Monthly Roundup – July 2017

July. Lovely July. Full of sun and books, two of my favourite things. As I did a lot of reading this month, I won’t waste any more time and just get into what all these books were!

I began the month by reading books two through six of The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore. As I have discussed the series in more detail in a previous blog post, I won’t mention much here, just that I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience. The plot was great, the characters were great (mainly) and I really enjoyed the immersion of reading all of the books back to back. As this was so fun, I am inspired to try this approach again i.e. taking a series that I started reading as the novels were released but lost track of and reading them, if not back to back, then at least close enough together to keep the storyline fresh in my mind. A series that I might try this with is the Wereworld series by Curtis Jobling. I read three of this series (I think there are six in total) as they were released and can’t remember much, only some vague recollection of humans turning into animals or being part animal or something! Mainly though, I remember really enjoying the books so hopefully I will get around to reading the whole series sometime soon.

After finishing the Lorien Legacies I decided to read Down Under by Bill Bryson that my Dad bought me, which is basically a travel book about Australia. I will admit that having been in the alien, sci-fi, YA world of the Lorien Legacies for six straight novels, I did struggle at the beginning to get into this book. Once I did get into it, though, I found it really funny and entertaining, much like the first Bill Bryson book I read a couple of months ago (The Road to Little Dribbling). This one was a little different though as The Road to Little Dribbling is about the UK so I found it much easier to visualise what Bryson was talking about, whereas Down Under took  some Googling and imagination! Despite this it was a good, fun read which has even made me want to visist Australia myself one day.

When I finished Down Under I went to the library for the first time in ages! I was actually looking for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood because I have been meaning to read it for months but as they didn’t have it I chose a YA called We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen instead. This book was narrated by two teenagers who end up living together because the mum of one and dad of the other are in a relationship. It was another book that I struggled to get into at the beginning, I think perhaps because the main characters were quite a lot younger than me, in their early to mid teens, while I have hit twenty now. But, as the novel went on I found it a really sweet read that dealt with a lot of important and timely topics like bullying, homophobia and grief.

Having finished We are All Made of Molecules, I wanted quite a quick read because I had ordered The Handmaid’s Tale to the library and wanted to be able to start it as soon as it arrived. In this vein, then, I picked up Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote which follows Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn in the film), a whimsical socialite, around New York in the 1940’s. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really enjoy this read; I didn’t really like any of the characters, I wasn’t that bothered about the plot and the whole time I was reading it I just sort of felt like I was missing something. Maybe it was because this was the first novel I had read in quite a while that was just a bit meh, but this was not one of my favourite reads this month!

As Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a short book it actually only took me a couple of hours to read and so The Handmaid’s Tale was not ready for me yet. While I waited, then, I decided to get a headstart for University in September and read one of my module books, namely the Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe, which is for my Visions of Past and Future in Children’s Literature module. Historically, a group of Romans called the Ninth Legion disappeared, along with their standard, the titular Eagle, in Northern Britain. What happened to them is a mystery and this is Sutcliffe’s take on it. I had actually already read this book once before, a few years ago, just after watching the flm starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell. When I read it that time I found it a little bit boring, I think because the film has a lot more action, or at least action sequences, which I had been expecting to encounter in the book too. This time, though, taking the book on it’s own, I really enjoyed it. One thing I especially enjoyed both times was the bromance between the two main characters, Marcus, a Roman and Esca, a Briton which is really sweet. Once I had finished The Eagle of the Ninth, I was pleased to hear that the Handmaid’s Tale was ready for me.

When I had ordered The Handmaid’s Tale at the library one of the librarians overheard and had told me that everyone had to read The Handmaid’s Tale at least once in their life. Having fulfilled my quota, I have to agree. Just to give a really basic summary, it is narrated by Offred, the titular handmaiden, negotiating the republic of Gilead (which was once the United States). The handmaidens are a group of women who each belong to a family (Offred literally means of Fred) for the sole purpose of having the male’s children. Not only is the novel completely timely despite having been written in 1985 (I’m not sure there will come a time when it isn’t timely), but the narrative voice is stunning, giving incredibly vivid descriptions of her world in Gilead, even while occasionally casting it’s own reliability into doubt. It is truly an amazing and important novel and I would urge anyone to give it a go.

My final read this month was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams which follows a man called Arthur Dent who survives the destruction of planet earth. I mainly read this novel because it was recommended to me and to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. I have mentioned in a previous blog post that I am not the biggest sci-fi fan and, as the title suggests, this novel is quite sci-fi. It also struck me as a novel that I would perhaps like to read aloud or read with others because it’s actually a really clever, witty and funny book and because of this, at time, it felt strange to be reading it quietly to myself. Even so, I’m glad I read this novel as it is one I have heard a lot about and always thought about reading. To have done so feels like a nice accomplishment.

Moving into August, I am now reading Shakespeare by Bill Bryson and so far I have mixed feelings towards it. On the one hand, it feels like a lot of words basically saying that we know nothing for certain about Shakespeare. On the other hand, though, as well as discussing Shakespeare, there is a lot about London and England in the time of Shakespeare and I find these sections really interesting and enjoyable, especially when I drop on something I remember studying in my History A-Level.

Top Pick:

Even though I really enjoyed reading The Lorien Legacies, it has to be The Handmaid’s Tale, both an amazing and important novel.

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So there we have it, July done and dusted. Going forward, I hope to finish Shakespeare soon,as it is only short, and then who knows what the Summer days of August will hold? Something good I hope!

 

 

Some Thoughts on The Lorien Legacies

Last month I started one of my summer TBR projects, namely finishing the Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore that I started a few years ago. I had already read the first four in the series as they came out but decided that I wanted to reread these and then move onto the rest. A few weeks later I have finished the series and am really glad that I decided I wanted to do this. I have really enjoyed reading the series both in terms of plot and character but, additionally, I have enjoyed the experience of reading a whole series back to back; something I am pretty sure I have not done before! A few thoughts on all of that in a moment but first a short summary of the series:

  • It follows members of an alien race from a planet called Lorien
  • These aliens are part of a group called the Garde who were sent to Earth from Lorien when it was attacked by another alien race called Mogadorians
  • The Garde have powers (including invisibility and healing) called Legacies
  • As the series progressess they go from trying to protect themselves to trying to protect Earth from the Mogodorians and their leader Setrakus Ra

Of course there is a lot more to the series than this and I feel like I am not even doing the parts I have described justice, but it is a very interesting and exciting series with a lot of interesting developments and surprises!

So, I would definitely categorise this series as sci-fi which is interesting because sci-fi is not a genre I have ever been particularly interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it and I like to think I will always give a book a go no matter the genre, sci-fi is just not one I am naturally drawn to. Despite this fact, I really enjoyed this series and I think there are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the books build up gradually to the more sci-fi elements. Take, for example, the first novel in the series. We know from the beginning that the narrator is an alien being hunted by other aliens and he is experiencing gaining powers for the first time. But, in addition to that, he is dealing with the issues of normal teenagers such as living in a small town, fitting in at school and first love which does make it relatable. It is not until the fifth novel in the series that we get a glimpse of space and even then it is only momentary before we return to Earth. I was pleased with this development because I’m not sure I would have been as invested had the action shifted to another planet. Setting it on Earth made the stakes higher and made it seem more real and thus more exciting!

Secondly, I find the series to be very character driven. The narration of the novels actually demonstrates this quite well. The first novel in the series I Am Number Four is narrated entirely by the titular number four or John Smith as he is known. Then, in the second novel, narration is split between John and another member of the Garde, Marina. The following books contain narration from other characters too including John’s human best friend, Sam, and Six, another member of the Garde. This type of first person narration really gives an insight into lots of characters’ thoughts, feelings and motives and makes it easy for you to root for all of the protagonists.

In this vein, I would also say that I don’t think I have read a series where I genuinally liked so many of the characters! My favourite character was continuously changing from Sam to Nine (another one of the Garde) to Adam (a sympathetic Mogadorian) although ultimately I think my favourite character has to be Marina!

As well as helping you get to know the characters better, the switching narration also genuinally made the books unputdownable. Narration normally switches between chapters and excitingly (although sometimes infuriatingly!) most of these chapters end on mini cliff hangers. Of course, this could be annoying if you had to read through a boring chapter just to get to something interesting (I had this problem reading Game of Thrones) except I found all of the different character perspectives and situations they were in interesting, so it was actually a really enjoyable experience!

Of course I didn’t enjoy everything (across seven books I think that would be a minor miracle!). First, I was a bit disappointed with the character of Mark. In the first novel Mark is a stereotypical jock bully seen in many YA novels. Despite this, in subsequent novels he has a really cool character ark where he becomes a really interesting character and, based on this, without giving away any spoilers, I was really disappointed with how his story ended.

