Saturday, 27 December 2014

"You Think You Know Me"* Review

It feels like forever (presumably because it has been!) since I've done a review. The last few weeks have been massively hectic - essay writing, seemingly endless amounts of family Christmas dos and illness meant that reading got put on the back burner. But, I'm back, and hopefully with more frequency. I was lucky enough to be sent You Think You Know Me by Choc Lit and I have to say it lived up to expectations! Suspense-filled, with a little bit of Bond-esque drama, you never knew who to trust .... Believe me, the quote above was how I felt for the majority of the novel.

Anna, a freelance journalist, moves to London in the hope of securing more work. Her university contacts triumph and she ends up securing an interview with Zachariah Shakespeare, an artist whose work is being shown at Seb Rice's (an old uni friend) gallery. However, when she attends a gallery showing she is watched by a mysterious man who provides a false name and appears to take a photo of her. She soon has to question everything: who is this man, and why is she so attracted to him? Why is her old friend Seb so interested in becoming close? And, most importantly, who can she really trust?

I really really cannot say very much about this one without providing a whole host of spoilers, and I want all of you lovelies to enjoy the book! But, I will say that if you have trust issues, beware: this novel will make you evaluate and overevaluate every impression of anyone you ever meet. However, it is a fab book; well-written, intense and hey, if good literature doesn't make you evaluate your life in a new light what does it do?

Have you read it? What did you think? 


P.S. Check out my 100 follower giveaway here

Friday, 26 December 2014

100 Followers Giveaway

So I reached 100 followers on Bloglovin' and I just wanted to say thanks so much to everyone who's helped out on this journey! I really appreciate all of your views and follows and it was a lovely little Christmas gift. Check out my review for The Boxer here and The Atlas of Us here

Enter below! **UK ONLY**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Book A Day | #19 and #20

Day 19 - Travelling Home Reading This

Although this picture was clearly not taking whilst travelling, I did read this as I came home from uni a couple of weeks ago, ready for the festivities to kick in. Check out my review of the book here

Day 20 - Set Where I live

I don't have a picture for this one, but I do have a poem for you guys:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now, 
There isn't grass to graze a cow. 
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens, 
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans, 
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town-
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown 
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who'll always cheat and always win, 
Who washes his repulsive skin 
In women's tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It's not their fault that they are mad, 
They've tasted Hell.

It's not their fault they do not know 
The birdsong from the radio, 
It's not their fault they often go 
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars 
And daren't look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

Pleasant, I know. But let's be realistic, this little town on the edge of London still isn't the nicest of places, though Betjeman may have been a tad extreme here.

What were your choices?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Book a Day | Day 18 Massive Tome

Let's be real, I haven't read this. BUT it is sat on my bookshelf every day, glaring at me and has been doing so for years. I will get to it, one day. 
The massive tome I really wanted to use was Bleak House, but I seem to have left my copy of it at uni. Check out my brief look into crime in Bleak House here

What's your choice?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Book A Day catch Up Pt 2 | Days 13-17

Day 13 | Stocking Filler

So, once again I've fallen behind - this time for a better reason though. I've been up to my neck in hectic essay writing!
This is one of my favourite copies of a text - it's a second hand Twelfth Night I picked up in The Paperback Exchange in Bognor Regis. As my smallest book, this would be a brilliant stocking filler (you'd have to be seriously in my good books though!).

Day 14 | Read at School

This is probably the only school text that I actually own! But it is also one of my faves. Despite my housemate and fellow English Lit student abhorring its existence, I love Fitzgerald's writing.

Day 15 | Favourite Colour Cover

Okay, you might not be able to see a great deal of the colour of this cover, BUT it is my favourite. 

Day 16 | For Someone I Love

Cue a tonne of n'awwws, but I'd give this to my nan. Despite my best efforts, neither my boyfriend, nor my immediate family particularly enjoy reading, or at least see the point in it in a similar way to me. Apart from nan who loves historical fiction. As this is my nicest copy of a Philippa Gregory book, I think I'd give this to her.

