Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Lauras - Sara Taylor // Book Review

I borrowed Taylor's first book, The Shore, from the library once - in June this year. It was not long after I moved into my flat, and I remember it sitting there on the second hand coffee table, one of the few pieces of furniture I had at the time. I didn't have any carpets yet, and it was a bit of a comfort to see a book sitting there. I only had a handful of books in the house at the time - since I didn't have the space for all of my books, the only ones I had around were ones I had bought after first moving in, or a couple that I had picked up from elsewhere. I'm not actually sure now why I didn't get around to reading The Shore - I remember starting it, and then I figure I must have returned it because it was due back and I didn't end up having the time for it.
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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

October + November Wrap Up

I fell behind on my reading wrap ups, I suppose because I've been busy with other things (including my not-so-new-anymore job) and it just wasn't on my mind. However, I'm going for a bit of a push and hoping to up my blogging game now; I could call it a bit of a New Year's Resolution, except I don't see why I should wait for January 1st to start something!

October was definitely a much better reading month for me than November, and I'm not really sure what happened aside from having a busier month and spending less time reading than on other activities.
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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh // Book Review

The third of my Man Booker shortlist reads, Eileen wasn't what I was expecting it to be - in a way that was a little disappointing.

I think this book was sold to me on being somewhat a thriller, but as much as I would still say I enjoyed reading it, I didn't find it thrilling or exciting until the very end of the novel. And, even then, this was unfortunately short-lived, so still didn't meet my own hopes for it.
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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn // Book Review



I waited almost a year and a half to read this book. I saw it on the Overdrive in May of 2015, and I decided to put a hold on it - it was only in October of this year was it finally available.
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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Rental Heart - Kirsty Logan // Book Review

Considering how much of a fan of Kirsty Logan's writing I am, it was becoming a little embarrassing that I had only ever read one of her books (her first novel, The Gracekeepers, which was also one of my favourites of 2015). Although I had read one or two of the short stories within this collection - including the titular 'The Rental Heart' - already, I've only now gotten around to picking up the book and reading the full collection.
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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

His Bloody Project - Graham MacRae Burnet // Book Review

Second up for me from the Man Booker shortlist, His Bloody Project was intriguing to me more from the background of its publication than the plot of the novel itself. The author was a previous winner of the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and the publisher of this novel is an independent Scottish publishing house. It was these things that intrigued me most about it, with the premise and story not really making any huge difference to my opinion or my interest.
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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Hot Milk - Deborah Levy // Book Review

Last year's attempt at reading the Man Booker shortlist was a bit of a disaster (I still haven't read A Brief History of Seven Killings despite this being the winner) but, in spite of that, I'm trying again this year - so far I've read two of six and hope to get at least two more down before the winner is announced. Although I'm disappointed that Strout didn't make the shortlist - I adored My Name is Lucy Barton - I was quite pleased to see that most of the books that did make it were ones I'd decided to read. First up on the list, as the title indicates, was Levy's Hot Milk.
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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Ash - Malinda Lo // Book Review

In the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.
 



In what should now be a fairly unsurprising turn of events - I've read another fairy tale retelling (and another Cinderella one at that!). I don't think I'll ever get bored of books that take inspiration from fairy tales, be it a very loose take on the commonly known tales or a more obvious one. I love fairy tales, so in general I'm always going to like something that can be connected to one - although I do really want to start reading more about the history of fairy tales and to discover new tales as well, instead of just reading modern adaptions.

As for this particular adaption/retelling - one of the most interesting things about Lo's work is where it strays away from the well known Cinderella tale. While many of the fundamental elements are the same - orphaned girl, trapped in servitude to her cruel stepmother and two stepsisters - unlike Meyer's Cinder, this novel pulls away from the traditional Cinderella character falling in love with the handsome prince at the ball, and instead has our lead - Aisling, or Ash for short - caught between mysterious and slightly omnipresent fairy Sidhean, and the charming King's Huntress, Kaisa.

It was a slow start to read this, and for me not really exciting or compelling enough to merit such a slow move into the main, more recognisable, Cinderella story. Even as things got closer to the end, I didn't feel especially connected to any of the characters and although I was pleased by the ending, and generally enjoyed reading the book, it just didn't quite hit the emotional connection that I would have liked in a book of this kind.

