Unexpected Favourites

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I’ve been thinking a lot about books I’ve marked as favourites and why I love them so much, and a few books popped out at me as selections that I didn’t necessarily expect to love but did. I love those types of books that creep up on you in the best way, and here are a few of the biggest surprises.

1.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

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Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith. – from Goodreads.com

Before reading Blankets, I’d never really read a graphic novel before and certainly not one of that size. (The book comes in at just under 600 pages!) But I absolutely gobbled this story up and loved every minute of it. I would definitely consider reading more Craig Thompson books and I’d like to branch out in my graphic novel exploration and read more of the genre too.

2.

Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews

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It wasn’t that she didn’t love her children. She did. But there was a fortune at stake–a fortune that would assure their later happiness if she could keep the children a secret from her dying father. So she and her mother hid her darlings away in an unused attic. Just for a little while… – from Goodreads.com

I was guided to read this book for my dissertation but quickly fell in love with the story and read all of the books in the series. This book, at the time, wasn’t something I was particularly interested in but the gothic tone and style of writing really drew me in. It’s such a shame that Virginia didn’t write more books before her untimely death, as her ghostwriter isn’t quite up to the standard that Andrews set out.

3.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

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The spirit of fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon describes her murder, her surprise at her new home in heaven, and her witness to her family’s grief, efforts to find the killer, and attempts to come to terms with what has happened. – from Goodreads.com

The Lovely Bones has such a unique style of writing that I wondered whether I would take to it, but really I didn’t need to worry. The Lovely Bones swept me up and before I knew it I had finished it. I did absolutely love it and I’ve gone onto read Lucky, which is Alice Sebold’s memoir, and I adored that too. On my TBR, I have her latest book, The Almost Moon, which I can’t wait to read!

So that concludes a few of my unexpected favourites. I’m sure this blog post will be one of many, as the books I read quite often surprise me! Do you have any unexpected favourites? Has my list of glowing reviews made you add these books to your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

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Great Reads: Dystopia

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The dystopia genre has become increasingly popular thanks to the likes of The Hunger Games and the Divergent Series. Many authors have followed in their book-ish footsteps, some riding on the coattails of the dream, and others being established in their own right. I’ll be giving you a comprehensive top five list of great dystopia reads for you to get your teeth into.

These books are in no particular order.

1

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. – from Goodreads.com

This was probably the first dystopia I ever read, and I didn’t even realise it was a dystopia! This collection of books were exciting and action packed beyond belief. A really good starting point for someone looking to get into the dystopia genre.

2

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

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Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. – from Goodreads.com

This book perfectly captures not only the horrors of World War but also the hope for a better life that comes afterwards. Besides, who wouldn’t want to hole up in an idyllic house in the countryside? Me, please!

3

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun. But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. – from Goodreads.com

I was a bit skeptical at first upon reading the synopsis for this book, as I thought it would all be a bit obvious. However, I really, really enjoyed reading Uglies and thought the world that Westerfeld created was very vivid. It’s a book that gives a great message and is a well developed dystopia too.

4

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. – from Goodreads.com

In the short time it took to read this book, I was in a perpetual state of disgust and fascination. There most disconcerting thing about this novel was that this could definitely be our future! That is a very, very scary thought.

5

Never Let Me Go by Kauzo Ishiguro

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As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. – from Goodreads.com

I never thought of this book as a dystopia, but it is set in the future and a strange one at that. It oddly mirrors the world we know today except with the appearance of clones. It certainly makes a comment on how we live our lives and what it means to be human.

So these are my list of great reads for the dystopia genre. Have you read any of these? Or do you have a few you’d like to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!

 

Top 15 Books I’ve Studied

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I’ve been in education for more years than I’ve been out of it, and with a love of books as passionate as mine, I’ve spent a lot of time studying them. Some I’ve grown to love, some I’ve grown to hate, so here are the top 15 books I’ve studied over my time in school.

15

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

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Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a village before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past. – from Goodreads.com

My Dad always carried around a copy of Cider with Rosie, and when he passed away it was bequeathed to me. I took ownership of his battered, well-read, well-loved copy and actually chose to study this book in A-Level Literature.

14

The Go-Between by LP Hartly

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Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years. – from Goodreads.com

I studied The Go-Between alongside Cider with Rosie, and wrote an essay on childhood innocence using both these books. I thoroughly enjoyed the BBC adaptation that was released this year, and it brought back so many wonderful memories for me.

13

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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The greatest love story in English, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a play of star-crossed lovers who take a valiant stand against social convention, with tragic consequences. – from Goodreads.com

Although this is probably the most famous love story of all time, I actually struggled to get on with this play originally when I studied it at GCSE. However when my teacher showed us Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the film, where he put such a unique spin on the tale, I really grew to love it, and to this day his adaptation is one of my favourite films.

12

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream–a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. – from Goodreads.com

One of my old favourites from GCSE English. I was completely swept up in the tale of George and Lennie, and once again, watching the film cemented my love for the story.

11

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. – from Goodreads.com

Similarly to Romeo and Juliet, the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy has become somewhat clichéd. When I studied this book at A-Level Literature, I was reminded just how quick we are to judge others, especially romantically, and how Elizabeth is the perfect, head-strong heroine who we could all learn from. Also, to start as we mean to go on, I watched both adaptations by Joe Wright and also the BBC, both of which are favourites.

10

A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller

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In A View from the Bridge Arthur Miller explores the intersection between one man’s self-delusion and the brutal trajectory of fate. Eddie Carbone is a Brooklyn longshoreman, a hard-working man whose life has been soothingly predictable. He hasn’t counted on the arrival of two of his wife’s relatives, illegal immigrants from Italy; nor has he recognized his true feelings for his beautiful niece, Catherine. – from Goodreads.com

Another favourite of mine from GCSE English. A wonderful commentary on immigration that is still relevant in today’s world.

  An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley

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The action of the play occurs in an English industrial city, where a young girl commits suicide and an eminently respectable British family is subject to a routine inquiry in connection with the death. An inspector calls to interrogate the family, and during the course of his questioning, all members of the group are implicated lightly or deeply in the girl’s undoing. – from Goodreads.com

Probably the first “mystery” that I ever read in GCSE English, and ignited my love for the genre. Seeing how every member of the family tied into the story of the dead girl was literary craftsmanship at it’s best. Another honourable mention to the BBC adaptation released earlier this year.

8

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. – from Goodreads.com

Another one from GCSE English with a fantastic movie to go along with it. Many people refer to Frankenstein as the monster, not the man who created him, and I think that says a lot about our morbid curiosity and just how momentous Frankenstein’s creation was.

7

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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Perhaps the single most influential work of English drama, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a timeless tragedy of the conflicted loyalties, madness, betrayal and terrible revenge. – from Goodreads.com

Along with another awesome adaptation from Mr Branagh himself, Hamlet, which I studied at Literature A-Level is my second favourite Shakespeare play. Which brings me nicely onto…

6

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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Promised a golden future as ruler of Scotland by three sinister witches, Macbeth murders the king to ensure his ambitions come true. But he soon learns the meaning of terror – killing once, he must kill again and again, and the dead return to haunt him. – from Goodreads.com

My favourite Shakespeare play! Witches, prophecies, killing, war, all the things that make a tragedy a tragedy in my eyes. With, surprise surprise, an awesome adaptation to go along with it.

Which brings me into my top five:

5

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. – from Goodreads.com

My Gramps once said that education really begins after you leave school, and he was so right. I didn’t actually study The Great Gatsby whilst I was at school. My A-Level Literature teacher, Robert Hastie, gave me his copy of The Great Gatsby that he used to study with whilst at university. I’ve cherished his copy ever since, as it has his own notes and comments in. I recently read and studied this book by myself, and added in my own notes and comments along with his. It’s one of my most treasured possessions. Also, note the awesome film.

4

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

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Based on historical people and real events, Miller’s drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town’s most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. – from Goodreads.com

This play/film is pretty much the reason why I’m so fascinated with the Salem Witch Trials, and charts once again the morally complex tale of John Proctor, knowing he will be sentenced to death if he denies his involvement with the devil, or live a life of damnation if he admits.

3

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

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Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation. – from Goodreads.com

This was another book that I didn’t study whilst in education. JD Salinger’s novel is considered to be the corner-stone of YA literature and one of the first young adult books to be recognised in the genre. I love a good unreliable narrator as much as the next person, and listening to Holden narrate his experiences was so entertaining. Salinger captures the no man’s land between childhood and adulthood, and everything in between.

2

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

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The Bloody Chamber is an anthology of short fiction by Angela Carter. All of the stories share a common theme of being closely based upon fairy tales or folk tales. – from Goodreads.com

This anthology couldn’t be more up my alley. I first read this collection of works at university when doing a module on Fairy Tales. Carter poetically and vividly re-tells some of our best-loved folk and fairy tales, with a dark and sexy twist.

Which leaves my number one choice:

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature. – from Goodreads.com

This choice may be somewhat cliché, but for me, the themes and symbols of the novel are what makes this book stand out for me. The moors, the ghosts, the appearance of the double, repetition, nature vs culture, social class and, above all, love. When I first read Wuthering Heights, I found it to be really dense and difficult to get into. But after I watched the ITV series, and once I understood the story, I found I could really unearth the layers of the novel. And that is why this fantastically gothic novel is my number one.

So there we have it. Do you agree with my top fifteen, or would you like to have seen some other books make an appearance? What would be your top fifteen? Let me know in the comments.