Day 17 | Something Funny

Let's be real, is anyone surprised that I chose this? Check out my review of this hilarious novel here. It's got pretty much everything you need for a witty tale of love and loss.

What were your choices?


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Review of Piano From A 4th Storey Window*

So, this review has been a long time in coming. End of term commitments pushed everything bar frantically working, not sleeping and going out from my mind. But, I've finally gotten round to finishing this. Do you ever have books that make you think to the extent that you don't want to start a new book for a couple of days? Well I do, and this was one of them - I finished it two days ago and am still procrastinating starting a new one. But (and this is a big but) you have to suffer the first 50 pages or so. The sex scenes were pretty unrealistic in this part .... for starters I don't know anyone male or female that would want to engage in sex either whilst on, or with someone who is on their period when they have sex with each other for the first time. There were a few other problems I found with it, but that one really (unfortunately) imprinted itself to my memory. Anyway, PUSH THROUGH THIS - the book is really incredibly written in my opinion. And for an English reader there's a whole host of moments during which you can really feel at home here.

Marin Strang is a woman struggling to cohere her religious upbringing in a Jehovah Witness' household with her *ahem* someone licentious mode of living. She moves to Brighton and almost immediately meets Lawrence Fyre, ecclectic bookshop owner and all-round oddball. Immediately they hit it off, but, as we know, the course of true love never does run smooth ... Filled with tragedy, love and an over-riding investigation into what makes a family, Piano From A 4th Storey Window is a brilliant read.

I find that modern romantic fiction often has a tendency to be pretty poorly written (what ever happened to the likes of the writing in Wuthering Heights?!), but, this is actually successful, good even. And the story ... well, once, as I said, you get over the first section, you really begin to get a sense of these characters. I personally love a good bit of back story in a novel, and this gradually released one, bit by bit, for each character. So, when tragedy strikes, you almost feel Marin and Lawrence's pain yourself. 

It raises so many questions about identity *spoiler alert*: what impact does one's upbringing have on one's adult life? What happens when you lose a child which you never really met? How do you deal with that? How do you deal with a lover's relationship history? What is living in Brighton really like?

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Book-A-Day #11 & #12 | Christmas Classic and Book of Poems

So, I've already failed in keeping up with doing this everyday, whoops! I had a bit of a hectic day trying to do research for an essay (and watching What Happens in Vegas with pizza). But, I'm making up for it today!

Harry Potter will probably always be my most Christmassy of reads. I don't think anybody can read them and not remember the hideous jumpers that the Weasleys receive every year out of the kindness of their mother's heart. Or Harry's invisibility cloak. I also don't think you can read them without wanting to spend a Christmas at Hogwarts. Their Yule Ball and atmosphere is just so lovely. Plus, y'know, the films are always on here in the UK over this period.

Now, Hardy's poems are one of very few books of poems I own, though he's far from my favourite poet. Donne takes that title. I'm gonna leave you guys with my favourite ever poem here, cause I think it's something everyone should get the chance to read. And, if you want to check out something a bit raunchy for a 17th Century poem, go to his "The Flea", or the majority of his short poems!

The Broken Heart

He is stark mad, whoever says,
    That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
    But that it can ten in less space devour ;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
    Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
    I saw a flash of powder burn a day?

Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
    If once into love's hands it come !
All other griefs allow a part
    To other griefs, and ask themselves but some ;
They come to us, but us love draws ;
He swallows us and never chaws ;
    By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die ;
    He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.

If 'twere not so, what did become
    Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
    But from the room I carried none with me.
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
    More pity unto me ; but Love, alas !
    At one first blow did shiver it as glass.

Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
    Nor any place be empty quite ;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
    Those pieces still, though they be not unite ;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
    My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
    But after one such love, can love no more.

What would your choices have been?


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Book-A-Day #10 | Latest Purchase

I had to choose this one because it's just so pretty! I must admit, apart from books for my course I probably haven't bought any books in the past two or three years (madness!). I recently bought this for one off my third year modules so have yet to read it. However, I'm a sucker for judging a book by a cover, so if this is not a quaint, pleasantly tea-filled novel I shall be disappointed!

What is your latest purchase?


50th Post | Review of Frankenstein

I really want to say thanks for reading my blog - it wouldn't have ever gotten this far without people's support! It's pretty apt that Frankenstein has come up as my 50th post as, having just completed it for the fourth (maybe fifth?!) time, I've realised that it is definitely one of my firm favourites. Having said that, I probably won't be reading it again any time soon - I feel as though I could practically narrate it word for word right now!

So, I've studied Frankenstein numerous times in my career as a lit student. The first was in the context of the gothical canon at a-level. Since then I've looked at it through the lens of its place in modern literature, and feminist writing. It's pretty much just a gift that keeps on giving, and every time I come to read it, I'm just amazed by how radical and potent it is. There are actually two different versions of Frankenstein - the 1818 edition and the 1831 one. I would advise anyone to read the 1818 version - it differs slightly in content and has fewer of Percy Shelley's amendments. 

Victor Frankenstein is an intellectual who seeks to discover more about natural philosophy. Having acquired an in-depth knowledge about this science, he turns his attentions towards an experiment which he hopes will make his name go down in history forever. Sadly it does, but for the wrong reasons .... Birthing a hideous creation, Frankenstein abandons his helpless 8ft monster to a life of loneliness and deprivation. However, as the above quotation indicates, a life devoid of any sympathy may turn the sweetest heart to stone.

The creature is a product of the labourer, Frankenstein. Unlike the majority of scientific research, Frankenstein does not create a theoretical piece of work, but a material one. This allows for a Marxist reading of the play. It is interesting that Frankenstein and his monster have both a master-slave and a producer-product relationship; these are not the same thing. The master slave relationship present in the book is a truly Hegelian one: the master's existence is dependent on the slave even more than the slave's existence is dependent on the master. The master's very identity is predicated on the existence of the slave. The master's and the slave's identities can shift: this is what happens with Frankenstein and his monster. Frankenstein moves from being the master, to slave, to master again as the creature *spoiler alert* stands over his dead body.

Although the entire book is narrated from a male perspective, there is a lot of room to examine the importance of women in the text. For starters, the entire novel is written specifically for a woman: Margaret Saville. Her presence ensconces the novel and adds another layer of perception to the book. Moreover, the central figure in all of the layers of narration is Safie, an arab woman. The  presence and non-presence of women and especially mothers throughout the text is probably something people find most concerning and noticeable. Frankenstein gives birth with no female input, and therefore, removes the woman from the domestic sphere. The question really is, after this can he ever become married and life a life of domestic harmony? Is it necessary that Elizabeth dies?

What do you think of it?


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Book-A-Day #9 | Book I Judged By Its Cover

If you missed yesterday's post, I'm going to be keeping up with Penguin's book-a-day (UK) this month. I think the whole concept is a pretty awesome idea; it encourages people to read, and gives you ideas on new things to pick up. Here is the post if you're interested!

So, background to this choice: as an avid reader, at 14 I thought this was something I should read. However, one glance at the front cover instantly made it seem like the dullest thing I'd ever picked up. This meant that the slow start (it's Austen - is there ever a quick one?!) completely put me off. This is the only book I've ever given up on entirely and not made an attempt to re-read at a later date. It also started a passionate hate-affair with Austen which still exists to this day. Having now read Mansfield Park I do not regret judging it by its cover - I don't want to have to go through one of those tedious tomes again!

What book have you judged by its cover? Did you regret it?


