Pretty Books Deserve Pretty Bookmarks

Pretty Books Deserve Pretty Bookmarks
I haven’t counted but I think I must have over 100 bookmarks – I’m never without one! I thought I’d share a few of my favourites below. (Plus there’s a sneak peek of some of the books I’ll be reading next month).

Pretty Books Deserve Pretty BookmarksThis one is my oldest bookmark. I bought it at school aged around 10-12 when some of the older children were selling homemade goodies to raise money. It’s in pretty good condition considering! See, teachers weren’t lying about lamination…

Pretty Books Deserve Pretty Bookmarks
Pretty Books Deserve Pretty BookmarksThis is my favourite bookmark size. Daunt Books bookmarks are among my favourites – I love the illustration of Daunt Books, Marylebone. Unfortunately I do not use The Book Depository any more, but when I did, I’d always look forward to receiving a bookmark along with my book. They hosted a bookmark design competition last year and so some really lovely ones are available at the moment.

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Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Young adult fiction (contemporary)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

You must have heard about The Art of Being Normal by now and, if not, I’m not sure how you have managed to miss it. Published on 1st January, it’s one of the most talked about UKYA novels published this year so far, and has certainly set a high standard.

Fourteen-year-old David Piper has only told two people – his two best friends, Essie and Fox, who have both been incredibly supportive – that he has wanted, needed, to be a girl ever since he was a small child. David has written a letter to his parents explaining how he feels but cannot bring himself to give it to them. He already suspects that they think he’s gay, but he’s not ready tell them the whole story just yet. And he’s certainly not going to tell anyone else at school – he’s already being called a freak show. David meets newcomer Leo Denton on his first day at Eden Park School. He walks over to him even though Leo doesn’t seem to want to talk to anyone at all, let alone make friends. When the school bully just won’t leave David alone, Leo steps in, and now David just has to get to know him. But Leo’s had to move schools for a reason and David’s about to be the first one to discover why.

I’ve been reading a lot of American young adult contemporary novels lately and so it was a bit of a shock to step into such an obviously English voice, even though I knew The Art of Being Normal was UKYA. It made me realise how much I miss it. I don’t know why (are we really that different?), but even though the world of school and the struggles of growing up are essentially the same across the pond, UKYA just makes teenage life feel that little more vivid and relatable. But what is normal, huh?

I have yet to meet someone who didn’t enjoy The Art of Being Normal. It has a brilliant – as well as important – title because it’s not an ‘issues’ book. It’s not really about being transgender, but is a story that just happens to have a transgender character. David doesn’t feel like he’s not normal, he’s just trying to find a way to communicate that to everyone else. It’s about what it’s like to grow up, make friends and deal with family. It’s about class and identity, and how people are perceived by others. It’s all heightened when you are a teenager because it’s difficult not to care less; you can’t live on your own and you can’t do what you want. It can be quite suffocating, so it’s helpful to hear stories about teenagers going through the same experiences as you.

The Art of Being Normal is one of the first books I’ve read that talks about transgender lives. Lisa Williamson not only writes an incredible contemporary novel, full of laughs and emotion, but also a responsible and respectful one. If you’ve never read a book that talks about being transgender, if you want to read more diversely, or if you just want a realistic, empathetic coming-of-age story, pick up The Art of Being Normal and start to dismantle the definition of ‘normal’ bit by bit.

Published: 1st January 2015
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Pages: 368

Behold the Pretty Books! / January (So Far) Book Haul

Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Book Review: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

It was always going to be difficult to follow The Sky is Everywhere, especially as I was reading both books back-to-back. I expected I’ll Give You the Sun to be quite similar, but even though both encompass similar themes – they’re contemporary young adult novels, wonderfully written, focusing on sibling relationships, teenage grief, romance and discovering who you are – they feel like two very different books. If you thought The Sky is Everywhere was poetic, the prose in I’ll Give You the Sun will blow you away.

I’ll Give You the Sun switches between two honest points of view: Noah and his twin sister Jude, from when they’re aged 13 and 16. At thirteen-years-old, they’re both optimistic, artistic and very close. They deal with sibling rivalries by diving up imaginary pieces of the world between them, but at aged sixteen, everything has changed. Noah and Jude barely speak and life has not gone the way they planned. I’ll Give You the Sun beautifully deals with growing up and many firsts – challenges, discoveries and, of course, love!

