To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

My rating: 4.7/5.0

This book is an absolute classic, and a completely unmissable read. I read it before for my GCSE English Literature class, but being fourteen at the time I returned to it now, suspecting that it might mean slightly more to me six years later. And it did.

It’s heartbreaking, thought-provoking and totally page turning. I think I read it in the space of two days. The characters have such depth to them, and through the eyes of seven/eight year old Scout Finch (Jean Louise if we’re being formal!), they all come majestically to life. One thing that struck me is that I was still a little scared of Scout’s initial impression of Boo Radley! I guess the idea of an unseen phantom that one can’t put a face to is infinitely more terrifying than something you can quantify, hence the extensive imaginations of children.

Moving through the book and seeing the trial of Tom Robinson from Scout’s perspective makes it seem even more abhorrent. The innocence she has, which her brother Jem loses, becomes all the more precious in light of the outcome. One almost begins to detest the machinations of adults, purely because of the effect it has on children.

I cannot begin to this book justice here, but suffice to say that if you have no read it you must; and if you have read it, return to it, I almost guarantee you it will provide you with something new.

B

x

Book Review: Spoils of Time Trilogy – Penny Vincenzi

A couple of weeks ago I had no internet.

“No internet?!” I hear you cry… and I wasn’t even in a remote corner of the globe, I was in my home. The problem was that my broadband provider was Sky and they’re… not good… to say the least. Anyway, whilst I was in this wifi black hole I managed to read quite a lot of books, about five in the space of two weeks. Three of those books were the books that I’m going to review today; the three that make up the Spoils of Time Trilogy by Penny Vincenzi.

This series is made up of  the books ‘No Angel’, ‘Something Dangerous’ and ‘Into Temptation’ and it chronicles the lives of the Lytton Dynasty, focusing mostly around a lead female character by the name of Lady Celia Lytton née Beckenham. I think I will deal with the trilogy as a whole when discussing it, but will rate each book in turn at the end of my review.

The books begin in about 1908, the heyday of the Edwardian era and we are introduced to Lady Celia, who immediately comes across as strong-minded, determined, a little bit sly and a woman who certainly knows what she wants. Possibly a little bit too much of a modern sensibility for a woman living at such a time, but don’t forget that this was the time of the suffragettes and the Fabian society, so perhaps it is not out of place. She quickly entices and marries Oliver Lytton, a kind and fairly gentle soul who is the inheritor of a small but successful publishing company that goes by the family surname. Throughout the next half of the book Celia produces three children; Giles, and twins Venetia and Adele, before adopting a child from the slums of London who for the entirety books is known as Barty.

One thing that strikes me about Vincenzi books is that whilst her writing is rich in detail, her characters have a particular trait/fate that always comes forward, and is constantly represented by their actions. In that sense it is almost like a fairy tale. Celia, as mentioned before is extremely strong minded – almost to the point of bullying on several occasions – and this is contrasted to her long suffering husband. Her children also suffer at the hands of her own ambition, with Giles emerging as a shy and with low self-esteem. The twins fare a little better because they have each other and thus a lifelong bond is formed in the constant absence of their mother.

There are hundreds of characters in these three books, and more plot twists than I could possibly care to mention but that’s what makes them such an addictive read. The huge amounts of characters don’t detract from the story either, it’s not like Game of Thrones where you read about one character and then don’t hear about them again for twenty chapters. The books span the time period from the Edwardian era through to the late 1960s, and through that time (in no particular order!) we are shown the horrors of two World Wars through the eyes of the characters, the rise of the Fascists across Europe and how it affects all involved, the Wall Street crash, the roaring twenties, the depression, the change of British society as the 40’s came to a close and the 50’s began… it is really interesting to anyone who has a passing interest in social history. Of course it is fiction, but lots of the events that occur in the book are real and for someone who doesn’t wish to pursue their interest to academic texts would find this book fascinating.

Naturally there are issues with it, as afore mentioned characters can sometimes feel stereotyped or pigeonholed in order to fit the line of the story. I, for one, can’t help but feel sorry for Oliver and Giles but it becomes frustrating because they don’t seem to do anything about it. Another thing that frustrated me about these books was the ending. I won’t ruin it for you in case you wish to go off and read them, but suffice to say it comes to a rather abrupt halt, and one to which you think the publishers of Vincenzi were gasping for their novel, leaving her  little time to end it properly. If I were to pick a main criticism of these books it would be the end; after nearly 2000 pages of storyline, for it to end the way it does feels a little unfair.

Anyway, I really hope you do go and read the books. It’s a great summer read, but the books are quite big so if you’ve got an e-reader I suggest you get it on there! It’s a wonderful escape into the first half of the 20th century, a century so rich in history and intrigue it’s impossible to not be excited about it. And Vincenzi does do it justice; her plot lines fit wonderfully, and her characters don’t appear to jar against the edges of the time to which their bound. Well worth a read if you fancy something light, but not too light!

Covers and Ratings: (apologies the covers are different sizes – blame amazon!)

 Rating: 3.8/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Rating: 4.2/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Rating: 3.6/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time!

