Friday, 29 May 2015

Armchair BEA day 3 - Character Chatter

Hi folks! Welcome to day 3 of Armchair BEA! (Don't know what that is? Click here for deets)

Today I'm focussing on all things character-related. Who are my favourite characters? And my least favourite? Which characters do I love to hate? What makes a good character? What are some character clichés I hate to see? Read on and I shall tell all.

In a recent post about my most loved bookish traits, I mentioned that I love flawed characters. One of the best examples of this, in my view, is Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma. I have such fond memories of this book, partly because I was living and working in France at the time that I was reading it, and would email my mum regularly with updates on what I thought of the book. I remember complaining about how annoying Emma was and how I found all her decisions really frustrating, and my mum reasoning with me that that was the whole point. Now, over a year later, Emma is one of my all-time favourite Jane Austen characters, and definitely the most memorable! She is so infuriating, but she is also unfailingly earnest and owns all of her stupid mistakes. I definitely think that flaws give characters room to grow, and they just feel a bit flat and unrealistic without them.


Another of my absolute favourite flawed characters is Bertie Wooster from P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series. He's another character who makes all the wrong decisions and gets into some ridiculous situations, but you can't help loving him in spite of (and sometimes because of) it all. That doesn't stop me wanting to tear my hair out at some of his more frustrating antics though!


So we've had talked about characters I love despite their flaws, but what about characters that I just downright hate? Is that necessarily a bad thing?

In a word: no. I read a really interesting discussion post recently by the ladies at The Socratic Salon, in which they discuss whether disliking a character makes them dislike a book. It's really worth the read, and definitely check out the comments at the bottom, as there are some really insightful and interesting ones. Their arguments basically boil down to the author's intentions and their skill. If an author means for you to love a character but you really hate them, or if you dislike a character because they don't feel lifelike to you, then that's potentially a reason to dislike a book. But, to me, the real question is, do the characters feel real? Could I believe that a real person might do this? If yes, I'll probably still enjoy the book.

My discussion post on Wuthering Heights also brought up the idea of loving a book when you hate the characters. Emily Bronte's famous novel is definitely a prime example of that (though I know plenty of people who hate it!), because I absolutely hated pretty much all of the characters, but ended up loving the book. Admittedly, I didn't like it very much the first time I read it precisely because the characters were so awful, but on re-reading it as an adult I was able to look past that much more.

Creating characters that readers love to hate is, in some ways, quite another skill, and is one that can really pay off in terms of making a book really memorable. For me, one of the absolute best love-to-hate characters is Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter books. I just know that in real life he would be absolutely insufferable, but on paper I find him so entertaining. He's the perfect balance of completely infuriating and completely oblivious, leading to some pretty hilarious scenes in that book. Plus there's the fact that J.K. based him on a real person... I can almost see her rubbing her hands with glee while she was writing him.


Finally, are there any character traits that really do spoil a book for me?

As I mentioned before, finding a character annoying, or even downright hating them, is not enough to ruin a reading experience for me. What really matters is whether the characters are fleshed-out and seem like real people. One-dimensional characters or ones that feel too clichéd, however, are capable of spoiling a book for me, or at least marring my enjoyment of it. Badass heroines who do nothing but kick butt in knee-high boots might be OK for some, but most of the time I find them lacking complexity. Similarly, characters that are too perfect just annoy me (I'm looking at you Sara from A Little Princess! Give me Mary Lennox any day).

What are some of your favourite/least favourite characters from books? What traits do you love/hate in your characters? Can you recommend me any authors who are particularly great at characterisation? 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Exciting Announcement: Armchair BEA!

So I've decided (rather belatedly, since it starts today...) that I'm going to be participating in Armchair BEA. I've heard and read people talking about Book Expo America for a while, but sadly since I live in little old Britain and have no money, it wasn't something I ever thought I'd be able to get involved in.

But then I stumbled across a link to Armchair BEA on someone's blog (I've totally forgotten where, but if I manage to find it I'll link it in this post!), and made a spur-of-the-moment decision to participate. This might not be the best idea since I had a horrific exam this morning and the one tomorrow is set to be even worse, but hey, I've gotta do something to cheer myself up!

Fab logo designed by Amber

Apart from sounding like a lot of fun, this just seems like such a great way to get to know other bloggers and make friends as well as get a whole load of book recommendations. What's not to love?!

Today's post is supposed to be an introductory one, so I've chosen five questions from their list to introduce myself to the ABEA communtiy. Here we go!

Who are you and where are you from?

My name's Rachel and I come from Winchester in the south of England, but I currently live in Bristol.

How long have you been blogging and how did you get into blogging?

I've been book blogging on this site for nearly a year now, but I'd been writing a Year Abroad travel blog for a year before that, and had been experimenting with other blog ideas since about 2009. I was originally inspired to start sharing book reviews when I stumbled across Black, White & Read Books, which is a blog documenting one woman's attempt to read every book mentioned in the TV series Gilmore Girls. I thought it was so inspired, I just had to give book blogging a go.

What is your favourite genre and why?

I really enjoy classics, specifically older classics. I love reading through the eyes of someone from a different time and learning about their different attitudes and assumptions. Lately, though, I've started reading more modern classics and books from other cultures. I have also developed a taste for sci-fi in the last few weeks, which is something I'm also very OK with.

What book are you reading right now?

This is actually two books (and more, if you count the ones I'm in the middle of but haven't picked up in a while!), though one is very very tiny, so probably doesn't really count as a book. The first one is A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, which I'm thoroughly enjoying but sadly can't spend as much time on as I would like (stupid exams!), and the second is The Beautifull Cassandra, which is one of the penguin little black classics featuring early writings by Jane Austen. I'm really looking forward to reviewing it soon because it is hilarious!

What are you most looking forward to reading this summer?

I'm super excited to finally read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I know! Isn't it shameful that I haven't read it already??), mostly because everyone seems to be talking about it at the moment and I'm looking forward to getting involved with some juicy bookchats.

And to round it all off, here's a couple of piccies of my bookshelves. Enjoy :)

Hope you enjoyed #ABEAShelfies! Except they don't have me in them so they're actually just pictures of my bookshelves. I have a horrible cold right now and don't relish the idea of putting my face on the internet! I hope you understand :P

Let me know in the comments if you're participating too! Or just to say hi, I'm not fussy :)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays - Books for the Beach

Today's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted, as always, by The Broke and the Bookish) is a list of books that I plan to have in my beach bag this summer. Since I'm not sure I will actually go to the beach all that much this year (if at all), this is probably going to be a purely speculative list. I've decided to choose a mixture of books I've read already and books I'd like to get to that I think would make good summery reads. 

So anyway, let's get on with the list, shall we?

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Or any Jane Austen book really! This is possibly my favourite of her novels I've read so far (which is all of them apart from Mansfield Park), and I think it would make a great beach read. It's really witty and has a light-hearted feel to it, but there is also so much substance and the writing is wonderful. 

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Light, fun, really inventive, hilarious, not to mention completely insane! This is probably one of my favourite books of all time and I think it would be a perfect summer read, though to be honest I could read it any time of year!

3. Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

This book has such a wonderful atmosphere and the description of the scenery is so vivid. It's just perfect for inspiring you to get outdoors and into the countryside. 

4. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

I think I mainly associate this book with this time of year because I read it in the summer of my first year at uni, in those glorious days when exams were over but I hadn't yet re-started at my minimum-wage job. But the Italian setting is also very fitting (it's always summer in Italy, right?), and the subtle portrayal of daily human interaction, though not exactly always a barrel of laughs, seems strangely appropriate to this time of year. 

5. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

Apart from being set during the summer and featuring a (sort of) summer holiday, this book is absolutely hilarious. I'm talking side-splitting, laugh-out-loud funny. It'll make you want to annoy your family/friends/significant other by reading bits out while they try and sunbathe in peace. Plus the way it's structured means you can dip in and out whenever the mood takes you. Perfect for beach reading!

6. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

Now we move onto the portion of this list made up of books I haven't read yet. I've heard mixed things about this book and I'm sure there are better murder mysteries out there. But I do still want to give it a try, and from what I gather the style isn't anything too taxing. 

7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I think I associate Marquez's books with summer simply because they are set in South America where it's hot... But they are also a mixture of human passions and magical realism, which I think is also fitting. Last year I read One Hundred Years of Solitude on the beach, so maybe this year it's time to give this one a go.

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This book is really short so I feel like it would make a great beach read. Plus I just really really want to read it. It's been sitting on my shelf for ages and I am slightly embarrassed that I haven't read it already. Into the beach bag it goes!

9. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

I read and really enjoyed the first Bridget Jones book last summer, and I'd like to give the sequel a read this year. It's another one I imagine would be easy to dip in and out of. Besides, Fielding's writing style is so hilarious and sarcastic. Perfect for an easy-going beach read.

10. ?????

My brain is failing me. Any suggestions of great beach reads??? 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Burial Rites

So I've been sitting on this review for what feels like forever, and although my thoughts on it are still not quite fully-fledged, I figure it's finally time to send this review out into the world so I can stop thinking about it and move on with my life. 

If, like me, you saw a lot of 2014 wrap-up blog posts or YouTube videos at the start of this year, you may well have spotted Burial Rites by Hannah Kent among lots of people's favourites. That was the case for me, and it left me itching to find out more about what was making this book so popular. So I asked my brother to get if for me for Christmas, and started reading it as soon as I got the chance! (I actually read this in January... Now you see how behind I am with my reviews! Woops.)

This book centres around that last person to receive the death penalty in Iceland, a woman named Agnes Magnusdottir who was convicted of murder. The story follows her being taken to stay with a rural farming family as she awaits her execution. One of the absolute best aspects of the story for me was how well it had all been researched, yet somehow none of the details felt shoe-horned in. There was a very authentic feel to all the descriptions of the family's daily life and their farm, etc. I also loved the fleeting glances into the lives of the family and of the priest who comes to help Agnes prepare for death; these were glimpses into the mother of the family's sickness and her slow change of heart, the relationship between the two daughters, and the mind of the young priest Tóti, which did necessarily paint a full picture or give any closure on any of their stories.

There was a certain atmosphere of mystery surrounding the story of the murder, and the details were released agonisingly slowly. For the most part, the story succeeded in holding my interest, and I was left wondering if Agnes really had committed the murder or not. Kent did a wonderful job of creating just the right amount of moral ambiguity, and that mingled with the general haunting atmosphere of the Icelandic landscape made for some quite tense and thrilling moments.

But there were also points where I found myself getting annoyed at the writing style. Most of the descriptions were, in my opinion, much too florid and wordy, and should have been subjected to the editor's red pen. At times, the narrative switched to first person and sometimes to the present tense, which, for me, just felt quite jarring (particularly the tense-switch), and didn't add anything to the story. I'm disappointed to have found this narrative 'device' in quite a few books lately (I use inverted commas because I believe it is only rarely used to any significant effect). Maybe some people like it, but it just gets on my nerves!

To sum up, my thoughts on this book are a little mixed. I certainly enjoyed it for the most part, and was very impressed by some aspects. But somehow I couldn't help feeling just a teensy bit disappointed. I think it was probably the hype that did it (not entirely the book's fault!), but I was really expecting Great Things from this book, and unfortunately they just didn't quite materialise. Overall, though, it's definitely worth a read, particularly if you have no special aversion to gratuitous tense-switching and over-indulgent description, because those really were my only quibbles with the book. Apart from those, it was a quietly confident success in my eyes.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Bookish Buzzwords or Favourite Qualities in a Book

Hey everyone! It seems now I've dipped my toe back into the blogosphere I just can't stay away, so here's another post (only two days after the last one!? *cue general astonishment*). As you can see from the title, this will be a Top Ten Tuesday post (a weekly meme hosted, as always, by The Broke and the Bookish), and this week we have a free choice of topic.

I've seen a few BookTube videos lately called 'Bookish Buzzwords', in which people talk about the words used to describe books that make them immediately want to read them. (Sorry if that's a confusing way of putting it... I blame revision for my lack of eloquence! :P) Since I can't think of that many words that do that for me, I've also decided to include my favourite qualities in a book, that will normally make me enjoy a book more.

So yes, waffly introductions aside, let's get to it!

1. Time travel

This is probably the biggest buzzword for me. If a book or film has time travel in it, it automatically makes me want to read it that little bit more (or a lot more). This also works for films and TV shows. I just think it's really cool and I love how different authors tackle the subject in different ways. Some take it really seriously and are really careful about the consequences of the characters' actions, while some just have them do whatever the heck they want (I'm looking at you Back to the Future)! 

2. Food

This is a pretty big one too! The first book I remember reading where I the setting and descriptions really came alive for me was The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, and that was 99.9% because there were so many descriptions of cakes. Seriously, delicious food descriptions are a winner for me every time. I'm currently reading the Song of Ice and Fire series, and though lots of the food in those books is a little weird, I often find myself drooling over it anyway. 

