favourite books

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The Diary Of A Young Girl – Anne Frank

Published September 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit. Now, in a new edition enriched by many passages originally withheld by her father, we meet an Anne more real, more human, and more vital than ever. Here she is first and foremost a teenage girl—stubbornly honest, touchingly vulnerable, in love with life. She imparts her deeply secret world of soul-searching and hungering for affection, rebellious clashes with her mother, romance and newly discovered sexuality, and wry, candid observations of her companions. Facing hunger, fear of discovery and death, and the petty frustrations of such confined quarters, Anne writes with adult wisdom and views beyond her years. Her story is that of every teenager, lived out in conditions few teenagers have ever known.

What did I think?:

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of those pieces of non fiction that occupies a very special place in my heart. I’ve read it a few times now at different points in my life through my adolescence right through to adulthood and each time I’ve managed to get something unique out of each reading experience. It’s not a five star read for me and that’s only because, I have to be honest, I do find parts of Anne’s diary a bit slower than others but it earns a rightful place on my favourites shelf because of what it’s given me over the years. Over this past year, I’ve challenged myself to a little experiment where I have a current read, a work of non fiction and a favourite re-read on the go at the one time. I set this challenge for myself as I realised I have a host of non fiction books on my shelves that just aren’t getting read and that I need to get round to, whilst also realising that with all the exciting new releases coming in, I don’t get a chance to re-read the books on my favourite shelves. The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of my all-time favourites and after this latest re-read, definitely deserves to keep its spot on the shelf.

Anne Frank, the author of the diary entries put into a collection by her father, Otto Frank.

If you haven’t managed to get round to reading this book yet (and I feel like it should be required reading in ALL schools!), Anne Frank is a young girl from a Jewish family who is forced to go into hiding with her parents, sister and another family when the Nazis descend upon their town and begin to remove all people of the Jewish faith to camps and ghettos, basically sealing their fate to one of misery, poverty, disease and in far too many scenarios, death. Assisted by some friends, the two families are ensconced in a Secret Annex concealed from the world by means of a bookcase which opened onto their tiny living quarters where they were forced to hide for two years. Most of the time they had to exist in complete silence because of the workers in the office below or the proximity of the other houses to their own space. Discovery of the family would result in deportation and execution of all those that hid there and of those that helped them evade the authorities so playing by the rules of the house, being as quiet as possible and desperately awaiting the end of the war became normal life for the families that lived there.

Reconstruction of the bookcase that hid the doorway to The Secret Annex.

Image from: By Bungle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4132164

As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I’ve managed to extract something different from each experience I’ve had reading The Diary Of A Young Girl. Reading it as a teenager, I felt strangely close to Anne and I felt a well of emotions being stirred up regarding the horrific situation she finds herself in, her normal feelings as a young teenager herself (particularly about boys!) and those awkward adolescent moments where the hormones are raging and you feel yourself developing into a woman coupled with the confusion that often accompanies these thoughts and feelings. Having to cope with all of this whilst living in such close quarters with her family, another family and having no means of escape left me feeling so uncomfortable and sorry for Anne that at times, I had to silently applaud her for her tenacity, humour and bravery that is clearly apparent and so endearing throughout her diary entries.

On my latest reading of this book, I got even more than I ever could have expected from it emotionally speaking and that’s because I had the good fortune to visit Amsterdam about eight years ago and more specifically, the house and Secret Annex where Anne Frank was hidden. It was an experience I will never, ever forget, especially when I saw how small their quarters actually were. It was frightening to think that eight people had to live in such a small space and I couldn’t stop saying to my partner how unbelievable it was that they could survive in those cramped, overcrowded conditions for so long and all parties managed to keep their sanity. However, there are two stand-out points that I take away from Diary Of A Young Girl that I find particularly heart-breaking. The first is that Anne’s story does NOT have a happy ending and it’s especially hard to read, knowing this and seeing her joyful optimism for the end of the war, having a normal life and realising her dreams of becoming a writer. This leads me onto the second point – Anne is quite obviously a hugely talented writer. Her diary entries are succinct, empowering, beautiful, raw and so very authentic and it’s devastating to think of what she could have done in her life if she had been given the chance to see the end of the war and become an adult. Even writing about it now makes me feel so emotional and it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-visiting in the future, it’s too important not to.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Drawing Of The Three ( The Dark Tower #2) – Stephen King

Published August 23, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 1978, Stephen King introduced the world to the last gunslinger, Roland of Gilead.  Nothing has been the same since. More than twenty years later, the quest for the Dark Tower continues to take readers on a wildly epic ride. Through parallel worlds and across time, Roland must brave desolate wastelands and endless deserts, drifting into the unimaginable and the familiar. A classic tale of colossal scope—crossing over terrain from The StandThe Eyes of the DragonInsomniaThe TalismanBlack HouseHearts in Atlantis’Salem’s Lot, and other familiar King haunts—the adventure takes hold with the turn of each page.

And the tower awaits….

The Second Volume in the Epic Dark Tower Series…

The Drawing of the Three

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America.

Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Once again, Stephen King has masterfully interwoven dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism.

What did I think?:

The Drawing Of The Three, the second book in King’s epic Dark Tower series has to have been my biggest surprises out of all the author’s books. If you’ve read my review on the first, The Gunslinger, you might realise why. When I first read The Gunslinger, I wasn’t a big fan of this series at all. In fact, I may have even thought – “Stephen King, what ARE you doing?” Sacrilege I know, but it was only when a good friend persuaded me to give the second in the series a shot that I forced myself to continue and by gum, am I glad I did? This is actually my re-read of the entire series and it hasn’t lost its magic or power, not by a long shot. By the second book, things are really kicking off and we meet a host of characters that will prove so crucial for the entire series. I felt so much more comfortable with this world and the people within it and from the very first call of the lobstrosities in the opening pages – “Dad a chum? Dum a chum?” I was officially obsessed.

Stephen King, author of The Drawing Of The Three, book two in the Dark Tower series.

As this is a second book in the series, I won’t be telling you too much about the plot in any great detail but as the first book was a bit of an unholy mess (in my opinion), I won’t be spoiling anything to tell you that THIS is where the story really begins. Obviously I would advocate reading The Gunslinger before The Drawing Of The Three to get an idea about the world and our main character, gunslinger Roland Deschain but, and I feel treacherous for saying this, it wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world if you accidentally skimmed tiny portions of it. I feel like with The Gunslinger, there are certain points of the narrative that are pretty important, others are kind of negligible and I’m not really sure of their purpose in the story. However, I must mention again that it did improve on a second reading experience recently, probably because I was completely familiar with the world at that point in time.

One of the terrifying lobstrosities, as imagined in the graphic novels of the Dark Tower.

So, in The Drawing Of The Three, our hero Roland finds himself alone on the beach, dazed and confused. The last thing he remembers is chasing after the elusive Man In Black and now he finds himself in a deserted area by the sea. Well, not completely deserted as he soon discovers to his horror when some curious, dangerous lobstrosities come to visit him. His purpose for being on the beach? There are three doors that he must enter, all three go to different points in time in a different world and he must draw from this world three very important people that become part of his ka-tet (or clan) as he continues his quest to find The Dark Tower. These people will all help in some way on his journey and become as close to him as family, but this is merely the start of a long, hazardous trip for all of them where they will encounter things from their worst nightmares and change forever as the individuals they once were.

I adore The Dark Tower series with every fibre of my being and I was so delighted and relieved to have pushed myself to continue after the initial disappointment of The Gunslinger. In fact, if I had to choose a favourite book of the series, this one would be tied with the fourth book but also has a special place in my heart for restoring my faith in Stephen King as a writer of fantasy. He pulled it off AMAZINGLY well and I can’t urge everyone enough who has a love of the genre to please, please give this series a try. What makes it so special? Of course, King has an innate talent for creating wonderful characters that live on in your memory long after closing the book but the group he has drawn in this series is nothing short of magnificent. I love them all dearly, all for very different reasons and because you follow them over the space of seven books (some of them a sizeable page length!) you really get to know and love them as individuals.

Secondly, the intricate and complex world he creates is imaginative, unique and brilliant and although it may seem confusing at the beginning, stick with it, the rewards are well worth the effort. As a genre, I’m getting into reading fantasy a lot more recently but trust me when I say, The Dark Tower is going to be a tough one to beat. I can’t think of any other series that has captured my heart and endlessly fascinated me as we journey with Roland and his ka-tet to reach the end of his mysterious quest.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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COMING UP SOON: The Wastelands (The Dark Tower #3).

