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Perfect Books to Escape

Posted in Books, Round Ups
on April 15, 2020
Perfect Books to Escape

I think there’s quite a lot of us that need something to occupy our minds from the never-ending anxiety-enducing doom and gloom from the news. There’s also going to be a lot of us stuck at home for quite a long time, without anything to do. I’ve been trying to think of something productive to do, or share, and as it would turn out, I seem to have very few useful skills. 

However, there is one thing I know lots about, and I’m more than happy to chat about constantly… books. 

In order to try and stop myself from checking Twitter, the News, Facebook, and other even less reliable sources for constant coronavirus updates, I have pulled together my list of books which help me escape a little, when the world seems terribly dreary. 

I don’t know if anyone else is struggling a bit with concentration, but I know I certainly am, so I’ve chosen books that I find ‘easy’ to read. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy books – but more that they’re easy to absorb yourself into. Some are, of course, cosy comfort reads.).

I’m babbling, so, with no further ado, and trying not to repeat myself too much… here goes!

Alternative Worlds

A fairly broad category. I keep saying that I’m not particularly into fantasy, but then seem to read quite a lot of it. 

Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials

I’ve blogged before about how much I love the His Dark Materials Trilogy, so I’ll try to keep this relatively brief. For me, the world that Pullman has created is the most vivid and cleverly constructed that I’ve ever read. I was completely absorbed in it, and if you’ve never read it before, you’re in for a treat.

There’s an excellent audiobook dramatisation too, which I’d thoroughly recommend. The books can be more challenging – I quite like to alternative between the audiobook and the novel. 

Patrick Ness: Chaos Walking Trilogy

In this dystopian world, everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. When Todd is forced to flee Prentisstown, his world is turned completely upside down…

I came across Patrick Ness’ work when I was doing some work experience with his publisher. I was gripped – I  read The Knife of Never Letting Go on the train on my commute, and on at least one occasion started sobbing. It’s brilliant, gritty, and captivating. (Though possibly not the best to read if you’re actually feeling very anxious).

Terry Pratchett: Discworld 

I’d recommend anything from Terry Pratchet’s Discworld. They’re just so deliciously silly. Mort, Thief of Time, The Truth and Moving Pictures are some of my favourites, but I don’t think I’ve yet been disappointed by anything from Pratchett that I’ve read. 

The abridged versions read by Tony Robinson are an excellent option, if audio is more your thing. 

Good Omens: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

In Good Omens, an angel and a demon team up to try and save the world from the apocalypse. Great, fantastic. Except… they’ve lost the Antichrist.  Well, he’s bound to turn up eventually, isn’t he?

I enjoyed the TV series with David Tennant and Michael Sheen, but you really can’t beat the book. Some of the word play gets lost a little when it’s put on screen. So, if you’re starting to feel like the world really might be ending – this’ll cheer you right up.

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 

It starts with Earth being blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and gets increasingly more mad from then on – via Vogon poetry, two headed aliens and the restaurant at the end of the universe, to name but a few. Reassuringly, the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes with the words ‘Don’t Panic’ in large, friendly letters on the front cover. Something all of us could do with at the moment. 

The novel format of Hitchhikers, I believe, came after the BBC Radio Play. Both are excellent, but if, like me, you’ve got a shortened coronavirus-induced attention span, I’d recommend getting a hold of the radio version first. It’s technically Sci-Fi, but it’s definitely comedy first. 

The Comic Novel

Comic novels are my absolute favourite type of novel and they make up about 90% of what I read at any given moment. They are also absolutely perfect for if you’re stuck inside and what to be cheered up. Luckily for us bookworms, there are an awful lot of good ones about.

P.G. Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters

Bertie Wooster is a well-to-do English…well, idiot, who is constantly getting into scrapes that his man, Jeeves, has to extract him from. Whether it’s being henpicked by his fearsome aunts (Agatha, the one who eats broken bottles for breakfast, or Dahlia, a slightly less frightening proposition); finding himself engaged to females against his will; or trying to outwit Steggles to win big on the Great Sermon Handicap, Jeeves never lets his man down. It’s hard to capture the brilliance and madness of the PG Wodehouse novels in a few lines, so I’d simply say read them! They’re not long and the characters are great. 

