Booking Through Thursday – Ideal

I want you to think about your ideal reading experience. Think about the location. (Your bed? Favorite chair? The beach? Indoors or outdoors?). Think about the sounds. (Is there music playing? Happy children playing in the background? Utter silence?) Is there a snack or beverage nearby? Are you alone or with friends/family (presumably being quiet enough for you to read in peace)? What kind of lighting is there? Are you dressed in something ultra-comfy? What’s your position? Curled up? Stretched out?

Now … describe it so that we can all feel exactly how perfect it is … and why

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I’ve just come across the above blog post from another Book Blogger – Booking Through Thursday, and thought it was such a great idea I wanted to share it with you guys, and tell you about my perfect reading experience.

“It’s strange to describe reading a book as a really great experience, but that’s kind of how it felt.”

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Reading is such a personal experience you know, everyone likes to do it just a little differently!  Me, I can do it anywhere!  In bed, in the bath, even on the toilet – there have been a number of occasions when I have been reading a book that is so good, I’ve taken it with me to the loo, just to read a few more lines!  And being mum to a lively, excitable 2 year old it is often the only place I get any peace!!  But my ideal reading place?  Where would I end up if I could be anywhere in the world right now, reading anything I want?  For me, the answer is quite simple.  I am an al fresco reader and my perfect place to read would be in my own back garden on a hot summers day.  Now, living in England we don’t get too many of those so when they come, they must be savoured.  As soon as the sun starts to peek from behind the clouds all plans are dropped, shopping is cancelled, housework is forgotten, even school and work become obsolete as we all scramble outside in our long forgotten shorts and t-shirts, desperate to feel the warm caress of golden sunshine against our Vitamin D deprived complexions.  I always head to my favourite place in the world, my garden.

My garden is nothing special, it’s not acres and acres of lush green lawns, I don’t have an orchard, or a vineyard or a swimming pool and tennis courts.  It’s rather a humble little space but it is one of which we are very proud.  We have transformed our little patch from a jungle overgrown with poison ivy, weeds and the tangled webs of spiders into an oasis of humble loveliness where flowers gently sway in the breeze and love and beauty flow from every corner.

Today, I am dressed comfortably in shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt, most likely depicting the name of some race or other in which I have proudly participated, my hair is long and I wear it loose and flowing down my back.  I pull out my favourite sun lounger and lie on my front, propped up on my elbows and open my book.  As time goes by, I feel my skin start to prickle slightly with the heat when a gentle breeze rustles through the farmers golden field of corn and creeps up on me causing the hairs on my arms to momentarily stand on end, it whips my hair and causes a pleasant tickle on the back of my neck when just as quickly as it arrived, it is gone and everything is still again,

I glance up intermittently at the peaceful blue sky and watch the luminous, fluffy white clouds float like boats bobbing gently across a glistening blue lake.  Perhaps a butterfly will happen by, drifting on the breeze majestic and beautiful like a floating work of art. I will reach my hand out in the hope that she will land and allow me a closer look at her delicate beauty, but she is elusive and I watch as she glides gracefully over the fence, across the fields and away into the horizon.  Every now and again, I will reach up my hand and wipe away a droplet of cold water that has splashed onto my face as it runs down my cheek, my sons gleeful laughter tinkles like music to my ears as he splashes around his paddling pool. In the distance I hear a bird calling to her mate when the peaceful solitude is broken by the low hum of a lawnmower and the slam of a car door.

As day turns to night the sweet, smoky smell of barbecue reaches my nostrils, I hear the clink of glasses and the chatter and laughter of friends and relatives greeting one another when my stomach growls reminding me it is empty.  My husband has dusted the spider webs off our grill and as the meat spits and sizzles it is time for me to close the pages on my adventure for another day.

Why not share your own perfect reading experience?  Leave a link to your blog in the replies and keep the chain going! xxx

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Around The World In Books – 1. Australia

Summer is the perfect time for a holiday but don’t fret if you haven’t the means to escape to blue skies and golden sands, your imagination can take you just as far as any plane or boat.  One of  the things I love about reading is that you can travel all over the world, without ever having to pack a suitcase and you will never be disappointed with where you end up.  Every town, city, country and continent has a story to tell, a good book can pick you up and place you right in the middle of another place or time.  I have been everywhere with my books, from Germany to China, Japan and beyond.  Most recently, I visited the Australian Outback with Lucy Christopher.

Outback Australia

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

“You saw me, before I saw you”

Sounds intriguing, right?   From the opening line of this stunning, gritty, emotionally gripping novel, I was hooked.

Gemma is 16 when she is kidnapped from Bangkok Airport and taken to the Australian Outback.  Her captor, Ty, has been planning this “trip” for years and when he finally takes his opportunity to snatch Gemma and spirit her away to the wilderness, it is in the hope that he can make her love him, as he loves her.  Written in the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty, this wholly absorbing novel reflects on the months they have spent together under the glare of the brutal, unforgiving Australian sun as Gemma struggles against her stubborn, hot tempered but strangely alluring, captor.

Whilst this novel is marketed as the YA (Young Adult) genre, Gemma is not your stereotypical angst-ridden, whiny, teenage protagonist.  She is strong willed, determined and, even after numerous futile attempts at escape, she never stops trying to survive. Given that the book is written in the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty, you really get to know and understand this character and experience every one of her emotions with her.  I experienced her anger, her panic and her anxiety.  The fear is palpable.  Gemma is quite possibly one of the only literary characters I have felt complete and utter empathy for.  It is her powerful, compelling narrative which pulls you into the story and renders you completely incapable of letting go.

Essentially, Stolen is an investigation into the psychological phenomena that is Stockholm Syndrome.  Lucy Christopher writes in such a way that you as the reader begin to experience symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome yourself.  I found myself sympathising with Ty, trying to understand him and even feeling sorry for him.  Ty is a complex character, a master of emotional manipulation he is damaged having been forcibly removed from his family as a child, and has decided to go back to basics and live off the land according to the teachings of the Aboriginals who helped to raise him.  Ty is a fascinating character, he is not intrinsically evil but without a doubt he is a troubled soul trying to find a place in life where he belongs.  The desert is his “safe place”, a place where he feels at one with the world around him.  Ty is a man on the outside, but on the inside he is a child, lost and lonely in the vast expanse of the desert, and life.

“You told me once of the plants that lie dormant through the drought, that wait, half-dead, deep in the earth. The plants that wait for the rain. You said they’d wait for years, if they had to; that they’d almost kill themselves before they grew again. But as soon as those first drops of water fall, those plants begin to stretch and spread their roots. They travel up through the soil and sand to reach the surface. There’s a chance for them again.” 

Lucy Christopher’s narrative is so descriptive and real, the wild and desolate landscape of The Outback it is almost a character within itself.  So vividly is it described, I could almost feel the unforgiving, intrusive heat of the sun beating down upon me.  The plants are alive, real and breathing underneath Ty and Gemma’s feet.  This is not a book which is filled with edge of your seat action and suspense but for me, the emotional intensity was enough to keep me hooked until the very last page.

The question Lucy Christopher wanted her readers to be asking is did Gemma have Stockholm Syndrome or where her feelings for Ty real?  Did we as the reader, experience symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome or are we seeing the character for how he really is?  Well, you will have to read and decide for yourself.

“Lets face it, you did steal me. But you saved my life too. And somewhere in the middle, you showed me a place so different and beautiful, I can never get it out of my mind. And I can’t get you out of there either. You’re stuck in my brain like my own blood vessels.” 

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My Top 5

Welcome to my blog, I’m glad you stopped by!  I was always a keen reader, according to my mum before I could even speak I was picking up books and babbling to myself. But it wasn’t until I was 10 years old and lying in a hospital bed when my Nan came to visit me bearing the greatest gift I have ever received – Matilda by Roald Dahl. I was enthralled and devoured it page by page, I was lost and my life would never be the same again. From that day on I was a bona fide book worm! My love of books has been the subject of everything from admiration to ridicule but I cannot be swayed, with my books I have travelled deserts, climbed mountains and sailed the seven seas. I have fallen in love, out of love and made friends that will last a lifetime. As any true reader will know, a good book needs talking about. It needs to be discussed, pulled apart and analysed by other book lovers. That is why I have started this page, so I can meet other book lovers from anywhere in the world, no matter what language you speak the language of a really great book will transcend any space and time!

By way of introduction, I thought I would introduce you to my Top 5 – the 5 best books I have ever read!  Let me know what you think and tell me what your favourite books are, I would love to hear from you ❤

5.  Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

water_for_elephants

I remember clearly the day I came across this book, it was dark and miserable and I was in the middle of a thoroughly horrible day in work.  To cheer myself up I decided to take a lunchtime stroll to Waterstones, one of my favourite places in the whole world!  The branch I was visiting was new and houses a Costa Coffee, so armed with my steaming Caramel Latte I set about trawling through the shelves to find something just to make my mind off the office politics and complaining clients that had so far blighted my day.  I remember catching sight of the title staring out at me from the shelf and thinking to myself how unusual it was, nestled in between so many other generic and uninspiring offerings along the lines of “Millie’s Mistake” and “Forever Love”.  I reached over and took the book off the shelf and as soon as I set eyes on the gorgeous cover (anything with a hint of glamour and sparkle will always catch my eye!), I was a goner!

