Great Reads: Short Stories

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Sometimes, a bite-sized read is just what you need. Whether you’re on the bus or just want to digest something quick before bed, short stories can really hit the spot. Here are a few I’ve read that I think should be recommended!

These books are in no particular order.

1.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

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Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they’re working as sheep herder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer. Both men work hard, marry, have kids because that’s what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it. – from Goodreads.com

The story that inspired the famous film with Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, and coming in at only 55 pages, or just over an hour if you listen to the audiobook like I did. The story of Ennis and Jack is a beautiful one and really makes me love the film even more.

2.

Bluebeard (and other Fairy Tales) by Angela Carter

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Angela Carter’s playful and subversive retellings of Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tales conjure up a world of resourceful women, black-hearted villains, wily animals and incredible transformations. In these seven stories, bristling with frank, earthy humour and gothic imagination, nothing is as it seems. – from Goodreads.com

In this little collection, Angela Carter manages to rework, and reignite, what keeps us going back to the classic fairy tales again and again. This collection includes Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty in the Wood and Cinderella!

3.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

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If you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she’s expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she’s not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels. – from Goodreads.com

Rainbow Rowell wrote this short story for World Book Day 2016. I don’t think it would be selfish of me to ask for a full-length book based on this little snippet, as lots of people seem to love it as much as I do!

4.

Different Seasons by Stephen King

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This gripping collection begins with “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” in which an unjustly imprisoned convict seeks a strange and startling revenge—the basis for the Best Picture Academy Award-nominee The Shawshank Redemption. Next is “Apt Pupil,” the inspiration for the film of the same name about top high school student Todd Bowden and his obsession with the dark and deadly past of an older man in town. In “The Body,” four rambunctious young boys plunge through the façade of a small town and come face-to-face with life, death, and intimations of their own mortality. This novella became the movie Stand By Me. Finally, a disgraced woman is determined to triumph over death in “The Breathing Method.” – from Goodreads.com

My first experience with Stephen King was watching The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me in English class, so when I realised that these films were based on actual short stories, I thought I better get around to reading them. The films captured the essence and tone of King’s short stories perfectly, and these are amongst my favourites!

5.

Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. – from Goodreads.com

In the same vein as Angela Carter’s revised fairy tales, JK Rowling has compiled a collection of stories most loved by wizard children, that had been passed down in wizard families from generation to generation. It was interesting to read and compare to our own fairy tales and see their differences and similarities.

So these are some of my favourite short stories that I think you should all read. Got any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

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Top 10 Books of 2016 (1&2)

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So, here you have it. My top two books of 2016. Here we go!

2.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father. On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty. For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality. – from Goodreads.com

I first heard about this book from PadfootandProngs07 on book-tube (and also here) and boy was it a recommendation and a half! What drew me to the book in the first place was that it was told partly in mixed media, in articles and webpages etc as well as prose. The hype that Raeleen gave this book totally lived up to the real thing, and it became my go-to recommendation for the mystery/crime genre.

1.

Winter (and The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

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Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long. – from Goodreads.com

That’s it! Fairest, Winter and Stars Above absolutely take the top spot of my 2016 favourites without a doubt. I absolutely loved this quartet and can’t quite believe that the series is over. I only finished it this year and I’m already planning a re-read, or hoping for some kind of TV Series or Movie to fill the Lunar hole.

So that concludes my top ten books that I read this year and I’m so excited to start compiling my to-read list for 2017. Do you have any recommendations for me? Or have I swayed your opinion on a book in my favourites list? Let me know in the comments!

Great Reads: Retellings

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I absolutely love a good retelling, whether it be a twist on our classic fairy tales or an interpretation of an old classic, they’re one of the first things I reach for on any bookshelf. I’ve read a fair amount in the past few years and so here are some that I consider to be the best.

These books are in no particular order.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. – from Goodreads.com

I only started reading this series about a year ago and it’s already one of my favourites. Each book in the series is a retelling of a classic fairy tale, but also interweaves with the bigger over-arching plot. Cinder is based on Cinderella, Scarlet on Little Red Riding Hood, Cress on Rapunzel and Winter on Snow White. There’s even a fantastically Evil Queen involved too!