The novel was, however, quite a beautiful read. At times its more languorous language and mood was pleasant and relaxing to read, but at times it wasn't quite enough for me; I wanted there to be a bit more conflict and a bit more tension. A lot of this is probably because, for the most part, that's my taste - but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy a slow paced, poetic book when it's done right. This book, while getting fairly close, just doesn't quite hit my personal mark for the slow paced novel. I need to either connect strongly with characters, which I didn't find happening for me, or I need to be gripped by the ideas or the world that come out of it, which didn't quite happen either.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book, but just lacking in anything to make me really fall in love with it.
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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

August Wrap Up

August was a good month for reading for me! I'm not sure how great September will turn out, because I've just started a new job and I might have less time to read now - but we'll see!


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - JK Rowling/Jack Thorne/John Tiffany
I still don't really know how I feel about this one. I think Jen Campbell's review on her Youtube channel probably sums it up best for me, when she talks about the emotions she feels reading it coming from the memories of the original texts more than anything significantly strong about the play. I have, however, heard a lot of people say that it's an incredible play to watch - I'm hoping that there will be an official recording released at some point so that I can actually experience it as it was meant to be experienced, because as a narrative alone it fell a bit flat for me.

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout
I picked this one up just before it was nominated for the Man Booker 2016, and although I haven't managed to read any of the rest of the longlisted books yet, I can really see this one doing well. I definitely think it should make the shortlist - I really loved this book. It was beautiful and compelling, and I've since picked up another of Strout's novels, Olive Kitteridge to read because I enjoyed this one so much.

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer
The sequel to Cinder which I recently posted a review of. It was, to an extent, quite predictable (in similar ways to the first in the Lunar series) but it was still fun to read and I'll probably work around to the rest of the series in time, as I do love my fairy tale retellings.

The Girls - Emma Cline
I think this was too hyped up for me, and I didn't love it the way I thought I would or the way I wanted to. I wouldn't try to put people off reading it, however - I think it's still a fairly good book, even if I didn't love it or find myself quite as impressed as the hype led me to believe I'd be. Definitely good for anyone who likes novels about cults or has an interest in the Manson family. I also wrote a longer review of this recently.

The House in Quill Court - Charlotte Betts
I wrote a full review of this as part of a blog tour last week. Pleasantly surprising given my first impression of it before I started to read it, and a good one for fans of historical fiction with some intrigue, mystery and drama.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter
I bought this after volunteering one day because I wanted something to read on the bus and didn't have a book with me - I ended up reading the whole thing in almost one sitting (between the bus journey and then some time after I had gotten home and had dinner). Absolutely beautiful and genius poetry that has really fuelled my desire to read more poetry - any recommendations definitely welcome!

The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
I decided to read this since the film adaption is due to be out soon, and as an Emily Blunt fan (and unreliable narrator fan) I figured it was about time I got round to it! It wasn't entirely the story I had expected it to be based on the little I knew about it going in (which was basically the blurb, and that Rachel was an unreliable narrator). I was mostly surprised by the chapters from two other characters' points of view, because I'd expected it all to be from Rachel's perspective, but I still enjoyed it. Another minor downside was that I figured out something early enough on that it took away some of the thrill towards the end, but overall it was a good book.

September TBR:
The Dumb House - John Burnside
I've been meaning to read this for a while now after all the praise I've seen for it on booktube, so hopefully this month will be the month.

The Autograph Man - Zadie Smith
Another one that I've been meaning to read for a while (mostly because I love Zadie Smith and it seems silly that I haven't read all of her books yet).

Viper Wine - Hermione Eyre
As above - one that's been waiting to be read for a while. 

The Taming of the Shrew - William Shakespeare
I want to read this play soon as I'm planning on getting to know the play before I read Anne Tyler's retelling of it, Vinegar Girl


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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The House in Quill Court - Charlotte Betts // Book Review + Blog Tour



1813. Venetia Lovell lives by the sea in Kent with her pretty, frivolous mother and idle younger brother. Venetia’s father, Theo, is an interior decorator to the rich and frequently travels away from home, leaving his sensible and artistic daughter to look after the family. Venetia designs paper hangings and she and her father often daydream about having an imaginary shop where they would display the highest quality furniture, fabrics and art to his clients.

When a handsome but antagonistic stranger, Jack Chamberlaine, arrives at the Lovell’s cottage just before Christmas bringing terrible news, Venetia’s world is turned upside-down and the family have no option but to move to London, to the House in Quill Court and begin a new life. Here, Venetia’s courage and creativity are tested to breaking point, and she discovers a love far greater than she could have ever imagined . . .


published August 25th 2016 by Little, Brown


From the multi-award-winning author of The Apothecary’s Daughter, The House in Quill Court is a gorgeously evocative Regency novel bursting with historical flavour and characters you won’t forget. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.


To begin with, I wasn't sure how I'd get on with this book. I don't often read a lot of historical fiction - although I do usually mean to read more, which is probably what motivated me into reading this one!

I also went into this book expecting something that was remarkably different from what I got. I thought this would be primarily a romance, but the plot was much more than a love story (although there are romantic subplots). Particularly as the story went on and the plot developed, I enjoyed how thrilling and exciting the main plot was. Without giving too much away, the main characters in the novel find themselves wrapped up in an escalating conflict, and many times the plot takes twists and turns that were unexpected and shocking - all adding together to make the story truly compelling and fun to read.
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Friday, 19 August 2016

The Girls - Emma Cline // Book Review

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong. 

Goodreads | The Girls - Emma Cline


The Girls is, in essence, a fictionalisation of the Manson Family cult. I'd picked up on this before I read it, but I wasn't entirely sure either before or during the book whether it was actually linked to real events, or whether it was just loosely 'inspired' by them. If anything, I think I went into it assuming that the parallel was drawn based on the era and the concept of a violent cult, more than any direct references to the reality. Since finishing, I've found that there are actually much more significant connections between Cline's plot and parts of the true history - although it's worth noting that from my vague research into the Manson Family, the plot doesn't include all of the Mason murders that took place in the 60s.

It's a slow start, and I thought it was difficult to really get into the book; I found it less exciting and gripping than I'd hoped it would be. It seemed to take a while for the story to get to the kind of place I had assumed it would take from the start, and I felt like I was waiting and waiting for the story I'd actually come for.

The way that the main narrative of young Evie's experiences with Russell, Suzanne and the rest of the cult in 1969 is framed by the story of present day Evie didn't really work for me. I can see why it was done and the purpose it served, but personally I didn't like being pulled in and out of the main narrative. It felt a little clunky and slightly too obvious to have Evie's life in the modern day leading the narrative of the past. From within the 1969 narrative, it was still clear that we were being told the story by a present day Evie, and as such it didn't feel necessary to keep withdrawing from 1969.

If anything, I was disappointed that towards the end of the book, there wasn't much there to fill in the gaps between 1969 and the years that followed and led to the Evie who was telling the story. Perhaps that was because, both from the author and Evie's point of view, there wasn't anything good to tell - Evie's life so mundane and ordinary after the excitement and wildness of the summer of 1969 that nothing else could possibly compare. Yet I would have liked more about those years in between, and more of an emphasis on Evie's life post Russell and Suzanne.

However, in spite of these things, I did still enjoy the book for the most part. I've never been someone fascinated by cults or the Manson Family - although I do have an interest in the more sociological side of cult behaviour - so in some ways I think this was never going to excite me as much as it would excite someone who is interested in cults and the Mansons. Overall, I think that this novel just wasn't exactly what I was expecting or what I wanted it to be. This isn't to say that I disliked it, but it didn't quite reach a point of wowing me either.


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Friday, 12 August 2016

Cinder - Marissa Meyer // Book Review


Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
 


Goodreads | Cinder - Marissa Meyer

This is another book that I read a little while ago now, but one worth talking about as I've just finished reading the sequel, Scarlet. I'm a big fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings (two of my favourite TV shows are Once Upon a Time and Grimm, which are two shows that I've seen referenced in relation to this series before!). Meyer takes it further than the 'modern day' setting for her retellings, instead setting the tales and characters in a future world unlike our own - with Lunars, cyborgs, netscreens, androids and more.

One of the most incredible things about the book - and the series so far - has been the world building. Meyer creates a fascinating, interesting world, and manages to balance how much you know about it without risking inundating the reader with too much information. It was also a wonderful, subtle approach to creating a 'futuristic' world without it feeling heavy handed or over the top. I also loved the way the "original" source story (Cinderella) was both paid homage to (the relationships between Cinder and the other characters, like Kai and her stepmother; the ball) as well as the ways that it actually differed from the original while still 'fitting' into the familiar narrative.

I can't say I have many criticisms of the book, although if there was a slight downside for me it would be how obvious the twist at the end was - I might have preferred a little more suspense and surprise from that side of the story, although it wasn't enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

As I said above, I've just finished reading the second book in the series, Scarlet and I should get around to reviewing that here soon - and I also look forward to reading the rest of the series when I get the chance/they're available on Overdrive!
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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye // Book Review


Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?


Goodreads | Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye


It's time to catch up on unwritten book reviews from the last couple of months, and what better place to start than with one of the most entertaining books I've read - Lyndsay Faye's retelling (of a sort) of the classic novel, Jane Eyre. In Faye's novel, we meet instead Jane Steele; in many ways a similar young woman to Jane Eyre, but with a more murderous twist.
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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

August TBR

Now that I've (almost) completely moved into my flat, it's time to get back into blogging and talking about books - and what better place to start than with a TBR for the month ahead!