Monday, 8 December 2014

Book-A-Day Catch Up | Days 1-8

(picture taken from google)

As it's December, and I really like getting nostalgic over my books as Christmas comes along, I'm going to be blogging a bit about my book-a-day choices. Obviously I'm a tad behind, but as I;m sure you can tell from my absence, I've been a little busy over the past week (aka I haven't really read anything, so don't have a great deal to tell you guys about!). So, until Christmas I'm going to do my best to keep up with this everyday, as well as posting reviews as often as possible!

Day 1: Iconic First Line

How could I not pick this?! Dickens is definitely up there in my top faves (if you haven't already noticed from my blog in general, you'll probably get to grips with the fact that I'm quite a fan of 19th C fiction in this post!)

Day 2: Last Read

It's my most recent review! Check it out here. This is my second time reading it, and although it's not one of my favourites, it's definitely a valuable read.

Day 3: On my Christmas List

Social media has gone crazy about this and I really feel like I'm missing out not having it .... maybe if I keep my fingers crossed (or get the book lover's dream of a Christmas gift - a Waterstones voucher!)

Day 4: For Chilly Nights

So cliche, I know, but hey - I'm an English Lit student - I'm allowed to love it. I've probably read this four .... maybe five times now and it probably gets into my top ten all time favourites. The setting really makes it perfect for a winter read in my opinion - I definitely feel thankful for central heating when reading it!

Day 5: Quintessentially British

Admittedly, my first thought when I saw this day was "Sherlock Holmes". However, I haven't actually read any, and don't even own any Conan Doyle, so Hardy was my next choice. He's effectively my favourite author - if anyone's interested in male 19th Century feminism I'd suggest going for Hardy. He actually makes an effort to create female characters that have their own personality (something, much to the chagrin of some of my fellow lit students, that I find certain female authors *cough* Austen fail to do *cough* Fanny Price)

Day 6: Something Everyone Should Read

(picture taken from google)

Sadly, I no longer have my copy of this book, BUT that does not mean it is not an incredibly valuable work of fiction. This holds so many questions for a modern audience: should all women have to be mothers? Can someone be born evil? Is a mother responsible for her child's actions? It also has the most surprising twist I've ever found in a book. Check out my post on it here

Day 7: Childhood Favourite

I was a bit manic on Enid Blyton as a kid - still own at least fifty of her works! This was my absolute favourite as a child - it was one of the first books I ever remember reading. and I must've read it dozens of times. It even made me want to own a farm when I was younger (a long forgotten dream). 

Day 8: It's a Mystery!

Despite my love for TV cop dramas like Castle and Hawaii Five-0, I'm really not much of a mystery fan at all. This is probably the only definitive mystery novel I've read in a number of years, if ever. It was short and punchy, and that was effectively why I enjoyed it.

What are some of your responses to the days?


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review of "North and South"

As I'm a student with limited funds, buying all of my (literally hundreds over the course of my degree) books can rack up to become quite expensive. So, every year I take a trip down to an incredible secondhand bookshop in a small seaside town called Bognor Regis. This shop is genuinely my favourite place in the world - I could spend hours there. It's called The Paperback Exchange and works on the basis of you bringing books in to the store to buy secondhand books at a reduced rate. The prices are so crazy I've even got a couple of Shakespeare's in here for 20p! Books are rated on their quality, and I think this copy of North and South cost me about £1.20, but compared to the £7.99 it costs new, and the £2.81 it costs as a minimum on Amazon, this was a complete bargain! You can grab a copy yourself for £5.99 here

Over the last couple of years, I've read a fair amount of 19th Century fiction, some good (Wuthering Heights is still in my top ten) and some bad (Mansfield Park, I'm looking at you), but I have to say that North and South fits into the former category. It does something which most 19th Century authors seem to fail to do: create a believable heroine. It's also a book which I've found incredibly relevant to the modern woman, and feminist, as well to evaluating the way in which business owners currently see their employees.

Margaret Hale, the protagonist of the novel, has been living in high society in London with an aunt for a number of years. However, as her cousin Edith gets married and moves away, Margaret returns to her home in the idyllic country Hamlet of Helstone with her mother and father. Her father, a parson, begins to entertain doubts in his faith, which force him to give up his position in the village. Out of shame, and a lack of necessity for living there anymore, the family move to Milton, an industrial town in the North. Here, Margaret must learn a great deal about herself, as the town strikes her with many a tragedy. Class and gender become intractably embroiled as she becomes more and more integrated with the rough society of Milton.

Margaret Hale is truly an inspiring female character for the 19th Century novel. Unlike other "feminist" novels *cough* Coelebs (I think I still have nightmares about that one), North and South really examines what it means to be an independent woman. Margaret shows extreme strength of mind and body, at times proving that she is as powerful, if not more powerful, than several men in the novel, especially her father. She makes her own mind up as to who she will not marry, and does not let her decision be swayed by wanting motherhood or protection for the future. She also bears the greatest weight of emotional stress in the novel, as everyone seems to use her as a dumping ground for all of their problems. However, she does not faint and cry like Fanny or Edith would, but keeps going and gets done what is necessary to get done. Moreover, she engages with the class structure in an incredibly unique way. It is ultimately Margaret who ends the strike, by obstructing the path of the debris flung at Mr Thornton, and Margaret who leads to the working men being given luncheon by Mr Thornton. All in all, she is a powerful voice for change: her voice will be heard, she does have power over her own mind, and most importantly, she will not engage with the stereotypes of the woman of sensibility.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Friday, 21 November 2014

Review of "The Catcher in the Rye"

Everything's been crazy manic at the moment, but I've managed to scrape together enough time to read a bit of this almost every day. I pretty much chose to read this because I'd heard of it, assumed it was something that would educate me, and felt as though I probably ought to read it as a lit student. Let's be real, everyone has a whole stack of books that fit into that category - most of which we'll never quite get round to reading (who knows, A Tale of Two Cities might happen some day!). Anyway, I picked out this quote because it really highlights just how distressing/depressing I found the entire book. I realise that there is a purpose behind this tone, however, it didn't make it any cheerier!

Holden Caulfield is a schoolboy who comes from a rich family, yet can't seem to find his place at school. He fails all of his classes, doesn't have any friends and is generally disillusioned with the entire concept of what he ought to be doing as a schoolboy. When he is  forced to leave the school he learns that, although he now controls his own actions to a greater extent, he still doesn't want to cohere to societal expectations. The novel tracks his actions over the couple of days after he leaves school, and leaves readers questioning their own almost drone-like adherence to rules and expectations.

The novel is written in an almost conversational manner. The reader is constantly aware, through devices such as repetition, that it is a vaguely exhausted child narrating the text. Through his eyes, you really get a new understanding of the capitalist driven world in which we live. Money is everything here - he only achieves the freedom he is able to have because of his stack of cash he has with him. Adults are seemingly oblivious to his existence - he is the example of someone who has "fallen through the cracks". 

Have you read it? Did you enjoy it?


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Review of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle"

First thing first, I'm aware that the picture of this book is of startlingly appalling quality. However, as England has become a seat of darkness already this Winter, there's only a very small time period in which decent photos can be taken. As I'm really conscious at the moment of how long it's been since I've written something (over a week, whoops) I really wanted to get this out today, so we'll have to deal with the poor quality picture. Hey, at least it matches the battered copy my student loans graced me with right? 

Anyway, let's talk about the play. Although I should have already read some Brecht, my general lack of motivation (aka laziness) as a first-year student meant that I *cough* overlooked reading Mother Courage and Her Children. So, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is really my first experience of reading Brecht. I have to say, I massively enjoyed it. If you haven't read any, or really feel like reading something that will make you ask questions about modern life this play is brilliant.The quotation above is just a small sample of thought-provoking and often terrifyingly accurate analyses of modern life that the play contains.

The play itself tells you what's going to happen within the prologue, so I can't really spoiler anything, The Caucasian chalk circle, as narrated by Brecht, is a circle which is drawn around an infant when there is a dispute over who the mother is. The two women in question are asked to tug on the infant - whoever pulls him out of the circle hardest and fastest is the legitimate mother. However, there is a twist. Although the judge of the action states these rules, the real mother is in fact the one who lets go - she cares about the child enough to choose his safety over her emotional attachment to him.

The plot follows the story of Grusha, a servant girl working for a governor and his wife. There is a revolt in the city they live in. The governor is killed and the wife, in her haste to save her dresses, runs away and forgets their infant son, Michael. Grusha runs away with the baby, pursued by soldiers who want to kill him. She eventually reaches her brother's house, but her safety is not secured there....

The second half of the plot sees Azdak, a simple man, become a judge during a revolution. Almost like a Robin Hood-esque character, he has a distorted sense of justice, which for once doesn't help the rich and powerful!

There's so many things that could be said about this play that I'll just never be able to articulate. So, I'll just give a brief account on my thoughts, There is a really interesting interplay between the role of women in capitalist society and commodities. Grusha herself is set up to be a commodity from the start: she is a servant, whose sole worth in the mind of her employer is her ability to follow instructions and perform certain tasks with accuracy. She is then further commodified in her ability (or lack thereof) to produce milk for the infant. She views her breast as something that exists to produce milk, but it sadly serves as a reminder to the reader that she is unable to mother the baby on a physical as well as an emotional level. 

There are many provocative moments in the play. I'm not going to bore you, but some of the most potent aspects I found were the connection between the exchange of money and sexual acts/sexual presence, and the idealist understanding of socialist principles. 

What did you guys think? Have you read it?

Love and Light

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Review of 'The Bird In a Cage'

Firstly, I'm aware this picture is of a horrendous quality, however, as England appears to be entering some kind of Dark Age (and not of the literary variety), our lights have to be on from about 4pm onwards. The sheen makes me want to cry, but hey ho, summer's only seven months away ....

Anyway, as you're all probably aware, I read quite a number of 16th and 17th plays and poems as part of my uni course (have a look at what I think about this period in literature generally here). The Bird In a Cage is a play about a girl named Eugenia whose father, a Duke, imprisons her in a tower in order to preserve her chastity. He wants her to marry a Prince in Florence and doesn't want the potential for this to happen to be destroyed by a wayward suitor getting his wicked way with her. Unfortunately, all of Eugenia's ladies, some of whom already have suitors, are locked away in the tower with her. Philenzo, Eugenia's lover, hatches a plan to secure her hand in marriage. Disguised as Rolliardo, he challenges the Duke: he gets to marry Eugenia if he manages to get past the Duke's defenses surrounding Eugenia. The quotation above encapsulates the Duke's response. 

This play is filled with many conventions of 17th Century humour that is still relevant and funny today. My personal favourite is the scene during which Morello attempts to get access to the tower by dressing up as a woman. This reminded me of the introduction of the Dame in many modern pantomimes. You can almost envision Morello giving the audience a cheeky wink as he swishes his skirts across the stage to try and entrap the guards. Although the following scene in which the guards attempt to "check" his gender appears a bit rapacious, it is clearly intended to be delivered with a great deal of humour.

The Duke's decision to lock Eugenia up in the castle offers an interesting insight into the role of women, and the relationship between women and money. Just as one would lock up one's money in a modern bank, the Duke locks up his most prized possession so that no thieves can access her. It appears as though Eugenia is the Duke's only child. In this respect, his entire wealth rests on her shoulders. In order to create a successful marriage in monetary terms, the Duke needs her to marry whilst she is a virgin. Thus, a daughter's virginity assumes an almost physical value. Without it, a woman is subject to marrying a much poorer man, as no man high up in society is likely to agree to marrying a woman who has been "used". I think every woman or girl reading this play can feel a sense of accomplishment when Philenzo manages to breach the tower and Eugenia can be united with the man she loves, rather than the man her father wants her to love. 

Any comments/questions are always welcome

Love and Light
Steph x