Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays - Favourite Heroines

Back again for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Hooray!

This week's topic is a really exciting one, and it is:

Top Ten Heroines from Books

1. Hermione Granger 

This will come as a surprise to no one, but this lady is one of my favourite book heroines! She's bossy, occasionally misguided, and possibly a bit too obsessed with homework, but she's so brave and kind and intelligent. While I also love Emma Watson, the film just doesn't quite capture Hermione in all her flawed splendour, not least because her hair is nowhere near bushy enough!

2. Bridget Jones

One of my dearest friends absolutely loves the Bridget Jones books, just because she finds Bridget so relatable. She always has the best intentions but somehow never follows them through... I think we can all relate to that! Plus she's hilarious. What's not to love?

3. Emma Woodhouse

The eponymous heroine of Jane Austen's Emma kind of snuck up on me as a favourite. I found her completely infuriating while I was reading the book, but she grew on me towards the end, and she's the Jane Austen heroine that has stuck with me the most out of all of them. Sure, Lizzie Bennet may be a lot less annoying, but for me she just wasn't quite as memorable!

4. Miss Marple

While I prefer Hercule Poirot on screen, Miss Marple has got to be my favourite character from Agatha Christie's novels. She seems fluffy and harmless, but her mind is razor sharp and she understands even the darkest facets of human nature. Plus, you can't beat Christie for a cosy mystery.

5. Mary Lennox

This heroine of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of my all-time favourite characters, simply because she undergoes such an incredible transformation during the story. It's so wonderful to watch her grow from a sullen, sallow sulk into a happy and healthy child, completely full of life.

6. Tiffany Aching

While I still think The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is my favourite children's book by Terry Pratchett, the Tiffany Aching books are not far behind. Tiffany is not really that special (apart from, ya know, being magic 'n all), but she's shoved into crazy situations that she has to make sense of, and she just does it in such a real way.

7.  Lyra Belacqua

Lyra is the heroine from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (which I love and desperately want to re-read!) and has always been a firm favourite of mine. In a lot of ways, she's very average and unremarkable, but she is forced to make some brave decisions and we see her grow so much as a character.

8. Roberta Waterbury

The heroine of The Railway Children (affectionately known as Bobbie) is another protagonist on this list who is entirely unremarkable, though in this case she doesn't have any dramatic decisions or daring escapades thrust upon her. Instead, we see her deal with the everyday trials of childhood and her attempts to make sense of the world. We, as the (grown-up) reader, are in the privileged position of seeing and understanding things that Bobbie does not - we see her naivety and flawed judgement, and we love her all the more for it!

9. Jo March

Jo is the protagonist of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and she's definitely the best of the March sisters. She's feisty and opinionated, but also tries her hardest to do the right thing, even though she falls short on many occasions. 

10. Minerva McGonagall

OK, so I know I've already included a Harry Potter character on this list, and I also know McGonagall isn't exactly the heroine of the stories... But since she's my absolute favourite HP character I couldn't not include her! Not only is she fiercely loyal to the school and students, even when this puts her in serious danger, she also captures everything I loved about my favourite teachers at school - very strict but understanding and ruthlessly fair.

So there you have it, a list of my favourite heroines of all time! To be honest, I could add loads more to this list (including pretty much every Jane Austen character), and this list would probably include different people if you asked me on a different day... But oh well! I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

Who are your favourite heroines?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Book-Related Problems

Woops! Didn't mean to leave such a big gap between posts... Though I suppose I've had worse gaps than 10 days (sigh). Anyhoo, it's time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted, as always, by the lovely people over at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is:

Top Ten Book-Related Problems I Have

1. Misplacing books

Seriously, this is a thing... I do this with everything (TV remote, keys, phone, you name it!). I have it in my hand, and the next thing I know I've put it down on the arm of the sofa or in the fridge and I can't for the life of me remember where I put it. I'm always doing this with books I'm reading, and it drives me nuts!

2. Too many books at once

I don't do this all the time, but when I do, I go crazy! Earlier in the academic year I had about eight books on the go at once, and that's just too many for my poor frazzled brain to keep up with! So I'm sticking to one-book-at-a-time until the summer...

