Tuesday, 22 December 2015

December Wrap Up + January TBR

It's been a very quiet month from me because I've been very busy, between work and other things, and although I've still been reading I haven't really had the time or the energy to write any reviews!

However, although it's slightly early, here's what I've read in December and what I'm going to be reading in the New Year!


Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
I picked this one up to start the month with a wintery sort of feel, and although not all of this book was actually set in the winter, it definitely was a good one to start the month with. I think I expected it to be a bit more thrilling than it was, but it still worked well as a text – I didn't know until I read the little essay at the end that it was based on a real person, which would have probably made me realise that it wasn't going to be very plot driven if I'd known! I think what I liked the most was how much of the focus was on the female characters, and on reflection (knowing that it's based on historical events/people) it's wonderful to read something that focuses on female stories.

The Accidental - Ali Smith
This was my first Ali Smith book, and one that I think I picked up in a charity shop at some point, although I can't say how long it's been waiting to be read! It was an interesting book to read, and I liked the way that she played with style and various techniques; I enjoyed that each character's chapter had its own voice, even though it was told in the third person, and I thought the characters were all well developed. The only thing I wasn't entirely sure about was the main plot twist towards the end, although it's hard to say more about it without spoiling the plot!

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
I saw this one being promoted in October as Waterstone's book of the month, but I actually only picked this one up earlier this month (when I saw it in the buy one get one half price section). I can see how it might fit as a Halloween read, but I think it works well as a winter read too. It was definitely the kind of book that stayed on my mind, and I think will likely be one I re-read again around this time of year.

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie
I always mean to read more Agatha Christie – this is only my second one! – but my main motivation for wanting to read this one was the BBC adaptation that's coming up over the holidays. When I saw it in the buy one get one half price section (it's definitely my favourite part of Waterstones...!) I had to pick a copy up, and I read it all over the space of two evenings before bed! Unfortunately I accidentally saw the very last page when I was loosening the spine up, which kind of spoiled the ending for me a bit. All I saw was a name, so I didn't know for sure that it was the murderer, but it was and it did probably take some of the fun out of reading it for the first time. However, it was still a brilliant read and I was completely hooked on it (thus reading it in two sittings, and the first one had me staying up til nearly half one in the morning!). I'm really excited to see the BBC adaptation of it now!

January TBR

The Dressmaker - Rosalie Ham
I've already started this one, but given that I'll be pretty busy over the Christmas period too, I don't know if I'll manage to get it finished before January, so this is on the list!

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
I don't know a lot about this one, aside from it being inspired by a fairy tale and being a very wintery book, which is why I want to read it now! I've had the Kindle ebook of it for a while now, which is handy as it's a lot easier to read on my phone on the bus to/from work than reading a physical book.

Satin Island - Tom McCarthy
I was given this to review, but decided to delay starting it until I felt like I'd be able to actually write a decent review of it! I'm thinking I might take this one a little more seriously and try to take notes like I would for a university text so that I can write a more detailed review (eg. with quotes) so I think I'll probably start on this one over the holidays when I'm off work as I'll be able to dedicate more time to it. It's also going to break a considerable streak of me reading books by women (16 in a row at time of writing!), but as it was a Man Booker I did want to read it at some point anyway!

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
As I am kind of optimistic that I'll read a lot over the holidays, I'm choosing a fourth book for January, which is also a classic! It's one I've been meaning to read for a long time and got a copy of a month or two ago, so I want to read it in the New Year!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

November Wrap Up

Well, as it's been November, I didn't quite read as much as I might have wanted to this month because I was spending a lot of my time instead working on NaNoWriMo (which I won!) although I did still get a fair bit of reading done.

This month I read/finished:

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
I do think I'll end up re-reading this one at some point to get a better appreciation for it, but I did enjoy it, even if it took me a while to finish it!

Trouble - Non Pratt
This actually proved slightly useful reading for me as it relates to part of my NaNoWriMo. One thing that I find with a lot of YA books is that I often feel too separate from the characters, because they just don't feel real or relatable to me (which might be partly because I'm too old now) but this one managed to avoid that, mostly, for me. I also appreciated the character development in the novel, and if there was a sequel to this I might be interested in reading it.

milk and honey - Rupi Kaur
This really didn't take me long to read; I just sat there one evening and read it from cover to cover. Some of her poetry is more relatable to me than others – in particular the poems that were about break ups and the end of relationships, as it's not something I've really experienced. I also loved the artwork within the book, and it's definitely something I think I'll re-read again and again, although it's unlikely to be cover to cover. 

Stone Mattress - Margaret Atwood
I got this from the library and I was thinking about doing a proper review on it, but I find it so difficult to review short story collections that I'm not sure if I ever will. There was one story in the collection that felt quite out of place for me, given that the other ones all had some form of link (be it with shared characters or just thematically). It was a good read – I'd say that I rate it higher than The Heart Goes Last, but not as high as The Handmaid's Tale.

Men Explain Things to Me - Rebecca Solnit
I think I might have had higher hopes/expectations for this than I should have, because I was a little bit underwhelmed by it. I did enjoy it, but I guess it didn't really present many new ideas to me (although my favourite essay was definitely "In Praise of the Threat", which did actually present a new way of thinking about marriage equality and it's opposers to me). I think Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist was much better and also more to my tastes. I didn't get much of a sense of Solnit as a person, compared to how much I felt I was getting to read and feel Gay's personality coming through in her book. I am interested in reading more of Solnit's work in the future, though.

I also started but decided not to continue reading The Woman Destroyed by Simone De Beauvoir. I explained briefly on Goodreads why I didn't want to finish this one, but it was mainly just the case that the third story (which takes up half of the book) in the collection wasn't enjoyable to read. I got irritated with the characters and the premise and I just decided that it wasn't worth me making myself read it while disliking it just so I could say I'd finished the book.

December TBR
I've not really got any ideas for what I'm reading this month, at least not enough for it to be worth making a separate post for this!

So far this month I've started reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, but otherwise I haven't really thought about what I'll be reading.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Chimes - Anna Smaill // Man Booker 2015

Unfortunately, I think I wanted to like this book more than I did; the premise excited me, but the actual reading experience didn't quite match up to my hopes for it.

In particular, I think that the characters weren't as well developed for me as I would like; I wanted a stronger impression of them, a stronger sense of who they were and what their personalities were like. This is mostly just my tastes but I think there could easily have been a little bit more information on the characters – I can understand that a lot of the absence of this characterisation was because of the memory loss aspect of the novel, but I still felt like there could have been a little bit more on other characters even if the memories were then going to be lost.

The ending was another catching point;  I felt like I'd been deprived of a chapter or two that would tell me more about why the Chimes had started and to illuminate what would come next following the events of the ending. I can understand why the Chimes happened, but the how is still mostly a mystery to me, and there's not a lot of detail into it either; I'd have liked some more of an insight into what led to the world being as it is in the book. It's also unclear what the reach of the Chimes and the dystopian society it causes is – does it only affect England, or Britain? What's going on in the rest of the world if the Chimes aren't strong enough to affect the entire planet? It's also unclear what era they're in – a lot of the descriptive parts of the novel led me to picture something more Victorian, yet some of the characters are wearing jeans. There's no evidence of there having been any technology that one would expect when the Chimes have to have happened in a society that had jeans – there are no signs or hints at there being cars or telephones or anything else, which you would expect given that jeans weren't worn outside of the West of the United States before the mid twentieth century. 

Ultimately, I just felt that there could have been more clues and details from the author. Even if it wasn't from Simon... there could have been chapters that weren't his PoV and that tell you more about the history of the world and the era they lived in. I was also a little bit alienated by the musical terms that were peppered throughout the text; I kept having to Google what they meant so I would have appreciate a kind of glossary or something for these!

I wanted to like it; it just felt a bit unfinished. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood // Book Review

As much as I'm a fan of Margaret Atwood, I haven't actually read much of her work; aside from this text, I've only read The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin.

There were a couple of obvious comparisons that I could make between this text and The Handmaid's Tale on a surface level - there's a few common themes between the two, such as the impact of sex on the society and the people in the text, and the kind of insular section of society that has been cut off from the problems of the reality of the world they live in.

The similarities end there though; this text is set in an uncomfortably familiar world much like our own. The novel follows Stan and Charmaine, a married couple of unclear age who are living out of a Honda. An economic depression has hit hard, leaving many people like them with no money and little hope. Charmaine works in a bar in an attempt to make ends meet and to pay for fuel – hope then comes along in the form of a television advert, promoting the town of Consilience, which is partnered with the Positron prison. The premise is that once people are accepted to the project, they will live in a nice house for one month; the second month they will be in the prison, while their "Alternate" lives in their house. The two couples will then alternate between monthly, between the house and the prison, with a job inside the prison and a job inside the suburban town.

So it goes, when Stan and Charmaine are accepted; they are assigned jobs and live their lives, one month in the house and one month in the prison. Yet nothing is ever that easy - Stan and Charmaines relationship is affected by their new lifestyle, while the town of Consilience and the Positron prison might not be as honest and simple as it first seemed. To say anything more would be to give away too much of the novel's plot!

I did enjoy this book for the most part, but I don't think it stands up in comparison to The Handmaid's Tale.  There was something about Stan and Charmaine that was incredibly difficult to like and I found myself struggling to feel that much sympathy or concern about them. At points I did care somewhat about Charmaine, but I could tell that I wasn't as invested as I maybe could or should have been. I don't think the characters are necessarily meant to be particularly likeable, but without an engagement with them or their fates I didn't feel particularly impressed with the novel when I finished it, especially compared to the impact if Handmaid

Monday, 2 November 2015

November TBR

Unfinished from October's TBR
 To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

This month I'll also be aiming to read the following:

YA of the Month
Trouble - Non Pratt

(Modern) Classic of the Month
Nightwood - Djuna Barnes

Non-fiction of the Month
Men Explain Things to Me - Rebecca Solnit

I've got a slightly less time consuming TBR this month for two reasons; firstly, I don't expect to be able to read as much for the next however long because I'm a lot busier than I used to be, and secondly (which is also included in that 'busier'), I'm doing NaNoWriMo this month! I'm fairly optimistic about it, because usually when I actually know what I want to write I'm successful (and I'm still working on the project I did last year, only it's sort of a major rewrite, plus last year I didn't actually finish the novel in the 50,000 words). I might do some blog posts about NaNo throughout the month if I have the time, so watch this space.


Saturday, 31 October 2015

October Wrap Up

I think I had a pretty good month for reading this October, although a lot of that was down to my week off before I started my new job - I started and finished three books just in that one week! I could probably have even made it into four, but The Moor's Account (the third book in my week off) was a long one. I also started A Little Life that week, which was an even longer book! 

I haven't written/published reviews for many of these and I'm not sure I will review all of them, but time will tell - I might go for a post or two of a few mini reviews just to cover what I've read and "catch up". 

Here's the books I've read this October:

The Maze Runner - James Dashner
A Room of Ones Own - Virginia Woolf
A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler
The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood
The Chimes - Anna Smaill
The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami
A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara
Boy, Snow, Bird - Helen Oyeyemi

I'm currently reading: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It was one of my TBR books for this month but I just haven't gotten around to finishing it yet!

I am a bit disappointed that I didn't read any suitably 'spooky' books for Halloween (especially given how much I love Halloween!) but maybe I'll manage something more Halloween themed next October...

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf // Book Review

This isn't the Virginia Woolf text I'd been planning on reading this month - I've picked To the Lighthouse which I do still plan on reading - but I saw it was available when I was browsing my wishlist on Overdrive and, as it's fairly short, I decided to borrow it.

It wasn't as quick a read as I had been expecting, mainly because of how much more attention I feel you have to pay to Woolf's prose than to the average writer's, rather than it being a longer text than I'd thought. However, as much as it took me longer to read than I'd hoped (I'd been aiming for an hour or so total reading time but it was at least two hours), I didn't care - I loved this, and I loved Woolf's writing.

I don't know if I've now reached a point where I can appreciate Woolf more or whether it's just because I was able to be fully absorbed into it without having to stress about deadlines and other work waiting (like when I read Mrs Dalloway and Orlando) but I quickly fell in love with this text; with her words and her voice and the message of it. I did and didn't know what this would be about... it didn't exactly come as a surprise while I was reading it that it focused on gender the way it did, but at the same time it was far more overtly feminist than I'd been expecting too. I'm not really sure what I mean by that either – I suppose that she was so direct about what she thought, unlike in her fiction where everything is implicit, layered deep into the narrative... which isn't to say that I don't love both (because I do!).

I couldn't say it was entirely perfect as a feminist text, but then there's only so much you can really expect given that this text is nearly a hundred years old now, and I'm well aware of the flaws of feminism in Woolf's time. Yet she makes so many wonderful and important comments; like how women have been prevented from participating in history; how Shakespeare's sister would never have been able to live the same life as he did; her argument that men don't necessarily view women as inferior so much as they believe themselves to be superior, and are angered when women don't comply with this view and sustain their superiority.

All in all I think it's the kind of text that I'd like everyone to read, and I've since gone out and bought myself a copy of it so I can read it again whenever I want/need to!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Illuminations - Andrew O'Hagan // Man Booker 2015

I only started reading this one because it cropped up on Overdrive and was available to borrow, which surprised me a bit seeing as it was nominated for the Man Booker (even if it didn't make it to the shortlist, the other longlisted titles were definitely popular in physical editions).

I didn't know much about the book going into it, which proved to be a good thing; I don't think I would have read it if I had, because I found myself struggling to get into it at first and not enjoying one of the major components of the novel, which is contemporary warfare.

