Sunday, 2 August 2015

My A-Z Author Challenge 2015 is complete!! :)

Yes, that's right, as you have probably seen already, I have completed my A-Z Author Challenge - yay! :) This has all happened in 64 days...and considering this is the first year I have had a full-time job, I am pretty daym proud of that! :) I have really enjoyed it, as it has really got me to read a whole range of new authors that I may never have normally touched, but whom have benefited from having a surname starting with an unusual letter! Having said that, I did get a bit dis-encouraged by the end, as I felt like the alphabet was dictating what I could read next! Now I have a 'TBR jar', so I won't know what I am reading next until I finish a book and pick a new one from the jar - how exciting!

Anyway, as I have finished, I thought it only fair to honour all the books that have taken part in my challenge, and I shall finish by picking a top 5! I hope you enjoy! :)

A - Mitch Albom - The First Phone Call from Heaven
B - Laura Bates - Everyday Sexism
C - John Connolly - Bad Men
D - Lucy Dillon - One Small Act of Kindness
E - Imogen Edwards-Jones - Hotel Babylon
F - Jane Fallon - The Ugly Sister
G - Jane Green - The Other Woman
H - Emma Healey - Elizabeth is Missing
I - John Irving - A Prayer for Owen Meany
J - EL James - Grey
K - Nicole Krauss - The History of Love
L - Francois Lelord - Hector and the Search for Happiness
M - Ken Macleod - Intrusion
N - Jennifer Niven - All the Bright Places
O - Maggie O'Farrell - Instructions for a Heatwave
P - Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
Q - Matthew Quick - The Silver Linings Playbook
R - Stella Rimington - The Geneva Trap
S - Alice Sebold - The Lovely Bones
T - CL Taylor - The Accident
U - Fred Uhlman - Reunion
V - Ferdinand von Schirach - The Collini Case
W - Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
X - Xinran - The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
Y - Louise Young - The Heroes' Welcome
Z - Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind

Quite a mix in there...we have crime, thrillers, young-adult, biography, non-fiction, romance, classics and other types of fiction - it's great! :) 

Aaaand my top 5 are:
5) Grey - I know people are going to seriously judge me that out of 26 books this made the top 5, but I really enjoyed it! It was very long, which I was secretly dreading, and I was actually so pleasantly surprised that it quickly shot into being one of my favourites! :) 

4) The Accident - I LOVED this, I thought the story was great, the suspense kept me hooked, and I really identified with the characters.

3) The First Phone Call from Heaven - For the first book of twenty-six to have kept my attention for so long must show that it was something special! I really love the magic in Albom's stories, they always make me feel warm and fuzzy once I have finished them, 

2) Intrusion - I was a bit apprehensive about reading this book because the reviews were a bit varied, but I loved it! I thought the storyline was really interesting, and I loved all the sciencey references, which seemed pretty accurate and appealed to me in particular! 

1) The Bell Jar - Without a doubt, my favourite book of this list. I just thought it was so powerfully written, and is the first book to have ever provoked such strong emotion in me that the emotion didn't go away when I shut the book! I really really think the whole world needs to read this book!! :)

I do feel a bit bad - these 2-3 line synopses do not do these books justice at all, and there were some other great ones in the mix too. All of these books have been reviewed under the A-Z tag, so if any of them interest you, please go and check out the reviews! :) Also, if you have read any of the books featured in this challenge, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Adios, amigos :) 

Z: The Shadow of the Wind

Okay, I'm sorry, I promise this will be the last review for a little while! But now...I bring you...the last book in my A-Z Author Challenge 2015 - yay!!! :)  I am so happy that I have finished it, as much as I enjoyed it, it is much more fun to have a mystery regarding what I shall read next, rather than being dictated-to by the alphabet! I now have a TBR jar (stolen from another blogger - sorry I can't remember who!), which I am very excited to start using! :)

Anyway, back to the point! This review is of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's 'The Shadow of the Wind'.

Oooh I do love being shrouded in mystery! This book had it all: mystery, intrigue, romance, heart-break, crime, passion - what else could someone want?! Critics call this the book for people who love books, because it is a celebration of the power of literature! 

Without giving too much away, the basic storyline is set in Barcelona. Daniel, a bookshop owner's son is taken by his father to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a safe haven for old books which may otherwise be destroyed. He feels drawn to 'The Shadow of the Wind', which he later finds out is the only copy of this book remaining in existence. Why, you may ask? Well, Daniel asked the same question! In his quest to discover the life and mystery of the writer, Julian Carax, Daniel gets a little more than he bargained for. Suddenly, he finds himself intertwined in an epic and complex puzzle, involving some very unlikely characters. Undeterred, he follows all the trails, which lead him to some pretty scary places! 

This story is packed full of suspense and mystery, and I actually didn't predict the ending at all! I was gripped...most of the time. For me, sometimes the plot-line advanced a little too slowly, which is why I just couldn't feel justified giving it the full 5 stars. I really enjoyed it though, and would definitely think about picking up the sequel: 'The Angel's Game', although I may give myself a Zafon break first! 