The Dorothy Must Die Series by Danielle Paige

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I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know? Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling. – from Goodreads.com

Again, this is another series I didn’t start reading until a few years ago but has already become one of my favourites. A lot of readers might already be familiar with the hit musical Wicked which tells the backstory to the Wizard of Oz and how Elphaba Thropp, nicknamed the Wicked Witch of the West, escaped the clutches of the Wizard of Oz, and how the Scarecrow became a Scarecrow, how the Woodcutter became Tin and how the Lion became Cowardly. Danielle Paige goes one step further, whisking Amy Gumm off to Oz and showing her that even Elphaba Thropp can’t help her, and Oz really isn’t what it seemed to be.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

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In The Bloody Chamber, Carter spins subversively dark and sensual versions of familiar fairy tales and legends like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” giving them exhilarating new life in a style steeped in the romantic trappings of the gothic tradition. – from Goodreads.com 

Angela Carter is the Fairy Tale Retelling Queen. It’s a well known fact. In this anthology she has a collection of short stories that are entirely devoted to rewritten fairy tales, and not only that but they’re bloody marvellous too.

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice by Natasha Farrant

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Lydia is the youngest Bennet sister and she’s sick of country life – instead of sewing and reading, she longs for adventure. When a red-coated garrison arrives in Merryton, Lydia’s life turns upside down. As she falls for dashing Wickham, she’s swept into a whirlwind social circle and deposited in a seaside town, Brighton. Sea-bathing, promenades and scandal await – and a pair of intriguing twins. Can Lydia find out what she really wants – and can she get it? – from Goodreads.com

Natasha Farrant’s story is perfect for young readers to get into classics. It follows Lydia’s perspective throughout the events of Pride and Prejudice, giving the reader a taste for the time period whilst also taking them on an exciting journey.

Bluebeard by Angela Carter

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Angela Carter’s playful and subversive retellings of Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tales conjure up a world of resourceful women, black-hearted villains, wily animals and incredible transformations. In these seven stories, bristling with frank, earthy humour and gothic imagination, nothing is as it seems. – from Goodreads.com

As I said, Angela Carter is the Queen of Fairy Tale Retellings and in this little chapbook, Carter has rewritten a collection of Charles Perrault’s writings, polishing them off in true Angela Carter style.

So these are a few of my go-to retelling recommendations! Are there any of your favourites on this list? Or have I left out ones you would also consider to be great? 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.

 

My Top 5 Auto-Buy Authors

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The term auto-buy has been coined by many in the bookish online community, and refers to an particular author whose books, regardless or topic, theme or genre, you will automatically buy upon release. In my time of reading, specifically since I began buying my own books, I have accumulated many auto-buy authors who, should they publish it, could re-write the yellow pages and I would read it. Simples. So here are my top five authors who I await with baited breath for books.

These authors are in no particular order.

JK Rowling

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I know this one seems like an obvious choice, but it’s obvious because in my eyes there is no one greater than Ms Rowling herself. From Harry Potter to the Casual Vacancy, to Robert Galbraith’s Comoran Strike novels, JK just knows how to write.

John Green

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Again, another obvious choice, but do I care? No. John Green has not failed me yet, which makes the anticipation for his next novel even greater. Nothing has been confirmed, but Mr Green recently did take a social media hiatus to further his writing progress, which only makes the wait for his next release all the more agonizing now that we know something is in the works.

Marissa Meyer

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Cinder was my number one book that I read in 2015, and the news that Marissa Meyer is releasing another retelling in 2016 bumped her up to auto-buy status. Yes, November 2016, Heartless will be released, a retelling of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, and I think it’s my most anticipated release of 2016.

Dorothy Koomson

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I read my first Dorothy Koomson book over ten years ago, and I’m still reading her catalogue to this day. Dorothy started out predominantly a romance writer, and has made a steady shift to more thriller-type novels and found commercial success when her novel The Ice Cream Girls was adapted into an ITV series. (The less said about that, the better. ITV changed the ending completely, which is fine, but it didn’t make sense.)  That being said, I love how quickly Dorothy churns out her books (usually one a year) and they are always an incredible standard.

E Lockhart

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E Lockhart is another author I’ve been reading for many years. I read The Boyfriend List when I was in school, and then We Were Liars dropped and I was catapulted back into E Lockhart’s writing once more. Frankie Landau-Banks was in my top five books of 2015 and I then went onto read Fly on the Wall which is was odd but charming and completely intoxicating. I can’t wait for what E Lockhart releases next!

So that is my top five, are there any on my list that are also on yours? Have I missed out anyone you think is worthy of the title? Let me know in the