One of the novels main characters, Luke, is a soldier fighting in Afghanistan – the second and fourth chapters focuses solely on him and on the experiences of soldiers in modern war. Unfortunately I couldn't really find anything to enjoy about Luke's POV until nearer the end of the fourth chapter, when the plot itself picked up and there was some more effective (for me at least!) tension and drama to pull me back in. After that the reading got easier, although I still felt myself dragging and skimming through the parts of the novel that were from Luke's POV unless he was talking about Anne. Luckily, I had a lot of practice at skim reading through texts I wasn't enjoying while I was at uni, so I managed to brush through it all while still picking up the jist of the plot as I went.

The thing that I did enjoy about this novel - and that was the only thing that kept me slogging away, determined not to give up on the book - was Anne's story. Anne is Luke's grandmother, and she's suffering from early onset dementia. It's quite regrettable that the author didn't spend more time developing and exploring Anne than he did on Luke and the war, because that was what really shone out of this novel for me and what won me over towards the end of the novel. I didn't really care about Luke; I didn't really empathise with him or connect with him much, but I was so invested in Anne and so determined to find out more about her. I loved the ending of the novel and what we learned about Anne, although left feeling slightly bitter that I couldn't have found out more, delved further into Anne's past, because it was so much more interesting and intriguing to me. 

As I post this, I've now finished reading three titles that didn't make the shortlist and one that did, and I'm halfway through a second – thus far I definitely agree with the judging panels decisions, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading the winning novel by Marlon James to see whether I continue to agree with their decisions!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Maze Runner - James Dashner // Book Review

I feel like I've probably been behind the times with reading this one, but I'm so glad I finally got around to it! I was a little apprehensive going into this one and was almost expecting myself to be disappointed, although I'm not entirely sure why I thought I wouldn't like it. One factor that did put me off slightly was the lack of female characters. I can understand why there was a lack of female characters, as it functions as part of the plot (although I'm hoping there will be more of an indication about why this was part of the plot in further books!), but lately I've been far less interested in books that focus primarily/heavily on male characters. Yet I think for this one, it worked out because the characters were more varied and interesting.

One of the things that I think worked well for the text was how closely tied we were with Thomas and how we learned things as he did. At first I was a bit overwhelmed, mainly with all the characters being introduced at once, but then so was Thomas. As it goes on you get to know them all like he does, and get stronger senses of each character and their personality, which makes sense. 

The premise of the text was also interesting, although I have to admit I feel like I know little more having come out of the text than I did going in. Which maybe isn't a surprise given that it's so linked to Thomas and what he knows; Thomas doesn't really have any answers either - or at any rate the answers he does get are drowned out by all the new questions that are introduced. 

I don't want to say much more at risk of spoiling the book for anyone who hasn't read it yet (side note: I was reading this on my phone on the bus home from work and three girls completely spoiled something for me because they were talking about the films - what are the odds?!?!) but I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, although it's kind of on hold right now while I try to work through library books and the books I own that I want to read first. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier // Book Review

This is one of those books that I feel like I've always known about, but never really been so excited about that I went out of my way to read it. Yet every time I went to the library recently, I would see this book sitting on the shelf. Every time I was in there, skimming the spines to see if anything I was excited about was there, this book would catch my eye instead. So, the last time I was in the library, I figured it was about time I actually picked it up and read it!

I don't normally read a lot of historical fiction, although I don't really know why; I enjoy reading it, and I love history, so I really should read it more often! I'm interested in art as well, especially pre twentieth century art, so this book was doubly enjoyable when it comes to the themes/genres I like in a book!

The novel had a simplistic style; it was narrated by Griet, a young and lower class woman who becomes a maid in Holland in the seventeenth century. It makes sense when you consider the kind of education and upbringing that Griet would have had that her language was simple and unembellished overall, and it seemed a lot truer to the character that she narrated her story as she did. This isn't to say that Griet's impressions of Vermeer's art are plain, however - this is one place where the author does bring beautiful descriptions in, and as someone who doesn't really know any of Vermeer's work aside from the eponymous painting, the descriptions of the art were brilliant. What I liked most, however, were all the details about the process itself; creating the paints, fixing the positioning of the models and objects in each painting, and so on.

Another relief was that the novel didn't get itself too bogged down in the period, while still succeeding in painting (no pun intended) an image of life in Delft in the 1660s. The main focus was, unsurprisingly, on the art and on Griet's relationship with Vermeer as it develops throughout her time in the household. I don't know a lot about Vermeer, or about Holland in the seventeenth century, so I can't comment on the historical accuracy of the novel overall or how true to their relationship Chevalier was, but it was an enjoyable novel and a great one to break up some of the heavier reading I've been doing lately too. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Books for Syria

The title of the post is fairly self explanatory on this one, but if you haven't heard about it, Books for Syria is a campaign where publishers have donated books to be sold in Waterstones stores nationwide, with all of the money raised from their sale going towards the Syria Crisis Appeal. 
It's a good cause and a good excuse to get out and buy yourself a new book (or a few of them!) whilst knowing that your money will go towards helping people in need. 

I went into Waterstones this weekend and picked up two books, following my normal book shopping trend of buying books I know I want to read and picking up books that I don't know much about and haven't heard a lot about before. I think I saw a recommendation for Assassin's Apprentice online recently, although I can't remember where now. I enjoyed the A Song of Ice and Fire series considerably, and fantasy novels are something I don't read a lot of because they can sometimes be overwhelming with all the things you have to learn and remember while you're reading. However, I'm trying to be diverse with my reading in every respect, including genre. Bonus points that the author's a woman, which I didn't realise at the time!

My second choice was Midnight's Children, which is probably holding the record for a book I've been meaning to read and never actually read yet. I added it to my Goodreads TBR shelf in April 2013 - near enough two and a half years ago! - and I'm sure I had been meaning to read it even earlier than that. It's one of those books that everyone has read or is meant to have read, so now I've got myself a copy and I'm that bit closer to actually reading it!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

October TBR

A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler
Man Booker of the month
I wasn't originally planning on reading this so soon, but I saw it on sale for £4 in my local supermarket halfway through September, shortly after reading a sample extract of the novel online. I did always plan on reading it, but I wasn't quite as excited by it as some of the others; as much as it was already in my picks from the longlist, reading the beginning of the book drew me in just that bit more into wanting to read it, and since I managed to pick up my own copy, it'll be my pick of the month!
I've already started on this one as it's a longer one, although I've only read the first chapter so far. 
(Side note: I am semi-optimistic about getting/reading The Moor's Account this month as well!)

The Maze Runner - James Dashner
YA of the month
I've chosen The Maze Runner this month, mostly because of the trailer for the film adaption of the sequel, The Scorch Trials. I was somewhat intrigued when I first saw trailers for the film adaption of The Maze Runner too, but I think at the time I didn't fully realise it was a series and just wasn't that captured by it to want to go out and buy a copy. However, it's available on Overdrive (I reserved it in case I'm not able to get it when I need/want to read it) so if I don't end up enjoying it, I can just let it go -- and if I do enjoy it, I can venture into reading the rest of the series on Overdrive too.

A Little Life
(Also) Man Booker of the month

So I know that having little categories for my book choices is kind of defeated by picking two books for the same category, but I picked up a copy of this book in September as well (separately from getting the Tyler) as it seems to be a popular one and I got myself pretty excited about it since it made the shortlist. Although I've yet to read them, I think it could be between this book, Spool and The Fishermen for the winner... I've put a reservation on The Fisherman at the library but I don't expect to get a chance to read it before the winner is announced.

To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
(Modern) Classic of the month
I've had a copy of this for what feels like ages, so it sort of satisfies my own personal little requirement to try and read the books that have been waiting to be read for a while on my shelves! I read Mrs Dalloway for the first time in high school, I think, as well as in my second year of university. I've also read Orlando during my fourth year of university, and then reread it again earlier this year. I'm starting to feel like I tend to appreciate Woolf's novels a lot more after my second read of them (I've yet to test whether my appreciation will continue to grow with further re-reads!) so I'm not sure how I'll get on with this one on the first read...

Bonus Reads...
I'm updating this quickly just before it's scheduled to go live, because I now know that I'm going to have approximately a week and a half off in October as I move from my placement (which finishes on the 7th) to my new job on the 19th! As such I will probably be able to read a lot more (I certainly hope so!) and so I thought I'd highlight a few other books I will read besides the four above.

The Winter's Tale - William Shakespeare
Shakespeare might be a new category I think about introducing in future, as I have recently been reminded that I've actually read a lot less Shakespeare than I thought/would like to have read, and I also want to reread some Shakespeare too. I've reserved this one from the library and expect to get it in October - my choice was due to the upcoming Hogarth Shakespeare.

The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami
I mentioned this one above, but it's another library book I'm expecting to get a hold of this month, so I'll hopefully be reading this one too.

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
I've had this one on the Kindle for ages and keep forgetting to read it, but I keep hearing it praised/recommended, so I'm going to try to read it this month!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

September Wrap Up

September was a pretty good month for reading, although admittedly the first two books were ones I'd started in August. It was also a pretty varied month for reading too, which is the way I like it!

Here's the books I've been reading this month (in order of when I finished them):

The Cutting Room - Louise Welsh
I didn't dislike it, but I didn't quite like it as much as I'd thought I would. I might try another Louise Welsh book in the future, but I'm not in any hurry to read more of her books if I'm honest.

A Room with a View - EM Forster 
Another one that was a bit less than I'd hoped for this month. Unlike with Welsh however, I have two of his other books fairly high up on my to read list (the order of that only exists in my head, but I'm pretty sure they're both on my Goodreads TBR shelf).

If I Stay - Gayle Forman
Now this one I did enjoy! Beautiful prose and highly emotive YA book of the month. I'd definitely recommend this one. However, as much as I like Forman's writing, I don't have any plans to read the sequel to this book - I think I like it better as a stand alone.

Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy
The first of my six Man Booker choices (which didn't make the shortlist). I enjoyed this one, but even without having read all the titles that did make the shortlist I can see why it didn't make it. I would probably pick up another book by Roy given the chance though, particularly anything new she writes as most novelists do improve with each book. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
I picked this as my modern classic, but it's also a memoir (which is another monthly category I'm thinking of introducing in November, but we'll see!). If you're not a fan of memoir I'd still recommend this, as it reads so much like fiction that at times I had little inner jolts as I remembered what I was reading was really Angelou's life. I now feel like I need to bump Angelou's poetry higher up on my TBR list... it'll probably be one that I get from the library once I've worked through the majority of the Man Booker novels and new releases I want to read.

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Historical fiction, but also kind of a fantasy novel at the same time? I was predominately interested in the historical aspect of this, as it's a bit more my taste than fantasy usually is. It did feel like it was longer than necessary, especially as it repeated itself at times, but well written and enjoyable if you have the time to read a chunky book like this!

Girl With a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
This one's reminded me that I actually quite enjoy historical fiction, and that I should probably read more of it! I'm also a fan of books about art/artists, which is another thing I probably don't read as often as I could.

The Illuminations - Andrew O'Hagan
I struggled to get into this one, but once I did get past my initial hurdles with it I started to enjoy it more and see its merits as a Man Booker longlisted book, although I am glad I got it via Overdrive as I wouldn't have felt it was worth the money.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou // Book Review

"What you looking at me for? I didn't come to stay..."

I've never been one to read a lot of memoirs or autobiographies; the only ones I've really read so far were assigned texts while I was at university. This particular memoir - which seems to simple a word for this book - has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for far too long. I bought it not long after Angelou passed away, so I've had it for well over a year. I can't believe it took me so long to read it... I feel like I've been missing out, and as soon as I finished the book I was on Google trying to find out more about her, half wishing I could run straight to the library and grab books of her poetry (but alas, it was nearly midnight when I finished it, and no one's opened an all night library in my area). 

The first thing that I really loved - and that makes me want to read more of her work, and her words - was her writing style. It isn't what I'd class as beautiful in the way that some other writers are, but there was something so enrapturing about the way she wrote that kept my attention captured. Even when the events she was discussing weren't pleasant to read about, I was still caught by her voice. It actually really got me back into reading, as I was getting a bit slow/infrequent with reading until I started reading this and now I'm reading a lot more. 

I don't want to go into too much detail about the 'plot', so to speak, of the book – even though a lot of the story of Angelou's childhood might be relatively common knowledge. However, I will say that in this book Angelou paints an incredible picture of her childhood, moving between Arkansas, St Louis and San Francisco. Everywhere her story goes is created perfectly, without bogging you down in arbitrary descriptions of each setting. The worlds and places that Angelou grew up in and was formed by are instead built up by the people that were in them, the buildings that mattered, and the stories of the place. The anecdotal stories Angelou shares about each place do far more to create a sense of setting and the era than any description of the physical appearance of a place, and I loved that about the book – I posted a picture of one of my favourite anecdotes from the book on my Instagram.

I would definitely recommend this book, although there would have to be a trigger warning on it, and I look forward to reading more of Angelou's work. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy // Man Booker 2015

The Man Booker shortlist has been announced now; I'm quite proud that three of my six choices made it into the six shortlisted titles, considering I hadn't read any of them at the time and that by the time the shortlist was announced, I'd only actually read one book from the longlist (this one!).

As soon as I had read it, I knew it wouldn't make the shortlist. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did; I just didn't think it was good enough to make it into the final six. I can't really pinpoint why I – and the judges, apparently – didn't think it was shortlist material. My main criticism would have to be that I felt like the plot weakened in the second half of the book, and that I didn't feel quite as compelled by the narrative as I had before. I still cared about the characters – still wanted answers, to know what was going to happen to them – but it just ended up falling slightly flat.

