The Post-Exams TBR List

May 31st. If I had an old-school wall calendar, that date would be circled in bright red felt tip. Sadly, it features only as a slightly feeble entry in my Google Calendar. Not quite so evocative. May 31st, since you ask (you didn’t, but never mind) will be my first full day of freedom from everything University related – lectures, supervisions, seminars, essays, my dissertation, and exams. I fully intend to spend it encased in a social media-free bubble, reading to my heart’s content. May 30th is my last examination date, but I presume I’ll either be too passed out from mental exhaustion or from post-exam bubbles (as it’s the tradition at Cambridge to mercilessly spray finalists after the last exam with cheap bottles of cava) to do anything remotely resembling reading.

Recreational reading doesn’t look to be on the cards at all, in fact, until that hallowed date. Yes, I started this blog at a silly time…

Without further ado, I wanted to share the five books that I’m most eagerly anticipating reading once I’m free.

1) The Three (Sarah Lotz)
So first up, we have The Three. I’ve been excited about this ever since I saw Hodder’s Twitter posts announcing it a few months ago, but then a couple of days ago they released a sampler of the novel as a free Kindle ebook via Amazon. I’m now approximately one thousand times more ramped up about The Three than previously, and I’m almost glad that I have revision and exams to plug the gap between now and the release date on May 22nd. The premise is that four planes crash more or less simultaneously around the world, but three children miraculously survive, seemingly unscathed. The free sampler doesn’t confirm exactly what role these children are going to play, but my guess is that they’re extremely dangerous. And creepy. Promising stuff.

2) Dust (Hugh Howey)
So I said that I probably won’t have time to do any fun reading in this peak finals period. But let’s be honest here. I bought Shift, the second instalment of the Wool trilogy, in a moment of weakness at Forbidden Planet last week, and I really doubt I’ll get through the next month without reading it during my breaks. I’ve written about how much I enjoyed Wool, which I devoured in one day flat. So I’m really looking forward to cracking open Dust and escaping from thoughts about results (ack) into a subterranean world racked by poisoned air and terrible secrets.

3) On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
I found a hardback copy of On Beauty in the secondhand section of Heffers in Cambridge last term. It was like discovering buried treasure. On Beauty is the second hardback that’s been on my TBR list that I’ve picked up there for £2, the first being Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. I like how Smith often roots her narratives in northwest London, particularly the borough of Brent, where I’ve grown up, and I loved reading White Teeth, so I have high expectations regarding On Beauty!

4) The Sign of Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)
I finally started reading the Sherlock Holmes series in Michaelmas term. I’m a late bloomer, I know. I think I read The Hound of the Baskervilles in primary school, but it’s all a bit hazy now. Anyway. The Study In Scarlet was not at all what I expected, having followed the slick Sherlock BBC adaptation and the Sherlock Holmes Robert Downey Jr. movies religiously. Slick and fast-paced it may not be, but I enjoyed what I read, particularly the Mormon side plot. I’ve heard that The Sign of Four is even better than its predecessor. *Rubs hands gleefully*

5) Sandman Volume V: A Game of You (Neil Gaiman)
I love the Sandman series, and I reckon I’ve been pretty restrained in reading them really. Let’s compare: I read the entirety of The Walking Dead (published so far, that is) in the space of about a week, but it was like binge-eating. Albeit binge-eating zombies, as opposed to eating a nice pack of Doritos too quickly. Anyway, with Sandman I’ve been buying the series one volume at a time and allowing myself one day to savour each, which always feels so much more virtuous.

Other books currently vying for attention on my gigantic TBR list: The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway), The Girl With All The Gifts (M.R. Carey), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan), It (Stephen King), Lexicon (Max Barry).

May 31st cannot come soon enough.

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What I Read In March

What I Read In MarchBy all rights, March really shouldn’t have been a successful month for reading. It’s prime dissertation time in the Tamsin household at the moment (I’ve got just under three weeks to get it written, formatted, printed, bound and submitted to the Cambridge History of Art department), so I’ve been losing myself in books. Ok, I really shouldn’t really be surprised. Books are fantastic procrastination.

So this month I read five new non-Tripos books!

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
One that’s been on my TBR list for actual years. I was so happy to finally get my teeth into this one! And it proved very toothsome indeed. I wrote a review about it here.

Wool by Hugh Howey
I loved this a lot. Wrote a review about it here. Sidled into Forbidden Planet yesterday and bought the sequel, Shift, and really can’t wait to read that next! I think I’m going to parcel it out in little sections and read each as a treat every time I’ve written a bit of dissertation. Then Dust can be my post-exams treat…

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
I haven’t had a chance to read good old-fashioned chick-lit in absolutely ages, and I’ve had a soft spot for Sophie Kinsella’s writing ever since I made the mistake of not packing enough reads for Thailand in 2007, and bought everything she’d ever written in the tourist bookshop in the nearest town. Pure escapism.

Sandman: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
My boyfriend bought me the first Sandman graphic novel for my 22nd birthday in December, and I’ve slowly been reading my way through the series since then – this one is number 4! The writing is incredible (such a Gaiman fangirl) and I love that since I don’t have to wait for new novels to come out, I can read as slowly or as quickly as I like, and see how the art develops. These books are gruesomely fascinating, and I love them.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A book that forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you contemplate things your mind usually shuts itself away from – namely, death. And how we’re all just barnacles on the container ship of consciousness. I wrote down my thoughts about it here.

Re-reads included Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook (so many tears) and George Orwell’s1984. The latter was read to commemorate my seeing the Almeida play, which was equal measures of brilliance and grisly to a face-hiding degree. Go see it if you can when it transfers to the West End!

I can’t believe it’s April already. Time to get my skates on with the old dissertation I reckon. No more non-academic books. Well, except maybe Shift…

Review: The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars

Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year originally published: 2012

I’m sure that The Fault In Our Stars hasn’t escaped your attention. You’re probably sick of Stars-related reviews. It’s just one of those books that can’t help but permeate the sphere of one’s consciousness. It’s been riding high in the bestsellers’ list for weeks and weeks. It’s been displayed in prime position in just about every bookshop I’ve walked into in the last few months. Oh, and it’s reached saturation point on the blogs I read, even making that rare jump from reviews on the book blogs to lifestyle and even beauty blogs. In short, it was solidly on my TBR list, and my expectations were high.

The question is, were they met? Well, it’s pretty hard not to love the book. I instantly identified with the main character, Hazel, who seemingly has all the traits I saw in myself when I, too, was an angsty adolescent. She flips out at her nervously helicoptering mum. She runs off with a gorgeous boy even when her parents advise her against it. She prefers literature to real life: she’d rather sit on a bench and read her newly purchased novel at the mall than chat with her best friend. But there’s one thing that sets Hazel quite apart from that group of rebellious, bookish sixteen-year olds of which I was once a firm member. She’s got terminal cancer.

But hold on a second before you dismiss The Fault In Our Stars as a depressing cancer novel. The Fault In Our Stars is not merely about cancer. It’s about grabbing the gift of life while you have it, about enjoying every moment you’ve got, because let’s face it – we spend our lives dying, always unsure how long exactly we’ve got. Hazel is like a bud in the novel, tightly closing in on herself because she’s afraid of her grenade-like potential, convinced that the fewer people she surrounds herself with, the smaller the radius of the shrapnel blast that will inevitably happen when she ‘bites it’. It’s only with the appearance of athletic, totally fanciable Augustus that she slowly starts to open up and shake off the dependent traits that cancer has fostered in her character, which is wonderful to read. It’s rare to see such palpable character development – or, conversely, to see such physical change in characters over the course of a novel – and I’m sure that it’s this character growth that had me sobbing so hard at the end of the book.

My verdict: 4/5
The Fault In Our Stars is eminently readable, and should be read, I think, by all members of my generation. We’re at that age where everything seems conquerable and life seems to stretch on endlessly ahead of us; we feel constantly invincible. Reading this book made me profoundly aware of my own mortality, especially as the characters were a good six years younger than me. I’ve definitely read books that are written much more elegantly, with more thrilling plots, but this is not the point here. For me, this was a story about celebrating the relationships that you’ve built up, being grateful for good health, and savouring every moment you’ve got. I’m excited for the film – but I’d better bring a big packet of Kleenex.