The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (Classic #2)

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (Classic #2)

Shelved: Classic (fantasy and adventure)
Published: 1962 by Jonathan Cape
Rating: ★★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Here’s my second post for the 2015 Classics Challenge! I picked The Wolves of Willoughby Chase because I was looking for a wintry classic to curl up with this February. It’s not too late to join me (and 150+ other people) in reading one classic per month!

Can you go a little faster? Can you run?

Long ago, at a time in history that never happened, England was overrun with wolves. But as Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia discover, real danger often lies closer to home. Their new governess, Miss Slighcarp, doesn’t seem at all nice. She shuts Bonnie in a cupboard, fires the faithful servants and sends the cousins far away from Willoughby Chase to a place they will never be found. Can Bonnie and Sylvia outwit the wicked Miss Slighcarp and her network of criminals, forgers and snitches?

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I actually don’t think I had heard of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase until I discovered the Vintage Children’s Classics, my favourite series of children’s classics – I just love the design and the selection of well-known and lesser-known classics! I bought I Capture the Castle in 2012 followed by The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Dark is Rising, Fly Away Home and Charlotte Sometimes in 2013.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was freezing in February and I was looking for a wintry classic to read as part of the challenge. It had been sitting on my TBR for a while and I hadn’t picked up a Vintage Children’s Classic for a while, even though I own quite a few now. It’s also meant to be adapted as a BBC drama this Christmas, but I have not heard any more about it since it was first announced in 2013. I really hope it goes ahead!

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s a classic children’s adventure story, full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape, treacherous characters and a thrilling mystery to solve. It has a bunch of characters – from Bonnie and Sylvia themselves to the adult servants that aid their mission – that you’ll be rooting for all the way. A debate arises now and again about how dark children’s and young adult literature has become, but you only have to meet Miss Slighcarp and her allies to realise it has always been that way – they’re truly ghastly! Although The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is over 50 years old, its themes of friendship, class, gender, and the tendency of adults to underestimate children still resonate today.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I adored it instantly! I was fascinated by the idea of an alternative Britain where wolves may attack at any time. I expected the story to be more about the wolves, but it’s actually about how the wolves aren’t the real enemy here. It’s wonderfully written and I loved the vivid descriptions of Willoughby Chase, from the stark white landscape to Bonnie’s delightful toy room. It has secret passages, charming characters (like Simon the gooseboy) and a story that doesn’t patronise children. It has everything you could want. I’m looking forward to reading Black Hearts at Battersea, the next book.

WILL It Stay A Classic
I think so! It still feels fresh and exciting. I hope the forthcoming BBC drama does the book justice and encourages more people to read this wonderful story. And once you’ve done that, there’s 11 more books in the series for you to read.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who love children’s books and want to delve into the world of classics. People who love children’s adventure and mystery stories, like the Laura Marlin mysteries. People who love how atmospheric Gothic literature can be, like Jane Eyre.

Have you signed up to the 2015 Classics Challenge?

Behold the Pretty Books! / January & February Book Haul

Behold the Pretty Books! / January & February Book Haul

We’re already halfway through March (and it’s no longer winter, hooray!), so here’s a little about the books I bought/borrowed/received in January and February!

Have you seen the Little Black Classics, published to celebrate 80 years of Penguin Books? I bought two: The Old Nurse’s Story (#39) by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Yellow Wall-Paper (#42) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and I’m sure I’ll be buying many more!

I actually meant to include this in my previous Behold! post but I completely forgot: I borrowed Friends With Boys from Debbie in January. We exchanged graphic novels and I loaned her Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. Faith Erin Hicks will be illustrating Rainbow Rowell’s upcoming graphic novel, so I’m quite looking forward to this! I am signed up to Caboodle, the rewards programme from National Book Tokens. I got to pick a free book and chose another classic I’ve not yet read: Oliver Twist. One for the 2015 Classics Challenge perhaps?

I attended the Scholastic Bloggers’ Brunch in January and got to hear about their wonderful upcoming books. They were kind enough to treat us to brunch, lovely authors and publishers as well as a few goodies. Seven Days, The Sin Eater’s Daughter (written by my awesome buddy Mel) and An Island of Our Own are three completely different but wonderful-sounding books.

I do not request review copies any more, but if I’m offered them I do find it difficult to say no! I accepted Half Wild by Sally Green as Half Bad is one of the (many!) books at the top of my TBR. I’m also excited about two new books from Hot Key and Piccadilly Press: Fish Out of Water, the first YA contemporary novel from Natalie Whipple (author of Transparent) and The Scandalous Sisterhood, a charming middle grade mystery. I’ll be tucking into those shortly! I also received a surprise copy of Lottery Boy by Michael Byrne, from Walker Books, which is ‘a young boy’s story of loss and unbearable hope as he survives on London’s streets‘.

I also downloaded two eBooks for review: The Accident Season (the blogger world has been buzzing about this one recently) and All That Glitters (the fourth book in the Geek Girl series). I also bought Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit and Marcus Sedgwick’s The Ghosts of Heaven.

Behold the Pretty Books! / January & February Book Haul
Behold the Pretty Books! / January & February Book Haul Continue reading

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!