Sunday, 22 April 2012

World Book Night

After visiting previous World Book Night events and being very lucky to receive the free books given out, this year I am very excited to be a book giver - handing out free copies of my favourite ever novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen! I can't wait to share this brilliant story to non-readers and hope to encourage a lifetime love of literature. I have excitedly written the unique identification numbers into each book and can't wait to see how far each one travels. If you do receive a book this World Book Night, please do read it and pass it on!

On the eve of this special event, which shares the birthday and day of death of William Shakespeare, I thought I would share the list of ten books which I submitted to the WBN organisers many months ago. This list has probably changed now as I have read so many wonderful books since then, and my favourite books differ depending on what kind of mood I'm in, but these are the books that came into my mind on that particular day:

1) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
In my opinion the perfect novel full of colourful characters, drama, romance and of course the famous Austen wit! Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and for Lizzie, Darcy, Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins et al will stay in your memory forever!

2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The story of a young orphan, with a terrible childhood growing up in her horrible Aunt's house, being sent to boarding school and finally becoming a governess to the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. Dark, brooding and mysterious, this Gothic novel has one of the most emotional endings I have ever read.

3) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The tragic tale of Tess Durbeyfield is a beautiful and heart-breaking story. The descriptions of the Dorset landscape are stunning and Hardy gives a masterclass in his writing technique.
4) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The tale of two very different magicians in an epic battle. Clarke creates a magical world, which takes a while to get into, but once there, you will never want to leave. Bold, exciting and unlike anything else I have ever read, the footnotes throughout add to this unique story.

5) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I read this for my English Lit A Level and have never been able to forget it. Faulks writes about the horror and pain of World War One like no one else. A book that everyone should read.

6) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Another book set during the war, this time WWII. A young German girl and her foster parents hide and protect a Jewish fist-fighter during the height of Nazi Germany. Narrated by Death, this is a book full of emotion.

7) Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
I love Kate Mosse's books and writing style and this is my favourite one so far. Full of well researched historical detail and is genuinely spooky.

8) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A house and family full of secrets and Gothic suspense. Hints of Jane Eyre, The Woman In Black and The Turn Of The Screw all blended together.

9) The House At Riverton by Kate Morton
Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors with all of her books being equally good, but I decided to go with her debut. An elderly woman remembers her time working in the household of Riverton and her part in the family's secrets and ultimately its tragedy.

10) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K Rowling
Such an amazing series of books, this one is possibly my favourite and the most magical as it first transports us to the magical world of Hogwarts and we learn words such as muggle, quidditch and Gryffindor.

I would highly recommend reading all of the above books, if you have done, or if you do in the future, I would love to know what you think of them! Plus, let me know which books you think everyone should read...

And if there was ever a short film to celebrate books and a love of reading, then this is it...

Happy World Book Night!

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Street Cat Named Bob

As a huge cat lover, it will come as no surprise that the most inspirational and affecting book I have read so far this year is A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen. I first heard of James and Bob via their Twitter feed and couldn't wait to read their story, although I did have to wait as my local Waterstones had sold out within a few days of it being released!

James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London when he first met the injured ginger cat. He nursed him back to health and when he was fully fit again, he tried to encourage him to go back on the streets believing him to be a stray. Bob refused and was soon following James onto the bus and across London to James' job busking in Covent Garden. Since then the pair have been insperable and the best of friends and have appeared in newspapers and magazines and on news programmes across the globe.

I have read many stories about cats, but this is by far by favourite. Not only is Bob lovable, clever and a bit fiesty, James comes across as an incredibly warm and clever man, with a real knowledge about cats and the perfect owner for Bob. Their story is funny, emotional and uplifting and reminds you that all you need is a best friend to help you get through life. There are some great pieces of information about cats and I was also surprised to learn exactly how the Big Issue works, something that I didn't quite understand before.

Although there are some horrible tales of some unkind and ignorant Londoners, the lengths of other people's kindness towards James and Bob really restores your faith in human nature and the work of the RSPCA and the Blue Cross is fantastic.

I have a feeling I shall be buying this as a present for my cat fan friends a lot this year and I find myself recommending it to anyone who will listen. Please do read this book, you will not be disappionted!

Watch the trailer to A Street Cat Named Bob below and follow James and Bob on Twitter at @streetcatbob

The Gallows Curse

I had found Karen Maitland's previous two novels The Company of Liars and The Owl Killers to be equally enjoyable and fascinating and was very eager to read her third book, The Gallows Curse. It continues with her usual themes of Medieval England's dark beliefs and fears and follows a small group of characters who lives and fates are intertwined.

Maitland usually uses an unusual and unique narrative style. In The Company of Liars, we do not truly discover who the narrator really is until the end of the book and The Owl Killers switches between five very different narrators resulting in various viewpoints of the story. The Gallows Curse is strangely narrated by a mandrake (a legendary plant with a body attached to the roots, which screams when ripped from the ground.) To be honest, I felt this didn't work very well as we are only reminded of the narrator a few times throughout the book and it doesn't feel like a true 'character'.

The mandrake has a curse to fulfil and is passed on to an innocent young villein called Elena. Unfortunately as well as the mandrake to contend with, she also unwittingly takes on her dead Lord Gerard's sins in the ancient art of 'sin-eating' (eating salt and bread above his dead body). The novel is set during the time of the Interdict - when England was ex-communicated from the church by the Pope, thanks to King John. Therefore nobody was able to confess sin or receive the sacrament, with the people believing they were going straight to hell to endure eternal torture.

Elena begins to dream awful visions and believes herself capable of being a murderess, so when her baby is born, she gives him away to keep him safe. The villagers have heard of her dreams and believe she has killed him, so she is sentenced to death. Raffe, Gerard's steward and best friend, feels responsible and saves her life, but the only 'safe' place he can think to take her is a brothel in Norwich, ran by a vicious dwarf called Mother Margot. There she must stay away from the new lord of the manor who wants her dead and has many people out looking for her.

I did like the characters of Elena and Raffe, but not as much as some of the characters in Maitland's previous novels. There are some controversial subjects covered and as usual do not be expecting a happy ending! Be warned - there are some disturbing and grotesque scenes, certainly not for the faint-hearted!

The Gallows Curse is full of colourful characters and violent deeds, plus an insight in to Medieval beliefs. Each chapter begins with an extract from 'The Mandrake's Herbal' with an explanation of the meaning of various ingredients from cabbage to mistletoe. The exclusive Waterstones edition I have also has an extra section at the end which reveals more behind the dark tales with information on pregnancy, holy relics, wolves and werewolves and corpses at crossroads. There are references to all of Maitland's novels so I definitely recommend this edition if you would like to know more. There is also an extract from her new novel Falcons of Fire and Ice which is released later this summer...

Watch Karen Maitland talking about The Gallow's Curse below and for more information about her books and Medieval myth and magic log on to

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!

Last week I went to see the new Aardman film The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! I had recently read the very silly, but very amusing book by Gideon Defoe and was looking forward to seeing how it would translate on the big screen. The story is slightly different and based on all of Defoe's books about the hapless pirate crew, although some elements of the Scientists tale remain, including the involvement of Charles Darwin and his almost human-like monkey.

The film feels like a celebration of British humour, beginning with a rousing Rule Britannia and a tantrum by the scary Queen Victoria. We are soon introduced to the pirate crew including Albino Pirate, Pirate with Gout, Pirate with Scarf and Surprisngly Curvaceous Pirate headed by the Pirate Captain. All the Pirate Captain wants is to win the Pirate of the Year Award and he sets off to find as much treasure as possible to be able to enter. After many failed attempts at attacking ships, he finally ends up interrupting Charles Darwin who is very excited to meet the Pirate Captain's parrot, Polly, who is in fact a Dodo! The pirate crew are tricked by Darwin to enter a science competition back in London, where Queen Victoria rules and is very ruthless to anyone she suspects as being a pirate.

Aardman's stop-motion animation is impressive as usual and there is so much detail in each scene, I think it will take several viewings before I notice every joke in the form of posters, street signs and background characters. Jokes come think and fast with the main running joke throughout the film and books being the pirates love of ham, which to them is the best thing about being a pirate! The very British soundtrack features songs by The Clash and Supergrass and several British historical figures make cameos including Jane Austen and the Elephant Man, although Darwin and Queen Victoria are not portrayed favourably!

This was a very enjoyable trip to the cinema and the 3D added to the film. Suitable for all ages, with jokes for everyone, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is out in cinemas now in 2D and 3D. Watch the trailer here: