Tag Archives: Books

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Hello Readers,

Last week, I finished reading ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed, and since then I have been organizing the review notes that I had typed into my phone whilst I read the book. The review notes were typed mainly on my commute to work, with my phone rested on the opened book. I was switching from reading to typing, which proved to be tricky in those moments when I had no seat, and the train had me rocking me back and forth!

In the past, I have had the tendency to over-analyse books whilst reading them, and this has been due to me wanting to untangle, discover and capture every writing element that I possibly can from the book. Although this process has taught me to better understand writing, I also think that it has slowed my reading, which in turn, has gone on to impact my annual reading goals. So this year, I am going to attempt to analyse a book ‘naturally’, rather than force the process. But, this will require me to have my sixth sense ‘open all hours’, and it will require me to capture those important messages when they magically emerge. During this sixth-sense process, I will look to capture emotional triggers, theme, symbolism, notable progressions in plot, character changes, description etc. And as always, I will include these discoveries in my reviews, to share with my readers, and other writers.

Before I begin my review of Wild, I would like to highlight to any new readers that might be reading, that I analyse and review books from a writing perspective (not from a synopsis step-by-step perspective). My reviews will certainly contain spoilers, (including elements of plot) so please bear this in mind if you plan to read the book, or watch the movie. But please do revisit once you have experienced it with your own eyes.

In a nutshell – Wild is about a young girl called Cheryl Strayed, who decides to backpack along the Pacific Crest Trail, in America, following the devastating loss of her Mother, the breakdown of her family, and the crumbling of her marriage. It is a non-fiction book, and Cheryl Strayed, is the author and main character in the book.

I have always had a fondness for books with an ‘adventure’ plot – plots where a character decides to embark on a journey, either for the purpose of escape and self-discovery, or because they are intrigued and excited by unknown lands. I have read some breath-taking books that contain such story-lines – The Backpacker by John Harris, The Beach by Alex Garland, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. These are books that have certainly opened my senses, and have taught me more about the world we live in. These books have also managed to rekindle the child in me – the child that desired adventure – the child that had spent countless summer holidays riding her bike with her younger sister (and pet Chihuahuas) in parks, woods and streets, seeking an imaginary world far beyond the one we knew.

Wild is written in the first-person point-of-view. The first-person point-of-view creates the closest protagonist-reader connection. It is certainly the best choice of perspective for this book, and any book where focus needs to be placed on the main character and his/her perspective of the world within the story (and where less focus needs to be placed on the perspectives and thoughts of other characters).

Backstory is introduced mostly when Cheryl’s memory is triggered by an event or situation in the present that directly links to an event or situation in her past. I haven’t noted this connection with any other book that I have read until now, so it is certainly an exciting discovery. One example of the present-to-past connection is when Cheryl touches the image of her own horse tattoo. The image of the horse directs her thoughts to her Mother, and allows Cheryl to describe her Mother’s desire for owning and riding a horse, and her life with a horse that she had come to own later on. This connection allows the writer to introduce deceased and past characters that are no longer a physical part of the character’s life, but are yet still very much alive and breathing in his/her mind. During this process, the writer has the chance to choose the best scenes in which to capture the personality of that character, and the reasons for their part in the story. During the present-to-past scenes, we get to witness Cheryl’s childhood – scenes that include her Mother, Father and Step-Father and siblings, as well as her more recent-past, romantic relationships. These scenes contribute to the various themes in the story, which help to build on the reader’s emotional response at the end. These past scenes slowly teach us to understand Cheryl’s history, and why she came to journey the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the early part of the story, we see Cheryl prepare her backpack with various essential and non-essential items. As writers, we must ensure that an item we introduce in the early part of a story is introduced in the later part of the story. This is an essential element in writing. One of the items that Cheryl introduces early on, whilst packing, is a whistle – and later we witness her blow the whistle to deter animals. Cheryl decided to name her backpack Monster, due to its heaviness and burden (symbolic of carrying a load), and she learned key lessons along the way. Characters informed her that certain items were not required for the journey and were only weighing her down. Cheryl had also carried books with her, and so she learned to rip and burn the pages of books that she had read at night (in her tent). A list of books burned and those not burned are listed at the end of the book, which is quite fascinating. It is from these books that we are informed of other writers and poets that inspired her.

During her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl describes the changing scenery that she witnesses. It is in these moments that she gives the most beautiful and poetic sentences. As a writer, I believe that the best time to ‘play poet’ is when describing a setting. Cheryl describes the setting through her five senses. She describes trees and plants by their names, which definitely assists in creating good description. We know from the story that she came to know these trees and plants species either from her experience of living in her hometown of Minnesota, or from the guide books that she carries with her on her journey. This brings to mind ‘intelligence of the character’. As writers, we must ensure that the intelligence of our characters is accurately translated through their thought, knowledge and dialogue. We cannot expect a character to be informed about something if that something has never been experienced in their life. I believe it is a wonderful thing when a writer provides the reader with new, interesting, and factual information about the world we live in. It’s a gift from the author.

Conflict is a crucial writing element in any book. Without conflict, we have characters that are unchallenged, and able to reach their goal easily. As readers we want to see our characters stumble and fall, because it makes the victory in the end feel so much better. Also, as readers, we also want to learn from their difficult situations and understand what we would do if we were faced with a similar situation. On finishing a book, a reader should feel that they have been on that peak and trough journey along with the character, and that they too have learned from the experience.

Conflict exists in various forms within Wild. There are internal and external conflicts that challenge Cheryl’s journey – and these are all used to different degrees, from minor to life-threatening. From the outset, Cheryl questions her ability to walk the trail. But she continues, pushes forward, and finds comfort through her connection with nature and the universe, and through the encouraging words from characters that she meets along the way. The external conflicts and obstacles included; meeting / potentially meeting various dangerous animals such as mountain lions, rattlesnakes and bulls, encounters with strange men (as a female solo traveller), extreme weathers (that threatened her survival), a lack of supplies (water) which threatened her life, and external forces such as companies letting her down with deliveries (her new boots). During these scenes of desperation, the plot had me thinking, ‘Is she going to make the journey?’, ‘Will she be involved in a terrible incident, or even die?’ The suspense was great, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout wondering about her outcome. Internal conflict came mostly from Cheryl’s past, and with her having to deal with the emotions and trauma that arose from it.

Conflict also came from ‘trail’ information (dialogue) that was given to Cheryl via other characters. These were conflicts that would have impacted her future journey – conflicts such as heavy snow on the trail beyond, and wild fires happening nearby. I thought this added to the suspense of the story and boosted the ‘What will happen?’ question that was on my mind throughout reading. The information gave me a glimpse into the kinds of dangers that she was about to face ahead. At this point I was asking ‘Will she continue? The story was very powerful in capturing the past, the present and the future. I liked how the story lived in all three places in time.

As mentioned previously, Cheryl encounters numerous characters along her journey, ranging from fellow travellers to local people that live in the places she passes. Cheryl enters into dialogue with these characters, and it is through the other character’s speech that we see Cheryl from different perspectives. This really helps to round her character. Dialogue is a particularly strong method with which to illustrate other character perspectives on a particular character, especially when the story is in a first-person point-of-view. Cheryl meets and separates with several friends along the way. The friendship characters inform her about information on the trail, they give her tips on how to use backpacking equipment (such as an ice axe), they inform her on how she can lighten the backpack load, and they also provide her with words of wisdom, which helps to give her strength. Two characters give her spiritual mascots to take on her journey (a Bob Marley t-shirt and a Black Feather). The black feather acts as symbolism in the novel – meaning ‘renewal’. Cheryl also embarked on a 24-hour romance that highlighted her loneliness, and her weakness for men. It is something she disliked about herself, and by the end of the story we witness her change (as she doesn’t take up the offer of a date with a businessman she crosses paths with at the end of the book). Throughout the story, Cheryl opts to leave other characters in order to be alone, and I believe that it was in the moments in which she was alone that she was healing the most.

Throughout the journey, Cheryl reaches milestones, and we are told of them throughout the book. It is important to keep the reader on par with the time-frame of a story, and in this particular story the nautical miles covered was the most suitable form. We watch the days pass and the nights arrive, and this also acts as a great short-term time-frame. A day beginning and a day ending can form great frames for creating scenes. Milestones also helped her with her own journey because it was a way in which she could track her progress. The milestones also informed the reader of specific geographical places and the distances between them. Kennedy Meadows, known as the gateway to High Sierra, was one of Cheryl’s most anticipated milestones, and we really feel the distance involved in her reaching this particular point. As her journey progressed, we see how she began to connect with nature and how it helped to soothe her internal pain (pain from family, relationships, drug abuse) and external pain (ruined feet, sore hips). She grows stronger and stronger with each passing day, and her mind and body are changing for the better. Character change is such an important element in writing, and this book is a fine example of a character changing both internally and externally.

Cheryl witnessed her own physical change, in the form of a mirror. She glimpses a look at her new athletic frame, and she wonders how Greg (her 24 hour romance) will view her. She also experiences her own change in taste for food and drink, and she caves into luxuries such as Snapple lemonade and ice-cream. She turns to foods that she would never have been drawn to in her previous life. When she hears music for the first time in days (whilst being picked up in a truck), she realizes how much she had taken the sounds for granted. Cheryl is aware that she is changing, and the reader is given examples through several of the senses.

At the end of the book, she feels the desire to touch the Bridge of the Gods, the final part of the trail – this is the finishing moment – like the breaking of the tape after running a marathon. During the trail, she often contemplated where she would live afterwards, and regularly mentioned that she would move to Portland with a friend. She does just this, and manages to write this very book, both in Portland, and in other locations.

Cheryl tells us how she would never have known that she would be married with children, that she would have tracked down friends from the trail. This is definitely information that the reader would have wanted to know. Because the book was about healing and finding strength, we would have felt cheated without it. As writers, we should always be asking ourselves whether we are including everything that we need to within our writing. We should ask ourselves, ‘Will the reader have any remaining questions once they have finished the book?’

Lastly, there is one powerful sentence that Cheryl mentions in the book, and for me it summarizes the entire novel perfectly.

“It was the idea of not doing it that scared me.”

Wild was an inspiring and exciting read, and it is certainly a story that will stay in my mind (along with all of the other wonderful adventure stories that I am grateful to have discovered in my life).

Until next time,

Happy reading and writing!

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2016

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My 2016 Reading List

Hello Readers,

Firstly, I would like to wish all of my fellow blogger friends a happy and creative 2016. Let’s hope it is a successful one for us!

In 2015, I read 13 books out of a planned 36 books, which wasn’t a huge achievement, and is certainly something that I aim to make up for in 2016.

The low reading number was mostly due to other life commitments, and also due to a year of meeting and staying with ‘bad books’. By ‘bad books’, I mean those books that spark your interest several chapters in, but then curve-off in interest, thereafter. For me, the ‘curve-off’ has been mostly due to the plot either become boring, or me not caring enough about the developments or outcome of the main character. In these ‘curve-off’ moments, I have found my mind wandering over to grocery lists or gliding through social media newsfeeds. But even so, I forced myself to stay with the books. A regret. But certainly a learning curve.

*Please note that I use the term ‘bad books’ for personal use only. I am aware that although I might not enjoy the books, it doesn’t necessarily make them ‘bad books’ in the wider universe.

But this bad book situation we all find ourselves in from time to time, creates a tricky dilemma for us as readers. Should we abandon a book, or should we stay with it? I guess the best way to answer this, is to ask ourselves, ‘Are we reading for the pleasure, or are we reading in order to develop our writing skills?’ If we are reading for the pleasure, then I’d advise abandoning a bad book. But for honing our writing skills, then I’d advise staying with it. They can colour your world and shape your skills as a writer.

For me, there have been many reasons for staying with a bad book. The first reason has partly been for achievement purposes – for getting my book count in. I felt that after investing time in several chapters of a book, that it would be a waste not to capture that time spent reading. This is plain awful.

Sometimes the reason has been due to wanting to know if the character makes it through, or finding out whodunnit? This is a great example of when an author has created a marvellous main character, but has lagged on the plot. But as a writer, this also tells me that creating great, rounded, characters for readers is a highly important aspect of writing. It means that a reader (including myself) is willing to stay with a book even with a lousy plot.

Sometimes, I have decided to stay with a bad book long after that ‘curve-off’ moment, in order to identify the elements that I dislike in the book; so that I don’t adopt them in my own work.

I have always been aware of, and believe in, the concept, ‘bad books can teach you as much as the good books, when it comes to developing writing skills.’ But I do believe that the ‘reading for writing’ direction can really put a damper on reading books for pure pleasure. So this year I am going to read for the pleasure! I am going to crush my curiosity over character outcomes, and I will remind myself, that spending time on ‘bad books’ is time lost on ‘good books’. But hopefully, I will still identify little ‘dislikes’ even in those good books. Because my favourite saying is, ‘the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour.’

I will be writing reviews on every good book that I read this year. How will I develop these reviews? Well rather than analyse writing continually as I read (as I have done in the past), this year I am going to capture those magical moments and natural realisations whilst reading, and jot them down in my notebook.

Moments such as when you stumble on a perfectly constructed sentence, a beautiful word, stunning symbolism, or a descriptive setting that has the power to transport you there. This year, I am going to let my heart take the lead and allow my analytical mind to rest.

Here is the list of 13 books that I read in 2015…

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz, Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell, The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton, The Book of You – Claire Kendal, Daughter – Jane Shemilt, The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules – Carolina Ingelman-Sunberg, Never Tell – Claire Seeber, The Hobbit – J.R.R.Tolkien, Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie, Fiction Writer’s Handbook – Nancy Smith, The Memory Game – Nicci French, A Place of Secrets – Rachel Hore, The Scold’s Bridle – Minette Walters.

Here is the list of the 44 books that I plan to read in 2016. I have taken some books from previous lists, and some books are brand new and in the book charts. As the year goes on, some books may be added or replaced with new releases or old classics. Also, Richard & Judy are always an inspiration with the development of my reading lists, so I highly recommend you visit their book club.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

The Quality of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer

Disclaimer – Renee Knight

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Revolution – Russell Brand

On Writing Horror – Mort Castle

Writing – The Horror Movie – Marc Blake and Sara Bailey

The Girl in the Photograph – Kate Riordan

Vanish – Tess Gerritsen

Eyes of a Child – Richard North Patterson

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

Us – David Nicholls

Velocity – Dean Koontz

The Husband – Dean Koontz

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

The Year I Met You – Cecelia Ahern

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Cilla – 1943 – 2015

Edie – An American Biography – Jean Stein

The Skeleton Cupboard – Tanya Byron

Want You Dead – Peter James

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

The Doll Maker – Richard Montanari

The Killing Room – Richard Montanari

We Need to talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

Never Knowing – Chevy Stevens

Trafficked – Sophie Hayes

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

A Kind of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth

Everything’s Eventual – Stephen King

Songbird – Josephine Cox

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Richard Carison

Tapping The Source – William Gladstone

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Orphan – Christopher Ransom

No Time For Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

The Dice Man – Luke Rhinehart

Nightmares and Dreamscapes – Stephen King

The Host – Stephanie Meyer

Black Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

So there it is! I really am going to push myself very hard to read these books, this year. Several of these books have been sitting on my book shelf for years. At some point, some where, they had triggered my interest in buying them, and there is a definite sadness in letting the years go by, where they collect dust. It’s time to open those pages and bring the characters to life!

Until next time, I say goodbye.

Best Wishes,

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2016

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Book Review – Daughter by Jane Shemilt

Hi Readers,

Today, I finished reading the thriller, Daughter by Jane Shemilt. I must say that this has been my least favourite book I’ve read this year, and I have explained the reasons in my review below (originally posted on Goodreads.com).

I love mystery books, and I was particularly drawn to the beautiful pastel-coloured cover, and the ‘missing-plot’ synopsis. I enjoyed the first chapter; however, as the story unfolded, I grew frustrated, and eventually bored with the entire book, for various reasons.

Firstly, I didn’t find the characters real or well rounded, and I certainly never loved them enough at the start to really care what happened to them. However, I did read on, purely out of curiousity; to see if the author would apply a twist, and to see how early on the villain (if there was one) had been introduced to us. You could say that I was analysing the book from a writing perspective; and the actual story became secondary! I must mention the dog ‘Bertie’ too; because he frustrated me enormously. This dog was a minor character that seemed to be used in the story only as a means of adding a red-herring to the plot – by digging up bones that were not Naomi’s – honestly, why so many paragraphs about him running around fields and twitching his nose!

Even though some of the author’s poetic description was good, I felt that it was detached from the story; beginning solitary at the start of almost every chapter, but never weaving itself into action or dialogue. This is a big flaw in writing; and one that will distract the reader away from the storyline. I also felt the author had used art (the main characters hobby) as an excuse to play on her poetic visions – because in the end the art had played no role whatsoever in the outcome of the story.

My review is harsh; but I have to admit that everything about this book annoyed me – from the characters, the empty and poorly weaved plot, the ambiguous outcome, and the written style. Very disappointed, but I have learned much from a writing pespective.

Well on a more positive note, it’s time to start reading my fifth book of 2015! But rather than decide on the book tonight, I will let tomorrow’s morning mood guide me. Will it be a thriller or something more lighthearted, I wonder? I just love the mystery of a new day…

Oh readers, I must also let you into a little secret! This week I sent off my first assignment to the college – the first step in completing my Novel Writing Diploma. I submitted a 1000 word novel manuscript, and a brief account of the type of novel that I want to write. If I pass this assignment, then the next one will be about characters. Exciting!

Well March is finally with us, and the stems of the Daffodils are piercing the ground! I am very much looking forward to Spring and the birth of new writings.

May inspiration be with you all,

Best Wishes,

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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Book Review – The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sunderberg

Hello Readers.

Today I finished reading my third book of 2015, The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules, by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg.

This book certainly made a lighthearted change from the first two books that I read this year – the first being The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, followed by the suspense thriller, Never Tell by Claire Seeber. I am making a wholehearted attempt to rotate the fiction genres that I read; as I feel that a writer and reader can become stuck-in-a-rut if they stick with the same genre of books for too long – and the same genres over again can certainly limit your visions. I think it was Stephen King who said to ‘read great books and awful books’ – because you can learn just as much from the awful ones, as you can the great ones, as a reader and a writer.

I must say that I have learned some interesting elements of writing by analysing the work of the wonderful author that is, Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. Here is my review, originally posted on Goodreads.com.

This book was an enjoyable, humorous and inspiring novel. The group of characters known as ‘The League of Pensioners’ were well-rounded, and were certainly not stereotypical pensioners; although in places, Catharina did capture hints of their age very well, through the use of their zimmer-frame mobility, actions, tastes in food and drink, and their oldie dialogue. Martha was the leading role in the story, but she could never have existed as boldly without her colourful companions, Anna-Greta, Christina, Rake and Brains; who all brought their own skills and personalities into the story. This novel is a perfect example of how two controversial ‘news/tabloid’ stories can be merged into a unique plot. Here we have the controversial story of poor care-homes vs. the not-so-badly-kempt prisons. It could end up being a very depressing story, but with the brilliant skills of humour that Catharina infuses, the idea becomes very lighthearted, and quite often, comical. Catharina is a bestselling children’s author, and this shined through in her writing style; the simplicity of the words left us pause-free, creating a good and steady pace for the exciting adventure plot. After finishing the book, it left me feeling positive about the strength of human nature. I will certainly be thinking differently about the next pensioner I see with a zimmer-frame! We are all unique and are capable of the most amazing things if we put our minds to it, and age is not a barrier. The author has mentioned that she likes British humour – and this humour certainly brought a smile to my face – even on the train!

So what is the fourth book I am going to read this year? Well I have decided to return to the suspense thriller by reading ‘Daughter’ by Jane Shemilt. A daughter goes missing and the story unravels…nothing more needed to prompt me to turn those pages!

Until next time, happy reading, happy writing!

Donna x

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My 2015 Reading List!

Hello Readers,

I have finally researched and compiled my 2015 Reading List!

There is a total of 150 books on the list; which I doubt very much I will be able to complete in 2015 – but at least it will act as a guide – and for those that I do not get round to reading, they can always be added to my 2016 reading list!

I am going to attempt a different reading approach this year. I generally read at a medium speed, and by doing this I am averaging around 15 books a year. So it is time to speed up and do some scan reading in the places in a book that I see fit! Places like action scenes and scenes that tend to drag on in description will be great places to start. I also have a habit of re-reading certain paragraphs or scenes that are written beautifully or tend to take my breath away, and although this is ‘nice’, I must remember that this is taking away the time that could be spent on other books. If I were to do this even a few times on every book then the time certainly accumulates.

On the list, I have included Classics, Biographies, Teach yourself books, Poetry and a wide range of fiction genres, plus some real-life stories thrown in for good measure! This year I needed include other books that are away from the usual genre areas with which I am familiar. I think that by expanding my literary horizons, I will be colouring my experience as a writer.

Here is the list. I hope you enjoy!

Book Author
The Red House Mystery A.A. Milne
Naked, Drunk and Writing Adair Lara
Hausfrau: A Novel Jill Alexander Essbaum
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty Amanda Filipacchi
All Fur Coat Andrew Holmes
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes Anna McPartlin
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anne Lamott
The Hound of the Baskervilles Arthur Conan Doyle
From A to Biba: The Autobiography of Barbara Hulanicki Barbara Hulanicki
West End Girls: The Real Lives, Loves and Friendships of 1940s Soho and its Working Girls Barbara Tate
Bare Necessity (Original Title: A Compromising Position) Carole Matthews
The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Love, Rosie (Original Title: Where Rainbow’s End) Cecelia Ahern
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Never Knowing Chevy Stevens
The Double Bind Chris Bohjalian
The Orphan Christopher Ransom
The Book of You Claire Kendal
Never Tell Claire Seeber
Brooklyn Colm Toibin
Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano Dana Thomas
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
Life Expectancy Dean Koontz
Innocence Dean Koontz
The Unloved Deborah Levy
Swimming Home Deborah Levy
Writing From the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within Dennis Palumbo
The Zookeeper’s Wife Diane Ackerman
My Little Friend Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch Donna Tartt
Teach Yourself: Understanding Psychology Dr. Nicky Hayes
The Power of Now Eckhart Tolle
The Raven Edgar Allan Poe
The House of Mirth Edith Whalton
After Birth Elisa Albert
Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True Elizabeth Berg
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
Room Emma Donoghue
Elizabeth’s Missing Emma Healey
Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway
Scoop Evelyn Waugh
Middlemarch George Eliot
1984 George Orwell
Animal Farm George Orwell
Life: A User’s Manual George Perec
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn
Dark Places Gillian Flynn
The War of the Worlds H.G.Wells
The Time Machine H.G.Wells
A Little Life Hanya Yanagihara
The People in the Tree’s Hanya Yanagihara
Alys, Always Harriet Lane
Put Your Heart on the Paper: Staying Connected In A Loose-Ends World Henriette Klauser
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Black Book Ian Rankin
The Hobbit J.R.R.Tolkien
The Call of the Wild Jack London
The Poser Jacob Rubin
Ulysses James Joyce
Write Great Fiction: Revision and Self-editing James Scott Bell
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Emma Jane Austen
Daughter Jane Shemilt
Take Joy: A Book for Writers Jane Yolen
The Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger
Into the Forest Jean Hegland
The Glass Castle Jeanette Walls
Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome
The Executor Jesse Kellerman
The Miniaturist Jessie Burton
Blue-Eyed Boy Joanne Harris
A Kind of Intimacy John Ashworth
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris John Baxter
On Becoming a Novelist John C Gardner
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writer’s John Gardner
The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food John Lewis-Stempel
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Songbird Josephine Cox
The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron
Chanel – The Legend and the Life Justine Picardie
Teach Yourself: Get Your Book Published Katherine Lapworth
The Buried Giant Kazuo Ishiguro
Get in Trouble; Stories Kelly Link
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini
Find Me Laura Van Den Berg
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
Leonard Cohen: Poems 1956-1968 Leonard Cohen
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
Little Women Louisa May Alcott
Apple Tree Yard Louise Doughty
The Dice Man Luke Rhinehart
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell
Improve your Written English Marion Field
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
London Fields Martin Amis
Runaway Martina Cole
Quant by Quant: The Autobiography Mary Quant
Frankenstein Mary Shelley
The Scold’s Bride Minette Walters
Brick Lane Monica Ali
Writing Down the Bones Natalie Goldberg
The Scarlett Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times Neil Astley
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances Neil Gaiman
Land of the Living Nicci French
The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
The Price of Salt Patricia Highsmith
Amnesia Peter Carey
Want You Dead Peter James
The Courage to Write: How Writer’s Transcend Fear Ralph Keyes
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Ransom Riggs
Zen in the Art of Writing Ray Bradbury
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff Richard Carlson
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other Short Stories Robert Louis Stevenson
Story; Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting Robert McKee
Why we Run: A Story of Obsession Robin Harvie
Serena Ron Rash
Revolution Russell Brand
Clarissa Samuel Richardson
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Seth Grahame-Smith
Trafficked Sophie Hayes
The Host Stephanie Meyer
Everything’s Eventual Stephen King
The Stand Stephen King
The Shining Stephen King
The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
Dying for Christmas Tammy Cohen
Finding Your Writer’s Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction Thaisa Frank
Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
The Murder Bag Tony Parsons
Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew Ursula K. Le Guin
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Victor Hugo
Les Miserables Victor Hugo
Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolfe
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Novel Shortcuts – Ten Techniques That Ensure a Great First Draft Whitcomb
The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone Wilkie Collins
Lord of the Flies William Golding
The Elements of Style William Strunk Jr and E.B. White
The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing Writer’s Digest
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Seasons Greetings!

Hello Readers,

Firstly, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

It has been pretty mild weather here in London (UK) with Christmas morning having been made up of clear blue sky and a blazing sun. But the weather forecast predicts a cold spell ahead, so I am hoping we might see some snow before the new year.

It has been a wondrous, inspirational year for writing and reading, and I hope you have also experienced the same.

Here is a list of 15 books that I managed to read in 2014, with reviews that I made on Goodreads.

I will post again in the new year,with my new 2015 reading list; as well as catch up with you all 🙂

Delilah by Eleanor De Jong

I loved this book! Eleanor writes with such brevity, creating colourful characters in a beautiful setting. I usually read horror and thriller novels, but for me this was so refreshing, and a wonderful insight into the Israelite and Philistine worlds – and of course human nature. This book is a fine example of great storytelling.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road is a literary masterpiece. All of the elements of novel writing are tightly woven together to perfection. The setting is a character in itself; adding both atmosphere and emotional boom to the story. Yates is masterful with his use of metaphors, and he cleverly works humour into the reader without distracting them from the plot – and the humour acted as a light release from the overall moodiness of the themes. Having watched the film first, I visualized Winslet and DiCaprio as being the main characters throughout reading the book – and this, for me, coloured the story tremendously – because these two actors had the exact same chemistry as the characters in the book. This is an addictive read with lovable characters – you just fall into their hearts and live their stories with them. This novel will stay with me forever! 5/5

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

The magic and mystery of the blurb on the back of the book grabbed me straight away. I loved the protagonist, minor characters and setting. The plot had me guessing all the way through – I was eager to know the answers. This is the first book I have read by Cecilia Aherne, and I was not disappointed; she weaves a fine plot and satisfying story. If you like magical stories then I recommend this book.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

This is an ace play! Tennessee writes a beautiful setting; he transports us right into the era with his description of skies, music, and street dialogue. You can almost smell the roasted chestnuts cooking! Tennessee must have had a strong love of poetry, for it comes out full bloom in Blanche’s dialogue. This is a flowery play with dark undertones, that all lead to a heartbreaking climax. A masterpiece that I will definitely read again!

Write by The Guardian

This was quite an addictive and enjoyable read! I am always intrigued by the ‘how to write’ books; but this one even more so because it was full of good advice from fine writers. I have taken away some good tips from this book for when I start work on the second draft of my novel. I recommend this book – it is short and snappy and you can digest it all in a day or two.

Ten New Poets by Bernardine Evaristo

A beautiful collection of poetry about the universal elements of life. The book contains a short biography of each poet, a selection of their poems, and a brief explanation of each reflecting on style and theme. A truly inspiring read.

102 Ways to Write a Novel: Indispensable Advice for the Writer of Fiction by Alex Quick

An essential book for novelists! In just 102 sections, this book manages to address and answer all of the important elements that are needed to write a successful novel. The book is written with much brevity, something that most other books in this subject often fail to do. The 102 steps can be dipped into time and time again as you work through your novel. It is a great guide for ensuring that you are including everything that you need to in order to create that bestseller! Go buy!

Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland takes you into the world of a 1970’s amusement park – with murder, supernatural and coming-of-age elements all thrown in to one super story. A thrilling ride!

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The first few pages of this book were gripping and I was excited by the plot. However as I read on, I grew bored, for two reasons. 1) The author creates new characters as we reach the middle of the book. According to novel writing, all characters should be well and truly established before we get to the middle. 2) The author over-explained things and I found that this slowed the plot. All I wanted was a story – not a poem. Over all, I was not gripped by this book. There is no doubt that the author can write beautifully, but he didn’t quite grip me with his story telling. In the end I skipped to the last chapter and got my friend to fill me in with anything that I had missed.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

This book starts out with a ‘play’ scene that reminded me of the beginning of Revolutionary Road. This process of placing the characters straight into a point of action such as a play, is so powerful in novel writing. From the outset, Ian manages to pull you right into the main character’s (Briony) mind – so by the end of the book, you feel like you have lived her life and made a lifetime friend. This book is not just a book of fiction, it is a book of psychology. It demonstrates some of the deepest and darkest elements of humanity, and Ian lights them up on the page. A truly stunning book by a masterful writer. The film was stunning too.

Single White Female by John Lutz

This is psychological thriller perfection! A great cast of characters, a lovely weaved plot, and lots of mystery and suspense. The pages kept turning right until the end. I loved Allie and Hedra and the entire doppelganger concept. John takes this element of humanity that exists in us all, in small amounts, and then magnifies them into a form of madness. I love the film also, but the book has different scenes which added even more spice when reading. This book/film will always get five star rating from me.

The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris

I have mixed feelings about this book. The premise and the characters were very captivating, and I especially loved the Cambridge setting and the dark, other-worldly themes, however, I felt that the book was confusing in places, for two specific reasons. Firstly, I struggled to determine from the outset, which characters were narrating the different chapters in the book. Secondly, I was distracted from the plot because of the long sections of flowery description. Don’t get me wrong, the description was gorgeous and it added to the feel of the book, but for me it caused distraction – all I wanted was the story. There is a lot to be said for simplicity in writing! All that aside, this is an excellent debut novel from Joanne. She is an expert storyteller who managed to weave a complicated plot and tie it neatly at the end. For me, her skill definitely lies in artistic descriptive writing. If you love art, symbolism and atmospheric writing, then this book is for you.

One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz

This book is the first Dean Koontz book I’ve read. It is a whopping 757 pages of pure excellence! Dean creates a cast of beautifully named, well-painted, rounded characters, and we are drawn into their minds so fantastically. With them, we embark on a huge adventure that is full of atmosphere, suspense, danger and fear. And Dean certainly knows where to place those cliff-hangers, because I was turning those pages as fast as that Fleetwood on the highway! Dean writes some interesting views on bioethics and humanity, through the perspectives of his characters – and this book keeps you thinking about your own existence and place in this vast universe long after you have finished. If you love metaphors and similes then Dean is your writer; occasionally I had to re-read his descriptions because they blew me away. Dean is a superb writer and I am left wanting to read more of his books.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Being an avid horror/thriller reader, this book was something a little different for me to try. I found the plot intriguing, but I felt that the characters were portrayed from a far distance; we rarely get to know their feelings, or what prompts them into their actions, which I found rather disappointing. I felt the writing had a screenwriting quality to it, and it very much reminded me of books like ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ – may be because of the quantity of dialogue throughout the book. There is no doubting that Fitzgerald has a beautiful hand in writing, and there is some magical descriptive writing in this book that bring you right into the elegance of the era, in which this book is set.

Katherine Mansfield Short Stories

These short stories are excellent! They deliver everything they need to with regards to all of the short story elements, yet they breathe brevity. We are immediately introduced to the character, and we live out the plot through the character thought and feeling. I particularly liked ‘The Tiredness of Rosabel’ and it’s theme of loneliness and darkness in an every day situation. Katherine manages to pull the darkness of life into most of her stories, and this is really my cup of tea! I truly recommend this to any reader who likes a quick reading fix. Also, any short story writer who wants to study the art of short story telling, then this book is a must!

 

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My 2014 reading list

Hello Readers!

Here is a list of books that I plan to read in 2014.

There is a mix of Inspirational, educational, non-fiction and fiction books in the list, as I like to mix it up!

What do you plan to read this year?

The Power of Now – A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment – by Eckhart Tolle

The God Species – How the planet can survive the age of humans – by Mark Lynas

The Marshall Plan for Getting Your Novel Published – by Evan Marshall

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing – by Tom Clark

Beautiful – by Katie Piper

Trafficked – by Sophie Hayes

The Wild Life – by John Lewis-Stempel

Innocence – by Dean Koontz

The Tiger in the Smoke – by Margery Allingham

Die for You – by Lisa Unger

Black Out – by Lisa Unger

Man and Boy – by Tony Parsons

Death on the Nile – by Agatha Christie

The People Next Door – by Christopher Ransom

Everything’s Eventual – by Stephen King

Never Knowing – by Chevy Stevens

The Double Bind – by Chris Bohjalian

Revolutionary Road – by Richard Yates

Never Tell – by Claire Seeber

Blueeyedboy – by Joanne Harris

The Scold’s Bride – by Minette Walters

The Fifth Victim – by Beverly Barton

The Book of Tomorrow – by Cecelia Ahern

Songbird – by Josephine Cox

A Streetcar Named Desire – by Tennessee Williams

The Cloning of Joanna May – by Fay Weldon

The Year of Magical Thinking – by Joan Didion

Utterly Monkey – by Nick Laird

A Kind of Intimacy – by Jenn Ashworth

All Fur Coat – by Andrew Homes

The Host – by Stephanie Meyer

West End Girls – by Barbara Tate

Call The Midwife – by Jennifer Worth

Northanger Abbey – by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey Study Notes and Exercises on the novel – Rare Pamphlet published 1968

Jo Nesbo The Harry Hole Collection;

The Bat (The First Harry Hole Case)

Cockroaches 1998 (An Early Harry Hole Case)

The Redbreast (Oslo Sequence 1)

Nemesis (Oslo Sequence 2)

The Devil’s Star (Oslo Sequence 3)

The Redeemer (Oslo Sequence 4)

The Snowman (Oslo Sequence 5)

The Leopard (Oslo Sequence 6)

Phantom (Oslo Sequence 7)

Police (Oslo Sequence 8)

Headhunters – Other

Vintage Collection of stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, including;

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Body Snatcher

A Lodging for the Night

Markheim

Thrawn Janet

The Misadventures of John Nicholson

©2014.alittlebirdtweets

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