Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Ten Worst Coursebooks I've had to Read (So Far)

I was planning to write a post like this eventually anyway, so this week's prompt - back to school - is great for me! I've thrown a lot of coursebooks against the wall in my time.

(Don't you mean you've read a lot of coursebooks?)

Well, that too. 

Here are the worst of the worst.

1. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan 

My hatred for this book has endured since the first year of sixth form. At one point there are four pages on the Hubble Telescope. Four. Pages. Honestly, the narrator is insufferable.

(I think he's supposed to be.)

And that means I have to like it?

2. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Somebody once told me that I didn't like The Bloody Chamber because I wasn't "liberated". No. I don't like The Bloody Chamber because erotica makes me uncomfortable. Especially when I have to take turns reading it out in class. 

Some of the quotes from this book are branded on my mind.

3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Dear 20th Century American Writers,

We get it! The American dream is a myth! Now please stop writing about it!


Every Student Ever

4. Blasted by Sarah Kane

This play is the reason I don't read whilst I'm eating anymore.

5. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

You could cut three quarters of the description from this novel and I would still be able to tell you exactly what everything looked like. Also, Angel Clare is not a hero. My hatred for him is as all-consuming as the heat of a thousand flaming suns.

6. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I wanted to love it. I expected to love it. 

I liked the ending, but I was confused for most of the rest.

7. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I do not understand postmodern fiction. At all.

8. Sappho and Phaon by Mary Robinson

The author's life is interesting, but I didn't enjoy her poetry.

9. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 

I completely missed one of the most important things about the protagonist of this novel. Hemingway's style just doesn't mesh with me.

10. Beowulf

I was really excited about reading this before I went to university!

This book was 100 pages long. It took me three weeks to force my way through it. 

As it turns out, I do not like epic poetry.

(Where's Bleak House?)

Well, I haven't finished it yet. I have to give it the benefit of the doubt. 

Of course, some of these are highly celebrated texts. Some of them are massively popular. Some of them were fun to analyse. I just personally found them a slog to read.

What's the worst coursebook you've ever had to read?

(Apologies for the lack of images in this post. I had some issues trying to add them in.)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Feeling Blue (The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson)


'You can tell your story anyway you damn please.
It's your solo.' -  Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere, page 213

I was expecting to love this the same way that I loved I'll Give You the Sun, but, for the first one hundred pages, this was a two star read. It's billed as a story about grief, about healing and, whilst I did find it satisfying, to watch Lennie grow into and out of herself, I felt like the book's real focus was the love triangle.

Lennie is sixteen. She's...I suppose the word is artsy. She's on the school band, she scatters poems across the town, and she loves Wuthering Heights. Like all female YA protagonists, she has somehow managed to attract two boys. There's Joe, the new guy at band, who she likens to Heathcliff in terms of appearance. For me, a book is balancing on a knife edge the moment it starts comparing anything about its romance to Wuthering Heights. There's also Toby, her dead sister's boyfriend. Yeah. That wasn't even the real problem with it. The real problem was that Lennie, who is grieving, is not in a good place for a relationship right now, and her decisions throughout the novel show it. Part of my problem may have been that I like my romances innocent and, whilst nothing explicit actually happens in this novel, there's plenty of discussion of it. Sometimes, especially towards the beginning, this comes off as a little crude. 

Character-wise, I found Lennie to be quite dislikeable. She reads like the writer was trying too hard to make her artsy and alternative. A girl who scatters poems around town is not unbelievable. A girl who writes them on takeaway cups and then buries them is. There's another that she writes on the sole of her shoe. How many shoes do you own that have soles smooth enough to write on? Joe is sweet and...well. Joe is sweet. He plays guitar and horn, he has two (living) brothers, and he lives in a big house. Some of his choices seem a bit odd when you later find out what he knows. I can't tell you much about Toby beyond that he rides horses and he skates. And he's broken. So so broken.

It's not that The Sky is Everywhere is a bad novel. It's just that the love triangle overshadowed the good parts, like the way it dealt with Lennie's grief.

The Sky is Everywhere or I'll Give You the Sun

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Off with Her Head! (My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows)


'"The very instant I saw you, my heart flew to your service," he said.
"No," he admitted, "But it's a good line, am I right?"' - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, My Lady Jane, page 391

Lady Jane Grey was sixteen years old when she became Queen of England. Her reign came to an abrupt end nine days later, when Mary I assumed the throne. Mary, who is remembered for her merciful soul, later had her beheaded.