 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

Published August 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every conceivable level, with an ease and authority that mark it as a genuine masterpiece.

What did I think?:

I’m so, so glad I made the decision to go back and re-read the books on my favourites shelves alongside a non fiction read and a “main,” read. Atonement is one of my all time favourites and it definitely deserved every single one of its five stars and a spot on the shelf. I don’t keep every single book that I rate five stars – ha, I just don’t have the room sadly! So how does a book end up on this shelf? It has to move me, be memorable and stay with me long after finishing it and finally, it has to be a book I can see myself re-reading again in the future. It’s also a great way of seeing if re-visiting a book after a period of time away from it will lead me to rating it differently and potentially getting rid of it from the shelves – something I was very nervous about! Luckily, Atonement remains both a firm favourite, maintaining its illustrious position and making me consider if I might re-read it again in a few years once again.

Ian McEwan, author of Atonement.

Set just before the outbreak of the Second World War, we are initially following the Tallis family – Briony the youngest, Cecilia the eldest girl and their brother, Leon who is returning with a friend for a rather swanky dinner party at home that same night. The family also have their cousins staying with them under quite unhappy circumstances as their parents marriage is going through severe difficulties. So in order to cheer them up and distract them from the rumours surrounding their parents, Briony (an inspiring and precocious writer) is determined to put on a play she wrote herself. For childish reasons, she might also be clamouring for attention, desperate that her family especially her mother and beloved older siblings, would take pleasure in her talent.

A scene from the movie adaptation of Atonement with Keira Knightly and James McAvoy.

As you may have suspected, Briony’s grand plan doesn’t end up going off to plan and she becomes sulky, distant and incredibly vulnerable. It’s at this particular point of her mood that she witnesses an altercation between her sister, Cecilia and her childhood friend Robbie Turner that she doesn’t help matters by deploying her vivid imagination to mistakenly think of what “might” have been happened. The situation is only exacerbated when Briony comes across a note from Robbie to Cecilia that shocks her to her core and then once more happens upon them in the library alone together. All these little happenstances and coincidences leads Briony to make the most life-changing accusation she has ever perpetuated in her life and permanently alters one man’s dreams and wishes into something a whole lot different. Briony must atone for what she has done but the problem is, can she ever be forgiven?

Okay, I’ll admit….when this book started at first I wasn’t into it at all. I found myself confused as to why this book was so highly rated (by myself as well!) and this was mainly because of the extra slow speed and occasional complexity of the narrative. It is literary fiction at its most beautiful and moments, characters, situations are described so picture postcard perfectly, you might wonder why I hesitated. I DO love all of these things and much more besides, but I felt like if McEwan had threw more weight behind to what was going on with his lesser characters, like the elusive Mrs Emily Tallis and the suffering of cousin Lola Quincey, I would have become invested in the story at an earlier point.

Then THE EVENT occurs. This is when Atonement really starts to hit its stride and I could breathe a sense of relief and wipe an anxious drop of sweat from my brow. One of our main characters ends up in quite a difficult, dangerous situation, fighting overseas as a soldier in France and the things he sees and has to deal with on a daily basis as well as trying to remain alive himself are nothing short of horrific. Briony is back home herself working as a student nurse and attempting to do her part for the war effort but she still cannot stop thinking about the awful things she did when she was a child and begs her estranged sister, Cecilia for contact and a forgiving ear.

I’ve read a few other things by Ian McEwan, some I’ve enjoyed, others I haven’t liked at all sadly, but I honestly think this is his most wonderful piece of writing yet. The betrayal, the secrets, the lives they have had to lead and the guilt and turmoil that follows every single character round is hugely fascinating and occasionally emotional to read about. Short-listed for The Man Booker Prize back in 2001, it was a worthy contender for such a prestigious prize and I really hope, because of this accolade you will be interested to give it a shot if you’ve never read any of the author before. I truly believe this is the most perfect place you could start with his writing but I beg, please push through the slow parts, it becomes an undeniably stupendous novel that I will continue to treasure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Published April 29, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

What did I think?:

I realised a little while ago that I’ve got so many books on my shelves/current TBR that the books on my favourites shelves are getting a bit neglected as I tend to prioritise new releases over books I’ve read before – I guess as most book bloggers tend to do. As an adult I’m primarily a “one book only” sort of girl which is strange as I remember so clearly being eleven years old, at boarding school in Scotland and staying with my Gran during the half-term. My parents lived in Germany as my dad was in the army so I could only see them at the end of term but I loved staying with my Gran. I registered at the local library where she lives and to my delight, I realised I could take out up to SIX books with my current library card. Of course, me being me I took out the whole six book allowance and because I didn’t think I’d have time to read all six before I went back to school, I used to read a couple of chapters of one and then switch to another one (and so on right through the six books). That way, every book got a chance and I got a new, exciting story every few chapters. THERE IS A POINT TO THIS STORY, I PROMISE.

If you follow me on Instagram/Twitter you may have seen this post of my shelves. I can’t even fit them all in!

Anyway, I realised if I reverted back to my child-like habits and read more than one book at a time, it would be a great way to get through my massive TBR and (here is the point….) re-visit some of those old favourites that I’ve never read more than once. My new plan over the last six months has been to combine my current “main” read with a non-fiction book and then one on my favourites shelf. I’ll be reading three books at a time which isn’t as ambitious as my eleven year old past self was (haha) and I think the combination of non-fiction with an old favourite (where I’m well aware of the plot and characters) will mean I don’t mix up the books too much, which was a concern of mine.

This could actually be me. Yes it could. But it’s not. (YET!)

After all that nonsense and unnecessary drivel I’m here to tell you about one of my favourite books, To Kill A Mockingbird which has now become a classic and is taught now in many schools at GCSE level here in the UK. I guess a big concern of mine was that I’ve changed a lot in the last ten years and my tastes may have too, ergo maybe it wouldn’t be a favourite anymore? No worries on that account. This novel was just as powerful, just as poignant and just as gorgeously written as I remembered. If you haven’t read it yet (where have you BEEN, go read it immediately!), it’s the tale of  Jean Louise “Scout” and Jem Finch, brother and sister in the hot summers of the 1930’s in the Deep South. They have a beautifully close relationship and enjoy playing with each other and the boy next door, Dill. Their new favourite game is to frighten and dare each other in an attempt to make the local mysterious hermit-like Arthur “Boo” Radley to engage with them. As well as this, the children have their first experience of prejudice, racism and terrifying attitudes and behavour when their father, lawyer Atticus Finch is tasked with defending a black man accused of raping a local white girl.

Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in the 1962 film directed by Robert Mulligan.

I think that’s all I want to say about the plot as I’m sure you’re all aware of it. This is just such a delightful novel that I’m so glad I had the experience of re-reading. All I could think of as I was reading it was the 1995 song by the Boo Radleys“Wake Up Boo,” which I loved as a teenager and had running through my head as I finished each chapter. To Kill A Mockingbird is illuminating in its intensity and every moment of it felt so nostalgic for me. One of the best things I’ve realised about re-reading a favourite is that you often forget huge portions of the narrative and this was definitely true with this novel. Oh my goodness, the part when Scout and Jem rush to the local jail where Tom Robinson is being held whilst an angry mob threatens Atticus and the part where Scout dresses up as a giant ham for the Halloween pageant and the events that occur after that….no major spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read it of course! I think what makes this novel so special is that it has moments that really warm your heart and then it deals with such difficult issues that at times, my skin crawled with disgust.

The Boo Radleys – to listen to “Wake Up Boo,” visit this link HERE.

And the characters! Please let me take just a moment to show my appreciation for independent, tomboy, dress-hating, determined Scout who captured my attention immediately and who I still continued to think about as a strong female lead, even without reading the book for a number of years! Then there is the beautiful man that is Atticus Finch, the ultimate father figure, who loves his children unconditionally, is brave and not afraid to stand up for what he believes in and is the most wonderful role model, adviser and parent that any child could wish for. I couldn’t have asked for anything better from this re-read, it will be staying on my shelves as a confirmed favourite, in fact it actually surpassed my expectations. When I originally read it, I gave it four stars on Goodreads. I wonder if you can guess what I’m giving it now?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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