Category Archives: Top Fives

Five books you shouldn’t read while pregnant…

Five books you shouldn't read while pregnantAs of yesterday I am 35 weeks pregnant. Last week we had our first NCT classes, which were okay though the instructor kept talking about “fear tigers” which produce adrenaline and slow down labour, rather than using a more sensible word like stressors… Though I think people have avoided telling me lots of the labour horror stories they like to pile on first time mothers because of the awful time that we’ve had this pregnancy, I think I’ve read my fair share in books. I would recommend that anyone considering giving birth avoid the following books with spoilers below.

do not read while pregnant

1) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The novel follows Daniel Sempere as he attempts to track down a mysterious man who is intent on destroying all copies of a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. It later transpires that Julian had planned to elope with his friend’s sister, Penelope Aldayar, without realising that she was secretly his half-sister. Penelope’s parents lock her in a room leaving her to bleed to death in childbirth bringing Julian’s stillborn son into the world.

2) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Plenty of things to dislike, or “fear tigers” if you will, here. The story opens with Mabel and Jack, childless after their only pregnancy ended in a still birth years before, looking for a new life on the Alaskan frontier. One evening, much like in the fairy tale, they make a snowman and over the next few days they spot a little girl, pale as though she’s made from snow, wearing the hat and gloves they put on the snowman. The girl turns out to be Faina, the semi-wild orphaned daughter of an alcoholic trapper. Faina eventually becomes their almost adopted daughter and falls in love with their neighbour’s son, Jack insists that the pair marry when it becomes clear that Faina is pregnant but she contracts a fever after prolonged childbirth. The most awful thing about this for me is that when the fevered Faina wanders off in the Alaskan winter never to appear again, the family seem to think of it as an apt ending to their encounter with the snow child, as, after all, they’ve been left with the baby they always wanted…

 3) The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The much hyped novel about the girl with the semi-prophetic dollhouse… One of the first miniatures Nella receives to fill her cabinet is an ornate baby’s cradle, but it is only much later into the novel that she realises her sister-in-law, Marin, is pregnant with their manservant Otto’s child. Refusing a midwife, Marin retains her placenta and dies shortly after her daughter is born.

4) The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

A one hundred year old woman lives in a mental hospital which is closing down, and her narrative of her life is interwoven with that of the hospital psychologist. When Roseanne was a young woman, heavily pregnant and abandoned by her husband, she goes into labour on a long walk home after her mother-in-law refuses to help her. Giving birth on the sea front in a storm, she passes out when the baby is born and when she regains consciousness the baby is nowhere to be seen, resulting in Roseanne being accused of its murder. Jon has already been instructed to follow our baby anywhere that she is taken if I can’t go with her.

5) The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

For all that I felt that this was a very flawed novel, the descriptions of Elina’s traumatic labour which leaves her confused about how her baby came to be born and waking panicking at the disappearance of her bump, with memories of jets of blood shooting in the air have certainly stayed with me…

 

So, as I prepare to go into hospital and take some books with me to pass the time, are there any other books that you recommend I avoid?

Top 5 Castles in Fiction

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle

I’ve always wanted to live in a castle. It might be a by-product of reading too many books set in castles during my formative years, but I’ve always thought they were a more fitting setting for adventures. Especially if they have secret passageways. On the last bank holiday weekend, my boyfriend and I visited Raglan castle which got me thinking about my top 5 favourite castles in literature:

1) Godsend Castle- Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle

“I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic – two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud. I must admit that our home is an unreasonable place to live in. Yet I love it. The house itself was built in the time of Charles II, but it was damaged by Cromwell. The whole of our east wall was part of the castle; there are two round towers in it. The gatehouse is intact and a stretch of the old walls at their full height joins it to the house. And Belmotte Tower, all that remains of an even older castle, still stands on its mound close by. But I won’t attempt to describe our peculiar home fully until I can see more time ahead of me than I do now.”

