Friday, 31 January 2014

Top 20 Books of 2013

-Sorry this is a little late, illness has delayed some of the posts I've been working on-

Due to my thrifting nature I’m not reviewing books that were published this year. Instead, I’m looking at the top twenty books I rated the highest during this year on goodreads (see the link to my profile in the header). The one advantage of having an illness that has prevented me working is that I’ve been able to really indulge in my love of reading. I’m rarely seen without a book in my hands. I’ve always enjoyed the escapism from fiction or the knowledge of nonfiction and I was bought up to appreciate books. Some argue that’s gotten out of hand recently as I now own over 500 paperback or hardbooks and now I have a kindle as well the world of literature is my oyster! I hope you enjoy these recommendations, I’d love to hear any new suggestions from my readers. :)

Brilliance - Marcus Sakey

An alternative reality where savants started to appear more rapidly from 1980 causing conflict between them, the abnorms, and the normal population. This story is rich with philosophical and sociological questions about how we treat others who are different in some way (and in fact reminded me of an essay I did at university on whether human clones are human). 
Fast paced with believable characters and twists as turns at almost every chapter. I found this more realistic compared with authors I place in a similar category, Dan Brown for example. The overriding themes being paranoia, control and human empathy makes for a plot woven with 'what ifs' and draws parallels between how savants and other people with great intelligence are seen today; envied but feared. One of the highlights of the plot was the idea of not being able to 'turn off' the gift, constantly analysing patterns to the point where it's detrimental to human relationships; causing some abnorms to retreat to a hermit lifestyle. Another highlight were the little adverts or posters thrown in between some chapters, helping the reader emerge themselves into this alternate world. The final moral implications in the final concluding chapters were thought provoking and I'm looking forward to seeing the consequences in the follow up book, released next year.

Rosemary’s Baby - Ira Levin

Levin is able to bring the idea of next door horror an weave it into a story that challenges accepted thoughts in society. In Rosemary's Baby I feel that the ideas of female 'hysteria', cults and that horror was reserved for 'other' people. Kevin's books are easy to read and follow a simple story that have more complex consequences resonating in the views of the world for the contemporary audience and evolving the horror genre.

The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin

I wouldn't describe this novella as part of the horror of thriller genres, in fact it has a place of its own. An interesting commentary on how rising feminist movements in the 1970's caused (and to an extent still do) men to begin to panic about their roles in society. Women were rebelling against traditional roles and empowering themselves leaving men unsure of their position and loss of power. I really enjoyed this short book and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. The prose is simple with little over description hit you can still clearly envision the suburban closed neighbourhood of Stepford in early seventies America. Recommended for anyone interested in feminism or a feminism themselves who want to see how the movement was portrayed in fiction. Part of me would really enjoy using this novella as a basis for writing something on feminism in the seventies and the various views on it - can't break that academic part of me!

The Pianist - Wladyslaw Szpilman

How could this beautifully haunting account of a Jew trying to survive in occupied Poland not touch me? Years ago I saw the Oscar sinning Roman Polanski directed film of this book starring Adrien Brody after attending a seminar with the Holocaust Educational Trust. A Holocaust survivor, Kitty Hart-Moxon (a truly inspirational woman) gave a speech there and during the Q&A session at the end she was asked which Holocaust film was most accurate, she immediately answered with ‘The Pianist’ over others such as the critically acclaimed ‘Schindler’s List’ starring Liam Neeson and directed by Steven Spielberg. Immediately I watched the film as soon as I could and was touched by the story of survival against the odds. Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist was left in the hands of others hoping for their continued help. Knowing it was based on a book for years later I kept my eyes open in secondhand bookstores until I eventually found it. This is an account without embellishments, this is honest and at times painful to read. This is the autobiography of a man who feared for his life everyday and fought against human brutality. It is not the most well written at times but it is nothing short of honest and raw. Inspirational.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England - Ian Mortimer

I first read Ian Mortimer's 'Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England' and I was in love. Here was a historian who could transport his readers actually into the past. When I heard he had released another based on Elizabethan England it was a no brainier for me to get my hands on it (thanks to the boyfriend for buying me it!). As much as I love detailed, academic texts Mortimer has made history interesting for more than just students and graduates of history. His prose is easy to follow and his research so in depth; with some fun little quips here and there. Again I have nothing to fault with this book, I'm excited to try some of his more academia based work soon, they're currently saved on my amazon wishlist!

One Day the Shadow Passed - Jonathan Reggio

An adorable little book that really fits well into my current philosophy of life - that sometimes the simplest answer is often the best. I'm also more interested in natural farming and organic so this really made me think. The prose is simple to follow, and being a real life account the characters are believable in their optimism and doubt. The rural Japanese word Reggio has described is easy to emerge into and so beautiful you can almost feel the wind caress your face. In our hectic Westernised society this novella really is the breath of fresh air we need from books, true escapism with that undercurrent philosophy this really is a wonderful short read.  

