Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I am both shocked and appalled that it is October and I have read painfully few books this year due to my studies, going to Iceland and generally having little energy for reading and few books on my shelves that I am eager to read (this makes me desperately sad). That being said, however, there are a couple of books I have re-read this year which do ultimately count but I will not be reviewing – those books being The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. As an avid and passionate Tolkein fan and due to the sheer popularity of the series, I don’t see the point of reviewing these books. I could write novels expressing my love of Tolkein’s works.

I adored Wind in the Willows as a child as I had been introduced to the beautiful little animated version of the book in gentle watercolours. I remember it vividly because I watched it so many times and had an overwhelming fondness for Mr Toad, voiced by Rik Mayall in this particular adaptation. It was only whilst reading the book that I looked into who voiced the characters of Ratty, Badger and Moley and was surprised to discover they were all men I admire now as an adult – Rik Mayall, as mentioned, as well as Michael Palin and Michael Gambon and Alan Bennett.

The book follows the adventures of several anthropomorphised animals and opens with Moley, whom, whilst spring cleaning, gets a sudden urge to go outside and enjoy himself instead of being stuck in his little burrow. Overwhelmed by the beauty of Spring, Moley wanders as if in a dream with many exclamations of ‘Oh my’ until he comes across the river and spies a Water Rat who invites him into his boat and into his little home by the river. Moley stays with Rat for quite some time and they become firm friends. Whilst living with Ratty, Moley also meets the Mr Toad, an over-wealthy ignorant little animal but undeniably kind. After getting sucked into an excursion with a horse and caravan, Toad’s current fad. Whilst on this little adventure, however, a motorcar races up the road behind them, scaring the horse and the caravan ends up in a ditch. Although all unharmed by the experience, Toad is instantly in love with Motorcars (Poop poop) which later become his dangerous new obsession. After this little adventure and during the encroach of winter, Moley decides he wants to meet the elusive Mr Badger, who he has heard so much about, who lives in the Wild Wood. But Moley goes alone and unarmed and not all animals are as kind and welcoming as Ratty…

The animated series I watched as a child was virtually exactly the same as the book which made me very happy -when reading any speech by one of the whimsical characters, I could hear echoes of the actors from the series ringing in my head and although this was a wonderful form of nostalgia, it made me particularly sad when I read anything said by Mr Toad due to Rik Mayall’s recent death. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful return to my childhood and the… for lack of a better word ‘Englishness’ of the book and the characters was simply delightful. Each animal and their personality akin to well-spoken Victorian Gentleman: ‘I Say!’ which is a delight. It is also a wonderful exploration of the British Countryside – Grahame’s descriptions of the natural landscape are vivid, beautiful, tangible and it paints a stunning image of Pastoral England and a clear admiration of nature in all her beauty.

I would highly recommend this book, it takes no time at all to read and is a fantastic book to give to children or read to children. I’m an adult and still thoroughly enjoyed it. A delectable little blast from the past.

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New Spring by Robert Jordan

Firstly I must apologise for the lack of reviews – dissertation deadline, exams and then spending two and a half months in Iceland leaves little room for reading and those books I have managed to read, I haven’t had chance to review.

New Spring is a prequel to the WoT series and is set 20 years before the events of ‘Eye of the World’. It follows Moraine as an accepted in the White Tower; the book opens with. Moraine and her friend Siuan waiting on the Amyrlin seat where they accidentally witness an Aes Sedai having a prophecy about the birth of the dragon reborn. Sworn to secrecy, the two girls are sent with the other accepted to collect names of infants born after the prophecy, although the other accepted are unaware of the magnitude and importance of the real task they are undertaking. The book follows Moraine as she is raised to the shawl as an Aes Sedai, leaving the tower in search of the Dragon and eventually meeting her warder, Lan Mandragoran.