2) Castle Dracula- Bram Stoker’s Dracula

“I became conscious of the fact that the driver was in the act of pulling up the horses in the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light,and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky. I must have been asleep, for certainly if I had been fully awake I must have noticed the approach of such a remarkable place. In the gloom the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches, it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is. I have not yet been able to see it by daylight.”

3) Hogwarts Castle- JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series

“He missed Hogwarts so much it was like having a constant stomachache. He missed the castle, with its secret passageways and ghosts, his classes, … the mail arriving by owl, eating banquets in the Great Hall, sleeping in his four-poster bed in the tower dormitory, visiting the gamekeeper, Hagrid, in his cabin next to the Forbidden Forest in the grounds, and especially, Quidditch, the most popular sport in the wizarding world”

4) Cair Paravel- C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia

“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking for ever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you ever heard it? Can you remember?”

5) Prince Humperdinck’s Castle- William Goldman’s The Princess Bride

Admittedly, not an obvious choice, but how many castles do you know that have a Zoo of Death filled with the most deadly animals on the planet? “The other thing about the Zoo was that it was underground. The Prince picked the spot himself, in the quietest, remotest corner of the castle grounds. And he decreed there were to be five levels, all with the proper needs for his individual enemies. On the first level, he put enemies of speed: wild dogs, cheetahs, hummingbirds. On the second level belonged the enemies of strength: anacondas and rhinos and crocodiles of over twenty feet. The third level was for poisoners: spitting cobras, jumping spiders, death bats galore. The fourth level was the kingdom of the most dangerous, the enemies of fear: the shrieking tarantula (the only spider capable of sound), the blood eagle (the only bird that thrived on human flesh), plus, in its own black pool, the sucking squid. Even the albino shivered during feeding time on the fourth level.”

 

Romantic Hero? I’d rather have a cup of tea

I’ll admit that I’m not the most romantic of people. Those marriage proposals with flash mobs and onlookers just make me cringe, and I prefer a cup of tea and biscuit from my boyfriend than the hearts and flowers grand gestures that I’m meant to be conditioned to want having grown up watching Disney. So maybe I’m not the best person to understand the appeal of the romantic hero. Moody, critical and more often than not just a tad misogynistic, these are the five romantic heroes that I just don’t get…

 

Mr Rochester

mr-rochester-jane-eyreI’m starting with Mr Rochester, because I read a blog post explaining how much the blogger needed a man like him in her life and it made me decide to write this post. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jane Eyre well enough, but are you actually serious? I couldn’t go for Rochester as the romantic hero, nor am I sure what on earth would possess any woman in her right mind to. I meant, I’m sure that times were very different back then, but there’s just something about a man who locks his mentally ill wife in an attic and then tries to trick a naive woman into bigamy that’s never really tickled my fancy. Also, the moment when he dressed up as a gypsy fortune-teller in order to manipulate his house guests was just weird. I don’t need that in my life.

 

Mr Darcy

mr darcy colin firth“Mr Darcy!” simper and fawn the women of _______shire, leading to generations of women to believe that single men in possession of a good fortune, especially the arrogant and remote ones, must be good husband material without tasting a drop of Austen’s intended satire. Reader, he may claim to be properly humbled, but given his previous performances, how long would it take Darcy to drop jibes about their disparate social status into domestic arguments.  I can only imagine what Christmas dinner with the Darcy family would be like…sister-in-law Georgina sat opposite Mr Wickham who attempted to seduce her before succeeding in seducing your sister and then being bought off by your husband. A little too Regency Jeremy Kyle/Jerry Springer for my tastes.

 

Romeo

leonardo di caprio romeoRomeo, Romeo, let’s not forget Romeo… this little chap (and let’s remember he would have been little more than a child) is basically a seducer and who likes to make smutty jokes about his well-flowered pump. He goes to Capulet’s party and meets Juliet when he’s been moping about being knocked back by Rosaline who he’s been trying and failing to bed, then proposes to Juliet when she is shocked at his demands for satisfaction…not to mention kind of causes the death of his best friend and wife’s cousin.  Yes, yes, teenaged love is very sweet and all that, but I’m just not sure I’d want to throw my life away after a child who was chasing someone else literally a few hours before.

 

Heathcliff

tom hardy heathcliffOh Heathcliff, he’s Romantic with a capital R… a force of nature, running wild, gnashing his teeth at the world, a rebel at heart… and a cold, manipulative man who abuses his wife, weak adults and any children unfortunate enough to find themselves in his company. While Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is an amazing work of literature, examining an obsessive love between two truly damaged individuals, I’m not sure that a love affair that ends in corpse exhumation and haunting is really something we should aspire to.

 

Edward Cullen

edward cullen twilight romantic heroFollowing on from Heathcliff (because Stephanie Meyer couldn’t be any more desperate for her readers to pick up on that subtle as a sledgehammer allusion…) creepy Mr Cullen secretly watches his love interest while she’s sleeping, romantic or stalky? I’ll let you decide, but I can’t help wondering whether he couldn’t have done something a little more useful with his time. If a vampire ever decides to waste their time watching me sleep, they should know that my kitchen probably needs cleaning, and I wouldn’t mind if they paint the spare bedroom. If housework isn’t Mr Cullen’s thing, now that he’s mastered the world’s languages and the piano, could he maybe use his scientific knowledge and excess of time to do something useful like cure cancer or develop an antivenom to his vampire venom? Just saying. Nothing attractive about this one.

 

What about you? Is there a character that you were meant to find attractive but just found repulsive?

Top Five Witches in Fiction

Happy Halloween, in celebration of one of my favourite days of the year I thought I would share my favourite fictional witches with you. When I told my boyfriend I was doing a post on fictional witches he told me that all witches are fictional, he told me that all witches are fictional. That’s what he wants to think, he’ll be laughing on the other side of his face when I turn him into a toad…. but I digress. Some are entered as collectives (covens if you will…), some are wicked while some are just tricksey,and I’ve no doubt that some of the additions will be as controversial as one of my major omissions…

1)The Lancre Witches in The Discworld Series

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

“I’m not superstitious. I’m a witch. Witches aren’t superstitious. We are what people are superstitious of.” Wintersmith

 

I love the Lancre witches in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. After Death they are my favourite characters. They are quietly powerful, not engaging to hierarchical nonsense to the extent of wizards and have tongues as sharp as their minds. They are hilarious when they interact as a community, and the way they drop in on each other to check that no one is at risk of cackling is brilliant, you get the sense that they are half hoping that they will find each other lapsing. I love all the witches from Tiffany Aching with her mishaps in the recent books, to the hearty Nanny Ogg, but grumpy Granny Weatherwax is almost certainly my favourite of them all:

“Granny Weatherwax was often angry. She considered in one of her strong points. Genuine anger was one of the world greatest creative forces. But you had to learn how to control it. That didn’t mean you let it trickle away. it meant you damned it, carefully, let it develop a working head, let it drown whole valleys of the mind and then, just when the whole structure was about to collapse, opened a tiny pipeline at the base and let the iron-hard stream of wrath power the turbines of revenge.”  Wyrd Sisters

 2) Jadis/The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia

Jadis, The White Witch, as played by Tilda Swinton in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Part Snow Queen, part especially corrupted Eve, The White Witch is witchy in the wreak-evil-and-rule-the-world sense. In fact, she may well be the wickedest witch on this list. Having wiped out all life on the world of Charn, she escapes to London and tries to take over Earth before returning to Narnia and plunging the land into an eternal winter, turning people to stone, seducing children with enchanted Turkish Delight and killing Aslan. As a child, she was a character I loved to hate.

 ‘”The White Witch?” said Edmund; “who’s she?”

“She is a perfectly terrible person,” said Lucy. “She calls herself the Queen of Narnia thought she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals—at least all the good ones—simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head.”

Edmund was already feeling uncomfortable from having eaten too many sweets, and when he heard that the Lady he had made friends with was a dangerous witch he felt even more uncomfortable. But he still wanted to taste that Turkish Delight more than he wanted anything else.’

