrapping Christmas presents and making cards with my Christmas tree twinkling beside me. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list – it’s such a beautiful story and the setting is wonderful which is why I think I fell in love with it. I’d be interested to watch the Omar Sharif film and see how it compares.

pp32424-audrey-hepburn-breakfast-at-tiffanys-posterBreakfast at Tiffany’s
I caught the last hour of this film on TV recently ago and it reminded me of just how much I love it, particularly Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the ‘genuine phoney’ Holly Golightly. I did enjoy Truman Capote’s novella, but in this case I think the film is far superior. A classic!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games trilogy
I thought the books in this trilogy were brilliant, I read them furiously, spending about a day over each of them. I remember finding it really hard to write book reviews for them as I couldn’t find a way to express how much I’d enjoyed them and was just finding my feet with blogging at that stage. I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty great as well and look forward to anything she’s in. I have recently rewatched the first film as I hadn’t loved it the first time round – I felt it had been dumbed down (or made less harrowing) to appeal to a wider audience (aka making it a 12A so that kids would be able to see it and they could make more money at the box office). It’s much better on the second viewing, and the second film Catching Fire was far superior, although it seemed loads of details were missed out to get it within a reasonable time. I’m looking forward to seeing the final instalments which have been split into two parts, á la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series.

The film poster for Bright Young Things

The film poster for Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things
This is based on Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novel Vile Bodies – the film by Stephen Fry sticks pretty faithfully for it and it’s such a hilarious story. A glimpse of the young and pretty people in 1930s England, it’s as glamorous as the book is and really captures the whole feel of it. An example of an adaptation that sticks quite closely to the original story and works really, really well.

romeo_juliet_1996Romeo and Juliet
Do you remember the first time you studied a play by William Shakespeare in school? This was mine, and I remember watching this adaptation after studying it and appreciating for the first time how the play could come to life on screen and wasn’t solely fit for the stage. It’s a daring adaptation this, a modernised version, but it really works. It has the glamour and bright lights of all the best Baz Luhrman films – it’s magical, and is all the more heartbreaking for it.

Trainspotting
It doesn’t make for easy watching but it certainly packs a punch. It’s a powerful portrayal of the drug culture featured in Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title and has brilliant performances from Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlisle – it’s one of those films that once you’ve seen it, you certainly won’t forget it. It’s an iconic film that really captures the ’90s so well.

trainspotting-poster

A Tale of Two Cities (1935 adaptation)
I remember using this book for teaching when I was working in Spain and fell in love with a black and white film adaptation which I think is probably the 1935 version. The entire film used to be available on youtube but I can only find the trailer now. If you can track it down it’s well worth a watch!

I’m hoping to watch the adaptation of Diane Setterfield’s gothic thriller The Thirteenth Tale at some point this week as I have it saved on the iPlayer. I loved the book and I’m hoping the film will live up to it! What are your favourite adaptations? And which book adaptations are you looking forward to this year?

Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

the-book-thief-poster-books-burningThe Book Thief (UK release on 14/02/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Under the Skin (UK release on 14/03/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Gone Girl (UK release on 03/10/14)
Book Review

Mockingjay: Part 1
(UK release on 21/11/14)
Film info

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Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

half-of-a-yellow-sun-1

Set in the 1960s in Nigeria, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie follows the fates of a small cast of characters before and during the Biafran war, a civil war between different Nigerian peoples, the Hausa tribe in the north of the country, and the Igbo tribe in the south. The title takes its name from the flag of Biafra, the secessionist state which was fleetingly in existence from 1967 – 1970. In the early ’60s, Ugwu is hired as a houseboy to Odenigbo, a professor working at Nsukka University. Odenigbo hosts gatherings with other academics, dinner parties where they have heated debates about their country, revolution, secession and the after-effects of colonialism (Nigeria had recently gained independence from the United Kingdom). Olanna, his partner and fellow academic, moves in and things begin to change – Olanna and Odenigbo have a child, the political climate becomes volatile and they are ultimately forced to flee Nsukka. Olanna’s twin sister Kainene is heavily involved in keeping their family business running and tires of negotiating favours and bribes, and of courting the attention of people who bore her. She meets a British ex-pat, Richard, whose life becomes intertwined with hers and those of the Igbo people, becoming absorbed by their culture and language.

The narrative shifts back and forth between the early and late ’60s, split into four sections – I enjoyed this change, it was nice to slip back into the happier times before the conflict, before you knew what was to come. The characters each struggle to deal with everything that happens to them and those around them – their loyalties and love are tested, in a time when terrible things are happening, what they consider to be ‘unforgiveable’ is redefined. Adichie’s writing is so engrossing that you get drawn into the story, and the human impact of historical events, through the stories of her characters.

There are three main narrators in the novel. Ugwu is warm and funny and one of my favourite characters. He starts off trying to make sense of the academic world and reconcile that with the village life he has come from, then grows from a young teenager into a young man, learning about love, lust and loss. Olanna spent a lot of time travelling about within in the country and to London, and never seems settled, even before her life is uprooted by civil war. I found Richard a bit wet, he is in awe of Kainene and it seems a bit embarrassing in his Britishness, researching and photographing local customs, and trying rather unsuccessfully to write a book about Nigeria. I loved some of the minor characters, particularly Kainene who is very different from her twin, much more blunt and braver in many ways, and is always active in finding solutions for the problems she encounters. She seems very glamorous and self-assured, but the reader is left wondering if that can save her. The ending of the book felt a little quick to come, I would have liked to have found out more about how the characters recovered, and how it affected their life later on. I guess I’ll just have to come up with my own ideas and what this could be.

I have been thinking about this book a lot since I finished reading it, thinking about all of the things I have learnt from it. I realised just how much food and drink are central to the story – in the parts set in the early ’60s, Ugwu is constantly thinking about what he will cook, comparing his cooking to Olanna’s, and Harrison’s (Richard’s houseboy), as well as being very suspicious of Odenigbo’s mother’s cooking. With food comes power. It plays a massive role in cultural identity, identifying you with certain regions, countries and your own family and friends. In a country that is being ripped apart, food is something everyone is trying to hold on to, something to remind of who you are and where you’re from. In the late ’60s, Olanna spends hours queuing for food supplies to feed her family as famine spreads; it’s also a cultural indicator and a weapon of snobbery – Harrison thinks British food is far superior to Nigerian cooking, and Olanna is horrified at the thought of Baby eating lizard despite the fact that rations dwindle day by day. Odenigbo in particular, struggles with alcohol – at the beginning it is something to enjoy in the company of friends, but in grief it turns into a release, a way of numbing himself to the pain. In an unpredictable environment, where boys are captured and turned into child soldiers, women are raped, people are massacred and refugees are cut off from food and aid, it is all the characters can do to just survive.

This book is rich with detail, complicated characters and powerful stories. I loved it, and was unsettled by it, by the stories it relates of the cruelty done to the Biafran people by the Nigerians and vice versa during the conflict, as well as by the Biafran people to themselves. I love how educational this book has been, I was constantly looking things up online, reading more about the conflict, the culture, the food, music and fashion. Don’t you just love it when books open up new worlds to you? Parts of it aren’t easy to read due to their subject matter but I would highly recommend this book, not just for its history but for the way it opens up a different world. I have added both of Adichie’s novels to my wish list – her début novel Purple Hibiscus and her recent novel Americanah, published in 2013.

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Rounding Up 2013

Happy New Year! Hope you all have a brilliant 2014 and discover many new and wonderful books to help you on your way. I wanted to round up the reviews of books read in December and write a few of my thoughts on what I read last year, as well as looking forward to what this year will bring. I thought the best way to start the new year fresh was to a few mini reviews of the final books of 2013.

Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White

woman in white

I have been planning to read this book for a long, long time, after studying Victorian Gothic literature at uni and reading The Moonstone and absolutely loving it. I’d heard The Woman in White was even better, in fact, a seminal piece of Gothic fiction. It’s told in the form of a detective story, with a series of testimonies surrounding the mysterious Anne Catherick (the Woman in White who gives the book its title), the doomed marriage of Laura Fairlie to Sir Percival Glyde and the shady dealings of Sir Percival and Count Fosco. I was a little disappointed, but perhaps more because it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. I enjoyed the descriptions of the characters, Count Fosco was particularly unforgettable, and the story was great but I found it started to drag in the middle and I found parts of it a little predictable. That said, it’s hard to look back on fiction from so long ago as ‘new’ as such as the themes and storylines have been read or viewed so much in modern times on the page or on screen that it sometimes feels like cliché. I really wanted to love this book but I wasn’t as enchanted with it as others are.

Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl

anne-frank-cover

I have been meaning to read this book for such a long time (I think probably since I learnt about it in primary school!). The diary of Anne Frank, a young Jew in hiding in Amsterdam with her family during the Holocaust, shows the horrors of that time from the eyes of a teenager, alongside all of the worries and angst teenagers go through. It begins before they go into hiding and gives an idea of the growing concerns of Jews and the increasing level of persecution they faced. Anne is trying to make sense of it all herself and writes in her diary most days talking about life in hiding, family fights, food shortages, the kindness of those who helped them and the fear of being discovered. It’s funny that, even though Anne Frank was alive in a completely different time, I recognise so much of her writing style from my own diaries at a similar age – the melodrama, the feelings of being misunderstood, and those intense feelings for a certain boy. It is so sad what happened to Anne and her family, and to think that if another month had gone by before they were discovered, they may have just survived.