B

XO

The Playlist Files

  

 

Hey Ho, Let’s Go….

My Five Tracks of this (bi)weekly blog… (my excuse this time is that I have no wifi at home at the moment so I’m bootlegging in Starbucks at the moment!). Nothing older than 3 years on this week’s playlist files – I’ll see if I can get something a bit more old school on the next one!

 

1. War – Emily’s Army

2. A Lack of Understanding – The Vaccines

3. Unbelievers – Vampire Weekend

4. Mulholland Drive – The Gaslight Anthem

5. Want – Jawbreaker

 

Okay… Well…

1. I love this track because even though it’s dealing with some fairly important issues (greed, capitalism etc.) it seems to manage to do so whilst putting it against an upbeat pop-punk background. With the scratchy vocals of one of the Becker brothers (apologies for not knowing which!) propelling the song forward this is really a stand out track on their latest release. Fingers crossed that it’s going to be the next single!

Find it: ‘Lost At Seventeen’ – Emily’s Army (2013)

2. I have recently developed a deep appreciation for The Vaccines first album. I had always written it off before as too “indie/pop-rock” for me and dismissed it off hand because I associated it with things that I didn’t want to be associated with. Once I got over myself however and actually started to listen to all types of music I realised that this is actually a stellar song off a brilliant album.

Find it: ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ – The Vaccines (2011)

3. And another sweet track from Vampire Weekend. This song is their latest single off their third album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ and it doesn’t disappoint. Definitely one of the better tracks off the album, it does peter off in places but then tracks like this really make it worth listening to. Brilliant song from a band that shows it can deliver strokes of genius…

Find it: ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ – Vampire Weekend (2013)

4. Another track from a band that I had decided I didn’t like after listening to one track. Once again, after revisiting this band I discovered this track (at the suggestion of a friend) and found that I really enjoyed it. Laid back rock track with just enough heavy percussion/solid bass line to keep me happy.

Find it: ‘Handwritten’ – The Gaslight Anthem (2012)

5. And back to my usual. A nice punk-rock song to round the list off for this week. This song is reminiscent of Social Distortion mixed with Rise Against and is great to get yourself pumped up and ready to go. Once again introduced to me through a friend – definitely worth checking out.

Find it: Unfun (2010 Remastered Edition) – Jawbreaker (2010)

Album Review: Lost At Seventeen – Emily’s Army

Rating: 3.75/5

The average age of the members in Emily’s Army is roughly eighteen years old. “Lost At Seventeen” is their second album to date, the first being 2011’s “Don’t Be A D*ck”. It’s always an interesting feeling when people younger than you are doing stuff like this, part of you feels old, another part wonder’s why you don’t think of it first, and the last part makes you feel a teeny bit proud. I suspect this might happen a lot more as I get older.

As to this release it’s great slice of punk-rock (occasionally bordering on pop-punk). It makes me want to get up and dance and there are a few stellar tracks on the record. The lead single ‘Avenue’ is a brilliant track, giving the listener a taste of what is to come with the rest of the album. It generally has a slightly heavier, and more mature sound than 2011’s debut album, I feel, although the fast-than-lightening, rip-through-the-room punk sound first established on the debut is still very much present.

Other stand out tracks for me are ‘Gübermensch’ (not-so subtle play on Nietzsche’s idea of the übermensch), ‘If Our Music Plays Again’ and title track ‘Lost at 17’ which closes up the album. There are only two downsides to this album; one is that some of the tracks bleed into each other if you’re not listening very closely because they have a similar sound to them; the second downside is that, due to the way my “Recently Added” playlist is as the moment on my iTunes, this album is followed directly by Green Day. The similarities are impossible to miss, and whilst this can hardly be called a bad thing (or a surprise), it might detract sometimes from their own personal identity. I fear that the band is always going to be linked to Green Day for personal reasons etc. and I hope they can escape this with their own sound.

All in all it’s a very decent offering, making me want to see the band live (I missed their tour this time around) and I am very excited to see where they head in the future. They are clearly very talented and if they keep grounded (which I’m sure they will), look like they could have a massive future in front of them.

Until next time,

B

XO

The Kingmaker’s Daughter – Philippa Gregory

Enjoyment/Story Rating: 3.0/5.0

Style/Language Rating: 2.8/5.0

 

Okay, well this another classic Philippa Gregory story, telling the tale of Anne Neville; daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the “kingmaker” of the late Plantagenet era. It’s a good tale if all you want is a simple story of a vaguely historical nature, but that is all it seems to provide. I was expected something a bit more, because I’d been told that it was better than her other recent novels, but I found it sitting quite comfortable alongside them in terms of mediocrity.

Now don’t get me wrong, Philippa Gregory has written some really great books, I loved her Tudor Series, but the things she’s written lately seem to just have been the same story and all she’s done is edited the names before sending the book to the publishers – it seems one dimensional and fairly flat with little new to offer regular Gregory readers. I found myself skipping pages as I got bored with the repetitive nature of the style, diving back in again when I stumbled across something that it felt like I hadn’t read before.

