I’m back :)

After a couple of year break, I’ve decided to pick up the blog once more and vent my everyday MA frustrations of postgraduate life interspersed between book reviews and opinion pieces.

I’m juggling multiple books at the moment, but within the next two weeks I hope to publish reviews on: Emma by Jane Austen, The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans and The Real Odessa by Uki Goni. In terms of general opinion pieces, I’m hoping to do a little bit on maintenance grants and whatever makes me particularly angry in the news.

It’s proving a struggle at the moment to struggle a work placement, an MA class, workshops, a German class, my responsibilities as a course rep and my paid job whilst sleeping and stuff. I’ve already succumbed to some poorly affliction today after a third full day of fun and MA festivity (three days into the new term already and I’m pooped). Therefore a large bowl of the stew my nan sent me back to Canterbury with and a cup of tea are proving to hit the spot. Hopefully the rest of the week is less hectic and I can do some valuable recharging.

My Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My Review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

 
Finished on: 8th August 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Book Challenge Number: 48
 
Sorry for my absence from this blog, I’ve been reading some academic texts for the second year of my degree which have taken up quite a bit of my time. Decided not to review them as they’re difficult to review without lots of understandable historiographical terms, which I have been trying to avoid writing down for as long as possible.
 
The Book Thief is an interesting novel which is narrated by ‘Death’, which is an odd concept to get your head around. The setting is WW2 era Germany, where ‘undesirables’ are being rounded up and murdered in concentration camps and bombs are falling left, right and centre. Living in a small German town is Liesel, a girl living with elderly foster parents after her brother dies and her parents worry for her future because of their Communist sympathies making them a Nazi target. When her brother dies, this is the first time Death notices Liesel, and this is where the story begins. 
 
The story continues through the war, with Liesel making friends, hiding in air raid shelters during bombings, assisting her foster mother, learning to read whilst stealing books and food as life becomes tougher in Germany. As the story continues, Death talks about the general climate of the time and how busy he is as he takes people, some of those lives revolving around and close to Liesel.
 
I really liked this book and didn’t find it took me ages to adjust to the odd concept of Death narrating. This book is well-written and quite easy to get into which is always a bonus for me as I don’t like reading to feel like a chore. I highly recommend it’s book for bringing a new dimension to the usual World War 2 story.

My Review of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

My Review of The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

 
Rating: 4 stars
Book Challenge Number: 45
Finished on: 20th July 2013
 
Sorry it took me a while to write this up and post this, been really busy recently and thought now I have a bit of time before my best friend Amy arrives I would give you my review of The Boleyn Inheritance. Currently in the process of reading a book on Medical Ethics and the Nuremberg Doctors Trial post World War Two, so won’t be posting a review on that for obvious reasons. Once I’ve read my next book (which I hope will be soon) a review will definitely be up!
 
This story follows on from the well known part of history in Tudor England where Anne Boleyn has been executed alongside her brother for adultery, incest and treason. Left behind is George Boleyn’s wife Jane Lady Rochford in disgrace and trying to work her way back to court. Mainly from her perspective, you see how court moves from the reign of Anne Boleyn as Queen through Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.
 
This story has 3 main perspectives, from Jane Boleyn to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard with their view of events surrounding them at court. It begins with Anne of Cleves and an impotent Henry VIII, their divorce and him referring to her as his sister afterwards, moving through to a 14 year old Katherine Howard and her extra-marital liaisons. All the way through, the Duke of Norfolk acts as a manipulative influence who always manages to look after number one, a concept we can relate to even today.
 
This was written really well and personally, although its fiction, Philippa Gregory builds up the characters in a way that provides an extra layer to cold historical fact. That is the element that I love of historical fiction, it allows for a personal touch.

My Review of The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

My Review of The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Finished on: 11th July 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Reading Challenge Book Number: 44
 
It’s the story that nearly everyone in the country knows, the divorce of Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon in the 16th century, on the grounds that she was his brother’s wife. But The Constant Princess goes further back, to when 15 year old Katherine, known then as Catalina, the Infanta of Spain is sent to England to marry Henry’s brother Arthur. As he lays dying, he urges Catalina to make a solemn deathbed promise to him, that she will lie about them having consummated their marriage so she can marry Henry and be the Queen she was destined to be without Arthur at her side.
 
I think this adds a really intriguing dimension to such a well-known story, especially as it has been remarked upon so much as to how honest a woman Katherine was and therefore must have been telling the truth. The Constant Princess shows she’s not that saintly but is not a straight up liar or perjurer, she is simply a confused girl keeping a promise to a man she loved to fulfil the destiny she has been told she has since being a small child. All the way through The Constant Princess, I do feel sorry for Katherine, but I also admire her strength and constancy as well as the moments of vulnerability. She is a master of her gestures and actions which makes her a force to be reckoned with and what nobles would take to be a true royal. She has been abandoned by all those close to her and therefore can trust no one but herself, which in some ways hardens her heart and makes her reluctant to anyone attempting to get close to her.
 
Is it historically accurate? Probably not. I’ve studied the Tudors in depth and there is not really any compelling evidence to show either way whether the marriage was consummated or not. However, it is an intriguing concept and I think that this is something that historical fiction does well. But do not read this without taking a pinch of salt to the most controversial points, there are many things we cannot really find out about a period so far in the past.

My Review of Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger

My Review of Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns by Lauren Weisberger

 
Finished on: 6th July 2013
Rating: 3 stars
Reading Challenge Book Number: 43
 
I am a big fan of the original Devil Wears Prada book and the film. It’s not usually my sort of thing to want to read about the fashion world but I thought it would be nice to read something about the perspective of those lower in rank to the high fliers such as Miranda Priestly. I was not disappointed.
 
Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns follows on from it’s predecessor ten years down the line. Andy starts the book as an engaged woman on her wedding day and you see her progress through many roles and difficulties in her personal life (as any form of chick lit would). A decade after surviving her terrible year working at Runway, she is working for herself and her business partner Emily (the very same practically anorexic former runway assistant) on a high fashion wedding magazine of their own creation called ‘The Plunge’.
 
There is a sly quality to this book that I know is an essential element but it makes me feel very uncomfortable as Weisberger reveals a side of human nature that is there but few acknowledge. I feel eternally sorry for the character who becomes a victim of it as it must severely affect her ability to trust people.
 
Overall, a decent chick-lit sequel but nothing on the original glamour and drama

My Review of the Body Gossip Book

My Review of the Body Gossip Book
 
Finished on: 3rd July 2013
Rating: 5 stars
Reading Challenge Book Number: 42
 
I am very biased when rating this book, I will let you know in advance!
 
I got involved with Body Gossip very recently after my friend Amy who is an ambassador asked me to go with her to a flashmob they were running to promote positive body image. This is something I am very for, as I know how different everyone’s bodies are and yet they are all beautiful in different unique ways. After participating in the flashmob, I was asked by the co-founder of the charity Ruth Rogers to become an ambassador and help to spread the message. I was completely honoured to be asked to carry on working with this amazing charity with it’s uplifting message – everyone is beautiful.
 
I sat down and began to read this book soon after the flashmob on June 28th 2013. It has been described as an anthology of more than 300 short body stories written by real people from all over the UK. There are poems, prose and dialogues written about everything body image related including pregnancy, diets, sport, ageing, adolescence, eating disorders, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. I was captivated by the raw honesty of the people who had written it, the candid nature of the writing and how enlightening and sometimes humorous the ways people chose to tell their stories about their bodies.
 
Please give this a read guys, it definitely makes you feel better about yourself and your body and uplifts you in a way I cannot even describe to you 🙂

My Review of You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi Macfarlane

My Review of You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi Macfarlane

 
Finished on: 2nd July 2013
Rating: 3 stars
Reading Challenge Book: 41
 
Sorry for not posting this sooner, have been running around like a crazy fool for the past week! Have a review to write of Revenge Wears Prada (The Devil Returns) which I think I’ll write tomorrow whilst making the most of a long awaited rest day. 
 
You Had Me At Hello, if you judge it on its title, is a romantic soppy novel reminiscent of Mills and Boon cringeworthy texts. But in my mind, this book is more than that, it has a beautiful depth and loveable characters.
 
This book follows Rachel, 10 years out of university and freshly split up from her fiancée Rhys. She bumps into an old university friend Ben at the Iibrary and begins to get to know him once again. What results is her being introduced to a top story for her work as a journalist, to see everything crumble in that respect, and to wonder what her feelings are and who she can trust. 
 
I love how this book isn’t straight up romance, it has sweet little flashbacks of university life and the romance creeps in at the end, just a tad which makes oh smile and gives you a nice familiar ending. My most favourite character would have to be Rachel herself as she has that type of self deprecating charm that’s quite endearing. On the other side of the fence, I cannot stand the character of Simon, and if you ever read this book you will understand why. God what a whining little twat.

My Review of Hannibal by Thomas Harris

My Review of Hannibal by Thomas Harris

Finished on: June 26th 2013
Rating: 5 stars
Reading Challenge Book: 40
 
I’m sorry for not posting this sooner, I had it written and saved on my computer but I seem to have had a one tracked mind and forgotten to post it. 
 
Hannibal is the final book chronologically in Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, following on several years later from Silence of the Lambs. Dr Lecter has escaped police custody and is living in Florence, whereas Agent Clarice Starling of the FBI is seeing her career crumble around her, fuelled by Paul Krendler. Wealthy businessmen, ex-patient and victim of Dr Lecter Mason Verger is desperately seeking revenge on the man who made him mutilate himself through drugs and hypnotic suggestion, offering a hefty reward for those who deliver Dr Lecter to him alive. 
 
This book for me was the most twisted of them all I think, particularly the ending, which if you’ve read the book and seen the film you will know that they are quite different. I thought the focus on Hannibal’s dead cannibalised sister Mischa was sometimes not that relevant, especially now with hindsight we know there’s an entire book dedicated to what drives Hannibal as a serial killer and his early years of living and killing. 
 
But, as always, I find it very hard to fault such complex and intriguing work on one of the most notorious characters in the horror/crime genre.

My Review of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

My Review of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

 
Finished on: June 24th 2013
Rating: 5 stars
Reading Challenge Book: 39
 
I am really getting into Harris’ work and the Hannibal series of books. Today I’ve started the last in that series ‘Hannibal’ and am whizzing through it whilst enjoying every second. 
 
The Silence of the Lambs follows FBI academy student/trainee Clarice Starling, asked by Agent Jack Crawford to visit Dr Hannibal Lecter in the asylum and ask for his advice on a psychological profile/survey of people like him. The hidden motive is for Starling to extract information from Lecter that may be potentially useful for catching the killer known as ‘Buffalo Bill’ who has been killing and skinning women.
 
Lecter is as manipulative as ever, using ‘quid pro quo’ to extract information from Clarice about herself and her childhood. This book particularly opens up how Lecter is seen by those around him, with Chilton wanting to study him as a ‘pure sociopath’ and the orderly at the asylum Barney who he appears to respect, telling him that he finds rudeness so irritating that he likes eating ‘free range rude’. The way Clarice sees him I find particularly interesting though, she appears to respect him as an academic personality, although she is nevertheless horrified at his crimes and motivations. The way she refers to him as ‘Dr Lecter’ is interesting, sort of screams to me as a method of deference and shows that he is the dominant personality in this situation. 
 
I just love the intrigue of Harris’ writing and the complex psychological themes that he uses. Can’t wait to finish the last book in the series, where I’ve heard that Starling and Lecter’s relationship really gets twisted.

My Review of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

My Review of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Finished on: June 22nd 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Reading Challenge Book: 38

It’s so hard to believe that I’m getting so close to finishing my reading challenge for this year so soon, maybe I will get to 100 again like I did last year.

I moved on from Hannibal Rising to the next book chronologically in Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, the first book to be published, Red Dragon. This story deals with the hunt for the ‘Tooth Fairy’ serial killer by the FBI, led by Jack Crawford. Hannibal Lecter is at this point incarcerated after being caught some years before by investigator Will Graham, who paid a heavy price for catching him both before the story begins and as it ends.

I have to admit, I’ve seen all of the movies of this and Red Dragon didn’t impress me storyline wise as much as the others. However, the new TV series Hannibal tells the pre Red Dragon story in a very intriguing way which I think provides extra layers into how I interpret the book.

Overall, I still view Harris as a master of this type of genre, the characters are subtle and believable with many complex layers which make them really interesting. I would credit Will Graham as the most intriguing character of this book outside of Lecter himself for being a man so alike to serial killers in terms of psychology and particularly empathy, but so desperate to escape his FBI past in favour of a normal life.