Secondly, I found the main couple in the series, John and Sarah, quite infuriating. I love them as individual characters but just felt that, for me personally, I was being told a lot why they were such a great couple but didn’t quite get it myself. Also (as I touched on in my June roundup) relationships got a bit complicated for a while. Take, for example a line from the second novel, The Power of Six where Six says:

‘You like me and Sarah. I like you and Sam.’

This is the kind of drama I am really not interested in. Luckily it sorted itself out pretty quickly so I was able to get back to enjoying the story.

Lastly, without spoiling any surprises, I was really upset about a particular character death. This, though, is not something I dislike about the series as it is actually quite refreshing to have such real stakes in this type of series, where there is the very real possibility of central characters dying and staying dead (which bizzarly has become quite a big issue in entertainment today!).

In terms of reading the majority of the books back to back, it was a really cool experience that left me hugely invested in the series (when I finished the last one I wasn’t massively sure what to do with myself to be honest!). On the topic of the last novel, I will just mention that I was very pleased with it. I love book endings anyway (especially last sentences) and I was very happy that the Lorien Legacies had a great ending after seven books worth of investment.

So there we have it, The Lorien Legacies done and dusted and all I will say now is that I thoroughly enjoyed them!

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Monthly Roundup – June 2017

Like May before it, June has been a pretty weird month for me. Firstly, it was my first  full month without any uni commitments ala exams, coursework, lectures .etc. which was lovely, but did mean that all of my term time fatigue crashed down on me in the first few weeks. Then, just as I got over my tiredness I did a massively enjoyable but very tiring week of work experience in a local high school. June has therefore been a bit of a rollercoaster and has felt hugely long!

Despite this, I got a few books under my belt this month including some off my summer TBR pile which is fab!

Even though I started The Book Thief last month, the first book I finished this month was a book called Alice in Brexitland by Leavis Carroll. I should point out now that I don’t normally read two books at once but I was inspired by the UK general election to read this piece of political satire and I knew I could read it in a couple of hours at most. To be honest, I wasn’t hugly fond of this read. Although I’m pleased I tried a new genre I feel this one is just not for me. Additionally, I read this book in the days leading up to the election which made the calling of the EU referendum seem a little like old-news (I wouldn’t suggest reading political satire about one major event in the lead up to another!). Even so, it was interesting to see how literature can be used in different fields such as politics.  My inner A-level History student also made an appearence while I read this book as I was thinking back to when we had to analyse sources such as political cartoons and imagining children in the future doing the same with this text which was an interesting way to look at it!

Next, I finished The Book Thief. I won’t say much about it here as I have already posted a more detailed discussion of it. All I will say is that I loved it as much, if not more, than I did the first time I read it.

After The Book Thief I decided to move on to another book from my summer TBR list in the form of I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. This novel is the first in a series about a group of aliens who flee from their home planet after it is destroyed by another alien race and come to earth. There are nine of these aliens and they are supposedly the saviours of their home planet but they are being hunted by the other race (I’m not sure I’m selling this wonderfully; it’s actually a really interesting concept and doesn’t come across as nearly half as complicated as I’m making it seem!). Anyway, I found this book a little difficult to get into at the beginning, firstly because I had just read The Book Thief where it feels as if practically every sentence means something and leaves you with something to consider, so it is strange going back to that not necessarily being the case. Secondly, this is the first fantasy book I have read in a good long while so that took a bit of getting used to too. Despite this, as I kept reading I got more and more into it and was flying through by the end. I also forgot since my first reading, how much I like the character of Sam who is the human best friend of one of the aliens (the titular number four). It seems like I have a thing for the human character in the middle of fantasy races (see Stiles in the TV programme Teen Wolf or Isobel in the Shiver series)!

After I am Number Four I came back to the real world with Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bosspants. I really enjoyed reading this book and it included many moments where I genuinally laughed out loud. I will say I think I might have enjoyed it a little bit more if I were a Saturday Night Live fan (I found the same thing with Amy Poehler’s autobiography) but that has more to do with me than the book itself. Even so, this was a really nice, easy-going read.

Currently then, I am reading The Power of Six, the second in the I Am Number Four series. I’m actually really enjoying it and despite having already read it, I feel excited and anxious while reading as I can only remember bits and pieces. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a love triangle situation going on, which also annoyed me the first time I read this book but I’m hoping it goes away soon as I didn’t actually remember it until I was reading about it again!

Top Pick:

The Book Thief. Without question or doubt!

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So there we have it, another book filled month finished. Moving into July I will be finishing The Power of Six and based on how much I am enjoying it right now, I might even pick up the next in the series straight away…we’ll just have to see how that love triangle goes!