Sunday 30 June 2013

Books are Amazing... June Edition!

It's the last day of the month and you know what that means... it's time for the latest Books Are Amazing post! The lovely Sarah (great name, btw) from Scandinavian On The Inside stepped in at the last minute this month as I have lost all contact details for the person I'd pencilled in (Becky Schulz, if you're out there, email me!). There are some awesome selections below - I love it when children's books come up, I still feel very strongly about my favourites. I'm already mentally compiling my 2013 round-up, maybe Ballet Shoes will sneak in there after all.

Aaaanyway. Over to the other Sarah!

Hello! I’m Sarah, and books are my happy place. Not ALL books. But a lot of them. I’ve loved reading since forever, and it’s my ultimate favourite thing to do before work, after work, at weekends, on trains, over lunch, in the garden, when I’m supposed to be doing something else.... I read all the time. And when I’m not reading, I’m usually writing. Either my blog, which also indulges my love for amazing graphic/interior/illustrative design, or at work – I’m copywriter for an advertising agency, which basically means I get paid for writing stuff other people read. I guess I just LOVE WORDS.

The words I love most of all are written in my favourite books of all time ever. There are way too many of those to include in this post, or Sarah would have to give me her entire blog to fill, so I’ve tried very very hard to narrow my shortlist down to four. FOUR. It’s taken me three days to decide which ones. And even then I went round stroking the ones I didn’t include in apology. It was going to be five, but then I wrote a lot for four and figured any more would push this over the edge from blog post into thesis material. Anyway. Here are those that made the cut, the titles that own a bit of my soul and that I’ll read over and over again until they fall apart!

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S Lewis (Narnia Book #5)
Well. If the others books on this list were hard to choose, this one actually wasn’t. This is hands down my favourite book of ALL TIME, and has been since I was 7 years old. I adore all of the Narnia series, but for some reason formed a ridiculous attachment to this one. Maybe it’s got something to do with the sea (I love the sea). Or magic. (I love that too). Or imagination, or travel, or sadness, or terror, or excitement, or beloved characters, or dragons, or myths, or life lessons, or perfect quotes, or symbolism, or pure escapism....because the Dawn Treader has all of these in spades. And more.

Lucy and Edmund (come on, you all know Lucy and Edmund) go to stay with their insufferable cousin Eustace over the summer holidays and somehow find themselves swept into a painting and out to sea, on a magnificent ship called the Dawn Treader captained by Prince Caspian and manned by a delightful mix of old and new Narnian faces alike, including Reepicheep the mouse (who, it must be said, is one of the biggest badasses in literary history). The Dawn Treader is seeking out a group of lost Lords, last known to have sailed those waters some years ago, never having return. Along the search, the ship and crew stop off at a variety of magical and wonderful and terrible and metaphorical islands, each one being so incredibly well described and imagined by C S Lewis that you LITERALLY feel as if you’re there too. Or at least I did. I wanted to be there. I PINED to be there.

I love this story for the sheer realism, and the wonder and the beauty and the way that as an adult, the adventure seems even more magical than it did when I read it as a child. As an adult I can identify the symbolism and the metaphors behind each place and each character and each fate, and this just makes the story a thousand times more amazing. I cry at the end, every time I read it. And I read it at least once a year. It’s the book I recommend to everyone and the book I’d save from a burning house. It’s brilliant.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
This happens to be one of the best books I’ve ever read in my whole life, and I want to use this opportunity to recommend it to every single person who hasn’t already picked it up. Even if you’ve seen the film (which I haven’t yet!) read the book, because it is BEAUTIFUL. Visually, prose-wise, theme-wise... utterly, utterly beautiful. And heartbreaking. And tragic. And painful. I cried more than I can remember crying at a book since I read Elie Weisel’s Dawn/Day/Night trilogy last summer, and then I cried a LOT. (I even cried more than I usually cry at the VotDT!)

Jonathan Safran Foer takes the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and writes, diary style, an account from the mind of nine year old Oskar who lost his father and is now trying to make sense of life without his biggest hero. The main plot of the novel is taken from the fact that Oskar liked to play puzzle games and treasure hunts with his dad before the latters’ untimely death, and convinces himself that a key found in a vase in his father’s office is a ‘clue’ to a final game, the ‘prize’ of which will be having his dad somehow and illogically return to him, and his determination takes him on a wild goose chase around the districts of New York City as he comes up with infinite possible destinations for his tragic hope.

Chapters written by Oskar’s paternal grandparents interject the flow of the original narration, and together, the two threads create a web of despair and misfortune so dense it hurts your very insides to keep reading. But if you’re anything like me, you WILL keep reading, out of love and desperation and hope for Oskar, and intrigue and absorption for yourself. When I finished the book I felt so full, full of emotion and satisfaction and contentment and sympathy. I enjoyed every single page, in that strange way that a book filled with sad things can be ‘enjoyable’. If you like books that really say something, read this. It says SO MUCH.

The Shell House by Linda Newbury.
The Shell House is one of those books that I never expected to love as much as I did – I got it for Christmas one year and it sat unread for months, just because I also got about 25 other books and the blurbs on those drew me in more than the blurb on this one. But once I’d finally picked it up and got to the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. Hooked and desperate to read the rest.

Like all Linda Newbury titles, the story splits between two people at two points in history, that are connected in some way to each other – here, Greg is a sixth form student in ‘our time’ living close to Graveney Hall, an old stately home that is finally being renovated after a fire that happened around the time the Hall was last inhabited; which was by 19 year old Edmund and his family back in WWII. The chapters flick from Edmund to Greg, and as the plot develops, Newbury’s talent at weaving threads of connection provides a thought provoking and poignant insight into the teenage troubles faced by the two boys, who are so incredibly similar even though they were separated by a good 60 years. Edmund struggled with the pressures of being heir to a sprawling estate, the son of rich parents and the suffocating societal norms of the times, all the while living with a deep personal secret he could never allow to be known. Greg faces deadlines and pushy friends and overly inquisitive parents and also harbours an identical secret he can’t even understand himself, let alone tell to anyone else.

Through the setting of Graveney Hall at both points in time, we witness the development of both boys as they struggle to not let their secrets destroy everything they’ve worked for and everything they hold close, and ultimately how they deal with the inevitable explosions when the strength of the secrets prove too much. I can’t write much else without giving away too many details, and having those would be too much of a spoiler – Newbury novels rely on a steady drip feed of information filtering across both characters; so all I can REALLY say is if you want to be fully immersed in a book, if you want to laugh and yell at it and hope and be shocked and play guesswork, this is the one for you. Her other titles are awesome, but this is the one I remember most vividly, and the one I’d go back and read again.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
The Rosie Project is a story about life, love, and lobster on Tuesdays. Don Tillman is an odd, charming, highly intelligent and extremely socially awkward professor of genetics at a prestigious Melbourne university. His life is lived according to conventions, timetables, rules and familiarity, and in nearly every aspect of it he has total control and complete satisfaction. The one area which isn’t living up to Don’s wishes or expectations is his love life, and so his search to find a suitable partner becomes a project, classified just like all other tasks he undergoes throughout the day. Whilst ‘The Wife Project’ is underway, Don crosses paths with Rosie, a woman he mistakenly thinks applied to date him via his extensive questionnaire. Rosie is immediately rejected as wife material – she smokes, doesn’t eat meat, drinks more than the standardized recommendation for women and has dyed hair – but as Don sees more and more of Rosie he becomes increasingly confused by his reaction to her and the experiences they share. Spending time with Rosie forces Don to abandon much of his regular timetable and repetitive habits, and propels him into a world full of social interaction, spontaneous decision making and societal norms that were previously alien to him.

The Rosie Project is not, by any means, a romantic novel, nor is it simply ‘chick-lit’ – instead being a very clever, very funny, very dry and very fascinating ‘docu-novel’ that does and should appeal to all ages and genders. Being fresh, charming and absorbing, it’s a real treat to curl up with over the course of a lazy weekend, with or without a large glass (or three) of wine. Think of it as a cross between The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, with extra added humour. It’s brilliant.

I LOVED this post! There is nothing I love more than hearing someone's utter passion for something and I can just tell how passionate Sarah is about these books. I want to read them all now (and really, I'm far overdue for a Narnia reread). Tune in next month to hear Niki's picks and, as always, if you want to be a contributor, email me!


  1. I haven' t read any of these books, but I think I should add them to my to-read list!

    1. @susanne - You definitely should! I'm already debating a re-read of them all :D

      Sarah x

  2. Ah, I always loved The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; easily my favourite of the Narnia books, although Prince Caspian was always a close second.

  3. I loved The Rosie Project, was such a refreshing read and agree that it was a very clever and witty novel. Glad you enjoyed it too :) xoxo


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