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

 3) The Grand High Witch in The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl, iconic cover image by Quentin Blake

Another scary childhood witch, perhaps made worse by the fact that witches could be anyone, anywhere. Perhaps even your school teacher. You had to be especially vigilant to be sure you weren’t accidentally talking to a witch- watch out for claw like hands, fiery pupils, bald heads and a limp.

 

“She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of cleverness.
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But–here comes the big “but”–not impossible.”

Roald Dahl, The Witches

 4) The Wicked Witch of The West/Elphaba from The Oz Stories

The Wicked Witch of The West threatens Dorothy

I think that this is the image that jumps into your mind whenever you get asked to picture a witch- a green-skinned woman in a tall black hat as suggested by The Oz stories and Wicked. I have included these as one character because I love the juxtaposition between the books. In the Baum books she is the power obsessed antagonist who represents all that is evil, in Wicked she is a tender-hearted heroine whose memory will ultimately be slandered by The Wizard to create the propagandist portrayal we see in The Wizard of Oz.  I love her in both.

“One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her-is it ever the right choice? Does the devil ever struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil?”

Wicked, Gregory Maguire

 5) Minerva McGonagall of Harry Potter Fame

Prof Minerva McGonagall

This is the controversial choice that I was referring to, but for me Minerva McGonagall is the best witch in the Harry Potter books. A talented witch with a steely exterior, she has her heart firmly in the right place and I defy anyone to read the scene in The Order of The Phoenix where she stands up for Harry against Umbridge without cheering inside. She’s a damn site cooler than Hermione, though Molly Weasley has to come a close second. Did I mention that she has a mischievous side as well?

 

 “Harry witnessed Professor McGonagall walking right past Peeves who was determinedly loosening a crystal chandelier and could have sworn he heard her tell the poltergeist out of the corner of her mouth ‘It unscrews the other way.”

J.K. Rowling, The Order of The Phoenix

 Honourable Mention

While not making my top five, honourable mentions should go to The Three Witches in Macbeth, Mildred Hubble The Worst Witch, Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures and, Bobd, Macha and Morrigan as portrayed in The Hounds of The Morrigan.

My Top 5 Fictional Badgers #teambadger

Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License

Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…

Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.

 

1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series  by Brian Jacques

I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats.  My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.

2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals  who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.

3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter

Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.

4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme

I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.

5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis

This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.

 

Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.

* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.

If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.

Top 5 Shakespeare Inspired Pop Songs

April 23rd was an important date in the life of Mr William Shakespeare- he died 396 years ago today, and is estimated to have been born 448 years ago today as a record of his baptism was dated April 26th 1564 though the actual date of his birth is unknown.

To celebrate this date in a slightly different way, I thought I would share with you a playlist of my Top 5 Shakespeare Inspired Songs. And yes, it’s a little dominated by Romeo and Juliet but that’s because it’s cool, okay?

1. Dire Straits- Romeo and Juliet

This is my absolute favourite Shakespeare inspired song, and with lines like “You promised me everything, you promised me thick and thin. Now you just say, “Oh Romeo, yeah, y’know I used to have a scene with him,” how could I not? A bit of a bittersweet one for me because it reminds me of a good friend who is no longer in my life.

 MC Lars- Hey There Ophelia

If you haven’t experience MC Lars yet, you need to check him out of Spotify or Facebook then buy his albums. So many of his songs are funny, clever takes on classic literature, but this is one of my favourites. An emo retelling of Hamlet, this is brilliant example of textual transformation but with a damn catchy chorus. I just love the end:

“If you’re ever up in Denmark on a moonlit night
You’ll hear Ophelia’s sad song when the full moon’s bright
Baby I’m sorry I messed up, good night my sweet princess
May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” –MC Lars

 Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More

Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, it depends whether I’m after a tragedy or comedy but I just can’t get enough of B+B’s love hate relationship. I also love Hey Nonny Nonny. I especially enjoy singing it to the tune I learned in the Kenneth Brannagh version. Quoting almost directly from the play in places, Mumford and Sons have created their own eerie take with this song which to me follows some of Claudio’s character progression.

 Taylor Swift- Love Story

Okay, so Taylor may have changed the story a little bit in this song? But who cares?! I studied this play through school and university, taught it to numerous classes when I was teaching and have seen it performed countless times. And I still hold out hope that fate will let the star-crossed lovers wriggle through her net.

 We The Kings – Check Yes Juliet

If Romeo had ever been in a power pop band… okay, it’s a little more tenuous than the others, but don’t let that bother you. Just turn it up, jump around the bedroom singing, “Forever we’ll beeeeeeeeeee, you and me.” Try it. You’ll like it.

What are your favourite Shakespeare inspired songs? I’ll add them to my playlist, cos I’m cool like that…

Chinese New Year: My Top 5 Dragons

Smaug

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to learn that dragons aren’t actually real. Growing up in Wales where dragon memorabilia is almost as prevalent as the accursed sheep I thought they must be. I’m sorry if this revelation has crushed your own dragon dreams. Life can be so cruel.

Fortunately, in fiction dragons are very much alive and kicking, so in honour of Chinese New Year here are my top five fictional dragons.

  1. Smaug One of the last great dragons of Middle Earth, Smaug is a very naughty dragon, but I have something of a soft spot for him. While I wouldn’t sleep on a bed of gold and jewels myself, preferring a warm and squishy bed, I admire his dedication to all things shiny. Just imagine having that attention for detail. I’ve heard that Benedict Cumberbatch will be voicing Smaug in the forthcoming film of The Hobbit, which is all kinds of brilliant, and makes up for some weirdly attractive actors playing dwarves.
  2. Falkor

    The Red Dragon of Wales The first story of dragons that I remember learning was the story of Merlin and the warring dragons (which I’ve since learned was recorded in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum no less!).

  3. Falkor Who doesn’t like a luckdragon? The best thing about The Neverending Story. This is only compounded by the luckdragon in the film adaptation bearing an uncanny resemblance to my dog.
  4. The “Denner Resin Draccus” This is my most recent dragon and it features in a book that I will be reviewing soon The Name of the Wind. There’s something strangely compelling about a dragon in a drug fuelled frenzy…
  5. Norbert Of Harry Potter fame of course. I can’t blame Hagrid for wanting a pet dragon. I’d love one of my own!

So who/what is your favourite fictional dragon? I know I’ve missed out loads (Penn books, Earthsea…) let me know.

Our luckdragon

Top Five Eggs in Fiction

1) Humpty Dumpty Alice Through the Looking Glass

 “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

Possibly the most famous egg in fiction, Humpty’s contradictory nature is an endless source of amusement to me- I’m sure we’ve all met someone like him. As is the way Alice acquired him in the old sheep shop.

2) Hagrid ‘s Monster Eggs Harry Potter Series

As someone who is constantly getting in trouble for bringing unwanted animals home to look after, I do have some sympathy with Hagrid and his fetish for monster eggs which is an ongoing source of complication in the Harry Potter novels. From Aragog to Norbert, you’d think he’d learn!

3)12 Eggs City of Thieves

If I told you I’d kill you if you didn’t bring me a dozen eggs, you’d probably just pop to the supermarket. Even on Easter Sunday when the shops are closed (yeah, I forgot about that today…) you’d probably be able to get hold of some quite easily at a corner shop or similar. Not so easy for Jewish Lev and eccentric Kolya in David Benioff’s City of Thieves who are tasked with finding 12 eggs for the Colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake during the siege of Leningrad, forcing them into the path of Nazis, cannibals and intriguing female sharp shooters.

4) Billina’s Eggs Ozma of Oz

There are times when you’d imagine that a talking chicken might be a source of irritation, but not for Dorothy and her friends who are being turned into ornaments by the evil gnome king when trying to rescue the Royal family of Oz. Fortunate then that the one thing that gnomes fear most are hen’s eggs…

5) Green Eggs and Ham

I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I am.