I was always curious to learn more about Moraine and Lan due to the significance of their characters in the WoT series and particularly in how the two of them had met. All in all, this book disappointed me somewhat; the plot was quite thin and I didn’t find it particularly engaging compared to the other novels in the series; this is undoubtedly because of the standard of the WoT novels and this book, as it only really followed two characters, didn’t have the same depth and complexity I had come to enjoy so much.
That said, I had never been particularly fond of Moraine as I adore the character Nynaeve (that will make more sense to someone who has read WoT) and this book, seeing where she began, made me warm to her a lot more. I enjoyed seeing where she had begun and seeing her as an inexperienced accepted as opposed to a mature Aes Sedai.
*spoiler* I also learned more about Lan from this novel and I didn’t honestly like what I learned due to my love of Nynaeve – the book touches on relations he has with another woman, how much he loved her and how significant she was for being his well ‘first’. It was odd, I feel like these books are so interweaved into my life, I just couldn’t accept the thought of Lan with another woman. Yes yes he’s fictional blah blah but it took away some of the mysticism around Lan and diminished what I loved about Lan and Nynaeve a little so… That was a failing of this book I suppose but that’s me, that certainly shouldn’t put other people off the book.

Overall, this was a good novel but due to it’s shortness and focus on just two characters, it wasn’t as enjoyable as other books in the series.

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Alice Hartley’s Happiness by Philippa Gregory

From the copious volumes of Gregory’s books on this blog, I don’t think it would be a surprise for anyone to know that she is easily one of my favourite authors. This particular book always caught my eye for it’s enticing cover – a woman in a corset on a beautiful red background. whilst waiting for my boyfriends train to arrive whilst in Newcastle over summer, I curled myself into a chair in waterstones and devoured the first couple of chapters (it’s a slight book) and was hooked. Unfortunately it wasn’t until many months later when I bought the book and read it.

Alice is in a loveless marriage – her husband has taken an interest in a painfully younger (borderline pedophillic… I don’t care if that isn’t a word) and has lost all interest in Alice in her mature and slightly unusual earthy needs and is determined to have her committed for her ‘crazy’ behaviour. I don’t think I need to stipulate that there is nothing mad about Alice – she’s eccentric but has lost her patience with her blithering husband who clearly just wants rid of her so he can shag and shackle a younger woman. But after an argument where her husband resorts to sleeping pills a young man named Michael arrives at her door to borrow some furniture for a play, Alice has a burst of strength and a chance at freedom – she packs all the furniture she can manage into the van he has brought and the whizz off to his meagre university halls room. After an evening of passionate love-making an opportunity for freedom flops into Alice’s lap; Michael’s aunt has died and he has inherited the house – a chance for Alice to practice her own brand of healing, a growth centre for those exhausted and tired out with boring, passionless lives.

This book was fantastic – disappointingly small but nevertheless fantastic. Impossible to put down, Alice’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her desire to heal people is heart-warming – it is simply impossible to dislike Alice with her hearty love of Mother Earth and positive nature. Although some of the things she does are startling she is a wonderful woman to have at the centre of a novel (a novel that is in part mainly just one big orgy) and especially a woman I can imagine many women can relate with ie being usurped by a younger woman, being an older women in her prime with her own exotic needs and desires nevertheless overlooked and marginalised by society.

In some ways this novels was similar to another one of her works that breaks away from her historical novels – The Little House was infuriating. Brilliant but infuriating. You can’t help but want the very best for Alice and though I won’t disclose details, when things turn sour, you feel for Alice, you feel her frustration. Gregory is VERY good at invoking extreme emotions in her readers. Read this novel, it’s a delight to read and full of Gregory’s usual charm, wit and wonderful perspective of the world.

 

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Top 10 Books of 2013

Here is my top 10 books of 2013 – as I’ve already written the reviews, I will simply post links to them. I haven’t read nearly as many books as I’d like this year but nevermind! I can always consume more in 2014.

1. A Memory of Light

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2. The Road

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3. The Towers of Midnight

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4. Trainspotting

trainspotting5. A Feast for Crows

feast6. Wolf

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7. The Girl who Played with Fire

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8. The Peregrine

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9. Kingmakers Daughter

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10. The Favoured Child

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A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

This book actually came out a year ago and I have managed to put off reading it for a whole year with a lot of difficulty. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will be aware of how much I enjoy the Wheel of Time books and that I think they are the best series of books ever written. I don’t think anything I have ever read or will ever read will be able to top them. I am a very keen Lord of the Rings fan as well – so much so, that when I tell people I think the Wheel is better than anything Tolkein wrote about Middle Earth, they actually look shocked.

