Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

I’m amazed, that having been a lover of magic, wizards and the fantasy genre in general from almost as soon as I could read that Terry Pratchett is relatively new to my list of favourite authors.

Pratchett has been in the press on a regular basis in the last year or so, talking intelligently, sensitively and with great insight, about his fight with Alzheimers and his views on euthanasia.

His books, (Unseen Academicals included) are fun, irreverent and full of the intelligence and insight that he includes in his non-fiction work.  His take on the world of Academia extends throughout the Discworld Series (now up to the 39th volume) and the bumbling professors take on the game of ‘foot-the-ball’ is laugh out loud funny.

Avid followers of the series will be comforted by the familiar surroundings of Unthank University and the re-appearance of Rincewind and the Librarian.  I’ve read only 4 or 5 of the Discworld series so far, so am no means an expert, and this was my first real dive into the world Ankh Morpork and its people and politics.  The more I read of Pratchett, the more I feel that ‘Comic Fantasy’ doesn’t really cut it as a description of his work.

We have witty insight into the nature of a football crowd and the nature of ‘mob mentality’, a cutting yet non-confrontational judgment on immigration and persecution and references to Shakespeare (not the first time the warring families of Romeo and Juliet have been transposed onto football teams I’m sure) and other classical literature I’m sure I have not picked up on.

This is a book about love.  Not just of ‘The Game’ but a deep and meaningful love of humanity.

A perfect holiday read which I sped through, but not without setting my braincells spinning!

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Room by Emma Donoghue

I just returned from a week’s holiday – I managed to leave Anna Karenena by my bed, but luckily had a back-up book and having sped through that read the book my boyfriend bought along too!

Room by Emma Donoghue was enthusiastically recommended to me by the Librarians at school and I wasn’t disappointed.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of 5 year old Jack, who has been born and bought up within an 11foot square cell, which he knows as home.

It’s hard to explain without giving too much away, but essentially this is a story of the love between mother and son.  It examines perceptions of freedom and how we look at the world:  What we’ve got and what we haven’t and what really is the most important for survival – both physical and psychological.

Emma Donoghue has great skill in sustaining the voice of the 5 year old, which can be slightly irritating at times, but to great effect.  Jack’s Ma becomes a very real character by the end of the book.  The reader’s sympathy for her situation can at times be hard to grasp, seen as she is through the eyes of her adoring son.  This is not a sentimental story.

A few years ago, I think this story would have seemed too fantastical to have any real punch, but with recent stories in the news of kidnap and captivity, this is a sharp and unusual perspective from the ‘inside’.

This book really got under my skin and I hope some of my friends will read it so I have someone to discuss it with!

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Anna Karenina – the first 72 pages

And now for something completely different!

I’m never quite sure how to define ‘literature’ as opposed to other novels, poems and plays that are not considered ‘literary’, but I feel safe in saying that anything written by Leo Tolstoy is going to be classed as such.

I’m up to Chapter 18 (section 1) and have only just met the eponymous heroine and barely a glance so far.  The book-sleeve informs me of a ‘famous legend surrounding the creation of Anna Karenina’ where ‘Tolstoy began writing a cautionary tale about adultery and ended up by falling in love with his magnificent heroine.’  Well, so far, so remarkable…for a character who has only been mentioned in passing and who has uttered very few words, I’m fascinated!

The story so far I am finding utterly captivating.  I cannot tell exactly why yet, other than the characters are vivid, and a storyline which I would feel bored by in the hands of another author, is dealt with with such a fine balance of lightness and humour that I’m compelled to keep reading.  We have a marital dispute among aristocracy, a farming (although wealthy) man who feels out of place in the city, a meddling mother and a match seemed already doomed to fail.  Very Jane Austen when I put it like that, but Austen would not keep me reading through my summer holiday!

As when I read ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ last summer, I can see why this classic is a classic.  And as with The Count, I’m not put off by the nearly 1,000 pages…

I look forward to finding out where Anna fits into her own story!