I would recommend this if you like comfortable historical novels and just want a light and easy read. Otherwise, if you want better historical fiction, go for Gregory’s earlier novels, in my opinion they are far superior to her later works.

 

B

XO

The Vampire Diaries: A Comparison

Okay, teen. I know, I know, I know… and before you judge me horribly well, here’s to say I really don’t care. But anyway, this blog post is a comparison, in so far as a TV show and a book can be compared.

I got hooked on The Vampire Diaries a whole three weeks ago and since then have watched all the seasons up to the present, wondered what to do next, and started reading the books, the first of which I finished last night. Thus, insomuch as I have only read the first book, this blog will just be a comparison of the things that have happened there in.

It’s not very often that I’d actually say this but I really preferred the TV show to the book; usually a book manages to get so much more detail in its pages than a TV show ever could, but somehow the book is just far too simplistic, the plot moves too fast and the characters are very flat; whereas on screen the plot details are really intricate, characters are well developed and story lines develop within a much more reasonable time frame, also creating tension and just the right amount of horror (it’s about vampires mkay?).

Okay, I’ll just give you a basic plot outline so you have a vague idea of what I’m talking about here on in; a small town girl (Elena) leads a normal life until her parents die in a car crash, then a vampire (Stephen) moves to town and she falls in love with him, crazy murders happen and everyone thinks it said vampire boy (nobody knows he’s a vampire except small town girl), turns out it’s actually vampire boy’s ‘evil’ brother (Damon) who small town girl has complicated feelings for, sh1t happens from there… Did you like my summary?

Alright, well one of the things that struck me (and really irritated me) in the book was how fast relationships develop between characters. Surely more than ever a book has the time to develop narratives and dialogues between characters so that affirmations of love seem real. In the book Elena tells Stephen that she loves him after they’ve been together for a day – really?! Also, when Damon starts making appearances in the book, Elena’s feelings for him also develop much faster than would be “realistic”; I know they’re crazily attractive vampires, but surely even they need a little longer than ten minutes to make a girl fall for them?

Slating the book aside, one of the things I did like about it is Damon’s character; he seems nicely dark in the book. Whilst this definitely comes across in the TV series as well, I found the book actually making me scared of his character as well as intrigued to know more (which sadly the book doesn’t give).

I feel the TV series has so much more to offer than the books and I’m just more excited to follow what is going on. The differences between the TV series and the book are innumerable and, oddly, I think it’s actually the book that suffers because of it. For example the character of Elena in the TV show is more like the Katherine of the book (her doppelgänger and ancestor… very long story), the setting of the Salvatores being from the time of the American Civil War also provides greater interest and realism, because it allows story lines to flow from then to the present day as opposed to where the book puts them in Renaissance Italy. Another difference I thought was wisely made was the lack of “Meredith” and the redemption of Caroline. Meredith doesn’t really seem to play a role in the book, except to be Elena’s best friend, so to ditch that character and have Caroline take on that role as well as her own storyline was far more convincing.

So, to round up, if you wanna get hooked into this series (as I did), I strongly suggest you watch the TV Series and then, if you feel you must to get the whole experience, go and read the books. I found the books entirely disappointing next to the show and that is something that is very rarely said when comparing a novel to an adaptation of it.

Alright, enjoy this sexy cast photo of the Season 4 ‘Vampire Diaries’ cast…

B

XO

P.S – I might do a full review/my thoughts of the different seasons of TVD… just cause I think they’re awesome

Teachers Top 100

So, apparently teachers in the UK have chosen their top 100 books for teaching and enjoyment. Top of this list is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen which I have to confess, I haven’t read. I read Persuasion at A level and I think it’s a great book but the few times I’ve attempted to read about the escapades of Mr Darcy and Ms Bennett, I’ve been overcome by the cliched nature of what’s been done to it since Austen penned the thing. I’m also pleased to see a lot of Tolkien on the list, I adore Tolkien and I wish there was a module on my course to do with 20th Century fantasy writers, but alas alack there is not. Reading down the list I am genuinely liking what is on the list, although I do take issue with one: Twilight (series) by Stephanie Meyer. WHY? This book is truly, truly terrible; the story is not great and the actual use of language/plot development/sentence structure/character development ain’t good either. I guess one of the reasons it could be on there is it might make more kids want to take up reading? Maybe? I don’t know, but the day that that series shows up on the official syllabus is a very very sad day indeed.

Also, it makes me a sad English Literature student when I read down that list and realise that I haven’t even heard of some of them, never mind read them. Worse still when I thought it was film and not a book. Whoopsie. I am pleased to say that I have read lots of the novels on that list, and I think I might use it as a reference to tackle more. I have The Independent’s ‘1001 books to read before you die’ tucked away somewhere, but I always find that slightly overwhelming. Maybe 100 is a better place to start. And before you ask, yes I know they’re books recommended by teachers, but look at that list there are only a few that I was designate as “children’s” books, and even those are fun to read so… why not?

I might even try and tackle that world renowned piece of literature next… might take me a good while to get through it though: Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar…