Unique Blogger Award

Sometimes little surprises can completely make your day. Every time I’m tagged or nominated in posts like this Unique Blogger Award it reminds me of the loveliness of the bookish blogging community. Thanks so much to Jenna @ Bookmark Your Thoughts for nominating me!!

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer the questions.
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.
  • Ask them three questions.

What is your favorite Disney film and character (they don’t have to be from the same thing)? Why?

I have so many Disney favorites, but my most recent one is Rapunzel and Tangled in general. I love the songs, the humor, the story, THE LANTERNS– everything!

How do you handle your TBR list when it gets out of control?

Usually by piling more books on top of it *hides in shame.* In actuality, when I notice that my TBR is getting a little out of control (on my Goodreads shelf, for instance) I’ll go through it and weed out books that I’m not really interested in readying anymore. Sometimes I don’t even remember why I added a book to my TBR in the first place!

What is your favorite type of post to blog about?

I love writing fun discussion posts for several reasons: a) they’re a blast to write, b) they spark awesome conversations in the comments section, and c) they help me look at other perspectives on a topic and see arguments from different angles.

  1. Do you have a favorite book genre?
  2. How do you feel about what is considered to be “classic” literature?
  3. What has been your favorite experience blogging so far?

Thanks again to Jenna for nominating me! What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt | Review

I never realized how many popular children’s books I neglected to read when I was younger until I started talking about them with my friends one day. This led me to read books like Matilda by Roald Dahl and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen in the midst of all my required summer reading to take a quick break from Victorian novels. Among those books was a gem that I still cannot believe I waited twenty years to read: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved this book. I read it in one sitting and immediately wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. In an effort to convince you to read this amazing children’s book if you haven’t (and to reread it if you already have!), here are five reasons why you should read Tuck Everlasting:

1 || The characters. Despite this book’s short length, I somehow managed to become incredibly invested in Babbitt’s masterfully developed characters. From lovely Winnie and courageous Mae to wise Angus and adorable Jesse, I couldn’t help but root for these charming characters.

2 || The suspense. The pacing of this book is so well done. There is never a moment that drags or feels out-of-place (if anything, I wish it were longer because I loved it so much!). The climax comes at the perfect moment: when you’re lulled into a state of bliss and start to forget about the worrisome foreshadowing that happened earlier on. Even though you know in the back of your mind that everything will eventually take a turn for the worse, you can’t help but hope for Winnie’s sake that life will be okay for a little longer!

3 || The writing. Not only is Natalie Babbitt an amazing storyteller, but she’s also a brilliant writer. There are countless lines in Tuck Everlasting that just seem to leap off the page and beg to be read again and again.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

4 || The themes. Be curious. Seek adventure. Live in the moment. Be present. Care genuinely and wholeheartedly about others. I could go on and on listing all of the important messages this book delivers. These themes are what makes Tuck Everlasting a sort of universal novel– Who can’t benefit from being reminded of these life lessons every one and a while?

5 || The ending. I was completely surprised by the ending of this book. The typical fairy tale conclusion, all rosy and ideal and romantic, is not what Natalie Babbitt delivers. Instead, she leaves the reader with an ending that is bittersweet but still memorable, heartwarming, and that makes sense within the context of the rest of the story.

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on this book? Have any recommendations of other children’s books I might have missed out on when I was younger? What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: 1984 and Illuminae

It’s time for another Classic Couple, a feature inspired by a past Top Ten Tuesday list. George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 is known for being an unsettling masterpiece of dystopian fiction. Its literary influence spans decades since its initial publication in 1949, as shown by the many elements it shares with contemporary fiction such as Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Though one the former novel takes place in a not-so-distant society on Earth and the latter is set in outer space, there are a surprising number of similarities between these two books.

 

Themes || Control. Authority. Civilization. Resistance. Rebellion. Independence. Individuality. Freedom. I could go on and on listing the countless themes and topics that permeate this classic couple. These themes are universal and always relevant in any society, which is likely why 1984 has thrived in the literary limelight.

A look ahead || These novels offer very different views of the future, one clearly more near than the other. Beneath the surface of these outlooks are warnings about what lies ahead should we take the wrong turn as a society. Will we let technology control us? Will we ruin our own planet? Will we lose all sense of individuality, freedom, and independence? The power of literature allows us to remember these warnings and (hopefully) take them to heart.

Technology || Technology plays an important role in these books, largely involving supervision, subjugation, and maintaining control. From AIDAN that controls the space ship to Big Brother that monitors everything and everyone, technology these writers clearly view technology as a tool that can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

A jaw-dropping ending || These books left me speechless as I turned their final pages. It sounds strange to say, but the endings are similar in their inhumanity: the torture described in 1984 is unimaginable and the rigid consciousness of AIDAN seems like a mockery of the human mind. I wish there was a sequel to 1984 like there is for Illuminae because I would love to see where that society goes in the future.

I still have yet to read the sequel to Illuminae, but I desperately want to! (I know, I know, I’ve been saying this for the longest time…) I highly recommend both of these fantastic books!

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with 1984? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

On Reading Classics | Discussion

I love classics. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that classics are my preferred genre. Some people can’t seem to fathom that I genuinely enjoy reading books like Faulkner’s Sartoris and Dickens’ Great Expectations and choose to read them in my free time. Perhaps this bewilderment is due to the bad reputation classics have gained from people’s negative experiences of being forced to read them in school. Or maybe classics have become too closely associated with the stereotypical pretentious air that some people put on when talking about this genre of literature. Whatever the reason may be, I’m here to break the barrier once and for all.

Classics don’t have to be scary, dull, or irrelevant; rather, they can be accessible, exciting, and relatable to our personal and societal experiences today. There are always going to be those books you just don’t click with (I’m sorry Bram Stoker, but I just reread Dracula and practically had to force myself to read the last hundred pages) but that doesn’t mean that the entire genre isn’t worth reading.

In an effort to spread my love of classics, here are some of my tips for reading them:

1 || Know the context. Before reading, take a few moments to research the time period and place in which the work was written as well as some information about the author. Knowing the context of a text is helpful for two reasons: a) you can better understand and relate to the characters when you know when, where, and how they are living and b) it helps explain any behaviors or beliefs that might seem odd or problematic to us today. Learning information about the author can also give us insight into why and how the text was written. For instance, while researching Faulkner I learned that he often listened to his elders tell stories about the Civil War, slavery, and his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner. The latter figure must have strongly influenced Faulkner because a similar legendary relative plays an important role in his novel Sartoris. Understanding the context of a work can make it easier to relate to the story overall.

2 || Make character maps. Wuthering Heights? The Sound and the Fury? Forget it: I would be completely lost and confused if I didn’t sketch out a character map. You can make one as you read, though I prefer to research the story ahead of time and map out the characters that way. There are countless helpful resources online that make creating character map easy and incredibly helpful. Even just writing a list of characters and some short descriptions of them can make following the story feel ten times easier.

3 || Take your time. Unless deadlines are imposed on you by others (teachers, professors, book clubs, etc.) there’s no specific point in time by which you have to read a classic. Go as slow as you need to in order to get the most out of the story, even if it takes you twice as long to finish as a different book normally would. Put it down and come back to it after a few days if you feel like you need a break or are feeling in the mood to read something else. There’s no pressure to read anything in one sitting or in a certain number of days, so don’t worry about how long it takes you to reach the final page. The more time you spend with a classic—or any book, for that matter—the more you’re likely to take away from the novel.

4 || Keep an open mind. As with anything you read, it’s important to keep an open mind that’s free from any preconceived judgments or expectations. There’s no use reading something when you already assume you’ll hate it before you even read the first page. Before starting Leo Tolstoy’s tome War and Peace I expected that it would bore me to tears; however, I was surprised to find that I actually looked forward to reading it more and more as I progressed through the novel. I know this tip probably sounds like basic common sense, but sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded of what would otherwise seem obvious. At times it can seem like classics are a genre of literature with their own rules and expectations; in actuality, they’re just like all other books!

It’s perfectly okay to not enjoy classics. I don’t go out of my way to pick up horror or paranormal novels and I don’t judge those who do. However, I do think that classics deserve a second chance.

Do you enjoy reading classics? Do you have a favorite? Did reading classics in school impact your feelings toward this genre? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot | Review

George Eliot’s classic novel Middlemarch has been on my bibliophilic radar for years, though I never found time to read it until it appeared on one of my required reading lists for Oxford. I once had a professor who described Middlemarch as being a “smarter Pride and Prejudice. This comment immediately intrigued me. What did he mean by smarter? His remark came back to me as soon as I started reading Middlemarch and now that I’ve finished I think I may understand what he was trying to say.

Middlemarch is about so much more than courtship, engagements, and marriages; of course, the same rings true for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but in a more subtle way. Eliot uses Victorian romance and courtly love as a vehicle for telling the story she actually wants to convey. The hierarchy of socioeconomic class is at the heart of nearly every decision each character makes, whether that be in the form of their access to money, their thriving or dwindling social network, and even judgment from others. Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist, is an embodiment of this message. Though she quickly marries, she does so out of an intense desire to serve the greater good, gain valuable knowledge with which to help others, and help her new husband in his theological studies. Her decision later on in the novel regarding another love interest may appear to be solely a display of affection; however, it is actually a statement about defying the expectations that correspond with the socioeconomic hierarchy. Rather than comply with the wishes of her family and friends, she chooses to follow her gut instinct and disregard societal judgement.

We see the influence of social expectations reflected in nearly all the characters in Eliot’s fictional town. Though Dorothea may be considered the protagonist, Eliot brings us into the lives of several other notable figures as well. The focus often shifts from Dorothea’s predicaments to those of her sister and other local families, giving the reader a close look at several different relationships and scenarios. I was impressed by how seamlessly Eliot connects them all via engagements, business negotiations, family ties, and unexpected events. However, even with a rotating cast of characters, the pace of Middlemarch felt slow in the middle five hundred pages or so. It’s natural to have ups and downs in pacing as the plot thickens and then problems resolve, but at times the pace of the novel felt almost glacial.

The basic story of the novel wasn’t what I was initially expecting, though I enjoyed it nevertheless. I was surprised to realize how interesting doctors and medical treatment was during this time period. Because doctors were often expected to treat patients in their homes, there’s an important level of trust and intimacy between the patient, family, and medical provider. The socioeconomic hierarchy also plays an interesting role in this dynamic because the doctor wishes to be perceived as professional and competent enough to be called upon by wealthy, respected households. I appreciate Eliot’s focus on a rather mundane aspect of daily life because it reveals a surprising amount about social circles in a town such as Middlemarch.

Overall, Middlemarch was well worth the long wait it took to finally be read. Was my professor correct when he deemed Middlemarch to be a “smarter” Pride and Prejudice? I guess that depends how you define “smarter” as well as how determined you are to categorize or rank novels by certain (and rather arbitrary) criteria. Though Eliot may be blunter than Austen when it comes to portraying the influence of societal expectations, but I believe that both novels contain valuable insights about Victorian society.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Especially to those who enjoy the work of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

What are your thoughts on Middlemarch? Have you read any of George Eliot’s other novels? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Slow Starters

Happy Tuesday!! We’ve all read those books that seem to drag on forever at the beginning before suddenly picking up and becoming an unexpectedly great read. This week, the lovely bloggers behind The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to showcase those books that we had a tough time with at first. Without further ado, here are ten slow starters that I ended up loving. 

Despite their slow starts, I highly recommend each and every one of these books!

What books have you enjoyed that started off kind of slow? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy | Review

Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road tells the story of a father and son as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world not too unlike our own. The sun doesn’t shine, food is scarce, and few people have survived—yet our protagonists travel onward, relentlessly trudging along the same never-ending road. Filled with a desperate hope that is unexpectedly infectious, The Road follows the father and son as they attempt to survive against all odds.

One can’t help but be immediately struck by McCarthy’s unusual narration style while reading The Road. At first his abandonment of quotation marks and apostrophes was jarring, but over time I realized how well it suits the story. It seems like a reflection of how desolate the father and his son’s world has become: not even voices can survive, hence the lack of quotation marks in their dialogue. The best way I can describe the narration is that it feels like a sort of stream of consciousness in third person. It is intimate and detached at the same time, making the reader feel simultaneously included and ostracized. Such a unique writing style makes for a reading experience that is both bizarre and incredibly fascinating.

A major strength of The Road is its careful balance of detail and ambivalence. McCarthy explains enough to answer the basic important questions but doesn’t provide an answer to everything the reader might be wondering. For instance, throughout the novel we learn more about the boy’s mother and why she isn’t with them now; however, we aren’t told exactly what happened to cause such a drastic change on Earth. I think too many dystopian novels make the mistake of outlining catastrophic events that the actual story suffers and is lost along the way. It was nice to not have to worry about understanding exactly what caused the “end of the world” as we know it; rather, all you can do as a reader is focus on the future of these characters. In a way, this forward-looking mindset helped me connect with the characters more, especially with the little boy. He has no memory of what the world was like before or during the transition from “before” to his “now,” much like the reader has very little knowledge of what happened in that transitional period.

Speaking of the little boy, I was surprised by the suspense and depth of this novel considering it mainly focuses on only two characters. It never feels as though it is lacking in anything; instead, the McCarthy is able to bring out the personalities of the father and his son more strongly than if there were a larger cast of characters. There is an unexpected sense of intimacy in this novel, as though these characters are allowing us to view sides of them that no one else sees. Whether they’re at rock bottom or sky-high, we’re taken into their world and shown their vulnerability, faults, and hidden desires. Don’t let the character-driven nature of this novel fool you—it’s still an engaging, suspenseful page-turner that becomes harder and harder to put down as you read.

One of the only aspects of The Road that I feel lukewarm about is the ending. The final scene makes sense when thinking about the rest of the novel, but the more emotional reader in me desperately wishes it had ended differently. It gives the reader some closure, but is it enough? I suppose that up to the individual to decide.