I have managed to extend my reading of the Wheel of Time series over several years – they have been a steadfast companion, a friend when I have been lonely, the books I turn to when other literature I have been reading bores me… and for this to come to an end is genuinely quite upsetting for me. I finished A Memory of Light last night and I already feel lost – my other books I have begging to be read just don’t measure up. They don’t tempt me to grab them and consume every single word inside. They are so pale in comparison and I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do now that I don’t have the Wheel series to look forward to.

The Last Battle has finally arrived. Armies from all corners of the world have gathered at Rand’s command at the Field of Merrilor. He plans to break the seals on the Dark Ones prison and to kill him once and for all, creating a world without the Dark One. In exchange for sacrificing himself as the prophecies foretell, he creates a Treaty called ‘The Dragon’s Peace’ – a treaty that prevents the different regions of the world from waging war against each other.  Caemlyn has fallen to the shadow and plans are laid for three battlefronts to beat down the forces of the Shadow. The Aes Sedai make their stand in Kandor, the Borderlanders to the North and the Aiel and the legions of the Dragon on the slopes of Shayol Ghul, to buy as much time as they can for Rand. All of the battles are desperate as they rally their forces to try and defeat the shadow. This battle will decide the fate of the world.

This book is filled with unexpected plot twists, moments that will have you gasping, moments that will wrench your heart and bring tears to your eyes. *POTENTIAL SPOILER* Although it’s an incredible book it’s very hard to read when characters start dying – I won’t indulge names and mentioning this fact isn’t really a spoiler considering its THE LAST BATTLE it’s inevitable that characters will die but it’s gut wrenching when they do. I literally couldn’t put this book down; I consumed it in big meaty chunks – 909 pages of suspense, tension and action. The last battle itself has an entire chapter dedicated to it – 202 pages long in fact. This is a book that you won’t be able to put down and will have you hanging off every word.

It’s been quite a marathon reading these books – in total that’s 11,582 pages, 684 chapters and  £10 a book not including the last two which I bought hardback copies of. As mentioned, this series has covered several years of my life and now I have finally finished them, now it has finally come to an end and I don’t have these books to look forward to anymore, it’s like losing a best friend. I have never really experienced this feeling before. Undoubtedly I will read this series again and again but unfortunately, as with all books, now you know what’s coming, it will change how you see characters, how you enjoy the plot. Nothing will be as exciting or a surprise anymore and I find that extremely sad.

The Wheel of Time is a must read series miles above the many other fantasy books on the shelves. I was sceptical as to whether Sanderson would be able to pull off the final book well and Light! He managed it! It sounds just like Jordan wrote it in its entirety. Mind-blowingly good. Words can’t express how incredible this series is. If I can pass one thing onto another person, I’d love it to be me introducing them to the Wheel. I don’t know what to read or do now. I may stop reading altogether! If you enjoyed this review, please check out my reviews of the other Wheel of Time novels in the series!

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Meridon by Philippa Gregory

If you have read my reviews of the two other novels in this trilogy; Wideacre and The Favoured Child as well as my reviews of Gregory’s other work, you will know how highly I think of her and her writing. Wideacre was an impeccable novel, The Favoured Child was a bit disappointing and well Meridon… Meridon was even more so.

Meridon is a Romany child living with an aggressive drunk for a step-father in hard poverty which she is desperate to escape – convinced she has a better destiny, a higher calling due to her dreams of a different life, of Wide, of a place she sees through the eyes of another young woman in her dreams. The only person she truly cares about is her sister, Dandy, and when an opportunity to escape her current life presents itself in the form of a Travelling show, she grabs it with both hands. They both become performers in the show – Dandy on the trapeze, Meridon doing tricks with horses but it all goes terribly wrong when Dandy tries to grab too much by trying to ensnare the show owners son by getting pregnant with his child. But he overhears her telling Meridon before the trapeze act and in a sudden twist, he flings Dandy to her death in his shock. Meridon finds herself alone with only a small amount of money riding towards a home she has never truly known – Wideacre.