I’d actually recommend any of the Jeeves and Wooster novels, I did name my cats after their main characters after all. (Bertie and Jeeves say hello, and are wondering why they’re not the main focus of this blog. It’s only a matter of time, if I’m honest). I think Right Ho, Jeeves is a fantastic introduction if you’ve not read any of PG Wodehouse’s books before, but The Code of the Woosters is probably my absolute favourite. The Wodehousian metaphor is a thing of beauty. Do read.

Kingsley Amis: Lucky Jim

One of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Lucky Jim follows the hapless Jim Dixon, a lecturer who has not made a good first impression on his faculty. His career is at the mercy of the officious Professor Welch, and the more he tries to impress., the worse the situation he gets himself in. It’s a farce in novel form. 

Lucky Jim has been known to make me howl with laughter on more than one occasion. In particular, the description of a hangover (we’ve all been there), and a passage about a bus journey. Pure silliness. Best enjoyed with a warm cup of tea. 

Evelyn Waugh: Scoop

If you want to be reminded of a time when you could leave your house and travel – Scoop might be just the ticket! After a case of mistaken identity, William Boot, a completely inexperienced journalist, is sent to be the foreign correspondent at the Ishmaelia Civil War. Chaos ensues. 

Sharp, biting, funny. It’s a great read – To a point, Lord Cooper.

Nancy Mitford: Wigs on the Green

Anything by Nancy Mitford is worth reading – Wigs on the Green is the one I know best because I wrote a chunk of dissertation on it. It was also out of print for a number of years due to its content (Nancy’s sisters, Unity and Diana were furious at the way she poked fun at Diana’s husband, Oswald Mosley) – which to my mind is a blooming good reason to read it.

Eugenia Malmains is one of the richest gals in England, mad as a box of frogs and an ardent supporter of Captain Jack and the Union Jackshirts. Noel and Jasper are in search of a rich heiress to save them the bother of working. 

When they meet – the scene is set for farce…

Romance Novels

My absolute weakness. I love a good romance story. Preferably one which is funny too. I won’t hear anyone tell me that they’re not good enough to be included on lists. I am thoroughly convinced that there is not much that a nice romance novel can’t solve (temporarily at least).

Sarah Mason

I’m going to recommend three books by Sarah Mason, because she is brilliant. They are all witty, have characters you actually care about, and are really well written. There are lines in all of them which have had me laughing out loud.

The Party Season: When Isabel Serranti, party planner extraordinaire, is asked to help plan a charity ball at the Monkwell country estate, she has mixed feelings. On the one hand, she grew up near there, and loves most of the members of the eccentric Monkwell family. On the other, Simon Monkwell, the oldest son, is her best friend turned bully and she never wants to see or hear of him again. But, determined to put the past behind her, Izzy decides to go for it, and it’s not long before she remembers why she loved the Monkwell estate so much.

Playing James: Holly Colshannon’s career as a journalist hasn’t exactly, er, hit its peak yet. So, when she is made the Crime Correspondent – the poisoned chalice of the Bristol Gazette, she’s determined to make the best of it. A fortunately timed conversation with the new Police PR officer, leads to Holly shadowing a detective for a new diary column. There are only a couple of downsides. For starters, Holly is exceptionally accident prone, and then there’s Detective James Sabine’s immense displeasure at having to take her around with him.

High Society: Clemmie Colshannon (sister to Holly), doesn’t really know where her life is going, when she ends up back at the family home. Luckily, there’s never a dull moment at the Colshannon residence – which can be the only explanation for how she gets embroiled in helping/hindering Holly solve the mystery of the disappearance of her fellow journalist, Emma. All is not as it seems…

Liz Young: Asking for Trouble

When Sophy dreams up an imaginary boyfriend to get her mother off her back, she thinks she’ll have plenty of time to dump him before he is summoned to meet the family. That is until she receives an invite to her sister’s wedding, and a firm insistence that he also attends.  She does what any rational woman would do in her situation – and hires an escort. What harm could it possibly do?

Don’t be put off by the terrible film they made, vaguely based on this, called The Wedding Date. Asking for trouble is funny, emotional, and just plain brilliant. 

Melissa Nathan: Persuading Annie; The Waitress; The Learning Curve; Acting Up; The Nanny.

I’ve really enjoyed anything I’ve read by Melissa Nathan. Smart, contemporary books – yes they’re romantic, but they also have enough plot that it doesn’t feel like the women protagonists are helpless until they find a man to sort them out. Another author I discovered thanks to my love of charity bookshops, but I’m about to place orders to fill up the gaps because these are just so good!

For real cosy country feels, I’d recommend anything by Jill Mansell, or the earlier books by Katie Fforde. (I don’t know why, but I’m just not enjoying her more recent ones half so much). My rule of thumb -prior to coronavirus – was that if the copy you found in the charity shop was well thumbed, it was probably a good bet. It’s served me well so far. 

Children’s Books

Kaye Umansky: Pongwiffy

Pongwiffy – a witch of very dirty habits – always seems to be getting into scraps that her beloved familiar (Hugo, the hamster) has to dig her out of. And there’s normally some goblins lurking about to cause trouble, and some meddling wizards who think they’re better than everyone else…

I may be approaching 30, but I will not make any excuses for the fact that I still have a soft spot for the books I loved as a child. I still find Pongwiffy hilarious, so if you want something that slips down as easily and as comfortingly as a warm cup of tea, I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Diana Wynne Jones: The Chrestomanci Series

This is another series which is fantastic on Audiobook (and is indeed where I first discovered it!). A Charmed Life is book one, and a fantastic introduction to the Chrestomanci world of sorcerers, witches and other magical beings. They’re both gently written and exciting at the same time. There’s a lovely wit about them – and absolute hardingers of characters too. 

Roald Dahl: To be quite honest anything

I don’t think I need to explain this one, do I?

Babysitters Club 

I know they’re dreadful, but I also love them. Sue me. I really wanted to be in this club when I was younger. They all had cool names, like Claudia, Stacey, Kristy and Mary Anne. I think these were the first books that I read where I was aware it wasn’t set in England and America just seemed fantastically exotic. Those were the days.

Add a pinch of Jacqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton and, well JK Rowling, and you’ll have a lot of my childhood covered. 

That should be enough to keep you occupied for a while! Luckily for us, lots of independent bookstores are still delivering – so I’d definitely recommend seeing if you can get your next book from there. Failing that, e-books are a blessing for when you have a sudden insatiable need to re-read a book from your past RIGHT NOW. 

I’ve still got plenty more I can say about books so … I may follow up this with more recommendations or witterings. It’s hard to tell what this actually comes under. Hey ho. 

If anyone has any recommendations for me, any cosy classics you love – do let me know! Also recommendations for independent book stores – please send me any links you have and I’ll gladly add them here.

In the meantime – stay safe, and at home. We’ll get through this, eventually. 

A Keeper by Graham Norton – Review

Posted in Five Star, Reviews
on November 24, 2019
A Keeper by Graham Norton

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for the ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.

I think most people come to a book written by a celebrity with more than a little scepticism. It’s easy to see why – there’s a lot of tripe written and published because the person who wrote it is already famous, and the publishing houses know it will pretty much sell itself. 

However, don’t make the mistake of putting Graham Norton into this category. The man can write. 