Michel Faber – Under the Skin

under the skin

This novel. It is a little terrifying. Isserley spends her days travelling up and down the A9 (the main route connecting the Central Belt of Scotland with the Highlands) on the hunt for hitchhikers – not just any hitchhikers, but strong and healthy male specimens – to pick up in her car. What happens to them afterwards is someething quite unexpected. It’s pretty creepy and this is such a chilling book that will leave you with images in your head you could hardly have conjured up in a nightmare. I was recently driving along the A1 (another main artery from Scotland down to Newcastle in the north of England) and experienced it in a completely different way, leaning forward, imagining myself as Isserley, trying to imagine what she would be thinking. This is a work of fiction unlike anything I have ever read and I’m looking forward to seeing the film, coming out in early March this year. It’s a bit of a departure from the novel from what I’ve seen so far but the trailer is available here if you would like to see what you’re letting yourself in for beforehand!

I’ve seen a lot of posts with reading stats – I never knew I was a stats geek (I hated the subject in school) but I really enjoy them now so I have been browsing through my reading from 2013.

53 books read in 2013

21 written by women, 32 by men
19 were published in 2013, 11 were classics
27 were written by British authors (6 of these by Scottish authors), 12 by Americans, 2 by Australians, 3 by Italians, 2 by French authors and 1 by an African author
6 books were translated
48 fiction, 5 non-fiction

It seems I’m not very adventurous in my reading, with the majority written by British authors, hardly any translated books and just one book by an African author, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. It seems there is a bit a gender imbalance as well with just under 40% of the books I read last year written by women. I’ve not consciously analysed my reading before so it’s really interesting to see how it all pans out. I’m starting the year off with a book by a Nigerian female author which is a step in the right direction at least!

For a look at all of the books I read in 2013, have a look at my Books 2013 page. I’m looking forward to getting started on my 2014 page! I’m not taking part in any challenges, although I have set myself one to read one non-fiction book a month as I tend to favour fiction so that’ll bump up my non-fiction number for this year.

half-of-a-yellow-sun-1The first book I’m reading this year is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m about three-quarters of the way through and it is a very powerful novel so far, focusing on the life of a small cast of characters in the 1960s before and during the Nigeria-Biafra war. I didn’t know anything about the events at all before I started reading it but I keep finding myself looking things up online to learn more about what happened. I love it when a book feels educational, not forced, but inspires you to learn more about things you haven’t experienced before. More coming up once I’ve finished reading!

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13 Best Books of 2013

You know it’s that time of year when all of the ‘Best of’ lists start appearing… I love browsing the lists, getting ideas on what to read next, ideas for gifts and just generally having a nosy to see if some of my favourite books of the year feature. I thought it would be lovely to do my own as I haven’t done one before – since I’ve read 53 books so far this year, a bit of a record for me, I’m having trouble narrowing down my list of favourites… So, with this in mind, I’ve gone for my 13 favourite books read in 2013 (in no particular order). I’m hopeful that next year I read as many wonderful books!

Top 13 of 2013

Click on the links to see my original review

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How could this not make my list? I absolutely loved it, and found it equally gripping and infuriating with all of its twists and turns! I read along with my book group, and have since lent my copy to many people, all of whom have really enjoyed it. It’s an intelligent thriller – hopefully I’ll find something as good to kick off next year with as big a bang as this felt like in 2013.

LIfe After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

I absolutely loved this book as well, the way Atkinson had structured her novel, giving main character Ursula repeated attempts at life, events repeating and changing thanks to the tiniest details and circumstances. I love the way it highlights how changeable life can be, and how each small moment can have a great effect on later events. It’s on a lot of the ‘Best of’ lists I’ve seen so far and I certainly think it deserves its place.

Burial_Rites_HBD_FCBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

This book was part of a very good run of audiobooks I listened to in the autumn, a début novel set in Iceland in the 1800s. It describes the last few days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. I thought it was really evocative, and I loved listening to it as I think the narrator did a wonderful job capturing the tone of each of the characters and the pronunciation of all of the Icelandic names and places. I look forward to reading her next book!

The-Presidents-HatThe President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (Paperback)

This was such a charming book, all about former French president Mitterand’s hat, and how it was found by a stranger and started to have a magical positive influence on his life. The hat flits on to other holders and casts its same spell on each of them – it’s such a lovely evocative story of France in the ’80s – I’ve passed this on to several family members and each one of them has been as charmed as I was!

9781447212201Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman (Paperback)

I adored this book, it was one of our book club choices and I think everyone really enjoyed it. It was part family saga, part murder mystery and I thought it’s sense of time and place was so evocative – I really felt as if I was back in the ’50s, sipping cocktails on a moon-drenched lawn. Another great Book Club read from 2013 – I’m not sure what 2014 has in store for the Book Club next year yet but I’m hoping there’ll be some more gems.

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans tells the story of an alien sent to earth to assassinate a mathematics professor who has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, by an alien species who don’t think humans are quite ready to handle that information. What follows is a series of hilarious events as the alien tries to understand human culture; a love letter to what it means to be human and observations on just how ridiculous we really are. It’s warm and funny and intelligent and I would recommend it to all fellow humans.

vile bodiesVile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I read this as part of my Evelyn Waugh Month, as a way to get to know the work of a particular author I hadn’t read much by before. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more – it’s a comical, light-hearted satire of the young and beautiful of London in the ’30s. I think it’s my favourite of Waugh’s books and it had me giggling away to myself. I’m thinking of doing the same again for next year with a different author – I haven’t decided who that will be yet so please watch this space!

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Yes, it took me years to get round to reading this, and no, it did not disappoint. Most people know the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy but Jane Austen’s prose is the best way to discover it. It’s a witty classic, and one that deserves its place on best read lists. A book I imagine I will read again and again throughout my life and never tire of.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is all about Death, and his grip on people as the events of World War II unfolds. It’s such an original way to tell the story and I became quite attached to the characters, even though I knew all could not end well. This book had me wailing, one of just a handful of books to affect me so. The film adaptation is coming out at the end of January next year so I will be looking forward to seeing it!

pereiramaintainsPereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

Set in Lisbon in the late ’30s, this novella demonstrates how even the most unassuming of people can have the courage to disagree with what is going on around them. There is an undercurrent of menace in the novel, as the effects of the Spanish Civil War and the onslaught of World War II make their presence known, that Tabucchi builds and builds into a tense and devastating moment. One of those books that stays with you long after reading.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

I have praised this book to practically everyone who has asked what my favourite book of the year was. It’s a sharp, intelligent and warm account of young offender and foster child Anais, who is moved into a home for troubled teens, known as The Panopticon. The language in this book rings out and Anais is such a compelling character, who has experienced far too much already in her 15 years, leaving her jaded and cynical. I can’t wait to see what Fagan writes next.

just kidsJust Kids by Patti Smith

This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to this year and it was the perfect introduction. An autobiography of Patti Smith’s younger years in New York with lover and struggling photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, this was narrated by Smith herself and it was so moving. You could hear the emotion in her voice as she read certain passages – if you are planning to read this at some point, I would highly recommend the audiobook.

crimson petalThe Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

I remember watching the BBC adaptation of this book a couple of years ago and being blown away by a new take on Victorian fiction, with its gritty detail. The book is even better, leading you through the London streets as you follow Sugar from brothel to ale house to higher places. You can practically smell what is being described. Sugar is an unforgettable character and I loved diving into her world. I have just finished reading Michel Faber’s début novel Under the Skin which was also brilliant – hopefully a review of that to follow soon.

For a full list of all of the books I’ve read this year, have a peek at my Books 2013 page.

We Love This Book have been asking book bloggers for their pick of 2013 books – read all of their recommendations here! What are your favourite books read in 2013? Anything you’re looking forward to in 2014? I’ve still to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Aside from that, I will be sweeping my bookshelves and reading what I already own as well as getting stuck into my Non-Fiction Reading Challenge, to expand my horizons a little and read one non-fiction book a month. Does anyone else have big plans for their reading next year?

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Audio Review Round-Up

Up next on my reviews is an audio round-up. It’s been a while since I listened to some of these books and I find that if I haven’t written anything down about the books then I am likely to forget things… But here goes!

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
whered-you-go-bernadetteThis has been on my radar for a while, after being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I thought it sounded like a fun read. At first I wasn’t sure about how the format would transfer to audio as the book is made up of a series of emails, letters, articles and messages and I thought it may get a little confusing. Happily, this wasn’t the case and I did get drawn in to the story. Semple captures perfectly the annoying superior voices of ‘soccer moms’, interfering in school life and judging other mothers. I thought it was a really fun book, and different too. It worked well in audio for the most part, although anyone who’s listened to the audiobook will struggle to remove the memory of the narrator screeching Oh holy night into their ears (in my case at 8 o’clock on an August morning. Not entertaining.) I loved Bernadette and her attitude to the know-it-all nosy mums at her daughter’s school, but was infuriated by her naïveté at times. I found her daughter Bee’s voice and attitude a bit immature to be 15, but this may be partly due to the fact that I had just read Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon! This is a fun book and I have already recommended it to a few friends, and the format works really well with the story.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
LIfe After LifeI loved this book, and I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t read a physical copy as I think I may have enjoyed it even more. Ursula is born on a snowy winter’s night, and as the cord is wrapped around her neck she draws what will be the first of her last breaths. This is a story of multiple chances at life and explores that notion of ‘What if?’ which I find fascinating – how she gets 2, 3, 4 chances at getting things right, and the different consequences that seemingly inconsequential actions will have. The nature of the narrative being that it jumps back and forth meant I could sometimes miss things and find it hard to skip back to work out what had happened. Aside from that one bug-bear I did enjoy Fenella Woolgar’s narration, her voice seemed to work perfectly with the story (I loved her in the Stephen Fry adaptation of Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Bright Young Things). I think I will be reading this book again at some point! This is nominated for the 2013 Costa Novel Award – given that it has missed out on Man Booker and Women’s Prize for fiction accolades I think it would be a very worthy winner.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Burial_Rites_HBD_FCI thought this book was wonderful as well, one of the most affecting books I’ve read this year. It’s a début from Hannah Kent, telling the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. The narrative focuses around the family charged with keeping Agnes as their prisoner before her execution, and involves Agnes’s recollections herself and those of the young priest trying to help her achieve some kind of absolution for the murder she has been accused of. Agnes is haunted by her past and memories of her lover Natan Ketilsson, who was brutally murdered in his own home. The story is compelling, all the more so as it is based on real events and that you already know how it must end. What I enjoyed in particular about listening to this book was hearing the correct pronunciation of Icelandic names and places – if I had been reading this myself I would have had some hashed guess in my head which can’t do justice to the music of the words. It’s a beautiful and moving book, and an interesting imagining of the last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James
death comes to pemberley bookI chose this book as I thought it would be a light-hearted, Agatha Christie-esque foray into murder mystery, set at Pemberley with all of the characters of Pride and Prejudice. I can hardly begin to tell you how disappointed I was by this book. I found the first part tedious with its summing-up of everything that had happened in Pride and Prejudice and introducing the characters. Given that this book will appeal mostly to Austen fans, it all seemed a bit unnecessary and almost a way of filling out the book and it’s weak storyline. I didn’t even manage to finish it, abandoning it about 3/4s of the way through after enduring the tedious (again!) ramblings of the doctor, and the local constabulary. It completely lacked the sparkle and wit of Austen’s novel and seems like a weak spin-off. Lizzie Bennet featured far too little for my liking and everything seemed to be left to the men to sort out. I was sorely disappointed and wouldn’t recommend this at all…as you can tell from my other reviews, I’m not usually so vehement in my negative comments but this just didn’t work at all for me!
(This Digested Read from The Guardian pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. As does the cartoon.)

I still have 5 credits left to go on my Audible gold subscription (which I won in a competition run by Granta Mag) and I want to choose wisely – I want books that will keep me entertained without being too heavy, with engaging stories. I like to have some room for my mind to wander as I mainly listen to them whilst walking to work and my brain is not always completely switched on and able to appreciate lyrical prose first thing in the morning! And so, onto the next audiobook… I am once again considering The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (of J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym fame). I enjoyed listening to a crime story (Natural Causes by James Oswald) but having just abandoned a murder mystery I might need to have a rethink! Any suggestions?

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Wish List Update

It’s been a little while since I have added anything to my Wish List so I thought it was about time I added a book I have been eagerly anticipating. I was first introduced to Donna Tartt by my aunt, who gave me a copy of The Secret History for my 18th birthday, as I was about to embark on a month-long stay working and living in France before I headed off to university. I absolutely loved the book and several years later I got around to reading her second novel The Little Friend which I wasn’t as keen on but still found the characters and scenes very impressionable.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsSo next on my Wish List is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’m sure many of you will have seen in bookshops and everywhere across the media. Synopsis is below:

‘Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.’

I think it sounds very intriguing – and it has also been getting great reviews from the blogging community so I can’t wait to get reading it!

I’ve made a few updates on the Wish List as well to add reviews for books I’ve read from it. So far, I have reviews to The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I’ve also read Life After Life and will be reviewing that shortly. What’s on your wish list at the moment?

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Filed under Literary musings, Wish List