I Survived! - My First Year As An OU Student

I made it! I finished my first year/full module of university!

At 36 years old and a serial quitter in the past, I never thought I'd be saying this and I still keep having little Yay me! moments. It hasn't been easy, but so, so worthwhile.

I've surprised myself in so many ways over the last eight months. I appear to have a talent for Art History...which, if you remember my post way back when I started, was the part of this compulsory broad based arts course (AA100) I was dreading (reminder HERE) I somehow managed to score 95% on an assignment on Benin Art, which also surprised me...clearly I'm not as useless as I'd have myself believe.

So, that degree isn't looking so much like a dream I'm never going to achieve and I finally believe my chances haven't passed me by now. It's been a massive confidence boost and I'd recommend anyone, of any age, who have considered Open University but lack confidence in themselves, to give it a go. I'm going to blog about my experiences, hints and tips for combining OU with work, childcare and life as a single parent etc but for now, here's the 5 top things I've loved about my first year as an adult uni student and studying AA100- The Arts past And Present*

1. The best thing about this course has to be the fantastic people I've met. One concern I had about OU was feeling isolated. Thanks to social media and facebook though, I've been part of an amazing, ecletic and supportive group of people and made lifelong friends.

2. I hated the idea of this course. I wanted to study literature, but this broad based arts course was compulsory and I felt forced into studying Art History, History, Philosophy, Music, Religion and Classical studies. What a surprise though...I loved it all (well most of it...I admit to a serious wobble around the time we studied tradition in Christianity). I feel truly enriched with the knowledge I've accumulated in such a short space of time, in areas I had no previous interest and have a new found love of Art History and the Classical world.

3. Flexibility. Juggling work and childcare hasn't been easy, but the flexibility of OU allows you to study in your own time...sometimes (mostly) at ungodly hours. The materials supplied by the OU are fantastic too and for the main part interesting and accessible.

4. Seamus Heaney...loved, loved, LOVED studying his version of Antigone, The Burial at Thebes. And LOVED studying his poetry...even if the one we did was about cows. Closely followed by being introduced to Ancient Greek drama and the classical world.

5. Self-confidence boost. Apart from one (yes, Christianity assignment, I'm looking at you) I've grown more confident and determined that I can do this. For someone without a GCSE to their name and who hasn't studied for two decades, it's been a real journey and I'm so glad now I didn't give up when it got tough.

So now I await my final result...expected around mid July. One thing I will warn you about...OU is addictive. I'm already onto my second course instead of taking a summer break. I want to keep the momentum going and finish this degree before my 40th Birthday in 2017.  It's not looking so absolutely impossible now.

*AA100 is a broad based arts course and a compulsory module for the majority of Arts and Humanities degrees with the OU.


Top Ten Tuesdays: Books At the top Of My Spring TBR List

Top Ten Tuesdays is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish 

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR Pile: 



 

I've talked quite a lot about my Grandmother and Alzheimer's here in the past. It's a subject very close to our whole families hearts. My eight year old daughter has been very involved in her care and I want to highlight books with the theme of children coping with caring for a loved one with the disease, and these two books fit the bill. 

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Final instalments from three of my favourite series over the last couple of years.  

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I'm off to Tenerife for a week at the beginning of May. This is my planned beach reading. 

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These two are review books, I'm taking part in a blog tour for By Any Other Name and The Kitchen House is outstanding from the Amazon Vine program. 

Mini Book Review: The Palace Of Curiosities by Rosie Garland


A luminous and bewitching debut novel that is perfect for fans of Angela Carter. Set in Victorian London, it follows the fortunes of Eve, the Lion-Faced Girl and Abel, the Flayed Man. A magical realism delight. Before Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. She buys a penny twist of coloured sugar and settles down to watch the heart-stopping main attraction: a lion, billed as a monster from the savage heart of Africa, forged in the heat of a merciless sun. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps...and when Eve is born, the story goes, she didn't cry - she meowed and licked her paws. When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. As they search his pockets to divvy up the treasure, his eyes crack open and he coughs up a stream of black water. But how has he survived a week in that thick stew of human waste? Cast out by Victorian society, Eve and Abel find succour from an unlikely source. They will become The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in Professor Josiah Arroner's Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever. (from Goodreads.com) 

I was tempted by this book thinking it sounded similar to The Night Circus- which I adored. It isn't really anything like it though. Although I did quite enjoy it, I found it a little disturbing at times and the story a bit vague and unrounded for my taste.