Although The Sky is Everywhere would be my favourite of the two if I had to pick – because it had such an impact on me and because I didn’t connect with Noah and Jude as easily – I’ll Give You the Sun is equally as well-written and encapsulates how complicated and challenging being a teenager can be, and how difficult it can be to express yourself clearly and openly to both yourself and those around you. Jandy Nelson gives the novel a unique voice. Art and creativity play a huge part in the book because the characters are artists (Noah loves to draw; Jude creates sculptures) and also because Noah and Jude are both coming to terms with the fact they don’t necessarily fit the mental portrait they painted of themselves as young teenagers.

I’ll Give You the Sun is a beautiful novel about a colourful family, falling in love with boys who don’t fit the mould, and a lot of self-discovery – add it to your pile of YA contemporary immediately! ‘I gave up practically the whole world for you,” I tell him, walking through the front door of my own love story. “The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.’

Published: 14th September 2010 (this edition 2nd April 2015)
Publisher: Walker Books (UK) Dial (US)
Pages: 416
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!
Behold the Pretty Books! / November & December Book Haul

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Book Review: The Sky Is Eveywhere by Jandy Nelson

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Jandy Nelson has appeared on lists of top (young adult) contemporary novels for as long as I’ve enjoyed the genre. I even had The Sky is Everywhere on my Kindle (sadly unread for no particular reason!) for a few years before Walker Books sent me an unexpected review copy of the new cover edition (left). It is being published again to match her latest, I’ll Give You the Sun, and so it was the perfect excuse to pick it up!

I adore heartbreaking contemporary novels and The Sky is Everywhere turned out to be the perfect novel for me. It was my first book of the year; I hadn’t yet gone back to work (hooray for the Christmas break!), so I took the opportunity to curl up in bed with it for hours, going on a turbulent emotional journey with Lennie.

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to relate to Lennie since I do not have any brothers or sisters. I’ve always felt like sibling relationships must feel very different to other kinds of relationships, and I can’t quite imagine it. But even though I don’t know what it’s like to have a sister who has died, I was captivated by The Sky is Everywhere.

Jandy Nelson is an incredible writer. She writes so beautifully and honestly that even though I usually do not read poetry, I adored the way Lennie expressed herself through her poems. She scatters them around, leaving traces of herself in the world. She’s seventeen-years-old and still growing up, and now she has to learn how to do it without her older sister, Bailey, being there to support her. Her world shatters and we can tell how broken Lennie is by the decisions she makes. Usually safe and careful, Lennie is catapulted into a world where she is suddenly unable to see clearly.

Lennie doesn’t quite know how to live without Bailey (“my sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life”) and so she becomes emotionally reliant on two boys – one who makes her forget and one who helps her recover. I didn’t find it difficult to see why Bailey did the things she did, even though the reader may feel like they’re huge, obvious mistakes. It’s easy for people to judge but it’s difficult to stop being destructive, even if it means damaging relationships with close friends and family. The Sky is Everywhere tackles this kind of grief in a way I haven’t seen before – it makes you feel like you’re going through it too. And that’s the mark of a wonderful book.

I waited too long to read The Sky is Everywhere – pick it up now, if you can.

(I’ve also reviewed I’ll Give You the Sun!).

Published: 8th March 2010 (this edition 5th February 2015)
Publisher: Walker Books (UK) Speak (US)
Pages: 320
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Book Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Classic #1)

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Classic #1)

Shelved: Classic
Published: 1818 by John Murray
Rating: ★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #1
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my first post for the 2015 Classics Challenge! As we’re very nearly into February, I’m already thinking about which classic to read next, but here’s my thoughts on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which is my first classic of the year. It’s not too late to join me (and 100+ other people) in reading one classic per month!

‘To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive’.

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not sure when or how I first heard about Jane Austen. It feels like she’s one of those authors that I’ve always known. I didn’t know much about Northanger Abbey before I read it, but it kept cropping up while I was looking up Gothic literature, after enjoying Jane Eyre. Appropriately, I visited the British Museum’s exhibition on Gothic literature earlier this month, which is where I discovered the ‘Northanger Horrids’ – the Gothic novels that Catherine and Isabella discuss while talking about their love of reading.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I chose to include Northanger Abbey in a poll where readers could vote for which classic they’d like me to read in January. It was a close call – it only received two more votes than Great Expectations. I’d been wanting to read another Jane Austen novel since I read Pride and Prejudice and Emma (although I did not finish the latter) and this one seemed like one I’d really enjoy.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
Because it’s Jane Austen! It’s a classic coming-of-age story – although a parody of Gothic literature too! – even though it’s 200 years old. Catherine is young and naive (she’s not very perceptive, particular of those around her), but she does not stay that way throughout the whole story. Jane Austen is also famous for the way the story is told: through dialogue and a third-person narrator.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Is it a favourite? Unfortunately not! I struggled with Northanger Abbey for a while due to the writing style. As it’s told mainly through dialogue, I found it difficult to keep up with what was going on. But thankfully I got more into the story and the characters halfway through when the focus is mainly on Catherine’s point of view, and the more likeable characters, Eleanor and Henry Tilney. As for the unlikeable characters, John Thorpe, although extremely ‘odious’, is quite entertaining – I highlighted a lot of the rude things he said! I do appreciate characters who enjoy books and reading, so I loved that an appreciation of novels and fiction kept cropping up. I also enjoyed the second half of the book as this is where it parodies Gothic novels. It was a lot darker and humorous. Northanger Abbey is one that I’ll happily re-read, now that I know the story.

‘I never read novels; I have something else to do’.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I picked this question mainly for modern classics. As Jane Austen is still as popular as ever, there’s no reason why her books won’t stay classics for a long time. And people tend to appreciate a bit of humorous irony and sarcasm in fiction, of which Northanger Abbey has plenty.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who are looking for a short, witty classic. People who have previously enjoyed Gothic literature (and know a little bit about it – you’re likely to ‘get’ more of the humour and allusions. I wouldn’t have noticed them as much if I hadn’t visited the exhibition, where I learned about the novel The Mysteries of Udolpho). People who enjoy character-driven novels and are happy with lots of dialogue.

Have you signed up to the 2015 Classics Challenge?

2015 Classics Challenge: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read (Part 2)

2015 Classics Challenge
It’s time for Top Ten Tuesday! Today is a ‘freebie’ topic, so we can post what we like. As I’m participating in the 2015 Classics Challenge, I thought I’d write a sequel to my original Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read post, written six months ago. I’ve only read one of the classics from that list since then, but that doesn’t stop me from adding more to my wishlist! Here’s another ten classics that I want to read. If you want to read any of these too, perhaps join the challenge?

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read (Part 2)

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1818) because you voted for it to be my first classic of the year and as a satire of Gothic literature, it does sound quite fun!

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853) because I adored Jane Eyre and would like to read more books written by her.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) because a few of my friends have been chatting about it on Twitter and it sounds more enjoyable than I assumed it would be. What’s this I hear about a child protagonist? Sold!

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905) because I enjoyed The Secret Garden, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this. I also need to re-watch the adaptation, which I remember going to see in the cinema!

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927) because Laura sent it to me as a gift and I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf.

Top Ten / Classics I Want to Read (Part 2)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) because I enjoyed Of Mice and Men and need to read more by John Steinbeck!

Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald (1952) because it’s one of the most recent Vintage Children’s Classics and it sounds just wonderful and charming, particularly to around Christmastime. ‘Big snowflakes fluttered slowly through the air like white feathers and made all of Heavenly Valley smooth and white and quiet and beautiful’.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962) because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this children’s classic, and there will be a BBC adaptation later this year.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962) because who wouldn’t be intrigued by a book with a character called ‘Merricat’?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962) because I’ve wanted to read this modern classic since studying Sociology.

I particularly want to read more modern classics and Gothic literature. Here’s to another year of discovering wonderful classics!


Behold the Pretty Books! / January (So Far) Book Haul

Behold the Pretty Books! / January (So Far) Book Haul

It’s my first book haul of the year! It’s getting a little out of hand already, so I thought I’d do a book haul post (only two weeks in…).

I headed two Waterstones Gower Street only a few days into January to buy Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson. I love children’s and YA more than anything, but I also miss reading adult novels, so I’m hoping to get stuck into more this year. Station Eleven and Life After Life are two in particularly that keep cropping up as people’s favourites. I also attended the launch of The Art of Being Normal and bought it in advance so I could read a little. It’s brilliant so far and it’ll definitely be one of the most popular YA novels of 2015 – watch out!