A History of the World in 100 Objects - Neil MacGregor

This book is astonishing, an almost impossible feat but managed by the hard workers at the British Museum and the dedication of Neil MacGregor! A stunning collection of some of their most interesting collections which dictates world history! I can imagine the debates which occurs between curators as they tried to decide which items were worthy. This has also made me desperate to visit the museum again and see some of these precious objects again. A beautiful collection with descriptions not only of the items but also their influence in the wider scope of human history.

Schindler’s Ark - Thomas Keneally

"He who saves a single life, saves the world entire."
I wasn't sure how to review this book, its so profoundly important, even today, that I don't think i could review it with the credit and value it deserves. I've known about Oskar Schindler for a long time due to history lessons and a general keen interest; I've been fortunate enough to visit his factory in Krakow and Auschwitz twice and each time I'm left speechless with the contrast between inhumane brutality and inspirational kindness. I've watched the Spielberg version of this book, Schindler's List, countless times and yet reading this book made even more of an impression. The amount of work Keneally put into this biographical account of Schindler's life during world war 2 and how many risks he took to save the lives of so make Jews from the death camps is astounding. Collecting testimonies from Schindler's Jews from around the world and organising them would have been no easy task. 
Everyone should read this, everyone should know that even in great darkness there is always hope.

Killing the Shadows - Val McDermid

I've been meaning to read Val McDermid ever since I started watching Wire In The Blood, I still haven't found a second hand copy of 'The Mermaids Singing' which begins the Tony Hill storyline but when I saw this for 50p I thought it would be a great start to see whether I liked the authors style. Answer is, I do. Very much so! It's refreshing to read something set in your own country as many of the crime series I read are set in Canada or the US. McDermid's narrative is easy to follow, descriptive and also got me researching myself into geographic profiling - something I knew about only basically. Great storyline with heaps of tension and characters who I didn't want to scream insults at.

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

There is a reason this novel won the Man Brooker award, it’s utterly fantastic. I’ve found recently in the last decade there’s been a large surge in people wanting to read about the lives of those living in the Middle East. Whether this is due to the political upheaval and unrest is creating a growing interest in the mixed cultures of India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq I cannot vouch for. What I can vouch for is how powerful this book is. Taking an interesting slant of narrative, an Indian taxi company owner writing to the Chinese Premier. However this is not a simple tale the protagonist, Balram Halwai, is a thief and a murderer and he does not hide his crimes. Instead he tells his story in the form of letters to the Premier who is visiting India. I think the reason this book really appealed to me is that Halwai is so flawed as a human and he has no fear talking about his past. This honesty is refreshing, though heartbreaking as you hear of a world still in a social caste society. Intriguing throughout with engaging characters and a story that will not leave you for a long time. 

I Can Make You Hate - Charlie Brooker

Seeing this at a reduced price on the kindle store meant I downloaded it without a second thought. A long time fan of Charlie Brooker I needed something humorous to read , if only to break up all the depressing crime novels I read, and this delivered! A selection of articles written by Brooker this is a book you can read in one go or flick through now and then to a random page to make you smile - or laugh. Probably one of the most honest people in the media world!

The End of Your Life Bookclub - Will Schwalbe

Beautiful and inspiring. It may sound cliche but those are the two words that first come to mind after finishing this book. Elegantly written it advocates not only reading for pleasure and as a means of communication but also kindness, something I think too many people lack these days. I wish I could have met Mary Ann Schwalbe just to talk to her, she was a strong willed and wonderful woman. This book is powerful in a subtle manner and that's part of the reason I love it. I have a list of new books to read and as strange as it seems I feel like I've found some strength in myself after reading this. I'm inspired to not only be a kinder more considerate person but also to try and do more to help people around the world, to realise everyday how lucky I am to live in Britain and to have the life I have.

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

Embarrassingly this is the first Neil Gaiman book I've read.. Mainly cos I'm a secondhand book shopper and they just don't appear often. After reading this I'm even more embarrassed. I haven't laughed at a book in so long, the creative genius an simplicity of this book had me gripped from the start. I love being inspired to research anything further and I admit I was inspired to read more Anansi stories on the net while reading this, which scores big in my world.