This is not what happens in My Lady Jane. The novel is very open from the beginning with the fact that it is an alternate history. One with a happy ending and rather a lot more magical powers. The two rival religions of the Tudor period - Catholicism and Protestantism - are replaced with Verities and Edians. Edians can transform into animals. Verities would like to see all Edians rounded up and burnt at the stake. Our heroine's story begins when she is betrothed to Gifford Dudley by her cousin, Edward VI. There's just one tiny thing that he maybe should have told her - Gifford can only take human form at night.

Jane loves reading. She's a highly educated young woman with strong opinions. She has grown up with stories about Edians and, unlike the Verities who believe that they are all monsters, makes the mistake of putting them up on a pedestal. Gifford is a fun character, mainly because he carries around his quill during battle scenes and writes down good lines that he wants to remember later. Edward VI is written as a clueless teenage boy, which makes sense given the circumstances. Elizabeth I is, of course, the good queen (or princess, I suppose). There's also Gracie, who is completely out of place in a Tudor setting, though maybe she wouldn't be given her personal circumstances? I suppose we don't know how female petty criminals lived or behaved in the Tudor era. Still, I had issues with her characterisation and with the way everyone else reacted to it.

I loved the scene where Edward and Gifford went off to fight the bear, because it was the first time we saw them interact without the girls around. Usually in YA, it's the women discussing the men. Here, we have the men discussing the women. And they're so so awkward with each other. Mainly because of the misunderstandings. This book has so many misunderstandings romance-wise. I enjoyed Jane and Gifford's romance, but not Edward and Gracie's. Edward's a bit of a brat, there's no way to sugarcoat it, and I suppose that's not his fault given that he was raised to be king, but I felt like it made him read badly as one half of a potential romance. It didn't help that Gracie - being a trouser-wearing pickpocket from Scotland - read as a gender-flipped bad boy for the traditionally brought up English king. 

(Side note: England and Scotland were usually at odds at this point in history. Case in point, Elizabeth I had Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.) 

I've seen many reviews describing it as hilarious. I found it zany, but I didn't laugh out loud very often. I suspect that all the hype is the reason that I find myself feeling a little underwhelmed by My Lady Jane. One of my main issues with this story was the narration. Not the writing in general, just the bits where the narrators cut in to explain things to the reader. It was irritating at times, especially during the climax when they just would not stop interrupting. First, they wanted to tell us that anyone could die, then they wanted to assure us that they hadn't killed a certain character. It killed the suspense. 

My Lady Jane gives an often overlooked figure of the Tudor period a happy ending. It didn't blow me out of the water, but I do think it was worth the read.

Do you have a favourite historical period?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Is Blogging Unprofessional?

It's a question that's been bugging me recently, is blogging unprofessional? Is the very act of being passionate about the things you love going to someday have a negative effect on your professional life?

It's something we heard a lot about at school, that prospective employers would google you to see if you got up to anything untoward. It's no longer just about whether you have a criminal record. Now it's about what slang you use or how many photos you post. It doesn't matter that most people would act differently in the workplace than they would with their friends. It's all about the image. My first contract came with a social media policy, though it only really applied if you felt the need to announce your place of work on your social media pages or criticise it.

I dislike this idea that we should be on the clock all the time. That, before we do anything, we should be thinking, what if someone's watching me? What would people think? Yes, the internet is a public place and we should think before we post, but the high street is also a public place. Does that stop you from joking with your mates when you're walking down it? At the end of the day, the internet is what we make of it. Do we really want it to be a place where everyone is hiding behind facades just in case someone is watching, or do we want it to be a place of passion and self-expression? 

I see my blog as personal. Not professional. It's a place I come to talk about the things I love. It's a bit geeky, a bit dramatic, a bit sarcastic at times, but that's just me. I'm all three of those things dialled up to eleven. You couldn't find it by googling my name and, even if you could, it would be difficult to tell that you definitely had the right person, there's just not enough personal information. I could see how it might count against me if I wanted to pursue a career in journalism (which I don't) because it's not "serious", but other than that? I'm just not sure. 

What do you think? Is blogging unprofessional?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Ivyclad Images - August 2017

I'm terrible at book photography.


I don't quite understand how it became a thing, but the fact that it did means that the blogosphere is full of beautiful images. I figured, since this is such a popular thing, I'd try my hand at creating a book photography tag. 

  • The tag runs throughout August. There are two prompts for each day.
  • All you have to do is pick one and take a photo that you feel fits that prompt. 
  • You can take part in as many or as few days as you like. 
  • Tag your pictures with 'Ivyclad Images' and link back to this post if possible. 
  • You're welcome to use the above graphic.
Anybody want to share some book photography tips?