Have you read The Angel's Game? Is it similar to this, does the storyline follow this closely? Do I need to have a good memory of this book to enjoy it properly? I'd love to hear your thoughts below :) 

Y: The Heroes' Welcome

Yes yes, it's me again! I have another book review to bring you, which I finished just yesterday. This is Young's 'The Heroes' Welcome'. I have to be honest, I was desperately trying to find a Y for my A-Z challenge, and was about to give up when I saw this gorgeous cover sitting on a table in Waterstones! I just had to buy it...I didn't even really look at what it was about until I got home!

I later found out that it is a sequel to Young's 'My Dear I Wanted to Tell You', which I actually read years ago, and know I enjoyed, but wouldn't be able to tell you much of the plot except that it was a war romance set in the First World War.

In this sequel, Young deals with the 'what happens next?' Yes, you can write romantic letters which travel across oceans to each other, but what about when the war is over? If you're lucky enough that your soldier returns home, what will life be like then? No one really thinks about that!

Everyone recognises the sacrifice of soldiers who risked their lives fighting for our country, no one denies them the glory they deserve. But how many people think about the hardships they faced when they returned home? Injured, suffering with PTSD, how easy would it have been for those soldiers to integrate back into society? What about their wives? Would they still love the man they had fallen in love with before the war, or would they have changed so much they were unrecognisable? Would they be able to handle their husband's night terrors, their disfigurement, or their drink problem?

This book was really well-written, and struck a very poignant chord! It tells a story which I guess a lot of people don't even consider, and for that reason I really enjoyed it! It was daring, and not afraid to tell a story of heart-break. Not every story has a happy ending, but don't we all have to make the best of what we have?

Has anyone else read this book? I'd love to hear your thoughts! :)

X: The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Hello people, and welcome back again to my book reviews as part of my A-Z author challenge! :) I now have my X to share with you...which is Xinran's 'The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices'. I am glad my challenge encouraged me to pick up an 'X', otherwise it would have been very unlikely that this book would have ever come into my possession.

The clue is in the title really...this book is a biographical work, compiling stories of women all over China who have suffered oppression or abuse in their society. Xinran is a radio presenter, who is brave enough to set up the first radio show which discusses the lives of women in China. Within hours, her answer phone and letter box are flooded with stories of women who have been waiting to be heard for so many years.

Some are really heart-breaking. There are tales of abuse, forced marriages and the struggle to develop an identity in a male-dominated world. It is difficult to imagine that these stories actually happened less than 50 years ago! It was a real awakening for me, and shifted my life back into clear perspective: women in the UK complain about the treatment of women, and maybe we should still not stop fighting for 'equality', but we should also be grateful that we do not experience the horrors of these women. If these women can live their lives with such dignity and compassion no matter what hardships they face, what excuse do we have?

W: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Hello my lovely readers, and apologies once again for my period of silence! I have been stuck in a period where I couldn't stop reading whenever I had spare time (nothing to be complained about!), but this does seem to have translated into a slight neglect for my blog! Nevertheless, I am back, with exciting news:
I have finished my A-Z Author Challenge 2015!! :) 

I am so proud of myself, and to have completed it in 64 days is a special achievement, I believe :) I shall soon be bringing you my A-Z wrap-up, but for now, a review of my book read for W: Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. 

I really like these Pulp covers of classics! I get that they're trying to modernise classics to make them more accessible to the youth of today (which is a category I still like to consider myself to be in!), so they totally worked for me! :) Let's be honest, I would have read this regardless of cover, but it's fabulous blue pages were the pushing factor which actually made me buy it! :) 

I am sure most people reading this will know the story of Dorian Gray: he sits for a painting, and becomes overwhelmed by the realisation that he will never again look as young as he does in the picture! This thought eats away at him, and he wishes that the portrait could bear the burden of ageing, while he maintained his youthful good looks forever. Well, careful what you wish for! 

I actually really enjoyed this book. In the first few chapters, Dorian makes friends with Lord Henry (Harry), who had some great things to say. He made some great observations and was extremely philosophical about life, and the human instinct, which I found really interesting. I loved the love story (can't beat the story of a strong man going weak for a girl), and it kept me really hooked!

The problem was, as the story hit about half-way, suddenly it seemed to lose its thread somewhat. At one point, there was almost an entire page listing different names of jewels which Dorian had studied, acquired or sold, and it became extremely tedious! I struggled to cling to the weak thread of the story, and although it did pick back up, I felt rather lost by this point, and almost had to crawl to the finish line. It's a shame really, because Wilde's writing showed such great promise in the first half of the book, which is why I felt guilty scoring it anything less than 4 starts on GoodReads!

What do you think of the story of Dorian Gray? As always, I'd love to hear your comments below! :)