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The Goose Girl – all finished!

I throughly enjoyed this book.

It gave me exactly what I was looking for in a summer read: an easy to follow story, some romance, some magic and a bit of adventure!

The book follows the story of Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee (Ani), as she grows up to fulfill her roles as Crown Princess of Kildenree.  As the back cover review told me, it is ‘a beautiful coming-of-age story’, where our Princess has to come to terms with who she is, who she wants to be and exactly what she is going to do about it.  There is a moral here without any doubt, but I did not feel it overly stated and surely a moral is an important part of any bed time story?

The setting is fairytale typical (castles, forests, winding roads) but does not loose any of the magic of a traditional tale.  The host of characters nobly support our heros and we hear just enough about them and their stories to want to know more.  (A brief look on Shannon Hale’s website tells me The Goose Girl is indeed the first in series of ‘The Books of Bayern’).

I wouldn’t say this is a particularly sophisticated book, but that is in no way a criticism.  It is listed as Young Teenage fiction, but I enjoyed it now as much as I would have done when I was the target audience.  It reminds me of reading the ‘Immortals’ series by Tamora Pierce when I was at school, which, come to think of it, I really should dig out of my Mum’s loft and read again.

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The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

One of the 3 books I took out of the school library for the summer holidays, I’ve just finished reading Chapter 1.

So far, we’ve got all the elements of a good fairy story: a princess with distant parents and attending maids, an Aunt who can talk to animals and a desire to run away…

The writing is simple, suitable for younger readers, but also beautiful and touching…
“…when she turned her back to the lights, she saw that the night was so dark, the stables did not exist. She could not see the stars. (…) She understood, suddenly and keenly, that she was too small to run away, and she sat on the damp ground and cried.”

The reviews I’ve seen all tell me this is a book I want to read, but I don’t want to read too much in case it gives the game away!

There’s also a map in the front (always a good sign in my eyes!) – I hope this is a nice adventure, to take me into my summer holidays!

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To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s been a long time since I finished a book, already thinking that I will read it again.

A beautifully written, charming story of 1930s America – told through the eyes of ‘tom-boy’, Scout.  This book is one of the possible options for study for GCSE English Literature and I hope that I get to study it with at least one class next year!

The story follows the antics of Scout, her big brother Jem and their summer-time neighbour, Dill.  Scout knows a lot about her neighbourhood, a little about her town, some about her state and not a lot about the world; although her father, Atticus, a lawyer, has taught them a wonderfully humanistic ‘world’ view, about how to treat and respect all people.

The children, who are inclined to see their father as a little ‘square’, gradually realise what a wonderful and respected man Atticus is.

A book everyone should read and buy so they can read again!

(I actually wrote this post last August – it’s been far FAR too long since I logged on!)

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Books to read

I’d hoped to get a lot more reading done so far this summer, but still have a massive pile of books waiting.

Some of them come from the cupboards at school…trying to catch up with the curriculum reading so that I can be as helpful as possible when I get into the classroom:

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (just finished – beautiful – will write more later)
Animal Farm – George Orwell (can’t believe I haven’t read this before!)
Orlando – Virginia Woolf (not sure if this is a set text…maybe from a past course?)

I also had some recommendations from the wonderful librarians:

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror & Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestly (Enjoying this, but in small chunks!)

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (love everything else I’ve read by Gaiman and this one has won a shed load of awards – looking forward to it!)

And then there are a couple of others that I’ve had my eye on for a while – in particular The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It is going to be a bit of an epic read (875pages of small print) but I’m really looking forward to it (separate blog to follow once I get to grips with it!)

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant has also been recommended to me regularly over the past few years – the story of a woman only briefly mentioned in the Bible…should be interesting!

So, I have my work cut out for me! If you fancy having a go at any of these, let me know so we can discuss! In the mean time, I’m going to crack on with “The Count”!

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