Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays: Best Books I Have Read in 2015 (so far...)

Hello everyone, and welcome back to my blog! I am so excited to announce my first Top Ten Tuesday, started by The Broke and the Bookish...what a great idea! This was quite easy for me, as out of the 33 books I have read so far this year, I awarded 9 5* on GoodReads, so my (easy??) task now is to just rank them, and add one! :) Needless to say...these books are all very highly recommended - so go and pick them all up!

10) The Opposite of Loneliness - Marina Keegan
This gets a spot purely because of her title essay "The Opposite of Loneliness", which I think is so poignant and quirkily observant of the life of a young adult, that it would be an insult to not include her!

9) Grey - EL James
I have no doubt that this will surprise/disgust many people (trust me, it surprised me too!), but I think I had such low expectations for this book that I actually thought it was great! Any book that I finish within 24 hours has got to be pretty special, and I was addicted!

8) The First Phone Call from Heaven - Mitch Albom
I love the sprinkle of magic dust that Albom adds to all his stories, and the way they leave you feeling warm inside. This was a great start to my A-Z challenge!


7) Echo Boy - Matt Haig
This is the first time (of three) where Matt Haig will appear on this list, because I just think he is not just an incredible writer, but an incredible person (more on that later!) On the face of it, this is a simple SciFi story, but Haig always manages to leave you contemplating his stories for weeks after by injecting pertinent observations of 'what it is to be human', and it leaves me reeling every single time!

6) One Mile Under - Andrew Gross
Gross is by far my favourite crime author, so I was very excited to receive this book to review! I was not in the slightest disappointed, as always, this story is a gripping thriller with loads of great twists and turns - highly recommended!

5) Past Mortem - Ben Elton
I am excited by Ben Elton! This was my second read by him (the first being The Two Brothers), and it was completely un-putdownable! I just couldn't stop reading...the murder mystery was so much more than just a crime story...there was love, there was humour, there was mystery, there was suspense...it's incredible! I can't wait to read more from Ben Elton! 

4) The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
Talk about great things in small packages! This little gem is amazing - a great life commentary (as well as a great story!) on the effects of memory, and how one missed detail can affect our perception of a past event forever. Definitely worth a read - I read it in 4 hours!

3) The Humans - Matt Haig
I owe so much to this book, as it is what caused me to discover Matt Haig! I have recommended this to everyone who will listen to me! This story has everything...it is funny, it has a great storyline, and Haig achieves something wonderful: he gives such an outlandish opinion on what makes us human, that you'd think he was an alien looking down on us! If you want a book to shift your perspective, then go and get a copy of this right now! 

2) The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
Filer is a registered mental health nurse, and this novel is thus fabulously researched! Describing a boy's journey through bereavement and subsequent guilt-induced descent into schizophrenia is no easy task, but Filer does this to perfection. This book is amazingly written, and I think has a really important message to share about a very misunderstood condition! Read it!!!

1) Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
Anyone who has heard me rant about this book will not be at all surprised to see it at the top of my list! This book is the most amazing and incredible thing I have read, not just this year, but ever! This is the only book in this list not to contain an ounce of fiction - it is Haig's open, honest account of his struggle with anxiety and depression. I admire Haig's bravery; it can't be an easy thing to sit and write about the most painful time of one's life, and must be even harder to then share that story with the world, but I, along with many others, am so glad he did! His tone is so resonant, no holds are barred, and however upsetting this book may be to read, it is INCREDIBLY important that this book finds its way into the hands of as many people as possible! Whether you find yourself suffering with mental illness yourself, or think you may know someone who is and want to know how to help, or even if you think you don't know anyone affected (trust me, you do!), then PICK THIS BOOK UP! It's a quick read, but one of the most important ones you will ever have.

So there we have it, my first every 'Top Ten Tuesday'! I hope you have got some inspiration from this post, and would love to hear your comments! :)

I: A Prayer for Owen Meany

I: John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany
I don't often order books online as I like to flick through them before doing so, but I needed a book for 'I' pretty quickly, so found Irving on Fantastic Fiction, and thought I'd take the plunge. Well...when it arrived I thought it had slightly backfired...this book is 720 pages long! It had better be good!
Owen Meany is a small boy/adult (he doesn't grow!), with enough faith in God for someone 3 times his size. He believes that God has a plan for him, and has dreams which show him a future he wouldn't have chosen for himself. However, his unfaltering faith in God inspires him to follow a path in life which he believes will ultimately lead him to fulfilling God's plan for him. Unfortunately, life doesn't make this easy for him. A rogue baseball he hits throws the lives of him and his best friend into mourning...but his faith continues to stand strong. Life wasn't easy, living in America when boys his age were being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. It caused friendships to wobble and relationships to crack. This gave the story a very multi-layered effect.
I read a lot of this book, assuming it was building up to something which makes it worth reading the full 720 pages. I was engaged, but only on the proviso that all these intricate lines of story would somehow cleverly intertwine at the end. (As I have said many times, I am a sucker for a good ending!) I am glad to say that I was not disappointed! This book has one of the most exquisite endings of any I have read in a long time, and I am so glad I stuck with it until the end! It was unexpected, intelligent and thoroughly satisfying! 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

I have been tagged by Ben over at Ben's Bookshelf  to do the 'Unpopular Opinions Book Tag'. To me, this seems like an opportunity to rant about some books I didn't like, which makes a change from praising all the books I get really excited about, so bring it on! :) 

A popular book/series I didn't like - 
I read Elizabeth is missing quite recently, having hotly anticipated it, based on all the great reviews I read. To add to this hype, it has been translated into 8 languages, sparked a 9-way bidding war amongst publishers, and won Costa's Debut Novel award. With all this critical acclaim, I was expecting great things...needless to say, I was extremely disappointed! I thought the plot was dull, but had a lot of patience for it, expecting the ending to make it all worth it. However, on reaching the (again, extremely disappointing) end, I was left completely confused - had I been reading the same book that everyone had praised so highly?!

A book/series I love but everyone seems to hate 
The Lorien Legacies, by Pittacus Lore have got to be my favourite series of books EVER! (They even compete with Harry Potter, which is a pretty big ask!) I, and a couple of friends at uni are obsessed with these books, and hotly anticipate the next release every summer. What surprises me, is that this series doesn't seem too widespread (at least, in England). No one seems to give it the hype it deserves! So although they may not be hated, they are not loved either, and that really pains me. I think these books are so fast-paced, and I usually read the new instalment within about 2 days of its release, then hate myself because I then have 350 days to wait for another one! So, if you're sitting there looking for a new SciFi series to try...pick up the Lorien Legacies right now! 

A love triangle where the main character ended up with the wrong person 
I had to think about this for a long while because I always think that the best couple wins in the end. However, You're The One That I Want, by Giovanna Fletcher sprang to mind after a while. I loved this book, because reading it made me feel like I was 14 again! The main character Maddy was living what felt like the story of my life... the romantic boyfriend, or would you be better off with the hilarious and caring best friend? I was SO annoyed by who she ended up with in the end...poor choice Maddy! 

Popular genre I hardly reach for
This has to be Fantasy. I haven't really tried much Fantasy, but to be honest, I have no intention of doing so...although, inspired by my boyfriend, I would love to read The Hobbit! Who knows, if anyone has a great first-time Fantasy recommendation, then please let me know! :) 

A popular character I don't like
I am sure there are girls everywhere who are going to hate me for this...but I don't like Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice...and actually, I don't like Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones either! His romantic, posh demeanour just makes my skin crawl and go 'bleurgh'! I much prefer a man who is a bit rough round the edges... I'd be a Daniel Cleaver girl anyday! 

A popular author I can't seem to get into -
I have to admit, I probably haven't given this author a fair chance...but I cannot seem to get on with Ian McEwan. I know a lot of English Lit students who love his work, but after reading Enduring Love, I wouldn't go jumping at the chance to read another one! He just has one of those writing styles that seems to rub me up the wrong way..sorry Ian!

A popular trope I am tired of seeing 
Can we PLEASE lose the horrible cliche of characters who hate each other at the start of books, but end up falling in love by the end?! I'm not saying I believe in love at first sight, but surely if you are so incensed by someone the first time you meet them, that first impression can't be that wrong?!

A popular series I have no interest in reading 
There are few books that I would completely write off...but I really don't think I can ever face trying the Twilight series, not least because I wouldn't want to be imagining Edward Cullen playing the story out in my head as I read! Even the Fifty Shades series piqued my interest because I want to see what the hype is all about, but Twilight? Just...no. 

The book is not always as good as the movie 
This is SO difficult for me, because I have spent so much time trying to persuade people around me that the book is always better! There are so many examples of this...The Book Thief, Harry Potter, I Am Number Four, Before I Go To Sleep...the list goes on! 
I am not sure if I am cheating by saying this...but the Disney films? They are based on fairy tales, which can be extremely sinister at times, and don't have the great music that can never fail to make someone happy! So they're loads better than the books :) 
So, there we have it, my unpopular opinions book tag! I hope I haven't made anyone hate me in the course of this post! I tag Jess at Simple Scribbles, I hope you haven't already done it! (That'd make me look silly!)

TTFN...ta ta for now! 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

I absolutely LOVE books that are so well-written that I can take life-changing, meaningful quotes from them. I have always wanted a way to store all these, so I shall use this page as a way of sharing them with the world! :) Here are my favourites to get us started...

*Disclaimer* I make no apologies for the amount of times Matt Haig will inevitably appear on this page, because I think his way of dealing with 'what it means to be human' is incredible.

“A book is a map. There will be times in your life when you will feel lost and confused. The way back to yourself is through reading. There is not a problem in existence that has not been eased, somewhere and at sometime, by a book. I want you to remember that. The answers have all been written. And the more you read, the more you will know how to find your way through those difficult times.” - Matt Haig, Echo Boy

"History is the certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." - Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

"If there is a sunset, stop and look at it. Knowledge is finite. Wonder is infinite.

Don't always try to be cool. The whole universe is cool. It's the warm bits that matter." - Matt Haig, The Humans

“Even now, feeling this pain, I don’t want to not be me. Because we have hope, don’t we? And no matter how terrifying the future becomes, it’s worth it. Life is always worth it. I feel alive. I must be alive to feel this pain. We have known pain. The physical kind and the other kind. And we are still here. It hasn’t finished us off. I looked at the fresh scar on my hand. Maybe that was what life was. Beyond all the illusions…just a series of scars. Yeah, that is how you grew up. You discovered pain, but far from being crippled by that pain, you were made stronger, because you knew you had survived it. Skin is tougher when it scars. And so the next time the pain comes along, you’re ready for it. And it made the rest of my life shine with hope, the way the scar just highlights the smoothness of the skin around it.” - Matt Haig, Echo Boy

24/6/15 Top 5 Wednesdays

Yay, it is time for my first Top 5 Wednesday (T5W). The topic this week is "Top 5 characters you wish you could drown", which I found to be quite a difficult one to start with! But here goes...

In at number 5 we have Setrakus Ra from the Lorien Legacies, by Pittacus Lore. I am OBSESSED with this series; it is the first series since Harry Potter that has had me hotly awaiting the new release. I was in two minds as to whether Setrakus Ra deserved a place in this list, as he is of course the super evil head of the Mogadorians (the baddies), but without him, would the story be as good? However, I decided that the Garde have enough to deal with by trying to fight all the standard Mogadorians, they could do with having no Setrakus Ra in their life...give them a break!!

Next at number 4 has to be Alex Castle, Audrey's evil uncle from Echo Boy, by Matt Haig. I really did hate uncle Alex, right from the beginning. The story tried to portray him as if he were helping Audrey at first, but I saw right through him, and hated that he had created a device that could just numb mental pain...who has a right to do that?! It seemed dangerous to me, and as it became clear that he had sinister plans, I just wished I could make him disappear. (I can't say much without spoiling!)

Possibly unfairly, but position 3 goes to Yossarian from Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. I may be using Yossarian as a scapegoat here and blaspheming against a 'classic', but I hate Catch 22!  It is the hardest book I have ever tried to finish because I just find it sooo mind-numbingly dull. As Yossarian is the main protagonist, the book would not exist without him...so I wish I could drown him so that Catch 22 didn't exist, so I wouldn't have got stuck trying to read it!

Just missing out on top spot, 2nd place goes to the infamous Christian Grey. I can't even confess to have had many dealings with him, but to me he just seems sooo arrogant and self-absorbed, what right does he have to treat women like crap and blame it on 'inner demons' and it being 'just the way he is'. In fact, this place can be shared by Gideon from the Crossfire series by Sylvia Day, but at least he does show a soft side at times!

1st place, without a doubt, is reserved for Cleo from The Ugly Sister, by Jane Fallon. I read this book very recently, and couldn't help but hate Cleo, the sister of the main character. I really tried to like her, she was lovely as a child and got whipped up into the modelling world and turned into a selfish diva. Abi had so much faith in her, and really felt that she could uncover the 'old Cleo', the one who was her sister and best friend, so I had hope too, right until the end of the book when I couldn't believe how bitchy she was!! I was so upset that there was no happy ending for Cleo in the end, that she couldn't turn out to be nice...so she earns my top spot as person I would most want to drown!

Okay so that's it! I hope you enjoyed my list, please comment if you have read any of these books and agree/disagree, I'd be very interested to hear! :) 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A-Z Author Challenge: A-H

A-Z Author Challenge 2015

As well as taking on the '52 books in 2015' challenge on Goodreads, I also found an A-Z author challenge which I have been going a little bit crazy over! (Doesn't help that I have a very competitive brother to contend with...)

Having started the challenge 3 and a half weeks ago, I am already on I, so will give a quick overview of the challenge so far.

A: Mitch Albom - First Phone Call from Heaven
What a crazily beautiful book to begin with! I love Mitch Albom because he always adds a sprinkle of magic to his work, which makes you so happy to read it. This story was about people from a certain town in America who started to receive phone calls from their loved ones who had died. It was so heart-warming to read of the comfort it brought people, and I was devastated when I thought it may not be true (in the context of the book, of course!) I loved the ending, and just like with every other Mitch Albom book, finished it with a smile on my face.

B: Laura Bates - Everyday Sexism
So I obviously took a very different path with this one. This book sprouted from the Everyday Sexism project launched by Bates on social media to get women speaking up about incidents of sexism that occur in everyday life, and often go unnoticed. I am in two minds about this, because although I acknowledge that some women reported horrific experiences, criminal acts by men which reach well beyond the realms of sexism, I do think that this forum allowed a lot of women to complain about things that really didn't warrant such a level of complaint! At the end of the day, if somebody is offended by something that is said to them or happens to them, it should not have to be defined as sexism or racism or any other label for it to be taken seriously! 

C: John Connolly - Bad Men
I was excited about this book because I had been strongly recommended it by a colleague of mine. On the surface it looks like an everyday crime novel (other than the large moth on the front cover instead of the generic terrified girl or bloody dagger), but my expectations couldn't have been much more wrong. Connolly injects a spice of the mystical into his stories, which move them from a normal crime level, to an almost supernatural edge. While I can see why so many people may like this, it wasn't my thing really. I wouldn't have minded so much if all the loose ends were tied up at the end, but the lingering mystery at the end did annoy me. 

D: Lucy Dillon - One Small Act of Kindness
This is a perfect example of me falling prey to a pretty cover...how lovely is this?! It caught my eye as I was on my way out of Waterstones Picadilly (arguably my favourite place on Earth), and I couldn't help but pick it up and find my way back to the till. It sounded like such an uplifting story about the good of humanity, and I wasn't far wrong! 
It had a great edge on the usual 'chick flick' novel, with Alice having an accident and forgetting who she was...a fact that her ex-boyfriend decided to take advantage of. There was a lovely romance brewing by the end, and my only criticism was that I didn't get to hear enough about the happy ending! 

E: Imogen Edwards-Jones - Hotel Babylon
I had very high hopes for this book, particularly after I read Hospital Babylon and thought that was great, and felt I ought to read the book that inspired it. It had been sitting on my bookshelf for ages, and the A-Z challenge gave me the push I needed to read it. I have to say that unfortunately I was disappointed. I was expecting the same kind of scandalous stories found in Hospital Babylon, but I probably should have realised that I would never find this quite so shocking, seeing as I have worked for over a year in hospitality! Having said that, it was a quick and easy read...so not a wasted day! Plus it did have me giggling away at times...people have such a cheek sometimes! 

F: Jane Fallon - The Ugly Sister
I was conscious that I did not want to spend too much more money buying lots of books for this A-Z challenge, which meant that I had no choice but to read chick lit for F and G. This book reminded me why I decided to expand my horizons away from chick lit. I just couldn't get intimate with the characters, so I really didn't care what happened to them! Although saying that...I really did hate Cleo! I was hoping she would come round in the end and we would see the good girl we had met at the start, but she ended just as bitter as she was when I first began to despise her!

G: Jane Green - The Other Woman
Perhaps because I had just had such a bad time reading 'The Ugly Sister', I actually enjoyed this much more. A couple close to marriage, a baby on the way and an over-powering mother-in-law...a classic story, but Green wrote it well, so it was an enjoyable read. 

H: Emma Healey - Elizabeth is Missing
I have been thinking about this book a lot since I reviewed it on Goodreads, trying to work out why my review was so much more negative than most other people. I think I have worked it out...from its critical acclaim and categorisation, I was expecting a crime novel. I love a fast-paced crime thriller, so this rambly tale written from the perspective of an 82-year old suffering with dementia seemed to drag a hell of a lot. However I try and make excuses for this though, I really did not like this book, and would not be in a rush to recommend it to everyone, despite its nominations for 'best debut novel' etc...

Okay, so that turned out to be a bit of a mammoth first post! But don't worry, from now on they should be coming one at a time. 
The next may take a while as I have committed to the 720-page John Irving novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany", so expect some silence for a while! Hopefully it'll be worth it! :) 

Welcome to my blog! :)

I am so excited to share my book reviews and love of books with the world, and hopefully chat to others about their love of books too.

I was inspired to get a blog, mainly because I wanted to explode out of Goodreads, and because I wanted a forum on which to join in with Top 5 Wednesdays! So hopefully this blog will get better and better as I start to get the hang of it.

I have found so much momentum for reading recently, spurred on by my '52 books in 2015' challenge on Goodreads, and by the A-Z author challenge I have recently started.

Can't wait to begin! :)