Ah, but we all did. And so have countless children and adults all over the world.

Books to Read by Candlelight

Get your lights out of Earth Hour

At 8:30pm tomorrow people all around the world will be turning off their lights for earth hour as a stand against climate change. Now, it’s not all that light at 8:30pm still, and reading in the dark can cause serious eye strain, so to save you bookworms that trauma I have come up with a list of five great books to read by candlelight- the flickering shadows will only enhance their dark and mysterious goings on.

 

The Turn of the Screw-Henry James

Two uncannily beautiful children led astray by the demonic spirits of their deceased governess and her lover, or the twisted workings of a naive young woman’s mind? Henry James’ master parody of Jane Eyre, designed to confound literary analysis, is as at least as entertaining as that governess’ tale, if not more so.

 

The Thirteenth Tale-Diane Setterfield

A young biographer is summoned from her father’s second hand book shop to the home of a reclusive author who delights in leading journalists on a wild goose chase, however, she wants the girl to write the truth in a tell all biography, and could it be that truth is stranger than fiction? A story of twins, decaying mansions, foundlings, secrets, love, betrayal and ghosts- if you haven’t read it, you must.

 

Frankenstein– Mary Shelley

It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein caused outrage when it was released because very few people could accept that a woman could think such dark thoughts, and because it didn’t criticise Victor’s attempts to break the laws of God and nature. Exploring that evil is less about ghouls and goblins, and more the corruption that lurks in men’s souls, in an age of cloning and xeno-grafting  the books remains as relevant as ever.

 

The Shadow of The Wind– Carlos Ruiz Zafón

As a young boy, Daniel’s father takes him to The Cemetery of Lost Books to choose a book which he must protect for life. However , before too long, Daniel finds himself being followed by a man with the same name as one of the main characters in the book, Laín Coubert, the devil. A fascinating adventure which speaks volumes about love, loss and the power of books.

 

Rebecca– Daphne du Maurier

If you’ve ever worried that your partner’s ex was cooler, sexier or more exciting that you are, you should be able to sympathise with the plight of the new Mrs. De Winter. Having met the mysterious and melancholy Maxim de Winter while holidaying in the French Riviera, the young unnamed woman soon finds herself at his ancestral home Manderley, which is still filled with his first wife Rebecca’s clothes and possessions after her unexplained disappearance. And while the new Mrs. De Winter struggles to find her place in another woman’s home, Mrs. Danvers, the fearsome house keeper, pulls the rug from under her at every opportunity.

My Top 5 Irish Writers

Having an Irish mother, an Irish name and being entitled to hold an Irish passport I should really celebrate St Patricks Day, but I don’t really. I’ll leave that to the good people of America who seem to be going for it in a big way (really, turning the river green? How many pints of Guiness made that seem like a good idea).

I will however share my five favourite Irish writers with you. James Joyce will not feature, so don’t hold your breath.

1) Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin I believe, but is probably better known for his amazing contributions to English Literature. My favourites? The Importance of Being Earnest and The Selfish Giant. Earnest is my favourite play and I can quote most of it, which is much cooler than most people realise.

2) C.S. Lewis because, religion aside, I loved the Chronicles of Narnia.

3) Jonathan Swift and not so much for Gulliver’s Travels more for A Modest Proposal, a satire made all the more cutting when you realise that Swift was of Irish descent.

4) Eavan Boland- it would be patronising to call her a little know poet, because she’s very successful and yet she isn’t one of the ancient white males that are still so commonly associated with “good” poetry, whatever that is. I studied her as part of a modern poetry course at university, and hers is one of the few set texts I move around with me.

5) Cecelia Ahern because anyone who says that they didn’t cry buckets when reading P.S. I Love You needs a bloody good slap. My housemate and I had to meet for hugs in the kitchen to compose ourselves enough to carry on reading.  

What are your favourite books/poems by Irish writers?