Book Love: Top 5 Children’s/Young Adult Series

I just finished re-reading Checkmate by Malorie Blackman (from the Noughts and Crosses series) and it reminded me just how much I still love series from my younger years – they just give me all the feelings!  Obviously these books are particularly special for me because I feel like I’ve known the characters for years, but even so I think they’re brilliant.  In a fit of nostalgia, I thought I’d list my favourite book series from my childhood/teenage years, so I hope you enjoy.

5) The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Surely everyone knows these by now?  They made a film out of the series with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews and, as ever, got a lot of things wrong.  The books are much better than the films, honest.  The quality does start to tail off a bit towards the end of the series, so I’m not sure I ever read the very latest ones, but the first in particular were funny and relatable, and had a good love story going on that was a bit different from the usual – I still love a good romance, but it’s always best when it’s not the main focus.

4) Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

Otherwise known as the ‘Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging’ books (and no I do not accept the adapted title given to the film).  I laughed myself silly at these books when I was a teenager, and probably still would now to be honest.  They were my embarrassing, snorting with uncontrollable laughter on the bus books.  I would need a re-read to do a proper review (not a bad idea actually!), but, in short, these are the diary of teenage Georgia Nicolson, telling us about her bonkers family, friends and school in a hilarious manner.  The comings and goings of her life are occasionally slightly ridiculous, and yet perfectly relatable for a British teenage girl.  From what I remember, they weren’t particularly rude or grownup, just very, very funny.

3) Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

Before Hogwarts, every girl wanted to go to Malory Towers.  These were just lovely boarding-school books that take you back a few decades to years of jolly hockey sticks and french irregular verbs.  In true Enid Blyton style, they’re full of moral lessons, but not so much that you feel lectured and certain characters can do no wrong.  This is a lovely, innocent kids series that I still like to have a quick read of when I’m feeling nostalgic.  Timeless.

2) Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Blimey, this is a good story. I wrote a bit of an ode to the first book in the series here when I started my re-read, and I just finished the third one, which still manages to be equally as good.  Have a look at my first review to find out what it’s all about, but I think my favourite thing about this series is the fact that it progresses.  Characters really do grow up and develop, instead of keeping the same traits they have aged 12 at the start of the first book.  I find that the character voice, especially for the teenagers, can be a little off at times, but the story and the character development are absolutely good enough for that not to matter.  I feel like I know these characters inside out and these (along with my number 1) are the books that get me jumping for joy and reaching for the tissues.  Highly recommended for everyone, teenage and up.

1) Harry Potter by JK Rowling

A predictably dull choice, maybe, but I absolutely flipping love Harry Potter.  And I’m not ashamed to say it!  I started reading these books aged 7 and was part of the generation that grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione.  I’m not sure I can say much that hasn’t already been said – I know some people aren’t keen and think they’re overhyped, but you get that with any bestseller.  I still think JK Rowling is a brilliant writer and is especially brilliant at building up a world for her stories to take place in (this is what I loved about The Causal Vacancy too – mini review here).  I can (and do) read these books over and over again.

So that’s it for my favourites – I’d love to hear yours in the comments!  What series did you love when you were younger?  We can have a reminisce together.  Or if you have kids and know of any great newer series, I’d love to know and I can pass them along to my little brother and sister.  Leave your tips below!

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Book Love: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared

Hello lovely people,

This book has been pretty big in the blogosphere (and the internet in general) and I fear I might be a tad behind the times with this review, but I wanted to pop a post up anyway because I really loved it.  At the very least, I’ll be contributing to the massive online love-fest for all things Swedish!

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the book in question is The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.  Bit of a mouthful of a title, but it does introduce the book perfectly.  It’s a pretty nice plot synopsis on its own, to be honest!

