My Review of Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Finished on: 29/01/13

7th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars

Sorry for my lack of presence in the blogging sphere since I reviewed Sir Thomas More, I have been a busy bee starting to write my essays ages before the deadlines. Weird I know, but I like knowing that I have time to edit after a first draft and avoid any last minute disasters.

At this moment in time, I am very excited because I am going home tomorrow for 5 days! 5 whole days with my family, which is going to be amazing! I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my family and going out to celebrate my good friend Ilona’s 19th birthday (any gathering which brings us lot together is always massive fun). But whilst at home, I have some work to do (which is inevitable being a uni student), including reading the book ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Macchiavelli. It’s the content for my seminar discussion next week and I also have picked the essay question on Macchiavelli as my first assignment. I’m hoping it will be an interesting read but you never know. I’m also not sure whether to review it when I’m done, I think I’ll reserve judgement until I have finished reading it.

Anyway, onward to my review of Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton.

This thriller/mystery novel follows Gracie and her daughter Jenny, caught in a fire at son Adam’s school, an arson attack but no one can work out who is responsible. Although both Gracie and Jenny are unconscious in hospital, between them in what I can only describe as a ‘alternative plane of existence’ or a middle ground between this life and the next, they try to piece together what happened and who is responsible. In the ‘real world’, Grace’s sister in law Sarah, a police officer, is also trying to work out what happened to them and who started the fire.

I really enjoyed this book, mainly because this is the second book I’ve read by Lupton that has left me completely clueless as to who the arsonist was. I had so many ideas in my mind and the person I considered to be the least capable was responsible! I love it when mystery novels actually manage that!

The ending was also really beautiful, I can’t really give it away but it’s mentioned throughout the book as a possible outcome, but you delude yourself into thinking that no one will let it go ahead. Yet it does, and it’s a beautiful example of unconditional love and putting your children first.

Definitely highly recommended, a great and engaging read which keeps you guessing until the very end
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My Review of Sir Thomas More: The Play

Finished on: 25th January 2013

6th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars

I always thought that Shakespeare had written this play, before doing a bit of research and realising that it was probably written by a multitude of writers, of which Shakespeare may very well have been one of. 

This review will probably be a short one as I am totally useless at reviewing Shakespeare. I only started this today, but as it’s such a short play, I finished it rather quickly, especially after getting so into it. 

It’s a period of history I adore and a historical individual I admire. Sir Thomas More, starting out his career in law and politics before becoming Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, later executed for opposing Henry VIII’s changing of the church and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. 

The language, especially that which leads to his death, is so emotive and powerful. I want to share with you my favourite passage that I found towards the end, where he is imprisoned and awaiting death for high treason:

Now I will speak like More in melancholy;
For if grief’s power could with her sharpest darts
Pierce my firm bosom, here’s sufficient cause
To take my farewell of mirth’s hurtless laws.
Poor humbled lady, thou that wert of late
Placed with the noblest women of the land,
Invited to their angel companies,
Seeming a bright star in the courtly sphere;
Why shouldst thou like a widow sit thus low,
And all thy fair consolers move from the clouds
That over drip thy beauty and thy worth?
I’ll tell thee the true cause. The court, like heaven
Examines not the anger of the prince,
And, being more frail-composed of gilded earth,
Shines upon them on whom the king doth shine
Smiles if he smile, declines if he decline
Yet, seeing both are mortal, court and king
Shed not one tear for any earthly thing.
For, so God pardon me, in my saddest hour
Thou hast no more occasion to lament,
Nor these, nor those, my exile from the court – 
No, nor this body’s torture, weren’t imposed,
As commonly disgraces of great men
Are the forewarnings of a hasty death – 
Than to behold me after many a toil
Honoured with endless rest. Perchance the Kind,
Seeing the court is full of vanity,
Has pity lest our souls should be misled
And sends us to a life contemplative
O, happy banishment from worldly pride,
When souls by private life are sanctified!

My Review of Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe

Finished on: 24th January 2013

5th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 4 stars

Grantchester Grind is the sequel to Porterhouse Blue, a funny and satirical look at Oxbridge traditions that I really enjoyed. Grantchester Grind follows it’s predecessor with a hop, skip and a laugh into the style of writing that Sharpe has made his own. 

Porterhouse Blue ended with the death of the current master Sir Godber Evans and the election of Skullion as Master, previously the Head Porter. Skullion goes on to suffer from a ‘Porterhouse Blue’, which is the college term for a stroke brought on by the luxurious and rich diet they eat at High Table. Grantchester Grind follows some years later, where Sir Godber’s widow, Lady Mary, is convinced her husband was murdered. She proceeds to create a Sir Godber Evans Memorial Fellow, who, funded by a generous salary, will integrate into the college and subtly investigate the circumstances of her husband’s death. Her choice is Dr Purefoy Osbert, who is not really welcomed with open arms at the fictitious college where a first class degree is a once in a blue moon occurrence and miracle. 

As the investigation of Sir Godber’s death plays out, the Dean of the College takes it upon himself to visit prosperous Old Porterthusians (previous members of Porterhouse) in the hope that one is willing and able to become Master if and when Skullion cannot continue. At the same time, the current Bursar is contacted by an American media mogul who seems to be interested in supporting the college without clarifying what it is he wants in return.

Overall, a great satire of tradition in Oxbridge for the sake of tradition and the focus on tradition and sport rather than academia. Skullion failed to deliver for me this time though, given that his character didn’t really get a chance to shine as he was still in a state from his stroke. He still manages to steal the limelight at the end as he does in the first book, which remarks on what a strong personality he is. And I still laugh at the Chaplain’s controversial opinions and distorted hearing which makes him hear things completely wrong. The character’s are familiar with some new ones filtering in to make the story fresh, and without giving away the ending too much, Porterhouse may finally begin embracing the future but still maintaining their staunch traditionalism of the past that they’ve clung to. 

My Review of Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Finished on the 20th January 2013

4th Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

Rating: 5 stars

This book continues with the chapter of Tudor history involving Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, told through the eyes of Secretary Thomas Cromwell. The prequel to this, Wolf Hall, followed Anne’s ascension to the throne, now Bring Up The Bodies follows the grisly path in history she took afterwards, leading to her death by beheading.

I will confess that I adore Tudor history, it’s one of my favourite periods of history. I love the intrigue, faction, culture, society and relationships. I took a module last term entitled Monarchy and Aristocracy 1460-1640, featuring the Tudors in the middle, and I was enamoured by it. It offers an alternative explanation to the commonly accepted notion that as a reformer, Thomas Cromwell was raised by the ascension of the Boleyn’s themselves, but Mantel puts forward the idea that, trained under Wolsey, Cromwell was a logical replacement for the former bureaucrat and executor of the King’s wishes. 

Mantel also communicates superbly how the factions interplayed with each other and how the Papist and Reformist groups interacted. For a work of fiction, it reads almost like a historical reconstruction, the attention to detail and history is so precise that Mantel definitely deserves the accolades given to her thus far for these two pieces of historical fiction. The complex interactions and intrigue between factions, such as Cromwell’s joining forces with the Papist faction in order to depose Anne Boleyn, is communicated so clearly you almost believe it was that simple.

In contrast with Wolf Hall, there’s less of the slight annoyance of that pesky pronoun ‘he’ in reference to Cromwell. It’s refreshing; although I usually expect sequels to fail to deliver, this was a welcome surprise. I love how Mantel communicates the ruthlessness of what a Tudor court was like, and the double-crossing and rumours that arose. You also build up a sympathy and rapport with Anne Boleyn for being caught in the crossfire but also being responsible for her own downfall in some aspects. You can’t help but feel in places that she was forced into marriage to the King by a pushy family and didn’t quite know how to handle herself as a wife.

Overall, a brilliant book that I will definitely read again. I encourage people looking for an easy route into complex historical events in the Tudor period to begin with Mantel’s works, it gives you a literary but nonetheless helpful insight into historical events and the roles of the key players.

Snowwww and the need or urge to get back into creative writing

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So in lovely old Canterbury we finally have snow, about 2 days later than everyone else! It’s not very deep snow, which is a blessing, can only imagine how bad it is back at home in Essex given that they had deep snow yesterday whilst we had none! It makes me feel like I live so far away when I really don’t. The picture above is the view from my ground floor bedroom, so sorry if there’s a glimpse of the window pane. It’s a pretty view nonetheless, snow makes practically everything look pretty. 

Today’s been a pretty relaxed day so far, I’ve worked out what essays I want to do this term for my modules and sorted out what books I need in advance (saves loads of time later) and doing a bit of reading with my IPod on shuffle. I love times when I do this, because songs come up that I haven’t listened to for a while and it makes me smile and sing 🙂

I have had an urge for a while now to delve back into creative writing, which I’ve missed so much! But it’s difficult to juggle so much stuff at the same time that I appear to have chosen over writing. For a couple of years, I did loads of creative writing, I literally used to spend most of my time writing or thinking about writing. I even joined a writing challenge called ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month’ in 2010 and 2011. Basically, the idea is that you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. Sounds impossible but is actually quite doable, plus it looks impressive when you tell people about it. i decided not to do it in 2012 because I had not long started university and the workload was freaking me out, I thought I couldn’t juggle it properly. On top of that, I had no ideas at all, which really scared me because I usually always used to have an idea lurking around somewhere. 

I even used to write poetry, although I’m not sure whether I can say I enjoyed writing it. Let’s just say it was very good at channelling negative emotions that I had, heartbreaks and falling outs, and it helped a lot of the time to just take my anger out on paper and write some stuff down. I look back and think ‘what a soppy load of sentimental crap’ but I can safely say it did help me a lot to write them. I also impressed myself by realising that even when heartbroken and emotional, I can still execute the right syllable count in a sonnet, a talent I had no idea I possessed. I don’t think I will ever go back to poetry unless I have an emotional need to, but I will definitely keep hold of my old poems as a reminder of how good writing can be as therapy. 

In my mind, writing and reading seem to go together hand in hand because it shows an appreciation and an awareness of the written word. I guess you can love one or the other, but I definitely have a passionate love for both! It’s hard to believe that as an 8 or 9 year old, I hated literacy at school with a passion and preferred maths, now I can’t think of anything worse than being deprived of English in favour of maths. How things change.

Final Day of 30 Day Book Challenge and Wayyyyyy Too Much Laundry!

How is it that I’ve been back at university for less than a week and I’ve already had to make a trip to the laundry room because my laundry bag was full to capacity! So £7 later, I’m now waiting for my laundry to dry and thought I would post today’s blog, the final day of the 30 Day Book Challenge, otherwise known as Days 26 through to 30. I have a lot of ideas for blog posts outside of reviews once I’ve finished this, and it will cover a lot of stuff, reading related and topical in places, so am hoping it will capture your attention 🙂

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something:

Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe is a book that really changed my opinion about Oxford/Cambridge after I read it post-interview. It was my dream to go to Oxford and study History, but I wasn’t offered a place after the interview. It’s hard to say how and why this book helped me, but it made me realise that I probably wouldn’t have been happy there and would have found the traditions rather tedious and pointless. What a good thing it is that I’m here at Kent! I’ve met such wonderful people here who are great to talk to and have a good time with.

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending:

Sister by Rosamund Lupton is one of the few crime novels that made me gasp at the ending. It was something that I truly wasn’t expecting, and that really makes an impression on me with mystery/crime novels as I’ve become terrible at guessing who the perpetrator was pretty quickly. I  try not to, but it’s a reflex action that my brain does and I feel like it spoils books for me. 

Day 28 – Favorite title: I Capture the Castle

I haven’t even read this book yet by Dodie Smith, but the title was something that I saw and it grabbed my attention straight away. It made me want to look at the book and the blurb, which in turn made me want to read it. Excited to get stuck into it at some point.

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked: 

This is a hard one, because I am not really familiar with hated books, because I usually share people’s opinions on things like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. I think I may have to choose The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, although it didn’t receive universal hate, it was quite controversial and criticised quite heavily. I quite like it for the story, not the connotations it has for everyday life and belief. That’s what fiction is about, and it annoys me how people know it’s controversial, read it without taking a pinch of salt then complain. 

Day 30 – Favorite book:

An even harder question! I wouldn’t even know how to answer this one because I have so many favourites. I think I will go with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as it was really one of my first voyages into dystopia, and I have great memories of discussing it with my best friend Amy as she panicked over her English Literature A-Level coursework. Having those discussions with her about it really made me appreciate this book so much more than I originally did upon reading it that I had to read it again to appreciate it some more. Although, my favourite book is eternally changing, it’s never the same for too long, always changes the next time I think about it.

30 Day Book Challenge Day 5, Lovely Day Off and Apparent Snow Flurry Soon?

Today has been a really nice day so far, a chance for me to catch up on stuff I haven’t had a chance to do this week because of lectures and get some work done in preparation for next week’s lectures and seminars. So far I’ve written my review of A Place of Execution and posted it (see my previous post), done a freakish amount of reading about Victorian periodisation (very big yawns all the way through), gone to town and it’s only just past lunchtime! Result!

Apparently we’re set for a snow flurry across the country tonight/tomorrow. I for one am quite looking forward to it given that I don’t really have anywhere I need to go, so I can enjoy the snow without panicking about travelling in it.