I don’t want to go too deep into the plotline of this novel so as to avoid spoiling it but it was extremely frustrating watching Meridon constantly making mistakes. The schemes her mother implemented giving the common people a share of the profits and Meridon is determined to change that. She is determined to marry a young man who has problems with drinking and gambling in order to get control of her estate before she comes of age and ultimately it is inescapably frustrating that she doesn’t have the intuition to take control of her own life instead of allowing herself to be dominated by her joke of a fiancé who is controlled entirely by her mother. When he starts gambling with her money…. well I almost bit the page off it annoyed me so much.

That said, although Meridon frustrated me, it shows how well written the book was to evoke these emotions in me. It was a well written novel with some unexpected plot twists but ultimately compared to Wideacre which was a brilliant novel, it could have been a lot better – at times, the plot plodded along at a snail’s pace which wasn’t particularly engrossing and it was overall a somewhat poor end to a very promising trilogy.

 

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I had heard a lot about this novel before I actually got around to reading it. It first took my notice when they released copies after the film and the only reason I took notice was because I instantly recognised the rugged features of Viggo Mortensen on the cover. Whilst at my boyfriends, I spotted this slim blue book squashed between his other darker-coloured volumes and was startled I had never noticed its presence before. He was in the loo and took quite a while but in that time I had already consumed a fair few pages; the words couldn’t rush into my brain fast enough. He let me borrow it and I managed to read it in just two days – I’d have done it faster if I didn’t have coursework and lectures to go to. It’s been quite some time since I’ve encountered a book which I have literally devoured because I’ve enjoyed it so much so this was a real treat.

A man and his son are travelling across the charred ruins of America, heading south, to the coast. All they have is clothes more befitting of being called rags on their back and a cart with a meagre amount of food which they have scavenged. The land is bleak, chocked in ash and their only protection is a gun with three bullets. Every step is a struggle, danger could be around any corner and they are constantly in a desperate search for food when everything has already been plundered.  The context of why America has suffered from some apocalyptic event is never explained. Nor does it need to be. The story follows the hardship and pure survival of a father and his undying, unyielding love for his son.

I am loathe to comment too much on the plot of this novel as I believe it works best when you read it knowing little. Everything is a surprise to the point where it starts to feel like you’re there with them, living, enduring, experiencing and very few novels can do that. The boy is old beyond his years and the man is so committed to his child.

This book is positively harrowing. Poignant. Chilling. Coming away from it is like emerging from a storm unscathed; mind-blowing. The simplest most mundane of tasks are described in such detail and yet doesn’t let the reader succumb to boredom and sometimes McCarthy’s descriptions are positively stunning; hyperbole blended with perfect metaphors and similies, so well written that you have to permit yourself to read the paragraphs again and again just to ensure you have taken in every little bit of imagery. You truly feel for the man and the boy – fictional characters though they may be, you’re hanging off every word. Hoping. When they’re starving you can feel it, like you’re living their experience. When they scavenge, you’re terrified of encountering danger. When they’re cold, you want them to be warm.

Here is a random snippet which particularly captivated me:

‘…cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunnelled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them as silently as eyes’

Everything about this novel is sobering. A clean-cut, raw and realistic view of human nature; completely convincing, chilling and so unbelievably touching. The detail McCarthy puts into even simple things makes every experience tangible, beautiful.

One thing I found interesting about this novel was the curious lack of punctuation. There are few, if any commas and none of the speech uses speech marks; instead, conversations occur in sentences, a simple back and forth where each character has a sentence and the response is below it. This is oddly fitting considering it’s such a bleak novel and it seems to conform to the theme of minimalism which is quite effective but frustrating when you try to read it aloud.

I would very highly recommend this to anyone seeking something different, something that you won’t be able to put down – why this book hasn’t received more fame is unclear but this is the beautifully beating heart of modern literature. And it is marvellous.

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