Told in alternating chapters by Eve and Abel,the pace was steady and kept me interested. I liked Abel's chapters more, and overall found his story much more intriguing. As a character, he's fascinating I'd certainly love to know more about him.

This book is pretty disturbing at times, particularly scenes of self mutilation. I think I'm pretty strong stomached and even I winced once or twice. This probably isn't for the faint-hearted!

Rosie Garland certainly has a beautiful way with words. Her prose is rich and evocative. However, I found the book on the whole a little unsatisfactory. Vague and underdeveloped characters left me a bit frustrated. 

Published by HarperCollins Uk 28th March (copy recieved from the Amazon Vine program)

Happy World Book Day

Lucy is taking her favourite book to school today. It's The Twits by Roald Dahl. If you have a reluctant reader, then I can't recommend this one enough. Lots of laughs and eww grossness... I promise it'll be a hit. Here's Lu completely engrossed as I stand at the door shouting 'we have to go now!'

So how are your little people celebrating? If you had to take you're favourite book to share, what would it be?

Book Review: The Quietness by Alison Rattle


When fifteen-year-old Queenie escapes from the squalid slums of nineteenth-century London, she has no idea about the dangers of the dark world she is about to become embroiled in. Initially thrilled at being taken on as a maid for the seemingly respectable Waters sisters, Queenie comes to realise that something is very wrong with the dozens of strangely silent babies being 'adopted' into the household.

Meanwhile, lonely and unloved sixteen-year-old Ellen is delighted when her handsome and charming young cousin Jacob is sent to live with her family. She thinks she has finally found a man to fall in love with and rely on, but when Jacob cruelly betrays her she finds herself once again at the mercy of her cold-hearted father. Soon the girls' lives become irrevocably entwined in this tension-filled drama. THE QUIETNESS is a novel of friendship and trust in the darkest of settings (from Goodreads.com)

I love a Victorian historical novel, and Mary Hooper is an author I enjoy very much. Sounding incredibly similar, this book really appealed to me.

The Quietness follows two girls from seemingly opposite ends of Victorian society. Ellen is the daughter of a prominent surgeon, while Queenie's drunken father sells fruit while he's on the wagon and her mother sells her body when he's fallen off, to feed her children. What's interesting is that first appearances aren't always as they seem, and I was surprised by where my pity lay.

This is a pretty dark tale, covering subjects such as prostitution, rape and the horrific Victorian practice of baby farming. I found the dual narrative and short snappy chapters made this a fast paced, easy read which I finished in a couple of sittings. However, I found it a bit predictable, if I'm honest, and the characters quite clichéd and stereotypical. I was particularly disappointed in Queenie's character, and she didn't gain my sympathy or understanding the way she should have. I guessed the major twist very early on, however there was another thrown in right at the end which did leave me reeling.

I wanted to love this book more than I actually did. That's not to say it's a bad book, it's not at all and the author certainly shows promise and will be one I look out for in the future. If you're a fan of Mary Hooper and Eve Edwards, there's a good chance you'll enjoy this one too.

Published March 2013 by Hot Key Books (UK)

Book Review: Undone by Cat Clarke


Jem Halliday is in love with her gay best friend. Not exactly ideal, but she's learning to live with it. 

Then the unspeakable happens. Kai is outed online ... and he kills himself.

Jem knows nothing she can say or do will bring him back. But she wants to know who was responsible. And she wants to take them down. 

A searing story of love, revenge and betrayal from a bestselling author. (from Goodreads.com)

I'm a big Cat Clarke fan. I remember when her first book, Entangled, first made it's way out in the world and being lucky enough to have an early read. I, like many others, was blown away. Third novel, Undone proves this was no one off. Cat Clarke officially is a established favourite.

Undone tackles homophobia, suicide, grief, self esteem, bullying and revenge. While Jem isn't always likable, she's scarily relatable. With twists and turns Clarke constantly keeps you questioning stereotypes. It's impossible to decide who the bad guys are here, as in real life there's so many layers and grey areas. Undone isn't an easy book to read, it's heart wrenchingly sad. Brutally so. And then the ending! Wow.  It left me  completely stunned and staring at the last page in shock. I'm warning you now, you will NEED tissues. Lots of them. I really don't want to give anything away so I'm being purposefully vague, but believe me, you'll thank me for that.

Cat Clarke has an extraordinary gift. Not only is she a talented writer, who takes difficult and currant subjects and tackles them with grit and integrity, but she manages to capture her characters so perfectly it's at times unnerving. We may not have experienced the same situations, but reading Cat's novels I constantly feel this woman has somehow managed to creep into my mind, I recognise a tiny bit of myself in there at times  and I recognise other people I know too. Every painful, hopeful, tragic or uplifting emotion is crafted so that the reader, whatever age, identifies with and feels it with a shockingly real intensity   I can't recommend this book enough. In fact, if you've yet to read any of Cat Clarke's I urge you to go and do so now. You won't regret it.

*Because of the themes and some pretty harrowing scenes, I'd probably suggest this is best suited for teens age 13 up*

Published by Quercus, January 2013
Thank you Quercus for sending me the book for review purposes.




Book Review: Some Kind Of Fairytale by Graham Joyce

I'm not really sure how I came about this book. I think it was one of Amazon's recommended for you's, had a great price for a hardback copy (which I'm known to love) and featured fairies. Anyway, buy it I did and then shelved it and forgot about about it for a few months (I'm ashamed, it's a problem when you have far too many books arrive on your doorstep every week).

 Then over Christmas, feeling like something Christmassy, I remembered about it and hunted it out. While it ended up being not at all Christmassy, aside from the fact that it starts on Christmas day, I did enjoy it. It was different, and I liked that.

 Tara Martin disappeared without trace from her sleepy English village aged Sixteen. Twenty years later, she turns up on Christmas Day thinking only six months had passed. Her older brother Peter knows something is really not right and is determined to get to the bottom of it. But Tara's explanation is more than anyone can understand or accept.

 When I started this book, I expected it to be very fantastical. I know fairies aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I quite like them and find the mythology and folklore behind them fascinating. Some Kind Of Fairytale surprised me by being very much grounded in reality, and it was the family and friends of Tara's relationships that interested me more.

 Yes, there is alternating chapters of Tara's life during her disappearance and yes, it can be assumed she's with fairies, although she refuses to call them that. But even these chapters aren't as I expected. The 'fairies' are more like a hippy commune with only the suggestion of something more magical, and even then you could wonder if Tara was just on drugs. The 'fairy' world is both subtle and in your face and I was never quite sure whether I should believe in it or not. I think that's the response the author intends, and  by the end I still didn't know.

 The main story of this book though is the people who were left behind, specifically her brother Peter and boyfriend Richie. I thought the relationship between the two men was really, really touching. Both deeply affected by Tara's disappearance, the book made me think a lot about fate, how lives could be different 'if only'...especially in Richie's case.  Tara's character and story really only serves to bring about their story, which is in fact very real and human.

 The books title is perfect for this story, it is some kind of fairytale-it even has a kind of happy-ever-after ending, even if it's not the one you're expecting. I was left confused a couple times and felt I'd possibly skimmed over vital information and clues in sections (the chapters narrated by Tara's psychiatrist didn't particularly hold my interest and I think I perhaps should have read them a little more carefully) Overall though, while  I wasn't blown away by this book, I did like it enough to finish.

Top Ten Book Goals Of 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

Here's my list...

1. Read at least 52 books in 2013...I'm going for a goal I know I can achieve this year
2. Allow a total of 2 new books a MONTH into the house. (a difficult, but essential one) 
3. Write reviews of books within 24 hours of finishing. Or at least take detailed notes. 
4. Read a couple of classics to prepare for next years uni course. 
5. Read a good mix of adult, YA and kids books and be unafraid of mixing genres.


6. Catch up on a few series I'm way behind on.
7. Say no-no matter how tempting! Realistically, I can't read all the review books I'm offered so I'm not going to try. I'll be operating a very strict review book acceptance policy. 
8. Get back into the habit of participating in the blog community.
9. Update seriously out of date Review A-Z and interview links (ongoing from 2012-eeek) 
10. Read The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (a compulsory goal-for the 3rd year running!)

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