Books I’ve read for school (and what I think of them)

I am currently in my first year of A-Level English Language and literature. For those of you unfamiliar with the British schooling system, A Levels are two year courses with exams at the end in the last two years of school. You generally turn 17 in the first year (Y12) and 18 in the second year (Y13) before going onto university.

Needless to say, I have read quite a few books in english over the years, as well as some for classical civilisation A Level which I am also currently doing. I do not remember every book I have done in class since I was 4 years old, and instead of looking things up or reminding myself what these books are about, I’m just going to state as many as I can remember and give a sentence or two on what I can remember. This post does contain spoilers, but not for any books released recently. In fact I don’t think there’s anything after the year 2000, which is kind of crazy. Without further ado, let’s begin.

A Level Texts

The Whitmore Weddings by Philip Larkin

The Whitmore Weddings by Philip Larkin are a collection of poems with themes such as disillusionment, looking back on your youth and bleakness. While I enjoy studying poetry and I appreciate the poetic devices Larkin employs, I often find the subjects of his poems quite tedious or repetitive.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is a story about a guy called Nick and the various rich and poor people he meets over a summer in New York in about the 1920s. There’s lots of rich people behaving badly and a mystery around who Gatsby actually is. I had a love-hate relationship with Nick, I liked his insights at some point and he isn’t a bad guy but I often found him hypocritical, passive or plain irritating.

The Bacchae by Euripides (English Translation)

I think The Bacchae is great. I’m quite biased, since I adore Ancient Greece and Greek mythology but it’s pretty awesome. The play follows Dionysus as he comes to the birthplace of his mother and punishes his family, particularly his cousin Pentheus, for not believing that he is a god. It is tragic but it’s also just really cool. I do love a good Bacchic ritual.

Oedipus the King by Sophocles (English Translation)

Oedipus the King is a play follows the story of Oedipus as he sets out to save his city from a plague by finding the murderer of the previous King. This story was a whole lot of wild, and I found Creon’s character in this play quite difficult to reconcile with the Creon I knew from Antigone. The ending is quite gruesome and mildly horrifying, but the story is never boring. I liked Oedipus and his wife’s marriage before… you know.

Frogs by Aristophanes (English Translation)

Frogs is an Ancient Greek comedy play and it’s not only quite funny but also incredibly random and very interesting, especially with all the references to contemporary events of the time. I’m not a fan of scatological humour like the Ancient Greeks (look it up) but Frogs is still great fun.

The Odyssey by Homer (English Translation)

The Odyssey is my favourite text I have studied so far in Classics. It’s pretty famous, but if you don’t know it follows the story of a hero called Odysseus as he attempts to return home after the war at Troy. I adore all the greek mythology contained in it, I love the story it tells and the refrains and the characters. Homer is truly an epic poet.

GCSE Texts

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black was my favourite of my GCSE texts, even after 3 years of studying it I still really enjoy it. It follows the story of Arthur Kipps as he recounts the events that traumatised him in his youth when he goes out to an isolated house in order to sort the accounts. It’s such a good traditional ghost story and even though I normally hate horror, the actual story is excellent.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is another famous one. The play follows the story of Macbeth, who becomes the king of Scotland. There’s lots of questionable decisions and questionable morals. I really liked Lady Macbeth, who just does whatever she wants really and is very ambitious. Also the witches are great, just randomly appearing and messing things up. Considering the themes in Macbeth actually makes it better, especially the question of fate vs free will.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre. Not a fan of this one, I’m afraid. I know lots of people do like it, and the setting descriptions and plot are interesting, but once Rochester got involved I just went nope. Rochester is fifty shades of creepy and I wish Jane had ditched him. I liked all the different settings, especially Lowood, but I found Jane too passive as a narrator at times and as I said before, Rochester and Jane together makes me shudder.

Y7- Y9 Texts

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

At this point the texts are more distant in my memory, so these reviews are about to get vague. From what I can remember, this is a story about a horse and this boy. I think it’s the horse we follow but I honestly cannot remember. I’m pretty sure it was a good book though, despite my dislike of war. What I can remember is our school trip to see War Horse in the theatre. That was incredible, I highly recommend it.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

I don’t really remember much about studying this play, but I know the basic plot. There’s a storm and a ship is wrecked. Twins called Viola and Sebastian (I think) get washed up separately. Viola pretends to be her brother in order to get by. Viola ends up working for a lovesick Duke, and the lady he is in love with falls in love with Viola disguised as a boy. Not sure what Sebastian is doing all this time, but then he turns up and the lady thinks Sebastian is Viola and they end up together and Viola and the Duke end up together. It’s a cool story, and I like the movie based on it called She’s the Man.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This play has several plots. The one of four lovers who are in a tangle. An argument between the fairy king and queen. A bunch of actors preparing for a play. The all end up bumping into each other at various points. It’s a good story and quite fun to act out. I think at one point in class we had to rewrite parts into modern settings and someone did a gangster version. That was funny.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

My memories of this play are very, very vague. There’s a magician who lives on an island with his daughter, a sprite and a green guy? Some people get washed up and the daughter falls in love with someone? No idea what the actual plot is. Obviously I wasn’t impressed, though, or I would probably have more of an idea about this one.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is about a scientist who puts together a corpse out of random body parts then animates it with lightning. The creature then harasses him, and the scientist is very morally questionable. Some people might or might not die. This is quite a dark tale, as well as being quite sad. Sympathy is definitely for the monster, not Frankenstein himself.

Primary School Texts

Coming to England by Floella Benjamin

It’s definitely been a while and these are the only two texts I remember reading at primary school. I know we read others as a class, but I can’t for the life of me remember what they are. Coming to England has stuck in my memory, and even now I can remember scenes from the book clearly. The joy of Floella’s life in Trinidad, and the horrible racism she experienced in England as her parents worked their hardest to give Floella and her siblings a good life. It’s a really good book, and I recommend reading it whatever your age is.

The Wreck of Zanzibar by Michael Morpurgo

I honestly have no idea what happens in this book or what I thought of it. I just remembered the word Zanzibar.

And that concludes my mini review of all the books I’ve read at school and can remember! What books did you read at school? What did you think of them? Comment below or tell me on twitter, I think it’s fascinating how everyone studies different things.

For the Immortal Review

For the Immortal by Emily Hauser

If you’ve read my review of the previous book in this trilogy, For the Winner, you’ll know that I LOVE Emily Hauser’s writing of Greek myths from a female perspective. Seriously, I found out she is a lecturer of classics at Exeter university and began considering it to apply to!

For the immortal is the stunning conclusion to Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy, following two viewpoints- Queen of the Amazons Hippolyta and Admete, a friend of Hercules. Admete’s brother becomes ill so she goes with Hercules to first visit the amazons, then to find a golden apple.

Hippolyta is bold and brave and powerful, plagued by a mysterious past which is slowly revealed. I enjoyed Hauser’s interpretation of the amazons, them being a nomadic society of men and women. When she is captured her loneliness, pride and shame are so vividly illustrated and her actions always for the best of her people. While I found Hippolyta’s viewpoint interesting, I personally preferred Admete’s. Through her eyes the reader sees Hercules change, from Admete’s closest friend to a jerk obsessed with chasing glory. Admete is not as obviously courageous as Hippolyta, yet she confronts someone from her past, travels with a group of men who don’t want her there and thrives among the Amazons while cultivating her skills in herb healing.

Hauser has a beautiful writing style, full of descriptions weaved into the fabric of the story and little details that make the scenes all the more immersive. The prose is breath-taking from the prologue, the vast amount of time covered never boring and the alliances of the capricious Greek gods fascinating. 

The ending of the book, and therefore conclusion of the series, pulls the trilogy together in an unexpected way, linking them in ways I never foresaw. These unique interpretations of three well known myths weave gods, mortals and ancient Greek customs together, illustrating an alien world with vastly different customs in an accessible way. And there’s an epic final battle, so what more could you want?

Would I survive this book? No. I can’t live without a hot shower and lots of books. Not to mention freedom from being sold as a bride.

The Tyrant’s Tomb

The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan.

For more of me saying how much I love Rick Riordan, check out my previous post!

‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with.”

What a line. Without spoilers, my heart was broken once again in this book. I really wish Riordan would stop writing such loveable characters who you see develop and grow and then doing horrible things to them. I would be perfectly happy to have a book of just daily life at Camp Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood. There’s is no need for all the pain.
I love this new version of Apollo, seeing him reflect on the mistakes he has made and truly regretting them, watching him change from a haughty god to someone who genuinely cares about the people around him. I loved the choice of the song Sweet Caroline. I love the mix of old and new characters, from Apollo and Meg to Thalia Grace. And most of all I love the line ‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with’ even though it made me cry. It just seems so relevant.
This book was so readable but never over-simplified, the world doesn’t feel at all tired or overwritten despite the volume of books Riordan has published and the mix of new and old characters and plots is just seamless. Reading this after a while of not reading any of Riordan’s books feels like coming home.
As usual, Riordan has an excellent plot, awesome characters and lots of humour. If you haven’t read these books, what are you waiting for? Go and get Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

A Love Letter to Rick Riordan’s Books

I remember the day that I bought Percy Jackson and the lightning thief. It was a world book day, and we had vouchers that allowed £1 off a book so my mum took my brothers and me to a bookshop where we could choose a book. I spent some time looking around, but nothing in particular caught my fancy. (How?!) Then my mum suggested Percy Jackson. I read the blurb and although I was unsure about having a male main character, my younger self obviously decided it would do because I bought it. I was eight or nine at that point. I am now 17.

I have many memories of Rick Riordan’s books since then. I remember comparing favourite passages of the Son of Neptune with my primary school friends, I remember reading the Sea of Monsters and adoring Circe, I remember the torturous wait for The Blood of Olympus to be released. After that I paused for a while, with no new books and a new school to contend with. Yet the moment I saw that Rick Riordan had released two new series, Magnus Chase and The Trials of Apollo, I set my heart upon tracking them down and reading them ASAP. And even though I am irrevocably changed from the little girl who first read these books, they still retained their magic. I still raced through them, falling in love with the characters, perhaps even more this time because I was a teenager and I understood some of the things the characters were going through. I just finished reading The Tyrant’s Tomb in the Trials of Apollo series and without spoilers, it felt like my childhood was ending slightly, despite the fact there will be another book.

Rick Riordan’s books are a wonder. There is no debating that. I truly believe that anyone, of any age could enjoy them, and that they should. These books are so much more than fantasy-adventure books for children based on Greek, Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythology. They mix fantasy and the real world perfectly, with a hefty dollop of humour and sarcasm. No matter how many books Riordan writes in this world (and there’s quite a few now!) it never feels tired or overwritten. It just adds to the awesome.

The range of characters is astounding, each realistic and profoundly individual. You cannot help but fall in love with them, their quirks and habits and hopes and fears. Rick Riordan showed me that things society deems as flaws or disadvantages are not unilaterally so, taking dyslexia and ADHD as common characteristics for demigods because it helps them with reading Ancient Greek and being alert on the battlefield. Riordan has an incredible range of diversity, much more so than I see in most adult literature, and he had it when I needed it most. Characters struggling with their sexuality and hating themselves for it resounded with me deeply as I came to terms with my own, and the hardships that Riordan shows the characters overcoming, from their childhoods and personal lives, showed me that negative events do not have to define my future and there is always hope. Being different does not mean being wrong, or broken, or undeserving of happiness.

Gently, almost imperceptibly, Riordan weaves in messages that I am thoroughly glad I grew up with. It’s okay to be different, everyone has different strengths and together we can be stronger than apart. That it’s okay to be wrong, and what is important is learning from your mistakes, apologising and making reparations for what you have done. That it’s okay to show emotions, and it does not make you weak or unlovable. I am sure there are many more, and one I particularly noticed in the Tyrant’s Tomb was the way Riordan portrays battles. There is an element of fun, because of course these are first and foremost children’s books, of slaying monsters and awesome skills. But Riordan does not shy away from showing the aftermath, the heartbreak and devastation and grief that follows, the pain and destruction war causes. This can be so easily glossed over, making war seem heroic and brave rather than the devastating event that it is. I finally cracked and cried when I came to the line ‘We didn’t count the dead. They weren’t numbers. They were people we had known, friends we had fought with.’ It just seemed so relevant in the world we live in today, full of politicians quoting statistics and percentages like they are merely facts and figures, instead of people’s lives.

This is one of the few series that I have cried at character deaths, and it does not surprise me, for I have grown up with these characters, spent years following their stories. I very rarely reread books and yet my Rick Riordan books all have cracked spines from where I have spent hours poring over the pages, each time noticing some new details that makes me smile. The humour of the books, ever witty and sarcastic is my exact sense of humour and it does make me wonder whether I liked the books because of my sense of humour, or if I developed my sense of humour liking the books. Hearing of a new Rick Riordan book being released fills me with excitement every single time. They are so easy to slip into and get carried away by the story, so disappointing when they finish. Over the years they have been my solace, my guide and my reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

So, thank you, Rick Riordan. Thank you for the books that have shaped my life as I know it. I cannot imagine life without them, and I wouldn’t want to. Even if sometimes I love your books so much it hurts, reading them feels like coming home.