Having had the time to reflect on the book, I can appreciate the ending a lot more than I did when I first finished the book. My immediate reaction was annoyance, because I felt like a lot of loose ends had been left hanging and that I didn't get the kind of closure I wanted, especially in respect of Nomi and her journey during the novel. I also felt that the last (short) chapter took a dramatic jump forward and before I had even started reading it, I was wondering why the author had neglected to tell me what had happened in between the end of the penultimate chapter and the beginning of this one.

The main focus point of the book is Nomi and her life – the other characters are all in some way connected to her, even though some of the connections are more tenuous than others; each character is tied in to the group in some way, and it was interesting seeing how characters overlapped with each other, encountered each other without knowing about the connections and relationships people had with each other. Nomi's childhood is also told intermittently through the book, with carefully controlled glimpses into the pain and difficulties she faced.

I think the biggest strength that I found in this novel was the way that Roy writes her characters; there's a depth to each that makes them memorable, makes them stand out, without giving you info dumps about their backgrounds. Although this was essentially Nomi's story, where it became relevant there was insight into the histories of other characters – how they came to be the people they are when we meet them, and what kind of person they really are.

All in all I did enjoy this book – it just didn't quite reach my expectations of it as a Man Booker longlisted novel.

Goodreads Listing for Sleeping on Jupiter

Saturday, 19 September 2015

If I Stay - Gayle Forman // Book Review

If I Stay is a YA novel that focuses on approximately twenty four hours in Mia's life, beginning just before a terrible car accident that destroys her family and nearly kills her and leaves her in a coma.

This was an incredibly emotional book, which proved a little bit troublesome when I was reading it on my lunch breaks and on the bus! It was an incredible book though. The prose was beautiful, and I loved the fact that it didn't feel as though the language was being simplified like in a lot of YA novels. Admittedly I'm a few years out of really being the most obvious target for these kinds of books, but books like this make me understand why YA books are so popular amongst people who are outside of the target age range. There's no reason a story like this shouldn't resonate with people who are no longer teenagers, in the same way that someone can empathise with someone who is double their age.

The most emotive aspect of this book was, naturally, the struggle that Mia faced in coping with the loss of loved ones as well as finding the strength she would need if she was going to stay. Yet the way Forman painted all the characters was striking and powerful, from the loving memories she has of her family and her boyfriend, to the little moments where people were interacting with Mia's comatose body. The nurse who tells her she had better still be there when she comes back for her next shift; her grandfather's heartfelt honesty when he is alone with her; the desperation of her best friend and her boyfriend as they try to get in to see her.

It's a hard book to read if you don't like books that trigger your emotions like this, but it's also a gorgeously lyrical and thoughtful book that poses some really interesting ideas about death and loss. Mia's decision would have been affecting regardless of which way it went, but even though I knew it could only go one of two ways I was still close to tears (lunch break; if I'd been alone I'd probably not have been able to hold it together) in the end. My only slight disappointment was that it didn't delve into the after effects of her choice – yet although I know there's a sequel to this book, I don't really have any desire to read it. I'm not sure a sequel will have the same resonance as this did, so it's probably going to join the fold of other books that I feel are better left as stand alones (such as another Forman novel, Just One Day, and David Levithan's Every Day).

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Room With a View - EM Forster // Book Review

I picked this up in the library last month primarily because I was attracted by the cover – it's a really beautiful edition. It's also one of those classic books that I feel like I've always been aware of, although in all honesty it's probably one of the less well known of his novels, at least from my perspective. Howard's End and A Passage to India are arguably the better known novels (and also on my reading list).

I did like this book, although in some sense I have to say I was a little disappointed by it. Part of the problem in the first place was that I wasn't able to make much time to read it, and because I wasn't that struck by it in the beginning I sort of laboured through the first half of the book. I started to enjoy the experience of reading the book more when I got into the second half, which I read in the space of an afternoon pretty much.

I think overall it wasn't quite as compelling as other similar novels I've read, nor did I get as strong a sense of the era as I would have liked. I also didn't find myself feeling that drawn in by the relationship between Lucy and George, as it didn't feel very well developed although admittedly, that might have been affected by my stilted reading experience.

The first section of this book set in Italy was probably more interesting for me overall, even though it was the section that I spent the longest on; I liked the development of the setting and the interactions between the characters in Italy was more interesting than in England.

Overall there's not a lot for me to say on this book because it didn't really affect me strongly either way.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Cutting Room - Louise Welsh // Book Review

I didn't really have any expectations going into this book because I knew very little about it. I had heard of the author (and that she lived in Scotland) and I knew that the premise of this book was that an auctioneer had found some disturbing old photographs in a house he was working on, but that was all. 

I think I wanted to like it more than I ended up doing, because it started out well and it felt like it would be really interesting. Yet ultimately, I think I started to lose interest because there seemed to be so much – too much – going on that was surplus to the story.  

It often felt like she was fleshing it out too much with unnecessary side plots, as well as the excessively frequent descriptions of people who were only really around for as long as they were described, which swamped my reading experience – it lead to a little bit of haziness regarding characters who were actually relevant. Sometimes, I quite enjoy descriptive passages of settings and people, but it just didn't feel right most of the time while I was reading this.

I also didn't quite understand all the (in my opinion) gratuitous gay sex scenes between the main character and random men that he seemed to pick up wherever he went. It often felt like she was beating me over the head with the character's homosexuality, when other moments in the novel served perfectly well in illustrating his orientation (such as his infatuation with a young man who he meets while pursuing a lead about the disturbing photographs). If anything, Welsh would have been better sticking to just one sex scene – such as the only one which actually furthered the plot – and being more subtle through the rest of the novel in reference to his desires, because these more subtle allusions to his sexuality were far more appropriate when the novel was supposed to be about the photographs.

Ultimately the ending came as a considerable curveball, if only because I had been so distracted and pulled away from the main plot by all the superfluous information and hadn't quite made all the right connections between the information that actually mattered. 

However, aside from these criticisms, I did find the main plot interesting and I believe the novel would have been much more enjoyable had it been pared back and the right amount of focus given to the key scenes – there was a lot of interesting discussion and ideas around the ideas of the kind of photographs that the novel centred around and the very end of the novel in particular offered some fascinating insight into the subject of snuff. If only the novel had focused more into those ideas, I would certainly have enjoyed it more than I did. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Sleeper and The Spindle - Neil Gaiman // Book Review

To begin, this is, quite simply, a beautiful and fascinating twist on traditional fairy tales, and one that I wish (and hope?) is perhaps the first in a line of similar stories by Gaiman and other guy. The first thing you notice about this book, which is aimed at children, is the beautiful artwork. It's the kind of thing you'd be proud to display on your wall, it's so gorgeous, and it's actually making me very tempted to go out and buy myself a copy of this (I read it on Overdrive) just so I can look at it whenever I want!

Beyond gushing about how much I love the art, though, the story itself was brilliant too. I had assumed it would primarily be a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story, given the title, but one of the best twists of the story was realising that the queen of the story, who goes with her three loyal dwarves to save her kingdom from the 'sleeping curse' spreading rapidly towards them, is actually Snow White (after the events of the traditional fairy tale).

 It's the kind of fairy tale that children should be reading; my appreciation for this comes from the same place as my love for the recent Maleficent film. I love stories that subvert the typical pattern of fairy tales and show complex and interesting female characters, instead of the trope of the damsel in distress.

There's three major female characters in this; the Queen (Snow White), the Sleeper, and the old woman who somehow is the only person awake inside the castle, and who has grown old in there while everyone else was frozen in sleep. Despite how short the story is I liked the development of the characters, although as I said above it would be great to have more stories in this line and have the characters developed further.

There's not much more to be said about this without giving away too much about the plot/ending, but I would definitely recommend it, especially to anyone with children to share the story with. 

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Fishnet - Kirsten Innes // Book Review

It's hard to sum up in a simple way how I feel about this book. Even the distance of time after finishing the book hasn't made me feel like I can easily explain this one in a way that justifies the text.

One thing I've been noticing with a lot of Scottish writers I've been reading (Kirsty Logan's The Gracekeepers is the only exception I can think of personally) is the tendency towards a darker, grittier story line, even when the novel doesn't fit into the typical crime genre. This book is certainly no exception; it was brutally honest about prostitution, giving the reader the perspective of it's main character, Fiona, as well as excerpted words from prostitutes themselves in the form of blog posts that we can presume Fiona was reading.

Fiona's sister, Rona, disappeared without trace seven years prior to the novel's present, and the plot of the novel is triggered by Fiona's discovery that in the place Rona was last known to be, she was working as a prostitute. The novel charts Fiona's struggles with her own life while trying to find her sister and understand how and why her sister made the choices she did. Fiona is stuck in a boring office job, raising a child on a low income and distant from the few friends and family members around her. At times, Fiona is caught up and occasionally confused by her own sexual desires and thoughts. She also changes her opinion, albeit slowly, towards sex work and the people in that line of work – the novel focuses primarily on female sex workers but does reference that men do sex work too – as she learns more and more about it throughout the novel.

Fiona was, for most of the book, not a particularly likeable character. I didn't really connect with her or care particularly about how her life ended up for most of the novel, but I was pulled in by her relationship with her sister Rona; the one thing I could connect to was the desire to know what happened to Rona and where she was. Additionally, the novel also brilliantly expressed the position of sex workers in relation to the beliefs that led to the more recent proposal by Amnesty International that prostitution should be decriminalised, giving strong and compelling arguments about why decriminalising prostitution is a positive step for the workers themselves.

Overall I would recommend this book, although I do need to find some more examples of Scottish writing that are more along the lines of Kirsty Logan's work as the grittier stuff isn't entirely to my usual tastes!


Uglies - Scott Westerfeld // Book Review

This was my YA book of the month, and in a way a bit of an odd one, because it's a book that I almost read once upon a time when the series was first published. I was about eleven when the first of the 'trilogy' (the other books are Pretties, Specials and Extras) was published, but I think it was later when Pretties had been published that I was first aware of these books. 

It was the book store I always went to with my dad, the two of us splitting up to browse our chosen sections, and on more than one occasion I saw this series (I think initially before the third book had been published) while I was browsing. I don't know why, but it never appealed to me enough to actually go buy it and read it at the time. 

The first thing I think I should say is that although I gave this a relatively positively rating, I don't see myself reading the rest of the series (which is, like this book, available on Overdrive -- I don't think I would have read this had it not been free to do so). I don't actually know if I can pinpoint exactly what it is that's failed to draw me in enough to want to read the next one, but I guess partly it's that I have so many books I want to read and not as much time to read them, and given that I don't feel a strong drive to read these I'd rather give the time to something I am excited about instead. 

In terms of the story itself, one of the main things that stands out in my memory after reading this is that it really didn't go the way I expected it to. I didn't know much going in, only that the premise of the series is a future world where young people are given operations to make them 'Pretty' when they turn sixteen. Now that I have read it I couldn't say what I thought the plot would have been, but I suppose it makes sense: the main character, Tally Youngblood (which almost seems like a parody of a dystopian character's name, but never mind) is made to go out into the wilderness and the ruins of the society that came before theirs (ie our present day) and find a group of rebels who have run away before their operations. She's made to do this by the 'Specials', who will deny her her own operation until she leads them to the rebels. 

The message of the book is pretty clear as regards to beauty standards, and some of the points it makes are quite interesting and relevant, even if Westerfeld does bash you on the head with them a bit. The importance of appearance in our society (oft critiqued as wasteful and unfair by the book's characters) has been dealt with by the introduction of these operations which make everyone equal in their beauty, but the attitudes that Tally is exposed to when she finds the rebel's camp (or village, I suppose) show that this future isn't necessarily a better one.

I also liked the fact that Tally wasn't a straightforward character. Her whole belief system is challenged by what she encounters as the novel goes on, and although at times she was a little bit clichéd (see: her relationship with David) I liked that she made mistakes, that she grew and learned at a modest pace, and that her choices also opened up questions of morality (eg. honesty).

All in all, I did enjoy reading this book. I reckon I would have preferred it had I actually picked it up all those years ago, though, and been more likely to continue the series too. 


Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Well, here goes... this is going to be my first attempt at doing monthly 'To Be Read' lists! I miss the structure of assigned reading every week, so although I can't read 2+ books every week now like I did in term time, I'm still giving myself

The obvious beginning to my September reading will be finishing what I started reading in August -- currently A Room With a View (EM Forster). 

If I Stay - Gayle Forman
YA book of the month
This is somewhat dependent on whether it'll actually be available on Overdrive during September. I think I might borrow this one quite early in the month just to be sure I'll actually have access to it. It's also one of those books where I sort of know the plot and the ending already, but I really enjoyed reading Just One Day by the same author so I've decided now is as good a time as any to get round to this one. If for any reason I can't get a hold of it, there's plenty of other YA books available to achieve my monthly YA goal.

Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy
Man Booker Longlisted
I don't want to say 'Booker Longlisted of the Month' on this one because if I only read one a month, it'll take me half a year to get through them all! I suppose it probably will take me a while to get around to reading all of my picks, but I do hope to read all six before Christmas at least, so it's more of a vague category for me than a strict rule on what I'm reading. I've requested/reserved this one from the library, so it's just a case of waiting for it to arrive at my local library for me to collect! (Side note: when I made my Booker TBR I completely forgot that I could do this with library books, as it's going to make accessing them all much easier!)

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Another library book -- whoops! This one I borrowed in August but haven't got around to yet, as I was reading another (physical) library book first, at the same time as reading an Overdrive ebook and a paperback that I own... I might need to stop juggling so many books at once. Anyway, this one's been one I've wanted to read for ages, and since it's also a library book which has to go back, I'll be aiming to read it this month. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
(Modern) Classic of the month
My 'classic of the month' category is a pretty loose one, but it's likely to include any books from the 20th century or earlier that are arguably classed as 'classics' -- the kinds of novels that people are almost expected to read/have read at some point in their lives. I bought this one a while ago but never got round to reading it, so I want to make the time for it this month. 


Saturday, 29 August 2015

August Reads

I've been a bit slow with the reviews this month, so I've currently only got two reviews published for the books I read (although the others are all currently written as first drafts and just waiting for some editing before I schedule them, so I'll hopefully be a little bit more on track within a week or so). I'm also still working on trying to get myself into a proper schedule and publishing at the same time every week too, but I think it might be another month or more before I get that established and ready.

Anyway, here's the books I've read this month:

A Slip Under the Microscope - HG Wells
This feels like a little bit of a cheat read, because as with The Sleeper and The Spindle below, it was a very short read that's bumped my read count up from four to six for this month -- although four books a month is still a pretty good rate considering I'm not at university/on summer break. Anyway, I've linked my review above if you want to know more about what I thought.

This is definitely one of those books that it seems like everyone has read, and I do tend to be a bit of a sucker for wanting to read what 'everyone' is reading, so naturally when I saw this on Overdrive I put it on my list and borrowed it as soon as it was available. A good read for people in their early twenties, especially students who are nearing graduation/recent graduates.

The review of this one is to come, probably within a few days of this post being published. An enjoyable enough read, but not a series that I plan on completing in the future. Interesting premise, though, and probably the kind of book that I would have enjoyed more when I was still the same age as its target audience.

Fishnet - Kirsten Innes
I was looking through my Goodreads account recently, and noticed that my Scottish fiction shelf (which I created to see how much Scottish fiction I read) was woefully lacking, especially given that most of the books I had read were assigned reading at university. Last month I read Kirsty Logan's The Gracekeepers which was brilliant; this month I found my way to another Scottish writer (and female too, double bonus). I discovered this one in the list of nominees for the Edinburgh International Book Festival's First Book Award and then saw it was available on Overdrive. I'm not going to say much about what I thought, as the review of this one is in the works, but overall I did like it and I think Kirsten Innes is an author I'll be looking out for in future to see where she goes next.

The Sleeper and the Spindle - Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Chris Riddell)
A wonderful short read with stunning illustrations (I'm such a sucker for good artwork). It's the kind of book you want to keep somewhere accessible and pull out whenever you need to just escape for a little while... but it's also the kind of story that I want to read to my potential future children as well. I do love the way that people are writing fairy tales these days, and I think it would be delightful if Gaiman went on to write more fairy tales like these and formed a whole collection of them.

The Rosie Effect (Don Tillman #2) - Graeme Simsion
This one took me a while to read this month, mainly because it's been a lot easier for me to read ebooks lately (aside from the Wells, this is the only physical book I read and finished this month) but luckily it was such an enjoyable and accessible read that the gaps between me reading didn't cause any real problems. I've also read an interview where Simsion said he's thinking of writing a third (and presumably final) instalment of the Don Tillman series which I'd be thrilled to read. A delightfully funny read that I'd definitely recommend to anyone. 

So that's what I've read this month! 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Opposite of Loneliness - Marina Keegan // Book Review

I've had a bit of a break over the past week or so where I haven't really been writing reviews, to the point where I've now got four reviews waiting to be written – oops! My memory has started to fade on this book, so thankfully I did have the foresight to scribble down some notes at the time that I can work from!

I imagine a lot of people know the context to this book of short stories and essays; the author, Marina Keegan, passed away at twenty two in an accident. I won't go too much into who she was and what she achieved before she died, because a lot of it is covered in the introduction to the book. 

The book is split into two parts – her fiction and her essays. Some of the stories were almost hard to read because I couldn't get what had happened to her out of my head, especially in one of the stories (I didn't take note of the titles of them) in which a girl who is in a casual relationship finds out her sort-of boyfriend has been killed in a car accident. 

Other stories were curious and compelling, like the story of the older woman who reads to a young blind man. The underlying theme to all the stories seemed to be the very different kinds of relationship that can exist, primarily between men and women but also between family members and friends. The main thing that would have made me appreciate the fiction more (and perhaps above her non fiction) would have been more diversity in the relationships and characters she portrayed; there were no obvious, strong examples of characters who weren't white and straight. 

Her non fiction stood out to me more because it felt more relatable – I started to feel a kind of connection with the person that was Keegan, to understand a little about who she was, what mattered to her in life, and to see the things that I share in common with her. The piece about her gluten intolerance was one particular example that stood out to me because I can empathise with dealing with food intolerances – and she's also had a positive influence on me, making me realise the importance of respecting my body and making responsible choices about what I eat, avoiding (for the most part) the foods that make me unwell. 

It was clear too that she cared about the environment, humanity, the future of these things.. one of the pieces she wrote that still sticks in my head now a few weeks after finishing was the one she wrote about people being head hunted out of Yale into jobs that weren't really their career goals, jobs that were almost stop gaps or 'experience building' for them; the overall implications of this piece affected me because right now I'm in the same boat, just having graduated university and not really knowing where I'm going with my life or knowing how to get into the kind of career I really want (never mind narrowing myself down to just one ideal career!). 

Ultimately I would say that this isn't exactly a brilliant and outstandingly well written text, but it felt real and human, and in particular is likely to be very relatable to people in their early twenties who feel a little bit lost and who care about the future.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Man Booker 2015
Longlist TBR

I've never really been the kind of person to choose in advance what books I'm going to read next. Normally, I just go pick up whatever book I feel like reading once I'm finished with one, or if I've bought a new book I sometimes start reading it straight away (Hollow City being the most recent example). 

However, I do kind of want to get into a habit of giving myself a guideline of what I want to read next  – since I've finished uni I have so much more reading freedom that I almost don't know what to do with it. So far I've only really made decisions based on which books I'm going to read in the winter (Burial Rites, The Snow Child, The Miniaturist, and probably re-reading The Silkworm are on my winter list so far) because I feel like they're the kind of books that will be better suited to a cold environment. 

One TBR list I have now made, as the title of this post will indicate, is the books I want to read from the Man Booker longlist for this year. There are 13 books on the longlist this year and, after having a read of all their synopsis', I've picked six that I hope to read, and there's two specifically that I want to read ASAP and definitely before the shortlist is announced (if possible). It would be interesting to attempt to read all 13 books and take the most informed guess as to the shortlist/winner, but I just don't have the time or money right now - maybe someday! 
(Quick note: I haven't put Marilynne Robinson's Lila on my Booker TBR, but only because I want to read Gilead and Home first, or it would be on there!)

So here goes: my Man Booker 2015 TBR!

The Chimes - Anna Smaill

 I'm quite a big fan of novels where the dystopian/post-apocalyptic world is actually a real place (ie London, in this case) because I like seeing how people will envision the changes to somewhere so familiar to so many. I don't know a lot about it aside from the synopsis on the Booker website, and I intend to keep it that way until I read it! (What a gorgeous cover, though?!)

Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy

Again, I don't actually know enough about this one to give a good description, but I've written it in my Booker TBR list with lots of exclamation points around it - so even if I don't remember what the synopsis was now, it clearly got me excited at the time! It's not going to be available in paperback until April next year, so far as I can tell. I haven't bought this one yet but I expect I will soon.  

The Year of the Runaways - Sunjeev Sahota

This one focuses mainly on three Indian men, who live together in Sheffield with other migrant workers, and one British Indian woman, who is married to one of the three aforementioned men but does not live with him, or want much to do with him. The novel switches between shorter chapters about the four characters' lives in Sheffield with their own personal stories about their lives before they came to Sheffield, which is a format I quite enjoyed recently in Andrea Levy's Small Island. I'm also always interested to read more books about cultures outside of my own, and books that explore how migrants experience the Western world and native Westerners. However, I don't know if I can hold out much hope on reading this one before the shortlist comes out as the paperback isn't released until.... and I need to pinch the pennies, but if it makes the shortlist I'm definitely bumping it up the list to buy when I can afford it or when the paperback is released!

The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami

The title of this undoubtedly caught my eye (and it's another one which is Rushdie approved, but I swear that's just a coincidence!). I love some good historical fiction, but I guess my love pushes it over into pickiness, because I tend not to actually read a whole lot of this genre. The reference to 'moor' in the title caught my attention because it made me think of Shakespeare's Othello, a play that I enjoyed immensely in my third year of uni. It was the kind of text that provoked a real interest in a kind of story that I haven't seen a lot of out there. Then, of course, I read more about the synopsis/description, "As this dramatic chronicle unfolds, we come to understand that, contrary to popular belief, black men played a significant part in New World exploration, and that Native American men and women were not merely silent witnesses to it" (source)

A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler

Much like the other books on my list, I don't know much about this one - but unlike the others I've picked, it's one I've seen over and over again. I've heard some comparisons to Marilynne Robinson as well, so at the very least I feel intrigued. Given that this was already low level on my radar, it's been nudged up to a higher priority by the Booker nomination, although it's not that high on my list compared to the ones above and is more likely to be the kind of book I'll pick up and read if the opportunity presents itself (like if I see it in the library) than one I'll actively seek right now. 

A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James

This wasn't originally on my personal shortlist; I started out with five books that I had gotten very excited about and the other seven (excluding Lila, as mentioned above) didn't really catch my attention in the same way as the ones above. It wasn't that they didn't sound like good books... but you have to narrow it down somehow! One of these days I will read all the longlisted books, even if I only manage it the once...
Anyway, this one has caught my eye a few times in book shops since I saw it longlisted, but the tipping point to get it into the list was seeing it available on Overdrive, meaning that (assuming it's available to borrow) I can read it conveniently for free - which is perfect, since I'm still a skint graduate!

So that's my (somewhat delayed) Man Booker TBR. What'll you be reading?


Saturday, 15 August 2015

A Slip Under the Microscope - HG Wells // Book Review

This book comprises of two of Wells's short stories; 'The Door in the Wall' and 'A Slip Under the Microscope' respectively. It's my first Little Black Classic – I picked it up for 49p in Oxfam – and was actually on my vague list of Little Black Classics that I wanted to pick up and read, because I quite enjoyed War of the Worlds at uni (I might do a post at some point about the other Little Black Classics I want to read and why).

 I definitely preferred the first of the two stories, because I felt it had a much more poignant message, and was a more concise story. Although briefly framed by the narrator, who explains a little of his own setting before going into the story his friend told him, it was straightforward while still being intriguing. I liked the extra layer by having the story being essentially doubly narrated; the extra distance makes you even less sure what to think of this mysterious door in the wall. Is it real? Is it some form of escapism, some delusion, or a genuine fantastical/magical portal? It's hard to say whether the door was 'real' or a repeated figment of the imagination, a daydream of an escape from the pressures and stresses of reality, but it was a brilliantly written metaphor and definitely the kind of story I'd like to go back to every so often and re-familiarise myself with.

The second story was interesting enough, but just didn't catch my attention in the way the first one did (which makes me question the decision to order the stories as they have, but I suppose some people probably preferred the second story!). It focused on a young man who, driven by a desire to be better than his classmate, unintentionally cheats in an exam and has difficult moral choices to make. In some sense it was nice to read because it made me a little nostalgic for university, even though I studied an entirely different subject and did so in a different century). There was also nothing particularly negative about the story – it just didn't have the same effect as the former. I wasn't really invested in the outcome or particularly intrigued by the message in this one.

Overall, though, I liked this little short story collection and will probably be picking up more of these on my next day off.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan // Book Review

Where do I even start with this book? I loved it. I didn't want to finish it, because then I'd have to stop reading it. Everything about it is beautiful – the story, the cover, the world Logan created (seriously though, look at that cover! I want a poster of that cover). Part of me longs for this to be adapted into a film because I know how gorgeous it could be in the right hands – but part of me would also be afraid to see it as a film in case it didn't live up to the novel. I even wish I was a better artist, so that I could make art based on this book. It's that beautiful.

But it's not just enough to talk about how beautiful it is, because that's barely even the half of what's so wonderful about this book. It's creative and original, and everything I think I could have wanted from it. I didn't know a lot about the plot before I started reading; all I knew was that it focused on two women, North and Callanish, and how their lives come together in a flooded world where land is rare and the domain of the privileged few. Callanish is a Gracekeeper, living on her own tiny island laying the dead to rest in special mourning ceremonies; there's some secrets hidden in her past and the water and what it contains makes her uncomfortable. Then there's North, the girl with the bear. North is part of Red Gold's circus boat, who sail around the islands performing in exchange for food and other necessities.

The book is full of clever, complex characters. Everyone stands out, each with their own personalities and motives, and the world is subtly and brilliantly developed. There's no heavy handed explanation of how the world came to be flooded – although one can take a guess – but Logan still manages to develop the cultural and social differences between the 'landlockers' (who live on the islands) and the 'damplings' (who live on boats in the sea/ocean). The landlockers worship the trees and almost fear the water and what it contains, while the damplings find the land uncomfortably steady and mock the landlockers, calling them 'clams' (who happen to lack brains). There's even a fascinating scene where Logan gives us just a hint of the world that used to be, deep below the water.

I'm not sure whether I'd be happy to hear about a sequel to this book or not. I'd love to know more about the world Logan created, and spend more time with North and Callanish... yet it's such a perfect and beautiful book on its own, and that can be such a rare thing these days.

This is definitely the kind of book that everyone should be reading, although definitely not a book to lend to your friends as you might not get it back!