I also downloaded a few adult fiction eBooks for review: Second Life by S.J. Watson & A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install. I really enjoyed S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. I was lucky enough to read it before publication, but I had no idea it would become as popular as it is. I had to click on A Robot in the Garden because of that little robot face. It sounds quirky, beautiful and ever so cute!

I attended The Booksellers’ YA Book Prize social this week and we were given goodie bags – mine contained The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr & Louder Than Words by Laura Jarratt. The Winter Horses appeals to me especially as I really do love contemporary historical children’s fiction. I also met a lovely bookseller who brought along a bunch of books for people to take. It’s a sign that I shouldn’t buy eBooks unless I’m going to read them straight away, because she had The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I couldn’t resist the beauty! I also picked up Gone by Michael Grant as it’s been on my wishlist for years.

Jim, a blogger friend of mine, is one of the most prolific readers and he’s always giving away or lending books to people! I borrowed Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill (I’ve already read Hi So Much), Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (companion novel to Code Name Verity) and Stories of World War One edited by Tony Bradman (featured in my Children’s and Young Adult Books Set During WWI post).

And lastly, Books Are My Bag sent me a surprise bookish package to start the year off, including two Irish YA novels: Primperfect by Deirdre Sullivan & Finding a Voice by Kim Hood. I tend read  English and American YA the most, so I’m looking forward to reading these.

It’s a great start to 2015!

Behold the Pretty Books! / January (So Far) Book Haul

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Mini Reviews: Merry Christmas and Other Stories, Little Women & Five Children and It

It’s a new year, which means a new Classics Challenge! But unfortunately I do not blog as fast as I read. Here’s mini reviews of the last three classics I read for the 2014 Classics Challenge and if you’d love to join over 120+ people reading one classic per month this year, find out more about it here.

Mini Reviews: Merry Christmas and Other Stories, Little Women & Five Children and It
Merry Christmas and Other Stories by Louisa May Alcott
I cannot resist adorable Christmas stories, especially when they’re as beautiful as Penguin’s new Christmas Classic series. I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy any more books for the rest of the year, but then I went on a spontaneous trip last month to Foyles with Daphne and came across Merry Christmas and Other Stories. I bought it because I figured I’d have to wait another year to read it otherwise! It was a lovely book for me to read this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – charming and delightful, but with an emphasis on those who are not fortunate as others and the importance of charity. An extract from Little Women is included as part of the collection and so I had to pick that as my next classic…


Mini Reviews: Merry Christmas and Other Stories, Little Women & Five Children and ItLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women was one of the classics that had been on my wishlist the longest. I think I first came across it while watching that episode of Friends. I didn’t know much about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March, but it seemed like the perfect children’s classic for me.

Yet Little Women wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped. I wasn’t emotionally drawn into the sisters’ lives, which is important for a character-driven novel. It’s a great shame as I had high hopes. But I am struggling to decipher what exactly my issue was. I think I just wanted more to happen and more of an emotional punch – whether due to a sad story or a joyful one. It felt to me like the chapters could have been short stories rather than a linear storyline with a beginning, middle and end, even though it follows the lives of the sisters from childhood. I enjoyed some chapters quite a bit, whereas others not so much. And I was also surprised to discover that what I expected to happen in Little Women actually happens in the next book, Good Wives. I’ve not given up on Little Women, however. It’s one I’ll be coming back to, now that I know what to expect!

Mini Reviews: Merry Christmas and Other Stories, Little Women & Five Children and ItFive Children and It by E. Nesbit
I chose Five Children and It as my last classic of the year because it was my book club’s January pick because most of us also wanted to read Kate Saunders’ Five Children on the Western Front. Like Little Women (although I think it’s more intentional in Five Children and It), each chapter is like a short story about the group of siblings who each make a wish that the Psammead (a sand fairy) grants, with often chaotic and hilarious results. Although short stories will never be my favourite, it worked quite well in this sense because each chapter was a new day, but of course I still preferred some to others. I connected with E. Nesbit’s writing straight away – this is the first book by her that I’ve read – and I found the dialogue witty and charming. Be careful what you wish for! I’m looking forward to also reading The Railway Children and The Story of the Treasure Seekers.