It was actually going to see Norton talk about his first novel, Holding, that sparked off this blog in the first place. (Take that as you will). I had toddled to the local theatre with my mother to see him be ‘interviewed’ by a local radio host (I think, does it matter?). Alas, the interviewer was rather poor, but Norton himself still came across well (he really does seem as lovely as he is on TV), exceptionally well read, knowledgeable about literature and intelligent. I read Holding in one sitting, remembered what I liked about reading and decided to set up a book blog….where I never did quite get around to reviewing that particular book. Whoops.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the topic (book) on hand. 

A Keeper follows Elizabeth Keane as she returns to Ireland following her mother’s death to oversee the sale of her home and wrapping up of her estate. While clearing her mother’s house, she comes across a series of letters that lead her to the identify of her father and the truth about her – and her mother’s past. 

While Elizabeth sets about unravelling the mystery that she’s uncovered, her life as she knows it back in NYC is unravelling in an eerily similar way. The present, past and future weave together in a cleverly written novel.

Graham Norton knows people. Of course he does – he’s made a career out of knowing how to get the very best out of people when he interviews them. His biggest strength as a writer is his characterisation. He really gets underneath the skin of his characters: they are real, they are visceral, everything they feel, say, do, or act like feels so very true. He draws in his reader’s empathy from the first page – and this is as true for A Keeper as it is for Holding. There is never a moment that you don’t believe a character would have acted in the way he’s written; you understand exactly why they react as they do, and why they think, feel, speak in a certain way. It’s magical.

Which isn’t to say that all the characters themselves are nice. But they’re real; they’re tangible and you can understand why they’ve done what they’ve done. 

It’s also why I’ll forgive the moments of the plot which get a little bit far fetched, or dramatic. Norton is such a good storyteller that you believe them. You want to get to the bottom of the mystery; you want everything that’s happening back in NYC to work out for the best; you want – somehow – for Elizabeth to be able to have that final, impossible talk with her mother where she tells her the full truth. You don’t, of course, get that. 

A Keeper is quite a dark book, full of suspense and at times unsettling.There are elements of The Woman In Black – just without the supernatural aspect.  It’s skillfully written and paced – slow enough to draw you in and make you wonder, but not drawn out so long you lose interest. Told in flashback and in present day, it weaves a generalised feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction with life, with real tragedy, exceptional circumstances and an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Norton is a skilled writer; you can certainly see that he’s someone with a real passion for literature and storytelling. There is an enjoyment for the written word that comes across clearly on every page. While, personally, I found the ending was a little bit too over dramatic, I can see why he chose to include it as  it did fit well with the overall story arc – so perhaps I’m just being picky. (I had to find something!).

I would absolutely recommend to anyone. This is not a book by a celebrity; this is a book by a gifted novelist, who also happens to be a chat show host. (Those that know my opinion of celebrity writers will know that this is an accolade of the highest honour!). I can’t wait to see what he writes next. 

Five stars. 

My Favourite Books: Part Two

Posted in Books, Favourites, Personal
on February 4, 2017
writing notes

I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off writing the second part of this post. I am completely and utterly indecisive. I’d chosen my four obvious choices, and here comes the difficult bit. I *think* I’ve decided now; but at the point of island drop off, I do reserve the right to change my mind and demand a last minute Katie Fforde.

Without further ado…

William Shakespeare, The Complete Works (Or if I have to choose one, Hamlet)

Well, I mean, how could I not? It’s Shakespeare. I don’t think I even need to explain why I’d want to take this with me. If nothing else, than the sheer variety in the texts will keep me entertained until help is sent.

And why Hamlet in particular, I hear you ask? Okay, I don’t, but that’s not going to stop me. Hamlet is the play I have studied most extensively, so I should be able to muster a few words about it. It’s a dramatic play, but it’s also a play about language and words. Important plot details are frequently communicated to us through a character’s narration, and even things that we’ve seen on stage are then relayed to us by characters. You can’t trust anyone’s words, which gives the play layer after layer. And I really, really love words, so I think this one is particularly clever

I’ve been lucky enough to see it performed several times (my favourite, so far, being Rory Kinnear as Hamlet), and it truly is a play where a director’s interpretation can completely redesign it. Perhaps because so much action happens off stage, or perhaps because it addresses themes that remain quite topical (corrupt politicians in this day and age? I hear you ask, aghast. NEVER), but I’ve seen it re-imagined in so many different ways, and never thought ‘Hmmm, I’m not so sure about this’.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s the inspiration behind one of my favourite comedy sketches of all times. (Ahhh, Victoria Wood).

Favourite Quote: hmmmm…

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

I will forever be indebted to the friend (Hi Becky!) who introduced me to this cosy, comforting, beauty of a book. It has many things in its favour: it’s set in the 1950s (a decade I’m fascinated with), around Bath and London (two of my favourite places), with an abundance of interesting characters (always a plus for a book).

To say the plot is sweet is to do it a bit of a disservice. It is sweet, there is no malice and it does seem like quite a safe world – but that’s not to say the characters don’t experience worry, heartbreak, sadness and everything else which characters are want to experience. It is the characters really, who elevate this from a book I enjoyed, to a book I’d happily be stuck on a desert island with.  Eva Rice has created a world that you want to disappear into, and characters who you want to be friends with. It’s heart-warming. Romantic. Lovely.  Harry, Charlotte, Penelope – they’re so real, so well developed, so delightful.

The only thing that irritated me the first time I read it, was that Penelope, as a student, seems to do absolutely no essays whatsoever. That just didn’t seem fair. Still, I have a feeling the whole reason I was reading it in the first place was to put off some university work that I didn’t fancy doing at the time, so I can hardly hold that against it. You do see these characters develop, and form friendships – Charlotte, for example, bursts onto the scene, seemingly the most confident girl in the world – but you soon learn that there’s so much more to her than that initial impression. So many books concentrate on plot and leave you with some rather two dimensional characters, but not this one. It’s truly refreshing.

I’m not doing a terribly good job at describing why I love this one so much, but trust me. It’s wonderful.

Favourite Quote: “There’s never any warning that something extraordinary is about to happen, is there?”

For my last two choices, I have decided to stray away slightly from the books I’ve thumbed through, and chosen ones that I have read, but not necessarily re-read. Books that I’ve enjoyed, of course, but ones which I am not quite so familiar with.

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Please let me take the whole trilogy! If an edition of them all together doesn’t exist, I’ll superglue my copies together.

I read these a long time ago, and they did take me a little while to get into. They certainly weren’t like the Harry Potter series – where I was hooked almost as soon as I picked the first one up. But with a little perseverance, I found myself in love with Lyra’s world, her Oxford, the North…and so much more.

This was, in part, due to the excellent play put on at the National Theatre, which I saw just as I was really starting to appreciate these novels. It was an extraordinary production, using some of the cleverest puppetry that I’ve ever seen. Those who are familiar with the books will know that characters in Lyra’s world have daemons – representations of their souls which take on animal form – and that as children these daemons change form regularly. I don’t even know where those who staged the play started with a challenge of this magnitude, but they certainly rose to it.

Pullman, it is fair to say, wrote a children’s novel in an adult way. It is a more difficult read than many of a similar nature, and it is for that reason that these are the books that I’d want to be stuck with. I’m currently listening to the audio book (of course I am), and already I’m noticing so many nuances that went over my head as a somewhat precocious teenager. Characters face truly difficult challenges, they put themselves on the line, and you see the hard consequences of their mistakes. Alongside this of course, many wonderful things do happen to them too, but it is a very dangerous and – at times – frightening world they find themselves in. There is so much depth to these books, so many themes and issues which are addressed – and I want to have the time to really explore them properly again.

Favourite Quote: “Tell them stories. They need the truth. You must tell them true stories, and everything will be well, just tell them stories.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Homes

Well, if anyone is going to give me a clue about how to get off the island, it’s probably be Sherlock Holmes.

I have dived in and out of the Sherlock Holmes adventures time and time again. I studied them at university. I’m an avid Sherlock fan. After an interview in London once, I took myself off to the Sherlock Holmes museum. We even own a game called 221b Baker Street. It’s safe to say, I’m a bit of a fan.

Perhaps I’m just a bit stupid, but no matter how many of these I read, I still can’t get the answer before Holmes spells it out to me. And I suppose that’s why I want to take these books with me. I think I’d learn an awful lot – not just about detective work, but also about how to construct a story, how to plot, and plan and leave enough clues to get people giving, but not enough as to make it so obvious.

Holmes and Watson have inspired so many spin offs, and have this enduring quality that remains just as popular today as it was back in Conan Doyle’s day. They’re characters that everyone feels they know well even if they’ve not read much or any of the stories.

Plus they’re all quite short, so it might be a bit of light relief in between all the other books I’m taking with me..!

Favourite Quote: “Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.”

(Because, as we all know, the world famous ‘Elementary my dear Watson’ quote isn’t actually in the text anywhere).

So there we go, a little later than planned. That’s my 8 books. There were some very other close contenders to this list. Terry Pratchett could easily have made up all eight choices – but I thought I needed something that wasn’t a comedic novel. Equally the Harry Potter books (I’m hoping that if stranded on a Desert Island I will still be able to recall most of the story).  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not on here because, although a wonderful piece of literature, on balance, on a desert island, I don’t think I’d want to dwell on something so tragic.  Similarly, books like Anne Frank’s Diary, which have had a profound impact on me, just didn’t seem appropriate to bring to an island.

What would your choices be?

My Favourite Books: Part One

Posted in Books, Favourites, Personal
on January 14, 2017

Often one of the first questions that people ask you, when you confess to being a bookworm, is ‘What is your favourite book?’

It’s a simple question, harmless enough you’d think. But oh does it open a can of worms. Why? I hear you ask. Well, because how on earth am I meant to choose just one? There are so many.  In my Master’s year, my library record showed that I’d read at least a hundred books – and that was just one year of my life. How am I meant to summarise twenty-something years of unashamed book nerdery into a pithy sentence or two? (I heard it’s impolite to corner someone for hours on end and talk books to them at a party).

Luckily for me, however, I now have this book blog where I can talk books for hours on end without any worry of interruption. Yippee.  In the interests of time (and of not scaring off any readers I have), I’m going to limit myself to 8 books, a la Desert Island Discs.

These books are my cosy favourites, the ones I could read a hundred times without getting bored. They’re the ones I won’t get bored of if I do get stuck on a desert island. Perhaps they’re not always the most literary – but they’re ones I return to time and time again. I plan to bore you all in future with the lists of books which have challenged me or I think are of particular literary merit. For now, these are the books I could never, ever throw out.

So, in no particular order, my first four choices are:

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

There aren’t many books which make me actually laugh out loud. I’ve made the mistake of reading this in public before, and had to stop because I was getting funny looks. If you haven’t read it, you must. Immediately. Take my copy.

Lucky Jim follows the hapless university lecturer, Jim Dixon, as he just tries to get by, despite the ridiculous situations he finds himself in. He’s not a particularly likeable character – he’s full of disdain for his fellow man, somewhat callous and certainly not cut out for rigorous academic life – but that’s what makes the book so readable.  It is a farcical world, where a nominally ‘reasonable’ man, repeatedly finds himself in unreasonable situations, which he unfortunately makes an awful lot worse for himself. Aside from the comedy (and there is one section, to do with a bus journey, which is honestly the funniest bit of literature I have ever read), it’s also a knowing commentary on the post-war world. It’s acerbic. It’s biting. It’s grotesque. It’s satirical. It’s a hell of a good read.

Favourite Quote: (This is tricky, there are so many of them…but because this is the best description of a hangover I’ve ever read)

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I know, it’s the obvious choice from Austen’s repertoire, but I told you this was a list of the books I revisited time and time again. I mean, what’s not to love? There’s romance, scandal, comedy (a common theme amongst my favourite books it seems), balls, manners, snobs… All of Austen’s best authorial qualities wrapped up in a novel.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that it has one of the most famous opening lines of any novel, and it is probably responsible for inspiring 90% of the chic lit you can find in any bookstore. (No bad thing, if you ask me, chic lit is my ultimate guilty pleasure). Most girls (especially me) dream of their Mr Darcy, and in many ways he’s not your typical hero. He’s socially awkward, and gruff – with none of the easy charm of Mr Bingley, for example. Yes, he’s rich, but my goodness those relatives of his are something else… And as for his first proposal (sorry, spoiler alert), well! So, why do we find him so irresistible? He’s a good man, and we trust that he’ll treat Elizabeth as an equal.

And aside from the romantic story, Austen’s characters are what brings the novel to life. From the flighty Kitty, to sensible Charlotte Lucas; witty and stable Mr Bennet, to the hyperbolic Mrs Bennet and Lady Catherine; kind, gentle Jane, to the bitchy Bingley sisters, Austen captures them all.

Favourite Quote: Again tricky but…

“Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.”

P.G Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

You might be sensing a predisposition to enjoying comic novels. You would be right. It was hard to narrow down with of the Jeeves and Wooster collection to select for my choice here. But then I remembered – Roderick Spode and the Black Shorts are introduced to us in this book.

For the uninitiated – the Jeeves and Wooster series follow a charming, but imbecilic young fop called Bertie, and his man servant – the real brains behind the organisation – Jeeves. Bertie spends his time trying to be a man about town, eschewing all worries and generally living the carefree life of an upper class chap of the era. Unfortunately for him, he is plagued by a catalogue of intimidating aunts, their upper class friends, his even more idiotic chums and a fleet of girls who seem to find his foppishness completely irresistible. Luckily for him, Jeeves is around to extradite him from the soup that he has inevitably got himself into.

Roderick Spode, who I mentioned earlier, is Wodehouse’s satire of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. I wrote about this in great depth in my dissertation, and I still find it interesting – so there has to be something in it. Wodehouse is unrepentant in his portrayal of him as an ego-maniacal, fiery tempered, thug, who came so late to politics that all of the shirt colours had been taken – leaving only the black shorts (or ‘footer bags’ as Bertie refers to him.

Wodehouse tells his stories with great gusto. The Jeeves series are full of energy, comic timing, and a relish for the written word. There’s a very Wodehousian type of language, which can never be done justice to in isolation, but within the context of the novel makes it a joy to behold. The BBC Radio adaptations are equally fantastic, with Richard Briers the perfect Bertie. If you’ve never listened to them, I’d heartily recommend it.

Favourite quote:

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

There are so many things I love about Fitzgerald’s writing, that I almost don’t know where to start with this. It is perhaps, pertinent, that I first came across The Great Gatsby at the same time that I came across Pride and Prejudice – during my Alevels. I was lucky to have a particularly inspirational teacher at the time (Mr Peters – who I can never thank enough), and these two books are where my journey with literature, and enjoyment of language really began.

For it is the language within The Great Gatsby, which really marks this out amongst Fitzgerald’s other works for me. It’s decadent, opulent, beautiful. I remember revising this book, and highlighting almost every other line because the whole book was quotable and worth committing to memory. The themes too, a literature student’s ideal: the American dream, conspicuous consumption, illicit love affairs, lust, gluttony, carelessness, the reliability of the narrator, class, societal expectations, the role of women – the list goes on and on. But it’s the story, not the analysis, that keeps bringing me back to The Great Gatsby. The tragedy of lost love, the realisation that your dreams have come to nothing, the heady pursuit of that which you most desire – I don’t think I need to go into plot specifics here, I imagine everyone knows the story. But it’s truly wonderful to rediscover it time and time again.

Favourite Quote: I know I’ve cheated and already used one, but here’s another.

“I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”

So, there you go – part one of my desert island discs style bookathon…. Now before I start on part two, I’m going to have to go and re-read all of them!