The book is set during The Great Depression and being a history geek as well as a book lover the time period appealed to me immediately.  The story centres around our main character and romantic hero Jacob Janowski, a veterinary student studying for his final exams when he is delivered the devastating news that both of his parents have been killed leaving him in dire straits.  He finds himself wandering, lonely and confused he by chance jumps onto a circus train and so begins his journey with The Benzini Brothers Circus  – the greatest show on Earth!  Sara Gruen really has done a wonderful job of creating a world that is so believable you can almost smell the menagerie, I was so lost in the world of The Benzini Brother Circus that I could almost feel the rocking of the train and hear the roar of the circus animals.  Ms. Gruen has created a world of characters that will enthrall you, you will love to hate the eccentric Walter aka Kinko the Clown, August is truly terrifying and of course you will adore the beautiful Marlena and her Elephant, Rosie.  This is a truly rare and special read which is almost a modern fairy story.  Essentially it is a love story between Marlena and Jacob, but not only does this book show us how love can be found in the most unusual places, it shows us what animals can teach us about love, friendship and tenderness.  This is an enthralling read which should really not be missed.

4. The Hunger Games (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins

Hunger_games_trilogy

I was something of a late starter when it comes to The Hunger Games, many of my book loving friends and relatives were asking me over and over if I had read it yet, but I resisted.  Let me explain; many a time I have fallen victim to a “craze”, diving head first into something because everybody else was telling me how great it was, only to be left disappointed, deflated and feeling as though I had lost valuable reading time (50 Shades anybody…!!!) so I was determined I wasn’t going to be falling for that one again.  It was only when my 11 year old cousin came to visit with her trilogy in tow, eager to discuss it with me (was I team Peeta or Team Gale? Peeta by the way), that I caved in.  How glad I am that I gave it a chance!

The Hunger Games (if you didn’t know about it by now!) is set in the fictional city of Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the countries of North America once stood, and its surrounding districts.  As a punishment  for a past rebellion, District 13 has been destroyed.  As a reminder to all residents of the remaining 12 districts of the power The Capitol holds over them, every year they are required to sacrifice one boy and one girl as tributes to participate in The Hunger Games – a televised game show in which tributes must fight to the death.  The story is narrated in the voice of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who has volunteered as a tribute to save her younger sister, Prim.  In some ways, the premise of this trilogy is brutal and horrific so much so that I have wondered about its suitability for anybody under the age of 15 but what it also shows us is the strength of human nature, our ability to fight back against atrocities, to fight for and protect for those we love and to form friendships and fall in love in the most unusual of circumstances.  The human heart is a strong one and the instincts of human nature are first and foremost to love, protect and be peaceful and happy.  To some these books can be taken as shallow, adventurous reads about something that sounds as though it could be a sci-fi movie or a computer game but they are so much more than that.   The author, Suzanne Collins explains that she wrote this book as a condemnation of reality TV and the Iraq War and I do believe that she has succeeded.  More than that, these novels illustrate how governments can control the lives of their people, about the excesses of the rich whilst the poor are in need, how the powers that be can shape and rule our existences and how we as the people should always be prepared to pull together and fight back.

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl

matilda

For me, Roald Dahl is truly the greatest story teller of all time.  His books often involve difficult and cruel situations faced by a child at the hands of adults, possibly a reference to the abuse the author is said to have suffered in boarding school.  Many adults feel that his books promote rebellion and a disrespect for adults but to put it bluntly, this is rubbish!  Roald Dahl is one of the only children’s authors who treats his young readers with the respect and understanding they deserve, he teaches them about the bad in the world and that there are always going to be adults who will not treat you as you should be treated and that it is always important to stand up to them.   In turn, the worlds he creates with his writing may sometimes be daunting and scary but are at the same time utterly magical.

This particular book revolves around a little girl whose intelligence goes unnoticed by her parents.

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Matilda finds her escape in books and eventually learns to exact her mishevious revenge against the adults who treat her badly including her parents and her evil headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull.  For example, lining her fathers hat with superglue and lacing her fathers hair styling tonic with her mothers peroxide!  It is not until she attends school and meets the wonderful Miss Honey that her brilliance is noticed and her mind nurtured.  Before long, Matilda realises that she has magical powers.  We follow Matilda as she learns how to cope with loneliness and cruelty and discovers how to use her powers to exact revenge on the adults in her life.  Every time I pick up this book I am transported back to my childhood.  Matilda really is Roald Dahl at his best and quite simply, this book changed my life.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”

I first discovered this book when I was 15 and studying for my GCSE in English Literature.  Whilst the rest of the class moaned and groaned about having to spend their weekends and evenings analysing something so “boring” I just could not wait to get it home and get started!