3. Talking animals/animal friends

This one probably applies more to past-me's tastes, but it's still up there with my top bookish tropes. Think the daemons from His Dark Materials, think Hedwig from Harry Potter, think the direwolves from ASOIAF... Pre-teen me (and adult me!) would eat that stuff up!

4. Books that make me cry

Paradoxically, I tend to try and avoid books I think will make me sad, but if a book has the power to make me well up then it normally sticks in my memory. I guess this is kind of the opposite of a bookish buzzword, as books described as tear-jerkers don't tend to appeal to me before I read them... But they're the ones I end up remembering the longest.

5. Flawed characters

I don't necessarily mean characters I don't like (though sometimes it does!), but if a character is just too perfect it doesn't feel real. To me, a character who is totally perfect and has their life together is so much less interesting than a character who struggles with their flaws.

6. Mystery

While I really like straight-up murder mysteries as a genre, I also love when books in other genres have mystery elements too. It doesn't have to be a murder! Any kind of puzzle-solving, slow-revealing-of-clues scenario is really interesting to me, and if the reveal is done well it can make a book stick in my head for years to come.

7. Magical realism

Particularly if it's done well, this can be a really fascinating!

8. Something sinister

It's difficult to put my finger on exactly what I mean by this, and it's another thing that I don't necessarily seek out from my books, but books just tend to make a stronger impression on me if they have a dark and sinister undertone to them. One of my favourite childhood books The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett is a perfect example of this. It's for young readers so it's not gory or graphic, and yet it still has this sinister atmosphere of threat that makes the book really powerful.

9. Inventiveness

Of course, all creative writing is inventive, and some genres lend themselves more readily to inventiveness than others. But there is just something so amazing about reading a book full of ideas that feel completely new. 

10. Humour done right

Making me laugh is a sure way for a book to make me re-read it again and again. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Three Men in a Boat and anything by P.G. Wodehouse are winners for me.

So there you have it! My Top Ten Tuesday list for this week :) Let me know what your bookish buzzwords/favourite book qualities are in the comments below. And be sure to link to your TTT post if you did one :) Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Life Update: Finals, Frisbee and Free Books (sort of)!

So once again there has been rather a lot of deafening silence on the ol' blog as of late... I apologise for leaving you in the lurch without any explanation. The boring but true reason is that I have been completely snowed under with exam stress, and have barely been reading anything let alone finding time/headspace to write blog posts. But that doesn't mean nothing exciting has been happening in my life! Here's just a quicky update on what's been going down lately:


Oh finals. How I loathe you. Because studying languages is extra fun, they like to set us ALL the exams. So far I've had 3, and I still have 9 more to do over the next 3 weeks. The joys. I opted out of doing a dissertation though, so at least I've spared myself that particular delight.


This is a rather more fun piece of news! I may or may not have mentioned on this blog (I have a feeling I wrote about it in an 'About Me' section that never fully materialised.. Something else to work on this summer after the dreaded exams are over), but I took up Ultimate Frisbee this year. It's super good exercise and loads of fun, and I've met so many amazing people! My only regret is that I never discovered it until now! In the last few weeks, I've become extra obsessed (could be exam avoidance perhaps..?), and have played in a couple of super fun tournaments. If you ever get the chance to give Ultimate a try, definitely go for it! Best decision I've made all year! :D (You can probably gauge my enthusiasm levels from the number of exclamation marks in this paragraph...!)

See if you can spot me (hint: I'm upside down)

Free Books (sort of)

This news is more blog-related, and combines success with utter failure. A couple of my language buddies and I managed to get second prize in a department pub quiz and won ourselves Amazon vouchers (success!). I then managed to buy books online to double the value of the vouchers (failure), somehow not even apply the discount until after my purchase (double failure), and then accidentally get them to deliver to my parents' address (triple failure). Serves me right for trying to do fun stuff before exams are over. Oh well! It means I still actually have the voucher credited to my account (HELLO more 'free' books).

Happy quiz (almost) winners

So that's pretty much it for now! Apologies if you don't hear anything from me for the next 3 weeks... See you on the other side (if I survive...). Lots of love to all those of you who have stuck around and still want to read what I write despite the long periods of silence! You guys rock :)
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