Books That Have Changed Me

Hello again! At the beginning of this year I said I’d like to do more posts about reading on this blog, which I definitely still want to do, so today I thought I’d take 5 books which have really stuck with me and just talk about my experience with them and their legacy in my life, let’s say. Hopefully this will act as a good lead-in to the book posts to come, as I feel these books give a pretty good representation of my reading tastes, and will probably be appearing many more times in future.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Let’s start with a series that I know is close to a lot of people’s hearts, not just mine – the Harry Potter series, following the adventures of a boy who learns he is a wizard, and travels off to a distant magic school, encountering all manner of exciting and strange things in his seven years there, each of which are shown in one of the books. Considering I started out hating these books when my sister – known on this blog as sophofbread of course – started listening to the audiobooks around the house (I wrote her many notes and angry emails in an attempt to get her to turn it off… they didn’t work), it’s amazing how big a part of my life these books are now. Once I finally caved to the Scarhead love, discussions and jokes about the series with sophofbread were a huge part of building the relationship we have now, and even pteroturtle, our younger bro, has started his own obsession with all things Potter in the past year or so. Though it’s been epic to see his love for and knowledge of these books grow just like mine did, in true little brother fashion he manages to annoy us even with Harry Potter – constantly sprouting random quotes or facts from the series at the least appropriate moments.

As well as bringing me closer to my siblings, Harry Potter has helped me shape my outlook on life – most notably because of the Hogwarts House I was sorted into on Pottermore, which surprisingly for me, was Hufflepuff. Being quite an academic person, I always saw myself in Ravenclaw before then, but now I love all the qualities and values of the Hufflepuff clan to bits and it’s awesome to be able to say I am one. I’ve come to see the qualities of my house more as things that it’s important for me to strive for than things I already am, and striving to be more loyal, fair, hard working and accepting has definitely helped me become a better person.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

OK, let’s move on quick before I spend this whole post gushing about Harry Potter. This next one is a Young Adult standalone novel following two teenage boys, both by the name of Will Grayson, who have absolutely no connection to one another, until one night, by the least likely of circumstances, they meet. The story basically tells the tale of both their lives during this time, how they become connected through one extraordinary boy, and how he impacts on both of their lives in a big way. I know that’s a pretty vague synopsis, but suffice it to say that this is a hilarious, addictive and heart-warming read (or it was for me anyway) told in a realistic, snarky and pessimistic tone by both narrators. I received this book as a gift a few years ago and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it, but I gave it a try and was instantly hooked. I recently read it again and loved it even more (marking off about a million quotes I liked with tags along the way), and though it starts off a bit depressing, there’s this magical moment in the middle when everything picks up and when all is said and done this book gives me so many happy feelings.

So, onto the point of how this book has changed me, this was one the first contemporary books I ever read (that’s to say, set in modern times about real life, with no hidden world of wizards or vampires etc.), so the characters were really easy to relate to for me – they weren’t heroes destined for greatness or protectors of some ancient secret, just normal teenagers struggling with real life problems. This was also the first book I read from the point of view of a gay character, and though I’d been exposed to queer characters on the side or on TV before, actually seeing their perspective was really valuable to me. As well as this, this was one of the first books meant for older teens that I actually liked, and I think I might have given up on the YA genre if it hadn’t been for a select couple of books which I’ve really loved, headlined by this one.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Sticking to the YA theme, this is another book that helped restore my faith in this genre, which, if you read a lot of it you might know, has a lot of annoying – and often unhealthy – tropes which have been repeated way too many times. However this book (and its sequel, which was even better) really stuck out to me and I think the author has created an original and refined series (as it is so far – the final book comes out in November) while remaining appealing to teenage readers and true to the YA genre at its best.

This book is about a teenage girl named Marguerite, whose parents have created a device that allows people to jump through alternate dimensions, potentially revolutionising science and our view of the universe forever. However, not soon after, Marguerite’s father is mysteriously murdered by one of his students, who then steals his device and leaps away into another dimension. Marguerite ventures to follow him through the alternate universes to take her revenge and find out the truth. There are many unexpected twists and turns in the story, an awesome cast of characters and travelling to the different dimensions with them makes for a seriously cool ride. What I love most about this series is the science – you can tell Claudia Gray has really put in the effort to make it believable and yet mind-blowing, and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from of this series. It helped me realise that I’m much more into sci-fi than fantasy (a big part of what I was reading beforehand), as I like concrete explanations for things (far too often in fantasy all you ever get is “It’s magic”), and also just how much I like science in general.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This next one is a gothic horror classic following a young man named Dorian Gray, living in the 1800s. At the beginning of the book, he has a painting done of him, and consequently sees what he looks like for the first time (why he’d never seen a mirror before I don’t know… just roll with it). Entranced by his own beauty, and knowing that it will wither and fade as he ages, he desperately wishes that he could stay looking just as he is forever, while his painting bares the marks of age and injury. You can probably guess what happens next, and as the novel goes on it presents an extraordinary portrait (see what I did there) of how obsession and pride can lead to utter corruption, while also exploring some witty views on life, beauty and friendship in an often comedic manner.

