Book Tags

The 20 Questions Book Tag

March has been a busy old month for reviews and blog tours on The Shelf so I thought a change of pace in the form of a book tag might be nice this weekend. This one was created by buydebook over on Goodreads and seemed like a lot of fun.

1. How many books is too many books in a series?

I prefer standalones to series – asking me to read your unfinished seven book fantasy epic is asking me to enter into a long-term reading relationship (yes, I’m looking at you George R R Martin) and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment in my reading life right now. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s more than three books long, I want to know that it’s REALLY good before I start it. Series with books that can be read as standalones, as with Agatha Christie or Terry Pratchett, are an exception to this rule however, as is Harry Potter.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

Depends on how they’re done. I find a lot of the time they’re included just for the sake of it (and to generate hype for the next book in a series) which I think is…a bit of a cheap shot if I’m being honest. I prefer it when each book wraps up it’s own story but manages to show that there’s more to develop in the next one in the series. Kudos to J K Rowling for getting this absolutely right with HP.

3. Hardback or paperback?

Paperback, always. Just so much easier to read and carry around with you. That said, nothing is as nice as a gorgeous special edition hardback on a bookshelf. And always, always print over ebook. My Kindle is useful when I’m on the go but a physical book will always be my first love.

4. Favourite book?

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. The one book I regularly re-read and I never fail to get sucked into the world that Tolkien builds. And yes, I know it has dull bits and there’s far too much singing at times; but I shall love it forever despite its flaws.

5. Least favourite book? 

Can’t say I have one. If I don’t like a book, I generally either don’t finish it or don’t remember much about it!

6. Love triangles, yes or no?

Again, depends on how they’re handled. If we’re going down the Bella/Edward/Jacob route from Twilight, it’s a red flag (in fact, you can include most things about Twilight in my list of red flags – sorry Twilight fans but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse) but if we’re looking at a Willoughby/Brandon/Marianne from Sense & Sensibility sort of situation then the romantic tension can really add to the story.

7. The most recent book you’ve read that you just couldn’t finish?

Prisoner of Tehran  by Marina Nemat. It was my book club’s choice for March but I just didn’t like the writing style at all so I only made it about three chapters in. Everyone else loved it though so who am I to judge?

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan. It’s fantastic.

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. One of my friends is a true crime fan and I think she’ll devour this, despite the dark subject matter. Just so well written, researched and balanced.

10. Oldest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Probably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, although it’s debatable as to when that was ‘written’.

11. Newest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce – it’s not published until 05 April 2018! Review coming very soon (heads up, it’s wonderful)

12. Favourite author?

As Loki would say “it varies from moment to moment”!

13. Buying books or borrowing books?

Both! I’m increasingly making use of my local library however, in an effort to save funds – so at the moment, I’m probably more of a borrower.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. So many people loved this one but found the narrator more unlikeable than unreliable and I guessed the ending about a third of the way in. Plus can we stop calling grown women ‘girls’ in book titles please?

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Dogs-ears? Sacrilege! Bookmarks all the way for me.

16. A book you can always re-read?

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I love all of Jane’s novels but this one merits repeated reading. Each time I read it, I get another layer of her bookish in-jokes. Plus Henry Tilney is just delicious isn’t he? In my dream film cast, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston…

17. Can you read whilst listening to music?

Only classical. I have a playlist of music that doesn’t have any words – it’s a mix of film music, video game scores and classical music, and I listen to it when I’m reading and also when I’m writing.

18. One POV or multiple POV?

I don’t have an especial preference for either, although I do think if you’re going to move between multiple characters’ heads, you need to have a reason why you’re doing that.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

Usually over multiple days. With the demands of the day job, the household and the occasional need to have a social life, opportunities to read books in one sitting are few and far between.

20. Who do you tag?

Everyone! I love reading other people’s responses to book tags so if you like the look of this one, please do join in!

I’d also love to have your answers to any of the questions above in the comments down below, or come say hi over on Twitter! I’ll be back next week with another book review but, in the meantime…

Happy Reading! x

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I Heart Jane: A Reader’s Tribute to Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudiceToday marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen. As a longtime Austen fan, it seems only fitting to mark the occasion with a tribute to her writing.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Austen’s work. Her wry observances of character are as relevant today as they were when she first put them on the page. Surely we have most of us known a Mrs Bennett or a Mr Collins in our time? From the moment that my mother first handed me her treasured paperback of Pride and Prejudice – given to me on holiday to alleviate my teenage boredom when all my own books had been finished or cast aside – I found her ready wit and perceptive characterisation captivating. Plus I was head over heels in love with Mr Darcy, of course.

Sense and SensibilityIt wasn’t long before I read the remainder of Austen’s major works. Sense & Sensibility quickly became another favourite, my teenage self desperately wishing I was more like tempestuous Marianne than dutiful Elinor. Emma was sparkling and witty – although Mr Knightly was a bit of a downer I thought. Mansfield Park was….long. And I enjoyed Persuasion although I completely failed to understand why Anne hadn’t just ignored her odious family and married Frederick Wentworth when she had the chance first time around.

Looking back, I think a lot of Austen’s subtleties were lost on the teenage me. I liked her books for their spark and romance but a lot of the subtle tensions were lost to me. Austen, like many great authors, reveals her art gradually as one re-reads. And, with each round of re-reading as I get older (although not necessarily wiser), another layer of her books is revealed to me.

Northanger AbbeyAt university I had the pleasure of studying Northanger Abbey, a book that becomes infinitely more enjoyable, in my mind at least, when put into context. Finally I was able to appreciate Austen’s satirical asides on the nature of books and reading and contextualise the book amongst it’s contemporaries. Northanger is often seen as one of Austen’s more juvenile novels – and arguably the romance and plot have less structure than her later works – but I love it for its vitality and it’s sharp skewering of those who would malign the novel as an artform.

PersuasionAs I’ve entered my thirties, Persuasion has also taken on new meaning and become a novel that’s easier for me to appreciate. Odd isn’t it how someone’s reserve and dutifulness, so annoying when you’re a teenager, becomes so much more relatable when you’re an adult and have made the same mistakes? Austen was rather brave I feel to write about the predicament of so many older women and about having a second chance at love and Anne is now one of my favourite Austen heroines as a result.

I still love Pride and Prejudice of course – who doesn’t – and, in my adulthood, have decided being an Elinor is no bad thing (I mean, you’d just want to slap Marianne if you met her wouldn’t you?!).  I still debate whether Emma and Mr Knightly are well matched Mansfield Park  but I think Austen’s skill is so well displayed in that novel – her characterisation is spot on throughout and in Emma she creates one of the first unlikable narrators who, by the end, the reader cannot help but root for.

And as for Mansfield Park? I confess, we still have issues. Maybe I’m still not quite old enough to appreciate Fanny Price’s endless forbearance. Which just means I’ll have to keep giving them all a re-read until I am doesn’t it!

EmmaIf you’ve never read Austen before, I really would urge you to give her a go. She’s so often deemed a romance author – and, indeed, her romances are excellent with all the sweeping drama and petty misunderstandings that a reader would want from a love story – but there’s so much more to her as well. Wry humour, satire, family drama. She captures so much of day to day life on the page. I’d recommend Northanger Abbey to start with – anyone who loves books and reading will appreciate Catherine Morland’s dangerous descent into her fantasy world!

If you’re already an Austen fan, I’d love to know your favourite of her works. And why do you think she’s stood the test of time so well? Drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter.

And for anyone interested in finding out more, click here to be taken to the website marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death which is filled with links to events across the country about Jane, her life and her books.