Onward to Days 21-25 of my 30 Day Book Challenge 🙂

Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood:

Harry Potter, as I wrote yesterday, pretty much was the focus of my childhood reading-wise. I was absolutely obsessed, but was disappointed with some of the films. I remember starting to read the last Harry Potter book the second I got back from holiday, and demolished it in 12 hours 🙂

Day 22 – Book you’re currently reading:

After finishing ‘A Place Of Execution’ by Val McDermid last night, I’m thinking of taking a break from Val McDermid for a bit. I think i’m going to start reading ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ by Hillary Mantel, the sequel to ‘Wolf Hall’.

Day 23 – Your guilty pleasure:

Mills and Boon is my ultimate holiday guilty pleasure. My grandparents used to have an apartment in Ibiza until last year, and when I’d ran out of books to read, I would demolish the Mills and Boon books that had been left in the apartment over the years. Predictable, yes, but still pleasurable nonetheless.

Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read:

Kommandant’s Girl, as I’ve mentioned quite a few times, is a book I absolutely adore. It really opens your eyes and shows a personal side to the resistance, Nazi Germany and what it was like to be a Jew. Although fiction not fact, it’s a beautiful story.

Day 25 – Favorite book you read in school:

Jekyll and Hyde was definitely my favourite. I really enjoyed reading it in class when I was about 14/15, but writing the coursework to follow it for my GCSE drove me crazy. My English teacher kept berating me for it being below my potential, calling it a C grade, etc etc, and with minimal changes, she moved it up to an A*. Can’t complain clearly lol.

My Review of A Place of Execution by Val McDermid

Finished on the 16th January 2013

3rd Book of my 2013 Reading Challenge

This book begins in a cold winter of 1963, in a tiny hamlet in Derbyshire called Scardale. 13 year old Alison Carter has gone missing in strange circumstances, her dog being found tied up close by. No one can figure out who is responsible, was it an outsider who didn’t know their way around the village? Or someone closer to home? A person is convicted through the dedication of the team of police officers led by George Bennett. 35 years later, journalist Catherine Heathcote is determined to write a tell-all book about the case with George Bennett, a gritty true crime text. But a new lead emerges, and Bennett tries to stop the story, leading Catherine determined to find out the truth about the Carter case.

Let me just say how AMAZING this book is. At first I was a bit, ‘okay it’s a tragic story but…’. But then it got intriguing, so intriguing that I managed to finish the book yesterday instead of today. When it got to the 35 years later bit, I seriously couldn’t put it down. It’s got everything you could possibly want from a mystery novel; tragedy, disturbing events, the blame game, family suspicion, rumours, ghosts, abuse, cover-ups, genuinely everything. I was seriously impressed by the ending, even I did not see that coming!

 Val McDermid has definitely outdone herself with A Place of Execution, it’s truly an easy-read yet so perfectly written for the genre. It has loveable characters with a wide variety of personalities, such as the secretive yet community minded and practically all related members of Scardale, the loveable rogue Tommy Clough, the dedicated George Bennett and the headstrong Ma Lomas. I love the continuity throughout the book and how all of the events seem quite straightforward at the beginning but then intertwine to shock you with the conclusion. Thoroughly recommended, definitely, 100%.

30 Day Book Challenge Day 4, making a big decision and more results!

Brilliant news, I have no more lectures or seminars until Monday morning! Amen to the God of timetabling giving me Thursday’s and Friday’s off. Today I have had two hours of contact time, one lecture and one seminar for the same module, and I am honestly so sleepy right now, I’ve become such a lazy cow. 

I’ve made a big decision today and I’m proud of myself for making it. There’s been a lot of hassle around housing for next year, and I’ve thought about the situation I’m in a lot. Weighing up all of the pros and cons, I don’t really want to move off campus next year, and I don’t have to. Apparently being classed as a disabled student and receiving my scholarship almost guarantees that they will let me stay. I don’t want the trouble of panicking about bills and not using too much energy, or deposits and admin fees, I’m here to study and continue finding myself. So I logged on today and applied for accommodation for next year. I don’t know whether I will end up in the same place as I am now, but I’m looking forward to seeing what life has in store for me. What will be will be, I’m a great believer in you finding what’s right and knowing it, and this is probably the best decision I’ve made in ages! It feels enlightening!