Overall, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was a much more emotional, intimate, heart-wrenching novel than I initially expected it to be. There is certainly suspense, action, and even a bit of mystery, but what makes this novel memorable is the emphasized relationship between the father and his son. Their relationship is like the blood pumping through this story or the thread binding these pages together. Whether you’re interested in this novel for the characters, plot, or general premise, I highly recommend picking up The Road.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

What are your thoughts on The Road? Are there any other books by Cormac McCarthy that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems in Non-fiction

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic celebrates books that are under-rated, under-discussed, and under-appreciated in specific genres. I’ve chosen a genre that I think fits this as well: non-fiction. There are so many amazing non-fiction books out there, yet so many readers (myself included!) tend to gravitate away from this misunderstood genre. In an effort to try to convince myself and others to read more from this genre, here are ten hidden gems of non-fiction!

 

Do you have a favorite non-fiction book? Have any recommendations? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,
HOLLY

A Classic Couple: GREAT EXPECTATIONS and A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY

In a past Top Ten Tuesday post I paired Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations with the more contemporary novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people expressed interest in hearing more about the connection I see between these two works of literature even though they seem very different at a first glance. While there are many differences between them— publication dates, settings, time periods—they also share several important similarities.

Protagonists || Both novels focus on the lives of young boys as they mature into adulthood. In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of naïve Pip as he moves away from home learns what it’s like to live in the real world. Interestingly, it could be argued that there are two protagonists in A Prayer for Owen Meany: Owen Meany himself as well as John Wheelwright, the narrator through which we are told the events of both of their lives. Pip, Owen, and John all undergo significant character development as time passes, circumstances change, and unforeseen events take place.

Genre || Though these books are of distinct genres– Victorian literature and contemporary fiction– they’re also part of a shared genre: Bildungsroman. Both novels are coming-of-age stories with characters you can’t help but root for along the way. They might make some frustratingly foolish decisions at times—but who hasn’t? What I love about this genre is that it is primarily character-driven. The plot is important, but it is often secondary to what the characters are experiencing and feeling.

Plans || Speaking of plot, the events of these books can get complicated. There are so many tiny details to keep track of that at times it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, Dickens and Irving somehow manage to pull it all together at the end and connect the many dots that never made sense before. I distinctly remember reading the ending of A Prayer for Owen Meany and being absolutely blown away. All of those seemingly random symbols and details suddenly made perfect sense in a way that I never expected. It’s clear that these writers had plans in mind when writing these brilliant books (or maybe they’re just really good at spontaneous success!).

What are your thoughts on these two books? Would you pair them together? Are there books that would make a more suitable pair? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabeth Gaskell | Review

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is the second novel I had to read for the Victorian Literature tutorial I’m taking at Oxford during my first term. It’s fitting that this follows Dickens’ Hard Times on our summer reading list because Dickens was actually the editor of the magazine that Gaskell’s novel was initially serially published from September 1854 to January 1855. Interestingly enough, Dickens is also credited with creating the title for this novel (in opposition to Gaskell, who wanted to title her work “Margaret Hale” after the protagonist). Set in the fictional manufacturing town of Milton, this novel follows Margaret as she transitions from living in rural southern England to urban northern England.

+ The social problem. I’d be amiss if I didn’t start by highlighting how well Gaskell addresses what is often known as the “social problem” in England during the nineteenth century. The novel’s focus on the plight of factory workers during this time period is fascinating, especially in regard to the strike and its effect on the Higgins family. Little Mary Higgins humanizes the “Hands” that factory owners often disregarded as incompetent and lazy.

+ Community vs. class. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the overall message it delivers: personal relationships can be more important than one’s social class. The immense amount of character development in this novel is particularly apparent when you look at how many characters learn the lesson of community over class. This lesson is one of the many ways in which North and South is as relevant today as it was back in Gaskell’s lifetime.

+ Margaret Hale. Margaret reminds me of one of my favorite characters in literature: Jane from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both characters are strong, independent young women who experience many changes in their lives. They are resilient and clever, intelligent and courageous, yet never lose their immense capacities for compassion and empathy. I think it’s telling that Gaskell initially wanted to name this novel after Margaret herself because it suggests that she viewed the protagonist as the real heart of the story.

One of my only complaints is that this novel ends very abruptly compared to its prior steady pace. Not only does the ending feel sudden, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. What happens to the Higgins family, Fred, and Mrs. Thornton? What was the point of the marriage proposal at the very beginning of the novel?  How does Mr. Henry Lennox feel about the concluding events of the novel? Does Margaret receive a lot of backlash for her decision or is there a positive response? It almost feels as though this novel was missing an epilogue to tie all of these loose ends together.

Nevertheless, North and South was an engaging and enjoyable introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! I think anyone who has read and enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre should definitely consider picking up North and South.

What are your thoughts on this novel? Have you read anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY