November Wrap Up/December TBR

This month wasn’t really successful in terms of reading what I was aiming to. I say that, the only book on my TBR that wasn’t read was The Great Gatsby, which I was looking forward to but just wasn’t in the mood for in the end. I read 8 books this month, two of which were re-reads and I read absolutely nothing for 10 days. I say that, I started and put down several books at the 10-page mark because I simply wasn’t in the mood.

A Tale for the Time Being is probably my favourite book of the month. I adored it. Read my review to find out just how much. My least favourite book(s) were the last 2 that I read in the Oz series (book 4 and 5) Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and The Road to Oz. While I want to read the entire series, I’m not feeling it so much now. Book 6 is supposed to be wonderful, and I’m looking forward to that, but afterwards I may skip along to the 14th and final book.

Next month I’m having surgery! I’m having my eardrum reconstructed which is terrifying. Hopefully though, because I am on absolute bedrest, I’m going to get a bit of reading done. At least that’s the plan. I don’t feel that this is too ambitious for December with everything going on and I’m hopeful to get through it.

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December is going to be a month of book vanity. All these books are truly beautiful and I feel like lushing myself up! Both A Christmas Carol and The Secret Garden will be rereads for me but they’re standard Christmas-y books! I’ve read The Secret Garden every Christmas since my aunt gave me the book when I was 11 or 12. Another that may find itself getting read is Ballet Shoes. I find December a great month to be nostalgic and reread those books from my childhood! Also, with being laid up, rereads and kids books are really easy to get in to and enjoy without requiring too much effort!

Hopefully there will be a few more reviews next month, and also a haul! Until next time.

Review: Oz Series (Books 1-5) – Frank L Baum

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This review is a little different, in that this month I’ve dedicated to reading the Oz series. Most people are aware of the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the amazing 1939 movie with Judy Garland, but the actual story, the world that the movie is based on, is so much more. It’s a 14 book epic series, it’s about more than just a little girl whose house lands on a wicked witch, it’s a vibrant world full of weird and wonderful characters – some who are familiar and others who aren’t so much.

Three of the stories are present in the beautiful Penguin Threads edition that I own and have used as the image for this post because, truly, this book is beautiful. I cannot compliment this series of books enough – the Threads series that is – they are absolutely beautiful with decaled edges and the overall design and feel, it’s just beautiful. I only wish that they had published the entirety of the Oz series, rather than just books 1, 6 and 14 (I think) because there really is not a uniform series that is pretty.

Vanity over, on to the books. This has to be one of my ultimate middle-grade series of books. I didn’t realise it was a book until I was about 14 or 15, by that point it had long been my favourite movie and I devoured the first book numerous times. My first copy of this book is now falling apart. I knew there were more books in the series but I was somewhat reluctant to read them as I love the first so much as a stand alone. However, Lesley over at WordsofAReader on YouTube is doing a Children’s Literature Month wherein she’s reading only children’s/middle-grade fiction so I thought I’d challenge myself to read the entire series. Easy!

Book one is the story we’re all familiar with, but it’s very different to the movie (for example, the shoes are silver not red. A little fact is that the red shoes were used on film as it picked up better in technicolour). While all the key elements are there, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion; Witches and Wizards… but there was also more. Rather than just magically going home, there’s more to the story after the Wizard flies away in his balloon.

From there, the series ventures out and explores the world of Oz a bit more. Book Two (The Marvellous Land of Oz) is about a young boy called Tip who isn’t quite who he seems. His adventures with his friends Jack Pumpkinhead and Saw-Horse lead him to Dorothy’s old friends, Scarecrow and Tin Man.

Book Three (Ozma of Oz) is another adventure with Dorothy, who finds herself in a magical land once again with a Princess who wants to take her head (quite literally), the lost Princess of Oz comes and saves her along with all her old and new friends; but freedom for her isn’t easy. Eventually her little hen Billina saves the day.

Book Four (Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz) we find out what the old Wizard got up to. It was a little more disjointed than the three previous books, and possibly my least favourite of the series. With weird vegetable people it seems it was at this point Baum really wanted a break from this world! This discombobulation sort of carried over to Book Five (The Road to Oz) and I feel that the new characters introduced in this book – Polychrome especially – had a huge amount of wasted potential.

At this point I had a slump, so I paused my reading for a while and will be continuing in December and hope to finish the rest of the series!

Reading Diversely (& Failings in the Education System)

There has been a lot of talk recently about the diversity in reading. I can’t quite remember where it originated but I’ve been following the discussion for over a month now and it’s been really interesting and also, it’s really opened my own eyes. Lydia posted over at her blog, which is a really interesting read, and included a spreadsheet to download which I altered slightly to suit me more. But using this spreadsheet really opened my eyes.

So far this year I have read 54 books – and if I count series as one book rather than having a series skew my data – it works out at 43 books. I have read a total of 26 female authors in that selection and 17 male authors. This is pretty new for me as, until about 18 months or 2 years ago, my reading was primarily female authors. I think this was mainly because I found it quite difficult to read male protagonists and I often found them quite hard to identify with so I tended to avoid male authors for this silly fact! Going back to 2013; what little I have logged is very much less male, nearly 80% of the books I read were by female authors.

As for diversity in race and nationality, I always felt I did read diversely on this account. Apparently I read less diversely than I realised as it appears my idea of diversity is a Japanese author once ever couple of months! Which actually shocks me. While it’s not something I’ve actively gone out to do, I always felt that I read more diversely than I do in actuality. So I feel that in future I will be actively thinking about the diversity when I go out and buy new books and put books on my TBR!

Only 5 of the authors I have read so far this year are people of colour/of a different race.

Five.

And two of those are Japanese authors.

I love Japanese fiction, I really do. I find it whimsical and wonderful, a lot of that can be attributed to a good translator but, ultimately, the author wrote it first. And Murakami, Yoshimoto and, at a stretch, Ruth Ozeki (who is actually North American, and writes in English, so as I said, it’s a stretch) all have this wonderful writing style that just makes me crave more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, per se. I just think that maybe I need to widen my net a bit.

The problem I have is I think a lot of books you have to be ready for. I’ve not read 1984 – I know I will like it, but I feel if I wait just a little more I’ll be able to appreciate it more. Many books that fall in to the diversity category also fall under this umbrella for me. Maybe it’s also that they’re a bit intimidating. But books like Love in the Time of Cholera and Half of a Yellow Sun I just don’t feel I’m mature enough to enjoy fully. There is also the fact that I don’t have a grasp on the history and I don’t want to go in to a book that is packed full of history and be completely bowled over by that and, as a result, not appreciate the book for what it is.

Ultimately, I don’t think that reading diversely is necessarily a personal problem, it’s more of an educational problem. All the books I read at GCSE for English were by white people, the majority of them were males. The one section I did study on other cultures was poetry. Schools leave us out of touch with the real world, they make literature of other cultures seem like a chore because it’s so clunky and, truthfully, it felt like the teachers didn’t really want to teach it anyway. We need enthusiastic teachers and better variety at a young age. Because of that non-existent enthusiasm from teachers, we as adults are then less likely to turn to a new author, or a translated text. Truthfully, I didn’t even think about approaching translations until I was 16 or 17! If we got to read modern literature from other cultures, or translated, from a young age, it would be much less intimidating as an adult and they would be reading more diversely because they wouldn’t be afraid to try something new.

Looking at the Edexcel specification for the 2015-17 GCSE, there is one person of colour as an author on the list of books. 10 of the 15 authors are male. THIS is why there’s lack of diversity in reading. Because how many schools are going to pick the ONE book that is written by a person of colour? How many schools are consciously going to pick the female authors over the males? They’re more than likely not, quite simply.

This sort of went off at a tangent, but ultimately, I think the only way we can change this lack of diversity is by starting kids at a young age. Introducing them to translations of fairy tales from other cultures when they’re at primary school and gradually more structured books from different cultures, then throwing in a bit of Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith at GCSE level. There are so many things people could learn around a lot of these books – especially those by Adichie as (like I gave in my reason for having not read her work) history could be taught alongside it.

This has become more of a rant on the UK education system, for that I am sorry. Ultimately however, I’m going to consciously read more diversely, and with more balance and thought. Of course I will still pick books up on a whim, but I’ll be looking around more before settling on an author I’m familiar with, because I might find a new author I love!

Review: The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

luminariesThe Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize last year and, having read a couple of the shortlisted books, and a couple of the longlisted books I feel that this wouldn’t have been my choice as a winner.

It’s a good book, there is no denying that. But I just didn’t enjoy it all that much! My personal feelings are that it was over-written and under-edited. At just over 800 pages I was expecting a masterpiece and in some ways it was but there was just too much. I love a long book but this book exhausted me!

I appreciate the intricacies of this book. The mathematical nature had the opportunity to be amazing, and while I really adore the thought behind it it felt a bit gimmick-y in parts. There was so much thought behind it that I can’t tear it apart but it did make the novel a little tedious in places. Also, the notes at the top of each chapter were increasingly more relied upon and that was a bit frustrating.

The plot and style was very Dickensian. I think I read or heard somewhere that this was written intentionally as a sort of parody to the 19th Century epic in the style of Dickens or Wilkie Collins. I definitely felt that but, if I want a Dickensian novel, I’d much rather just read Dickens. Call me old fashioned! Truthfully, I just felt that not much happened.

I read an article in the Guardian about this book which said that it was less about the plot and more about the way we actually read a novel. I wouldn’t say this novel was ‘above’ me or ‘beyond my capabilities’ and I’m finding a lot of reviews that have readers putting themselves down as stupid or idiots because they just didn’t like it. I really don’t like that! Reading is something that has to bring enjoyment and if this book is just one that you didn’t enjoy you shouldn’t put yourself down.

The novel is convoluted and deep, but even in over 800 pages I don’t feel I knew the characters. There was a lot of nothing much happening and, come the end, I just didn’t feel anything! I just felt like “oh… Okay” and that was disappointing for me when I had invested nearly 2 weeks in to a book. I loved the first part – the first 360ish pages were wonderful but from thereon it felt a lot more cumbersome.

I repeat what I said initially, this book was overwritten and under-edited. There was so much, I feel, unnecessarily lengthy wording – things were over described and it just irritated me. In some places a paragraph of description was used where a couple of sentences would have easily sufficed. If it were just edited a little bit it could have been about 100 pages shorter. While I do like a descriptive book, I also like a compromise between physical words and intent; gentle hints and getting the reader to see things rather than just telling them. I don’t feel that this was here.

In the end, The Luminaries didn’t really work for me, and ultimately I just don’t think this book connected with me the way it must have with the many juries of prizes it has won. Once again, it’s a novel I can appreciate the art behind but didn’t personally find all that much enjoyment in. I can’t be horrible because this novel was definitely a piece of art, there is no escaping that, but I just didn’t click with it.

3/5 from me on this one!

Review: The Pearl – John Steinbeck

The PearlAs anyone who follows this blog knows, I’m trying to revisit authors that I read at school. Steinbeck is one of them. Rather than go in at the deep end with one of his heavier novels, I decided that a novella was the way to dip my toes back in to his writing. I decided on this purely because it must be special as it’s the only one that is published in the Penguin Clothbound editions! But I’m reviewing the Penguin Modern Classic edition because I think when I finally have the full collection it will look beautiful on my shelf. Excuse my book vanity.

Interestingly, this book seemed to capture and convey so much more than I anticipated in its 91 pages (minus a few as there were illustrations!) Ultimately I think it’s a story of happiness; and how wealth doesn’t necessarily bring that, it only brings out the worst in people.Steinbeck is a master of a writer. I’m so glad I’m exploring his work. His writing is poignant and his stories are full of life. He describes everything so wonderfully that I could picture it all perfectly.

The story itself is quite basic. What I didn’t know is it’s a retelling of an age old folk tale from Mexico (I think). Kino, a pearl diver, and his wife live modestly with their son, their son is bitten by a scorpion and in an effort to save his life – to pay for a doctor – Kino goes out to sea to hopefully find a pearl that will be able to cover the cost of treatment. He finds one but the promise of wealth brings out the worst in not only Kino, but the neighbourhood. People take advantage of him and madness ensues, really. But in just under 100 pages there is love and loss, happiness and sadness, wealth and poverty. It’s very clear that Steinbeck had an interest in people, each character – even down to those in the background – were rounded and clear.

It’s an age old tale of “be careful what you wish for” and I’ll very happily give this 4/5. I think I’ll be braver next time and tackle a larger Steinbeck book though because 100 pages just isn’t enough of his writing!

Review: A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

27.Ruth Ozeki-A Tale For The Time BeingIt’s been a long while since I read a book that I had to stay awake to finish. Sleeping before I had finished this just wasn’t an option because I needed to know what happened. I can’t put in to words just how this book hit me, but you know when you get that kick right in the gut from a book? Yeah. That. This book kicked me right in the gut and it just had a really big impact on me. I laughed and I cried both happy and sad tears. I wanted to read as slowly as I could but had to read as quickly as possible to just know what happened. It sucked me in, spun me around and spat me out again. It was just beautiful.

This is a take on an epistolary novel, really. There are diary entries, letters and emails. As for our characters, we have Nao, Ruth and the two Haruki’s. I adored how the 4 voices were intertwined and how each impacted on the other. Nao is a beautiful protagonist – her point of view is something I don’t feel I’ve heard before. Ruth is, for all intents and purposes, the author herself. That is a little odd, it has taken me a while to get my head around the fact! And then we have Haruki #1 and Haruki #2, who are both very distinct personalities even though they’re separated by 60 years, life and death, and never actually speak for themselves. Then there’s Jiko, who I’ve yet to mention. But she is a 104 year old Buddhist nun and she’s awesome. I want a Jiko.

This book just touches on so many themes; religion, life, death, time, war… it’s pretty much all there along with a handy helping of Marcel Proust! Suicide is probably the most predominant theme and I like that it wasn’t sugar coated, even if that sounds harsh. In making it rough and honest, I think it made it all the more heart wrenching and I think also, ultimately, heart warming.

“Time itself is being…and all being is time…In essence, everything in the entire universe is intimately linked with each other as moments in time, continuous and separate.”

While it’s very realistic, it also has it’s moments of magical realism. Is time tangible? Do events now have any influence on the events of the past? I won’t spoil it but yes. There is a crow, and he does magic things. Some of it is a little odd, makes little sense, but it’s one of those things you just have to accept and carry on reading. I also have to say I really liked the way that quantum theory was interwoven with the time aspect of this novel! I am by no means a fan of physics (I avoid it where possible) but for once, what little knowledge I have came in useful!

Ultimately, it is about being happy in the here and now – not looking to the past or the future for contentment or hope; and not indulging in regret or wishes. As the character Ruth states in the epilogue: “I’d much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.”

This review is very broken and all over the place, for that I apologise. I wanted to write while it was still somewhat fresh in my mind, but I’ve found that it’s all a bit jumbled! This book was amazing, no buts about it. It’s by no stretch an easy book to read but it is definitely one that should be read. Possibly the best book I’ve read this year – 5/5