On from good to even better news, one of my other modules have gathered their marks together to let me know what score I’ve got for it. Drum roll…..68, 72 and 85, leading to a weighted average of 73%, which is a first! So happy given how much I struggled on one of the essays, but the 85 bowled me away. Only one module to receive marks from now, then I will know the entire average of my first term here, which is an exciting but daunting prospect.

Moving swiftly onwards to Days 16 through to 20 of the 30 Day Book Challenge:

Day 16 – Favorite female character:

Emma Bau from the Kommandant’s Girl is a character I can’t help but adore and feel infinitely sorry for. Caught between a rock and a hard place, missing her husband, hiding away yet out in the open and her life always so uncertain. She deals with it remarkably well, and I was so upset at the ending of the book.

Day 17 – Favorite quote: 

“To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.” This is a quote from The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, which is an awesome book, I highly recommend it. I love this quote because it is about books in relation to life. We go through the world and little by little find out what it means to be human, to live in the world and learn about it. 

Day 18: First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child:

I doubt this was the first chapter book I read, I’m sure there were others, but what sticks in my mind the most is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. I adored Harry Potter from the moment the majority of our school went to see the film. I hadn’t really known that the book had existed until then, my after my cinematic awakening, I became obsessed and starting reading them.

Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a book I have huge respect and adoration for. The movie that was released last week in the UK, I cannot even describe it’s beauty, dynamic nature and quality. Even though the actors playing the characters are not trained singers, they’re actually quite good and capable of channeling all of their acting ability into giving the song emotion, which makes up for any potential flaws in their vocality.

Day 20 – Book that makes you laugh out loud:

The Nikki Heat series by a ghost writer masquerading as fictional character Richard Castle never ceases to make me laugh. To explain, the Nikki Heat series is based on an American TV crime show called Castle, where the main character, Richard Castle, a New York City based mystery writer, followed NYPD detective Kate Beckett, basing this Nikki Heat character on her. These books are an accompaniment to the series, and they’re very funny in places and have little anecdotes and main characters which relate back to the show. 

30 Day Book Challenge Day 3, converting a technophobe and super-duper love for the History of Medicine

Whoa a long title, but I am loving the way my week has gone so far. Lectures and seminars finishing early, meeting new people, sounding like a total dork and long chats about seemingly nothing of any sense with my housemates. Being back at uni has been great.

I am seriously pleased with myself today for three reasons. 

(1) I got the last score back for my History of Medicine module (which was my favourite). It was based on my contribution in seminars, which I was expecting to do reasonably well on due to how much I adore the subject and have random outbursts of head-scratching answers. It paid off, here I am with another 75%, meaning that my entire module averages out at a first. Wooooo to the history of medicine! I’ve now decided that this speciality will probably be very prominent in my academic future, because I love it so much!

(2) My History of Medicine lecturer/seminar leader, who is a technophobe, has bought himself an IPad! Backstory to my taking joy in this is that he used to always wind me up about having an IPad, calling me lazy etc, so I made it my personal challenge to convert him and make him less of a technophobe. Took me 12 weeks but it seems my goal is accomplished. Go Technology go!

(3) In my Victorian Britain seminar, we had to say who we would have loved to meet from the Victorian era. Everyone went for the boring, stereotypical answers, so to be different, I picked Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first female to qualify as a doctor in the traditional sense. Felt like a supreme dork for knowing that, but it cemented in my mind how much I am obsessed with the History of Medicine. 

Onwards to Day 3 of the 30 Day Book Challenge (i.e. Days 11 to 15)

Day 11 – A book you hated:

The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger failed to excite me, even after all of the hype. I just found it very hard to get my head around, and whilst I didn’t hate it per se, I didn’t really enjoy it.

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore:

Love Lessons by J.M.Warwick is a cringeworthy teen romance that I regret ever reading if I’m honest. I just blame it on the hormonal soppy teenager I once was, but seriously, have handed this book over to my 15 year old sister, and I doubt even she couldn’t take it seriously. 

Day 13 – Your favorite writer:

George Orwell in my opinion never fails to impress. Animal Farm was a humourous yet deep and political read which I absolutely adored, and 1984 was definitely one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read.

Day 14 – Book from your favourite writer:

Animal Farm, as I said before, is funny and surrealistic with the whole animals talking and interacting like humans thing, but it’s so much more than that. It’s deep, it’s political and it left me wanting more.

Day 15 – Favorite male character:

Skullion from Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe is a witty, traditionalistic and funny kind of guy. The porter for the college, he has very non politically correct ideas about how the college should be run and favours unconventional practices which are really rather bigoted even in the time period the book is set in, such as dunking homosexual students in the fountain.