This was the first classic I ever finished (after giving up on Little Women after one chapter and announcing old books were not my thing) and I’m really glad that I did. Classics has since become one of my favourite book genres and Oscar Wilde is a firm favourite. His endless wit and charm, disguising underneath it a phenomenal wisdom, is what makes his writing so intriguing to me, and I am steadily making my way through his other works in a hope I can someday read everything he’s written. Gothic horror is also something I’ve become interested in thanks to this book – a genre my younger self would never dream of going near, but that I’ve recently developed an interest in. Jump scares and cartoon villains will probably still never be my thing, but when dark themes are explored in a really spooky manner and polished off with a clever one-liner bound to make you unable to think about anything else for days – that’s something I really enjoy.

My Sister the Vampire series by Sienna Mercer

And finally, my childhood books, the ones that got me into reading, the My Sister the Vampire series. This is a tween series following two girls who are complete opposites – Olivia, an upbeat, friendly and pink-loving cheerleader, and Ivy, a brooding goth who loves all things dark and spooky. In the opening to the first book, Switched, Olivia moves to a new school, and soon she and Ivy realise they are long lost twins, but not only that, Ivy is a vampire! It’s a very creative take on these classic paranormal creatures – everything is kid-friendly and the books are very feel-good, while still retaining the mysterious, eerie nature of living amongst vampires. Seeing all the fun adventures Olivia and Ivy find themselves wrapped up in is tons of fun for me – even when I’ve been reading and rereading them for almost eight years now or something ridiculous.

My Sister the Vampire not only ignited my love of reading, but it also started my love of the Middle Grade and Chick Lit genres – both of which have provided some amazing reading experiences for me over the years. It also helped me discover the awesomeness of Goodreads and, like Harry Potter, has been a big part of me and sophofbread’s relationship. Sister the Vamp rules!

So that’s my very rambly list – hopefully you enjoyed learning more about my favourite books and what they mean to me. Hope to see you in more posts soon!

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Summer reading challenges.

Two of our favourite things here at Home-ed Heads are books and a challenge. What joy then to get stuck in to a good ol’ reading challenge. At the moment pteroturtle, plumblepie and I are loving these two summer reading challenges. We thought you might love them too…

The Big Friendly Read is this year’s name for the annual summer reading challenge that takes place in UK libraries.  The challenge is to read six library books during the summer holidays. You can sign up at any local library in the UK and you get a little card to record the books you have read. Our local library also has a wall display where the children can move their name across each time they read a book offering a nice visual representation of their progress. There is also a website where you can track the books you have read and get reading recommendations (sound familiar anyone?). Each time you read a book you pop along to the library, show them your card and usually there are little freebies to be had, often stickers and cards, then at the end you get a medal (pteroturtle’s favourite part, he has a fine collection) and a certificate.

We have taken part in the library summer challenge for many years now and each year look forward to seeing what the theme will be, this year they are celebrating Roald Dahl. The theme is just for their marketing purposes though and there is no need to read any particular type of books or specific author, the choice is yours!

This summer (and beyond) we are also reading our way around the world loosely inspired by the Read the World Summer Book Club. This challenge started in June but you can still access their schedule and resources, and enter to win prizes (mostly only available in the US but they do say there are a few exceptions). If you do want to enter for prizes, then you get double entries if your reading choices are taken from the book written by Jamie, one of the hosts. We don’t own the book and won’t be entering for any prizes, we just love the idea. We are using the challenge to focus in turn on different areas of the world, reading some great books but also widening out the challenge to look at some lovely poems, learn some phrases from various languages, explore the history and geography of different areas and play some games that originate from different parts of the world. Needless to say this is an ongoing project for us and we will be taking more than a week for each region of the world.

We would love to hear your book or challenge recommendations. Happy reading!