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!