Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

One of the wonderful things about the bookstagram work is that it can encourage you to read books you may not usually read or that have been on that to-be-read pile for quite some time. So, when one of my bookstagram buddies, Mrs D, suggested a buddy read for ‘Vanity Fair’ I jumped at the chance (especially as we can’t do our usual fun of sharing photos of our lovely manicured nails and pretty books).

Now, ‘Vanity Fair’ looks pretty daunting at nearly 900 pages, and I was really hoping that I would enjoy it. I had basic knowledge of the story from TV and film adaptations and had enjoyed those, so I was hopeful, but you can never be sure with these classics.

However, I had nothing to fear once I started. Although it takes a while to get used to the writing style (it is very much of its time), once you have embraced it, there is no stopping you. It is simply beautifully crafted with excellent chracterisation to represent the best and, at times, the worst of society. Becky Sharp must be one of the greatest characters ever created for readers to love to hate (or thoroughly dislike).

The book has all the best themes interwoven into the narrative: romance, scandal, humour, and at moments, sadness. However, this thing it does best is present a satire of society, and really comments on the weaknesses that are created by vanity, especially the vanity of men. And how easily those that suffer from such a ‘curse’ can be manipulated, especially by the fairer sex.

However, Thackeray does allow true goodness to eventually triumph in this wonderful piece of classic literature.

So, if there is that book on the shelf that you have been a bit unsure about tackling, take a chance and pick it up. You may be missing a great adventure!

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Since taking on my book blog just over three years ago, I have found some lovely bookish-minded people on Bookstagram – and it was such a collection in the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’ who encouraged me to read ‘Aurora Floyd’. Throughout January, we read and discussed the novel, even naming the actresses we would have loved to have seen (or even see) in a film adaptation of this gloriously melodramatic novel.

Aurora Floyd is from the pen of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who also brought us ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. A classic Victorian novelist who embodies the sensation genre with her wonderful tales. Aurora Floyd has a secret; a secret she really is not willing to share. However, as the tale develops and tragedy strikes, the secret is revealed – but not all mysteries are solved.

I could not put this novel down, and I was glad I was enjoying it as part of a read along, as I may have been tempted to rush through rather than savour the novel. As well as the beautiful writing, it has all the ingredients if a great mystery story. You have a secret, a cast of colourful characters – in the foreground and the background – and a murder…what more do you need? As well as a wonderful setting in the North of England and a nod to the racing word.

I am going to put it out there, despite (possibly) being a lesser-known novel, I preferred it to ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. Do not get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed that book, but I felt this one had characters who were a little more relateable overall – especially Aurora herself.

So, if you fancy a novel that you may not normally have picked up – this is it!

The End of 2019

It may be the first day of 2020 but, with festive days having been full of excitement, I have missed a round-up of the final books of 2019.

So here we go…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This book crossed over from my ‘Non-fiction November’ into December. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is a book that I have always wanted to read but it had never quite happened.

However, this is a book that I feel many of us should read. This is not just a memoir of Maya growing up in America, but it is a study of the society and culture at the time too. It tackles some uncomfortable issues – but that is the tale of the young girl’s life, however hard it may be for us to read.

This book is an inspiration, and I am keen to read the books that follow, to learn more about this inspirational lady.

Murder at Christmas

I enjoy a festive read and I enjoy a murder mystery – so this seemed a winning combination.

A collection of short stories – classic crime capers. Some were stronger than others as tales. However, overall it was an enjoyable collection of tales for these winter nights.

The Truth Pixie Goes to School by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a writer that I admire for a number of reasons – but one of those reasons is that he can turn his hand to writing for both adults and children.

As I purchased this book, the bookseller also mentioned that he was a Matt Haig fan, but that this book may be too young for him. I tolf him that was not true, as I think anyone can enjoy these books about the Truth Pixie. They contain ideas and themes that we should all take note of.

Told in rhyme and supported with the illustrations of Chris Mould, this book is good fun for all ages, as we have all needed the friendship of the Truth Pixie from time to time.

Let It Snow

Having watched the Netflix Original Film and always enjoying some YA fiction, I have this book a read for the festive season.

A collection of three tales by three different authors, but all centred around the same town. Love and friendship are the main themes of all the tales. It is a nice read for the festive season and will inject you with the spirit of Christmas – and the desire for a white Christmas.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Maidens of Murder December pick.

This may not be a traditional setting for a Christie novel – Ancient Egypt. However, it has all the other elements of a classic Christie novel. An enjoyable read as the tale unravels – I do not want to give any spoilers.

My only slight issue as a reader was getting my around all the names of the characters – but that was probably just me.

Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

A classic that I am not sure I have ever read – why not? Who knows? I saved this until December because I feel it is a really festive tale, maybe because it is now a classic pantomime.

This book was an absolute joy, as I knew it would be. There is adventure, heroes and villains, and a little bit of magic. It is just a wonderful tale – and makes you appreciate the importance of family and friends at all times.

Som there we are; quite a collection, there was one more but that will have a post of its own – as bookstagram made me do it.

Happy New Year – here is to happy 2020 reading!

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

One of my favourite places ever is a local Oxfam charity bookshop. It is always like a wonderland of books, as it often brings to your attention books that you did not even know you needed. The last time I entered the shop, that is exactly what happened to me. Nestled in the classics section was a novella by Jack London called ‘The Scarlet Plague’ and it immediately grabbed my attention. I have never read a book by Jack London (although ‘The Call of the Wild’ is on my to-be-read pile) but I have had a an interest in him since my first visit to Canada, when I discovered that he had ventured on the Klondike Trail.

‘The Scarlet Plague’ is a great little read and a book that I am a glad I have decided to read as an introduction to London’s work. This is one of those classics that was set in the far future (post-2013) but actually is still very relevant today. In fact, the date if this tale is irrelevant but the story is highly relevant – and is a stark warning of what could happen if almost ALL of mankind was to be wiped out by plague. It is a fascinating study of how the world would have to start again and those who had never experienced the ‘modern’ world would never really be able to comprehend it – it would seem stranger than fiction.

I thought this book was wonderful and a great, undiscovered gem. Have you ever stumbled across a surprise, joyful read?

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This month’s ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’ choice was ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. This is a book that my mum had suggested I read rather a long time ago, but I had never quite got round to it. Now, I wish I had read it sooner (although, I do love reading with the lovely group on bookstagram).

Now, I have been slightly naughty and read ahead, because I could not put this book down. It takes me a while to read classics as you certainly need to concentrate to really enjoy the tales. And this tale is certainly enjoyable. To me, this novel reads like a classic detective novel. Although our investigator Robert Audley is not any kind of criminal investigator, he is determined to find out the fate of his friend George Talboys, simply motivated by his loyalty. I would not consider this a particularly complex story, but the writing makes it gripping and a thrilling read. There is also an interesting power play as Lady Audley appears to use her feminine fragility in order to attempt to control those around her, however this does not work on all or always make her particularly popular. In this novel there are twists and turns, and even when you think there are no more revelations another is sprung on you in the final chapters.

I am not going to reveal any spoilers other than it is a truly wonderful and atmospheric read. I would encourage you all to pick up this book and be introduced to a new writer and a new classic novel that should be on the shelves of all fans of Victorian literature.

Any favourites from the Victorian age you think I should pick up and read?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My second Collins was just as wonderful as my first – I often wonder why it has taken me so long to take the plunge to read his work.

This novel is a slow burn to begin with as Collins introduces his colourful characters and sets his haunting scene. ‘The Woman in White’ sets Walter Hartright on quite an adventure. There are many twists and turns as Hartright and Marian try to ensure that Laura is safe from Sir Percival Glyde and the literally larger-than-life Count Fosco. How can they ensure that her fate does not mirror that of ‘The Woman in White’?

It is one of the best classic mystery novels. However, there are those that have described it as a ‘ghost’ story. Now, I know for some that does not seem to make sense. Collins had not written your traditional ghostly tale, however I think there are ghosts in this tale. This is about the ghosts of past lives, not the ghost of dead souls. This tale, for me, is one that warns about the risks of the past catching up with you and the lengths to which some people will go to keep those ghosts buried. And, let’s be honest, for the rather Mr Fairie – he is eventually made to feel like he is seeing a ghost…

This is, on some levels, a novel of its time – women being manipulated by men (appearing not to have the character not to be), however, there are moments when that is challenged slightly. Yet one of the things about the classics is that they are written in the past and that should not ever taint our view of a good story. Collins may have had some views we would not always agree with now, but he was a master storyteller and deserves his classic author status.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Bookstagram community has been one of the best spaces I have found. It has brought together so many fabulous bookish people and it has encouraged me to read all sorts of books that I may not have read or have had on the to-be-read pile for a while.

My latest read-along (that I actually managed to complete and stick to) was ‘The Moonstone’, as part of the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This has been a lovely community where, in the month of November, we read a section a week shared our thoughts. There have been great discussions and such a friendly atmosphere (and the end of November does not mean that the chatting stops).

And, now to the novel, my only regret has been that I did not read this sooner. ‘The Moonstone’ is a story I have known for a long time thanks to TV and Radio adaptations, but I had never got round to picking the book up. What wasted time that was because I absolutely loved this!

From the moment I started this book I could not put it down. Collins created a wonderful detective story (some say the first modern one in fact) from the word go. You are drawn into the narrative by how ‘The Moonstone’ ended up leaving India and arriving in England. Even that simple introduction is shrouded in mystery just as the rest of the tale is. Collins creates a colourful cast of characters who become mixed up in the mystery of ‘The Moonstone’. However, together, they eventually also manage to solve the mystery of this magnificent stone.

This is a tale that has stood the test of time as it can still engage modern audiences. However, it is also a novel of its time with references specific to the period but all of that is the context of the era.

Reading ‘The Moonstone’ has firmly cemented Wilkie Collins in the territory of one of my favourite authors of the classics. I can not wait for the next read with the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’, which is ‘The Woman in White’ in January.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?