3. Heavy books on the go

This is one of the snags of having to take a book with you wherever you go... Sometimes it's just not practical to lug around a giant Harry Potter book in your bag (though that doesn't often stop me :P). Let alone trying to take multiple books with you when you embark on a year abroad... Thank goodness for Kindle!

4. Trying to decide which format to buy

Speaking of which... Kindle books are much more portable, it's true. But physical books are nicer to read, and they often have lovely covers. But you can look up words in ebooks at the click of a button (especially useful with foreign language books!). But physical books look great on the shelf, and you can lend them out much more easily... (Let's not even get started on audiobooks!) Dilemma!

5. Trying to relate to people who don't like Harry Potter

Worse still: "It was OK." *shudders*

6. Wanting to talk about books way too much

Sometimes I just want to gush about a beautiful writing style or rant about the most frustrating characters in the world (I'm looking at you, Wuthering Heights!). Not to mention all the chatting about Harry Potter that I like to do (see this entire post for examples...) But, let's face it, most people just aren't that interested in talking (or hearing!) about books, especially if they've not read them. *sigh* This is why I'm so grateful for the internet!

7. Book hangovers

Related to the previous point. Some people just don't understand how hard it is to emerge from a fictional universe. And it's hard to explain why you're moping around because of an event in a fictional character's life, or because a book has made you look at your life in a new way.

8. Missing your stop on the bus/train

It's happened more than once. And it's embarrassing every time. 

9. Choosing what to read next

The struggle is real.

10. So many books, so little time...

Seriously, there are way too many books in the world. And, let's face it, I won't read more than a tiny fraction of them in my lifetime (much as I would love to!). Sometimes, this realisation gets a little too much.

Hmm, so this was a little more Harry-Potter-heavy than I intended, but hey! I hope you enjoyed this TTT list! 

What are your biggest book-related problems? Let me know in the comments (and feel free to link to your TTT post!)

Saturday, 7 February 2015

I Mustache You Some Questions...

Susie from Girl with her Head in a Book nominated me to do this post, and since my reading-for-pleasure is going rather slowly at the moment (while I simultaneously attempt to do all my not-for-fun seminar reading *cries*), it's a nice way to keep this blog alive while I try and get round to more book reviews. Anyway, negativity aside, let's get cracking!

Four Names People Call Me Other Than My Real Name

1) Rach - I used to not be a fan of this shortened version, but it's grown on me of late. Besides, people use it all the time, so now I just go with the flow!
2) Squach - my flatmate calls me this for some reason.. (It rhymes with Rach, not patch!)
3) Pachy Woo - by my crazy sister (she's crazy :P)
4) Farmer - because why not? I also live with another Rachel who does the same course as me, so I get called this sometimes when people want to distinguish between us.

Four Jobs I've Had

1) Au Pair - never again!
2) Barista - Costa Coffee will always have a special place in my heart :')
3) English teacher in Germany
4) Translator

Four Movies I Have Watched More Than Once

1) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - also, all the other ones.. But I literally know every single line of the first one by heart
2) The Railway Children - So much love for this film
3) Chicken Run - a couple of years ago, my then-housemates and I would quote this film non-stop (and watch it all the time as well!)
4) Oh Mr Porter! - possibly my favourite film of all time. If you haven't heard of it, google it now!

Four Books I Would Recommend

Incredibly difficult choice here.... but:
1) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2) Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
3) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 
(And, of course, Harry Potter, but that goes without saying!)

Four Places I Have Lived

1) Winchester - big up Winch-side yo! (sorry)
2) Bristol
3) Lemgo, Germany 
4) Biarritz, France

Four Places I Have Been

1) Paris - I kind of count this as a place I've lived, but I'd love to go back so much <3
2) The Isle of Skye - I love the Highlands so much and I'm desperate to go back!
3) Venice - <3
4) Muenster, Germany - I'd love to go back here as well!

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now

1) Alabama/Indiana - with my dear American friends <3
2) Paris - see above
3) Germany (anywhere) - just get me where them Germans are!
4) Hogwarts - I can dream...