While this may not be the best strategy for writing a book review, I don’t really want to say anything at all about the plot because half the fun of this book comes from having no idea what comes next.  All I will say is that you follow the journey of the hundred-year-old man after he climbs out of the window and learn about his life in a parallel story.  And it is marvellous.  Not exactly realistic, but just on the right side of believable to not become entirely ridiculous.

I did find the book funny – not quite laugh-out-loud, but I had a little chuckle to myself on occasion.  It took a little while for me to really get absorbed by the story and the characters, but I think that probably had a lot to do with the  fact that I was reading it on the bus in fits and starts.  By the halfway point, I was totally engrossed.  I also thought the translation from Swedish was fantastic – I didn’t particularly notice it was a translation.  If anything, it gave a great writing style that really suited the story.  I found it very easy to read and follow without being boring.

I reckon my favourite thing about the book was its sheer randomness (I do quite like random connections and coincidences), closely followed by the characters’ totally unique perspectives on life.  If you’re a fan of fun, readable fiction with some meat to it, I completely recommend this.  I got it super-cheap in a Kindle sale, but I think it’s only about 4 quid now if you fancy a quick download.  Or it’s available all over the place in old school paper form.  Go for it!

Book Love: My First Wodehouse

PG Wodehouse 4

PG Wodehouse – to-read…

That’s right, in (nearly) 21 years I had not read anything written by P.G. Wodehouse.  But that gap in my literary experience has now been filled, as I introduced myself to What Ho! The Best of Wodehouse.  This is a pretty good (or so it seemed to me) anthology of Wodehouse stories, with an introduction by Stephen Fry, whom I unashamedly adore, and some more autobiographical writing with some letters and stories of his time in the USA.

I enjoyed reading the book, but it’s yet another must-read that I didn’t love.  And, much like my post on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I feel really guilty saying that.  I’m sorry, Wodehouse fans!

I didn’t find the stories hilariously funny, like so many people seem to.  I probably laughed three times through the whole book.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t find them entertaining  – I enjoyed reading the stories and they definitely cheered me up.  They just didn’t send me into fits of laughter, as the multiple celebrity quotes at the start of the book had promised.

But one thing that most certainly did come across as advertised was the famously lovely Wodehouse style of prose.  His talent for choosing the perfect word and forming beautiful sentences is incredible.  I cannot possibly do it justice by gushing, and I’m sure that many people will know it already, so I will just say that I hugely enjoyed being able to lose myself in the flow of the writing.

I think I may also have lost something by meeting the characters in an anthology, rather than reading a full book as it was originally written.  So many people have a huge passion for the characters and their world, which is definitely necessary to really appreciate their stories, and which I was missing.  I’m just about old enough to vaguely remember Fry and Laurie as Jeeves and Wooster, but I hadn’t even heard of the other characters before I picked up this book!

But the part of this anthology that I most enjoyed had nothing to do with any of Wodehouse’s fictional characters.  The autobiographical writing and letters tagged onto the end of the anthology were the things that actually did have me laughing out loud, and I now have my eye on Wodehouse on Wodehouse, from which there was a truly funny extract in this book, and possibly P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, especially if I can get hold of it my local library.  Further updates on those to come…

So, while my first taste of Wodehouse doesn’t have me running off to find the full books, it certainly hasn’t stopped me from wanting to read more.  I fear he may have become a touch too revered, so I had a classic case of overly high expectations reading this book.  Hopefully, if I try again with the originals, I’ll be able to love these characters too.  And I really want to, because Wodehouse truly does deserve his reputation as a magnificent writer.

Book Love: Thoughts on a cult classic

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (novel)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soooooo… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Audiobook number 2.  Read by Stephen Fry.  Everyone’s favourite book.  Got to be a hit, right?

Um, not really.  And I’m sorry!  I wanted to love it, really I did.  But it just didn’t grip me like I expected it to, even combined with the sheer magnificence of Stephen Fry.

All the indicators were pointing to me adoring this book – I share its random sense of humour and it gets you thinking in a light, fun way.  But I found it a bit boring.  I found myself tuning out in parts that seemed pretty long-winded and irrelevent.

Now I’m worried I sound as though I disliked it, which I didn’t at all.  There were lots of bits that I enjoyed a lot and I completely get why it is so infinitely quotable.  This line, for example, I enjoyed immensely:

‘The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.’

I was also a big fan of Marvin the depressed robot, the poor falling sperm whale, Deep Thought and the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, the mice and plenty of other ideas.  I’m always jealous of people with wonderfully random minds that appear to pull entirely unique ideas out of thin air, and this is Douglas Adams’ speciality.  The man’s mind is incredible.  So perhaps I would go back to reread pieces of the book, skipping over anything that didn’t quite do it for me.

As a side note, I tried watching the film that by some twist of fate appeared on BBC iPlayer just as I finished the book.  I got about 45 minutes in and gave up – it seemed to me that they had got rid of all the parts I genuinely enjoyed, leaving the boring bits!  Bad job, Hollywood…

I’m glad I listened to this book (that sounds so wrong!), it has such a cult following and is so widely referenced, everyone probably should read it, simply to share in the jokes if nothing else.  And many more people seem to adore it than be bored by it, so odds are you’ll enjoy it!  I had a go at reading this book about 5 years ago and didn’t make it to the end, so unfortuntely I don’t think I can blame my opinions on the audiobook.  I shall persevere with my audiobook education, in pursuit of one I enjoy!

Since I enjoyed The God Delusion so much, I’m going to finish off with a pretty long extract from Hitchhickers about the Babel Fish.  I reckon it sums up a big part of what Dawkins was talking about and was one of the parts of this book that I really did love and found funny.  Enjoy!

“The Babel fish,” said The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe.  It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.”

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’

‘But,’ says Man, ‘the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

‘Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next pedestrian crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the central theme of his bestselling book, Well That about Wraps It Up for God.

Book Love: An unexpected (but wonderful) distraction

I ended having a completely unexpected new read tonight as a result of one of my many internet meanderings.  I stumbled across a new blog (Emily’s Blog – here) and a book cover caught my eye in one of the posts.  I had a quick look on Amazon, suspecting a cheap Kindle download (I was right, 99p), and lo and behold 1.5 hours later I had finished The Lover’s Dictionary: A Love Story in 185 Definitions by David Levithan.

It’s written in the style of a dictionary, with the story being revealed through short “definitions”.

At first I didn’t think I’d like this book.  I’m obviously a very impatient person.  I was confused, I didn’t know who was narrating and I didn’t like the fact that the constant chopping and changing and lack of chronological order was making these problems worse.

But then I got a grip, made it through the As and started to quite enjoy myself.  I really liked the short definitions and the way they don’t dwell on things – they kept the story moving.  A lot of it is a man telling us what he loves about his partner, but each thing is described in only a sentence or two so it’s not remotely soppy or over-emotional.  It’s just a beautiful glimpse into his thoughts.

And then you get a complete contrast – the little irritations, or his feelings during the difficult parts of the relationship.  It makes it feel real right from the start, as the lack of chronology means the hard parts, the tests of the relationship, are mentioned all the way through.  This contrast makes the romantic entries even more beautiful and the tougher entries more poignant.

I was surprised by well the characters were built up.  They are described only in the sense of how the narrator feels about himself and her, but I found myself with a definite image of each in my mind.

It is very cleverly written.  Even though it’s out of order, the story still manages to unfold, revealing a tiny bit more information in every definition, building on what you already know.  Somehow you always know what he’s talking about, even when it’s just a flippant comment.  But it doesn’t really say anything new: it’s a story that many people have experienced and that has been told a thousand times before.  It’s the writing style that kept me interested, kept me reading to have a bit more information revealed.  Kudos to the author for managing to come up with a new way to tell a basic story.

This is a lovely short novel, a very real and honest love story.

PS  Here is the cover – isn’t it lovely?