Set in Alambama during the Great Depression, the story is narrated by 6 year old Scout whose father, Atticus is a lawyer and is defending a black man accused of raping a white woman; much to the consternation of the racist white community of Maycomb. Atticus is a single father, struggling to raise his children with the correct morals and values in a society where racism and prejudice is so deeply ingrained.  This book really shows a dark side to human nature; prejudice and mob rule, but among the darkness and evil shines the innocence of children.

This book has so many levels it really could be talked about and dissected all day, the most important theme being the exploration of the moral nature of human beings and the raising of the question, are people essentially good or essentially evil?  Harper Lee explores this question with the dramatisation of Scout and her brother Jems’ transition from childhood to adulthood and the evils they encounter along the way.  As children, Jem and Scout assume that all people are good as they have not yet seen or experienced evil.  That all changes as the book progress through the trial and the victimisation of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, driven by hatred, ignorance and prejudice.  Jem is disgusted by the outcome of the Tom Robinson trial and loses all his faith in human nature whereas Scout, despite her experiences still maintains the basic faith that all people are essentially good.

This book addresses so many themes that are still prevalent in society today and addresses the prejudices that we all have inside of us, it literally left me so angry and emotional that I wanted to hurl it across the room in sheer frustration with the characters.  Most importantly, this novel reminds us of the importance of moral education in our children and I believe it is as relevant today as it was the day that Harper Lee put pen to paper.  It is little wonder that To Kill a Mockingbird is the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote as I doubt she could ever have topped it!  For me, I truly believe this book has altered my view of the world, changed the way I view people and has played a definite part in shaping the adult I have become.  It really is THAT important and should be read by everyone for generations to come.

1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

gone-with-the-wind-book-cover

Whenever I am asked by somebody to recommend a book, my first suggestion is always Gone With The Wind.  The reaction is always depressingly similar, normally a groan and a roll of the eyes.  As much as I love the film adaptation I honestly don’t think it did the book any favours at all, it is viewed as a Mills and Boon throw away romance with a spoiled and thoroughly unlikable heroine.  The star of the story is without a doubt the fabulously strong and determined Scarlett O’Hara.  Margaret Mitchell paints her female lead as spoiled, selfish, immature and at times undoubtedly cruel but as the story progresses we see Scarlett become a strong, courageous and utterly engaging heroine.

Gone With The Wind is set in Georgia during the American Civil War and depicts the experiences of a wealthy plantation owners daughter who find herself plunged into poverty at the outbreak of Civil War.  Scarlett is madly in love with her neighbour Ashley Wilkes,  and on discovering at a party that he is engaged to his cousin Melanie, Scarlett is heartbroken and accepts a proposal of marriage from Melanies brother, Charles Hamilton.  Before long, the menfolk are called up to fight for the Confederate Army and take off on horseback to the battlefields of war.

Two weeks after they are married, Scarlett’s husband dies of measles and Melanie invites Scarlett to live with her and Aunt Pitty Pat in Atlanta.  It is here that we see her form a deeper relationship with blockade runner, Rhett Butler.  The war is not going well for the Confederacy and we soon see the city of Atlanta come under siege, Melanie without her husband Ashley gives birth to a baby boy.  With the city in tatters and soldiers lying dead or wounded in the street it is up to Scarlett to get Melanie and her baby back to the relative safety of her fathers plantation, Tara.  She enlists the help of Rhett Butler but half way there he has a change of heart and decides to sign up to the war effort, leaving Scarlett alone.  On arriving back at Tara, Scarlett is welcomed back by her father Gerald who, it soon becomes clear, has lost his mind.  It is from Tara that we see Scarlett begin to pick up the pieces and feed her hungry family on little or no food.  Just as we think Scarlett is surviving a new threat appears in the form of taxes on Tara and Scarlett knows only one man with enough money to help her –  Rhett Butler.

The book undoubtedly centres around Scarlett but also deals with many other important themes such as racism and slavery and the effect it has on people and their behaviour when power is taken away.  This is not a Mills and Boon style “bodice ripper” as it is so often portrayed but is a deep and insightful story which can be enjoyed by anybody, male or female.  I would not describe Gone With The Wind as romance at all but as historical fiction full of action and passion.  This is truly a ripping yarn, one that I have enjoyed many times and will continue to read over and over again.