Four Things I Don't Eat

1) Tomatoes - just no...
2) Most berries - strawberries are fine. Berry-ish berries like blueberries? Not so much.
3) Weird seafood - I did try mussels in France though, so this could change in future...
4) Marmite

Four Of My Favourite Foods

1) Strawberry chocolate - especially those strawberry and cream Lindors... *drools*
2) Chips - or French fries, if you will. Cliché answer but it's the truth <3
3) Courgettes - used to hate them, now can't get enough of them!
4) Pineapple

Four TV Shows That I Watch

1) Gilmore Girls - the perfect show for book lovers <3
2) Merlin - such anachronism, but I love it!
3) Star Trek: The Next Generation - two words: Patrick Stewart
4) The Simpsons/Friends - OK, so I don't actually really watch these shows any more, but my head is so full of quotes from them that I might as well be watching them on repeat in my head!

Four Things I Am Looking Forward To This Year (2015)

1) Graduation! - well, looking forward to and dreading in equal measure
2) Going back to France on camp this summer (I hope!)
3) Possibly going back to Norfolk/Wales/the Highlands
4) ...? I don't know... Maybe I need more plans!

Four Things I'm Always Saying

1) "Good times" - my German friend pointed out how much I say this and now I notice every time... But I can't stop!
2) "Have you read...?" - OK, so I kind of nicked this from Susie, but it's definitely true!
3) "Oh no! I forgot to do *insert piece of work with imminent deadline here*" - seriously, I do this so often it's a little depressing.
4) "Good one, Goyle!" - watch the second Harry Potter film for this gem! I am now incapable of saying "good one" to anyone without putting "Goyle" after it.

Yay! I nominate:

And YOU (if you want :P)!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Here's a review I've been sitting on for a long time! I've been particularly bad lately about just writing down my thoughts in vague note-form and never sculpting them into a proper review. So that's why this is a little later than planned (I actually read this book in November after getting it for my birthday!). 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


Muriel Spark



One-sentence summary:

The 'Brodie set' are the school's selected few, who are taken under the wing of Miss Jean Brodie in her prime and guided from childhood to burgeoning adulthood, discovering all sorts of secrets along the way.


The thing that I particularly enjoyed about this book was the insight into the young girls' minds. They were just SO like my friends and I when we were that age - not exactly the same, but showing so many of the same thought processes. It was especially interesting to read about how they would try to decipher the adult world and the behaviour of the grown-ups around them. They understood more than the adults thought they did, but still got a distorted picture of reality, which is something that rang really true for me.

Another aspect of the girls' characters that was completely familiar to me was their treatment of Mary Macgregor, 'the one who was always blamed'. Their attitude towards each other's failings is rather unforgiving, and their distorted social morality (especially in their often cruel treatment of Mary) is the mark of their childishness. That's not to say that adults can't be cruel, but it's their thoughtlessness that really sets the children apart, something that I've not seen captured in a book in quite the same way before.

It was also interesting to see how the girls' (particularly Sandy's) perception of Miss Brodie and the adult world changes through the course of the book. Throughout, we are given snippets of their adult lives and see them look back on their time as 'Miss Brodie's set', and their relationship to Miss Brodie herself gets more and more complex over time. At the end, Sandy looks back with none of the blind affection or admiration of childhood, but always acknowledges Miss Brodie's role in profoundly shaping her life.

I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book is because it was given to me by my mum, and every moment just reminded me of her. It wasn't necessarily that the characters were anything like her (though she did grow up and go to school in Edinburgh, which is where the book is set). It was more the fact that I could just imagine it being the sort of book she would like - focussing on particular aspects of characters and their lives rather than being plot-heavy, and profoundly capturing the human side of a time period that is long in the past.

Final thoughts:

I definitely enjoyed this book, though it's hard for me to separate the book's actual merits from my sentimental feelings about it. There certainly were merits - the portrayal of children really rang true for me, and the writing completely captures the era it was written. But I'd definitely be interested to hear someone else's thoughts on it so I can clarify my own!

Have you read/want to read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? What do you think of my review? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

2015 Reading Challenge!

I first saw this post on The Broke and the Bookish the other day, but when I saw that Laura from Bibliophile at Best had also posted the challenge, temptation won out!

I know I said that my only reading challenge would be to read more diversely and Travel the World in Books... But I just can't resist a good challenge post! I probably won't stick to this at all, but who knows? It could be an interesting way to guide my reading a little this year. And, if nothing else, it will be interesting to look back on at the end of the year and see how many of the challenges I managed to do. So, without further ado, let's get cracking!

1. A book with more than 500 pagesA Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Yes, I know, I know! I missed this bandwagon completely! But I'm definitely excited to read this in the coming year :D

2. A classic romance: ... Not a clue! What exactly counts as a classic romance?

3. A book that became a movie: I got The Princess Bride by William Goldman for Christmas, and I'm excited to dive in. Either that or Stardust by Neil Gaiman, which might be better as I've actually seen the film for that one (though I don't own the book) :P

4. A book published this year: I've heard that Kazuo Ishiguro is releasing a new book, The Buried Giant, in 2015 after 10 years of no new releases. I didn't love Never Let Me Go, which is the only book of his that I've read, but I'm still interested in him as a writer and keen to pick up his new release.

5. A book with a number in the titleReady Player One by Ernest Cline - I almost bought this the other day actually, but I'm still undecided whether I'll try and borrow it from library instead. I'll probably cave and buy it though! I want to get more into sci-fi this year, and the premise of this book sounds great :D

6. A book written by someone under 30Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - I bought this book when visiting my brother in Canterbury, and have been excited to get to it ever since.

7. A book with non-human characters: Not a clue! All I can think of is Animal Farm but I've already read that and don't envisage a re-read in the near future.. Suggestions welcome!

8. A funny book: Three Men on a Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men in a Boat had me in stitches so I can't wait to read more of Jerome's writing!

9. A book by a female author: Er... That covers a lot of books! 

10.  A mystery or thriller: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - This might be her most famous Poirot novel (or even her most famous novel full stop!) so I should really get round to reading it!

11. A book with a one word title: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - I recently bought this and have actually already read it. Review coming soon! (Spoiler alert: I loved it!)

12. A book with short stories: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

13. A book set in a different country: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (set in Iceland) - I could have picked any number of books that I want to read for my Travel the World in Books challenge, but this is the one that's right at the top of my TBR pile.

14. A non-fiction book: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos. I've had this on my shelf for a while and I'd really love to finish it this year.

15. A popular author's first book: There are plenty of answers for this too! I could go with The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, or White Teeth by Zadie Smith, or The Joy Luck Club  by Amy Tan, or any number of others to be honest!

16. A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet: Howard's End by E.M. Forster. Another book from my Christmas Book Haul that I can't wait to get to. I just love Forster's subtlety and ability to pinpoint humanity's strangeness.

17. A book a friend recommended: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - my flatmate Holly recommended this to me as soon as I showed an interest in Gaiman and I think it's one of her favourite books.

18. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel: Lately I've been really interested in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which won the Pulitzer in 2005. Hopefully I can get hold of a copy sometime this year.

19. A book based on a true story: Erm... Probably a memoir of some description. Suggestions welcome!

20. A book at the bottom of your TBR list: So I'm guessing this means a book that I want to read but that isn't a top priority... And I really don't know what to put here!

21. A book your mom loves: Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall by Spike Milligan. I've heard my mum go on about this book so many times! It's a humorous war memoir, and my mum really loves it! She's mentioned it so much that I just have to read it now..

22. A book that scares you: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - seriously, that books is enormous and seriously intimidating! But I've been lent it by a friend so I should get to it ASAP. Or if you want a book with an actual scary plot, I have the ebook of Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (the sequel to The Shining).

23. A book more than a 100 years old: The Newcomes by William Makepeace Thackeray. 

24. A book based entirely on its cover: This one:

I mentioned it in my beautiful book spines post. Plus it's been sitting on my shelf for a while.

25. A book you were supposed to read in school and didn't: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or possibly Great Expectations by Dickens. I started both of these but never made it through them... It wasn't that I wasn't enjoying them, I was just a lazy reader in school! 

26. A memoir: I have My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell on my shelf, and it's been sitting there being ignored for years! It's about time I showed it some love.

27. A book with antonyms in the title: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I've heard great things about it!

28. A book you can finish in a day: The Giver by Lois Lowry - since this book is for younger readers, it's bound to be a lot quicker to read. I can't wait to get to it though!

29.  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to go: A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway - this book is set in Paris where I wanted to go ever since I was a child. I've already been a few times, but I don't think I'd ever get bored of going back!

30. A book published the year you were born: I'm going to cheat a little and go with Good Omens  by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which was actually published in 1990 (the year before I was born), but it was re-released by a different publisher in 1991 and that's the edition my mum has at home.. That's as close as I could get (with a book that I actually wanted to read)!

31. A book with bad reviews: Whether I like it or not, I tend to let reviews of a book really influence my decision to read it or not... So I probably won't be reading any books with bad reviews this year! But maybe I'll discover after reading a book that it had bad reviews... Who knows!?

32. A Trilogy: Hmmm... I don't really read a lot of series or trilogies so I'm not sure about this one. I'd love to re-read His Dark Materials this year, as I haven't read the sequels in such a long time!

33. A book from your childhood: I would love to re-read The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. This was one of my all time favourite books as a child, and probably still is. I lent it out to a friend though, and now she's moved away so I'll probably never see it again... Time to invest in a new copy, methinks!

34. A book with a love triangle: Hmm.. not too keen on romances so don't think I'm going to be doing this one!

35. A book set in the future: I might try and get round to reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - I've heard lots of things about it but not sure it's the kind of thing I would like... We'll see I suppose!

36. A book set in high school: I'm going to go with The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I don't even know if it is actually set in high school, but Holden Caulfield is a teenager, right?

37. A book with a color in the titleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker - I know I'm going to really enjoy this book so I'm excited to get to it (hopefully) this year.

38. A book that made you cry: Probably going to go with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling for this one. Let's be honest, I'll probably re-read all the Harry Potter books this summer anyway!

39. A book with magic: Harry Potter notwithstanding, I would like to pick up The Spirit War and Spirit's End by Rachel Aaron, which is a fantasy series I'm keen to finish. I read the first three books early last year but managed to buy an ebook omnibus with only those three in, and never got round to buying the final two. It will happen this year!

40. A graphic novelSeconds by Brian Lee O'Maley - I've heard a few people rave about this, so I'd definitely love to get my hands on it this year, though I don't know if I'll buy it... I might potentially see if I can get it from the library.

41. A book by an author you've never read before: There are so many I could put on here! Any suggestions of authors I really have to read???

42.  A book you own but never read: For this, I'm going to go with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, mostly because I've had this for YEARS but never read it, and it's sure to be a quick read!

43. A book that takes place in your hometown: Winchester, UK... Not that many books are set here I would imagine, but if you have any suggestions let me know!

44. A book that was originally written in another language: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

45. A book set during Christmas: But it's only just February..!

46. A book by an author who had your same initials: Not a clue! Can't find one that I like the look of so I'm just going to give this question a miss.

47. A play: I'd love to read something by Shakespeare this year! I haven't read any since I was at school and I'd love to read some properly for myself. Maybe A Midsummer Night's Dream...

48.  A banned book: Hmmm... another tricky one! I don't actually think reading banned books for the sake of it is that beneficial (though I disagree in a general way with censorship of literature). I don't really fancy reading Mein Kampf for example...! I might pick up Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell, or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which were both banned at one point.

49. A book based on or turned into a tv show: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth - I recently heard that the TV show was based on a book (I didn't realise!), and though I've never watched the show, it sounds so interesting!

50.  A book you started but never finished: Villette by Charlotte Bronte! As I mentioned in my post on Tuesday, I started it in September and ran out of steam... But I loved what I read so far!


Phew! That's a lot of books! I probably won't get round to reading all of these this year, and I'm certainly not going to put any pressure on myself.  But it'll be interesting to see how many of these I do get to.

How about you? What books are you planning to read this year that fit into these categories? Do you have any suggestions for my list? Let me know in the comments!
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