The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker

"The possibility of the impossible" Jose Saramago's quote at the end of the book describes this book perfectly. I also was thinking of the parallels with this book and his as I was reading. I finished this in a day and I have fallen in love with Karen Thompson walker, the sheer detail in this book engrossed me and I am left now feeling slightly disorientated with a distinct feeling to appreciate everything I have! I am full of praise for the style of the prose, the character development and the knowledge of the amount of work thrown into this debut. For a book which, for me, is an easy read the levels of complexity and the way it has already, only minutes after finishing, affected my thoughts has left this wonderful feeling in me. Reading this my heart was broken and yet encouraged by the willpower that humans, and all living things, have to try and adapt to survive.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

This is probably one of the most beautiful books I have read recently. The story of Harold Fry's journey of hope, faith and redemption is something that I believe will touch anyone who hears about it. Written in a simple, everyday prose I would recommend this to everyone who is a fiction fan. I think we all need to have a little more Harold Fry in us sometimes.

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

This actually challenged my opinion of Thomas Cromwell and as a budding historian, if you can do that you earn my respect. Well written and fact driven. A book you need a few days to properly absorb yourself into the world of the Tudors. It's refreshing to see a fact-driven historical novel, with an interesting take on Thomas Cromwell in this instance, presented in a way to appeal to the masses rather than the academic few. This is not a book for those wanting a light read, it is engrossing and heavy but the extra time and effort you spend reading is richly rewarded with a profile of a man who was one of the biggest influences of Britain’s political past.

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

I’m 23 and I’m still a huge fan of fairy tales. Anything to do with the mysterious fantasy world and I’m instantly interested, therefore when I saw John Connolly’s ‘The Book of Lost Things’ for only £1 I had to purchase it. I absolutely adored this book, from the imagery, the symbolism, the characters there is nothing I can find fault with except that it ended! You can choose to take it as a fantasy tale based on fairy tales or you, like myself, can choose to really emerge yourself with the imagery and symbolism. The tale follows a simple premise and would engage even older children. I’m now a big fan of John Connolly and I he continues to write more of these fantastical tales.

The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith 

Is it obvious yet I enjoy tales set in other countries and emerged in other cultures? ‘The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ is a book I’ve had on my radar for a while and was so happy when I finally found it hiding in the secondhand book shelves. A tale that feels liberating, humorous and full of adventure. Mma Precious Ramotswe is such a fun character and I’m looking forward to getting more in the series to see how her character will develop. This is quite a light read, despite some of the dark undertones.

The One Hundred Year Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared - Jonas Joonasson

Quirky tales have me hooked from the title alone, and this was the case with this novel. The tale of a man who on his 100th birthday escapes from his care home and embarks on an adventure that leads him to various different people and recounts his past. I loved this book, it’s written quite simply and although the tale is pretty fantastical it’s funny and lighthearted. I read this in the late winter months and was the perfect book to lighten the mood when the nights are still drawing in early. 

When I was Five I Killed Myself - Howard Buten

I’ve had this book on my amazon wishlist for years. Finally it was reduced in price and I bought it on a whim, I don’t regret this decision. It was recommended after I really enjoyed ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and although this is nothing like that book there is still the theme of childhood psychiatry, something I find really interesting. A very quick read but very hard hitting. I cannot praise this book highly enough for its powerful voice and the story of Burt. The author, Howard Buten published this in 1981 and is a psychiatrist with a special interest in autism, his expertise really came through in this novella and made it a captivating and almost harrowing read.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Life Thoughts

My hairs getting so long!

Delightfully Tacky, one of my favourite bloggers often does this little post every few months about where she is in life and whats been inspiring her and I’d really like to incorporate it into this blog (I did use some of her headers as a template so I hope she doesn’t mind!). After finally recovering from the horrible few illnesses I’ve had since the new year I finally have that ‘new year new me’ feeling going and want to share some of my thoughts and ideas for the next few months. 

Reading Han’s Fallada’s ‘Alone In Berlin’. I’ve had this book sat on my bookshelf since its release in 2009, captivated by the synopsis on the back I bought it as part of Waterstones 3 for 2 deal in a vain effort during university to have casual reading for pleasure. Needless to say my Mum then picked it up when she visited once to read while I was bogged down in 16th century gender politics. After finishing it she told me, though she enjoyed it she found it really hard and slow to get into and admitted struggling to finish it at times. When I finally had time to read again after the review from my Mum this book was sadly pushed to the back of the pile and forgot about. With my book collection getting a little out of control a few weeks ago I decided to sort my books and pile the ones that were unread next to my bed with a determination to work through them before buying many more books. This little book appeared again. With alot more time to read I decided it was time to tackle it and I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised. Compared with my Mum’s struggle I’ve managed to engross myself into the world of Berlin during the second world war. The descriptions, the range of characters and the swelling plot line all have my full attention, even after only 100 pages! I’m really excited to finish this story now, especially as it is based on true facts. When I do finish I’ll defiantly be posting a review on my goodreads! (link in top bar).

Watching CSI. I picked up season 1 (which I’ve watched a million times) for £4.50 in CeX before I left Northern Ireland needing a show to occupy me until Grey’s Anatomy returns at the end of February! Already knowing I enjoy CSI as an avid crime and forensics fan in literature and tv this was an easy decision. I find the show easy to put on while I’m doing something else so while I’m avidly applying for jobs I’m still entertained from the monotonous typing of my details over and over. I’m currently on season 2 which I’m hoping to finish before I travel to Northern Ireland again next week. 

Still need to fill my pokedex though..

Playing Animal Crossing New Leaf. Jonathan bought me a Nintendo 3ds XL for Christmas with animal crossing and pokemon x, I finished pokemon x and the copy of Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box I bought so I’m occupying myself with Animal Crossing. I love this game cos I can play as much or as little as I want and I just adore anything cute. Doesn’t use too many brain cells either so I find it almost relaxing. I want to get some more Professor Layton games and some Ace Attorney games as I love puzzles and Ace Attorney is meant to be hilarious. 

Listening to Interpol. In a total splurge I bought myself tickets to see Interpol as part of the NME awards show in Birmingham. On the 25th March I’ll be finally able to see a band I’ve wanted to see since I found them 9 years ago! I’m really excited and I’ve been told the support acts are also worth a listen but for now my ear drums are loving the post punk vibrations. 

I love this guy, and I love our adventures.

Planning a road trip across Northern England with Jonathan in early April. At a Belfast Giants game over the Christmas period he won their ‘chuck a puck’ game and therefore won a free ferry crossing with Stena Line ferries to either England or Scotland. The Elite Ice Hockey League Playoff’s are played in Nottingham and we decided to make our way over there but turn it into a road trip. We’re planning to visit York, a city I’ve been desperate to visit for a very long time and make a loop across the North of England before returning home. At the moment we’re still planning times and hotels so that Jonathan doesn’t have to drive much. We’ve decided this will be our holiday this year and I’m really excited to spend some time with the guy I love and visit some amazing places. 

Florence has been causing no end to mischief!
Proud of being a vegan for over a year now. Ask me a few years back and I would have laughed at the idea of me giving up cheese and eggs but look at me now! I still get the odd craving for them but then I remember why I choose to do this. The last year I’ve seen some positive health changes and I feel more comfortable with myself morally. I think the first year was going to be the hardest and now I’m more clued in I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life on a plant based diet and advocating why we don’t need leather or wool. 

Shopping for Interview/Office Wear.
Preparing for my return to work. It’s been a year and half since I had to leave my last place of employment and over two years since I first began to suffer with a neurological disorder (functional and dissociative neurological disorder). I’ve spent alot of that time working with my neurologist, neuro physiotherapist and my gp to get back to this stage that I feel well and in control of my symptoms enough to work again. I’m very anxious about this process but I know it needs to be done and I’m pleased to have been able to apply for several suitable jobs without letting my worries overwhelm me. It won’t be an easy time but it has to be done and I’m eager to learn some new skills and meet some new people. 
My niece, Phoebe, likes telling the teddies and everyone else stories and having tea parties.

Perplexed about my future and what to do with myself. When I was a child I was always changing my mind about what I wanted to be when I was older. I tended to flit between wanting to teach or being an paleontologist. Now I’m older, and realised I wouldn’t enjoy teaching, I got my BA degree in History and Philosophy and thought I had my life planned heading for a career in heritage and the museum business. I was then tempted to incorporate historical research into my career and progress to a masters degree in late medieval/early modern history.  That was until a few months ago when looking through adult learning courses I saw a course to become a Veterinary Nurse. I’ve always been an animal lover, and always had pets around me, and I think a part of me has always wanted to work with animals so is this the way I should go? I made a quick plan before then finding my dissertation in a hidden computer folder. It flared my love of history and research so now I’ve been left a bit confused again. I’m always going to be an indecisive person, my flare and the thrill I get from research and learning new things will always push me into other disciplines. I doubt I’ll stay in the same career my whole life but for now I think I just need to focus on getting a job of any kind and then really spend some time thinking about my future. If it’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last two years is that it’s ok to be patient and take things slowly and that’s an important lesson to learn for someone who regularly panics about where their life has put them temporarily. 

These little girls keep me sane.

All pictures are from my instagram, link in top bar.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Not the greatest start to the year.....

Dear friends, 

Sorry I've not been active since my return from Northern Ireland. 

Since New Year I've had viral tonsillitis which turned into viral laryngitis which I'm still poorly with. 
I also got diagnosed with bacterial tracheitis the weekend so I'm a very unwell duck at the moment.
I haven't had much energy to do much more than play my new 3ds xl and watch lots of CSI. I can't even concentrate on books properly. 
Hopefully I'll be back on my feet in a few days and I have lots of posts to work on including my books of 2013, belated Christmas gifts, aims for 2014, projects for 2014 and more! 
Hope you've had a better start to the new year than I have! 

Love always,