I feel like the list/pile of books I want to read next is out of control - I've already counted at least 30 unread books after unpacking and shelving them, and that's not including ebooks... whoops - so hopefully giving myself a sense of structure and some goals will help me get through it all!

The Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston
This is August's Feminist Orchestra read, so I'm hoping to get around to re-reading it at some point this month. I read it once while I was at university, and although I wasn't a huge fan at the time, I think I might appreciate it more now that it's outside of the stress of studying.

Devil Take the Hindmost - Martin Cathcart Froden
I got a copy of this for review a little while ago now, and have yet to get around to it - but I keep seeing people talking about it, and I've noticed that it's also been nominated for the Edinburgh Book Festival's First Book Award. I don't remember what drew me to it, or what it's really about, but I suppose I'll find out!

The Girls - Emma Cline
I picked up a copy of this recently after seeing a lot of positivity about it. As far as I can see, this follows the story of a teenage girl who is drawn into a cult in late 60s California. I'm excited to read it and see if it lives up to its reputation!

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout
I've wanted to read this for a while, although I can no longer remember who I saw praising it. I bought a copy about a week before it was announced as part of the Man Booker 2016 longlist, which has only spurred me on even more to read it as soon as possible! The story follows the eponymous Lucy, who is visited by the mother she hasn't spoken to in years while recovering in hospital.


I'm going to leave the list there for now, although I do hope to get more read than this by the end of the month (and I've already read a book and a half so far!). Stay tuned for a few reviews or general blog posts on what I've been reading since May, too...


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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Favourite Books of 2016 (So Far)

The first thing I'd like to (quickly) make a point of - I've been very quiet on the blogging front lately. There's been a lot going on, including me moving house last month, but I've still been reading plenty and will try to get back on track with some reviews soon! It might still be slow going for a bit (this house move is still kind of on-going and time/energy consuming) but I'll be working on it!

Now then - we're now just over half way through the year, and to try to kick start myself back into blogging again, I've decided to do a post on the books I've loved so far this year - especially as I might end up forgetting about some of the brilliant books I read at the start of the year by the time December rolls around.

I'm not great at ranking books against each other in general, because I often love books for very different reasons, as well as loving books that are entirely different from each other. However, I think this is roughly accurate as to my top five books for the first half of 2016.

1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers
I don't read a lot of sci-fi, but this book has made me reassess on that and think that I need to increase how much sci-fi I read - which might be easier said than done considering all the other genres/subjects I want to increase reading on! That doesn't make it impossible though - a few years ago when I realised how imbalanced the gender make up of the authors I read was, it was hard to imagine that changing too, and yet this year alone I know I've swung the scale wildly in the other direction (I think the 4:1 ratio of my favourites is probably pretty representative of the way I'm reading now). It's not even a conscious or active choice - it's just how my tastes sit now. But back to the book - I adored this. I adored the characters (and even Corbin was kind of entertaining and likeable in his own way), the fact that the story managed to create tension and mystery without it getting frustrating or overly stressful, the writing style, the representation... I could go on, but I might save it for a full review in the future instead! 
2. Ruby - Cynthia Bond
I've now read 4/6 of the Bailey's shortlist for 2016, including the winner (The Glorious Heresies) and as much as I understand that books like this one and A Little Life probably don't appeal to all - given the content - I truly can't understand how Ruby didn't win. I'll admit, I think A Little Life might be my favourite of all the shortlisted books, but this book definitely deserved to win and, had I gotten through more of the shortlist before the winner was announced, I would have been so sure that this was set to win. It's beautiful and haunting, and as a writer myself, it's one of those books that both makes you feel inadequate but also painfully desperate to be that good yourself one day. It's also really set into stone that magical realism is my favourite genre now. A year ago, I don't think I even really knew what the genre was or that it even existed, but I definitely love it and want more of it in my life!
3. The Vegetarian - Han Kang
Another book that I would argue comes under magical realism, although arguably more surreal and strange than Ruby. It's one of those books that you'd feel uncomfortable raving about as a book you love, but it was just so beautifully crafted and haunting that it was hard not to be captured by it. I haven't read Kang's other novel, Human Acts, yet - but it's definitely on the list. 
4. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
Non-fiction is another area that I'm trying to read more of. When I was in university and even in high school, I avoided non-fiction in my leisure reading (although obviously read a lot of it while studying/researching for papers), but I'm increasingly enjoying reading non-fiction books as a way to continue learning now that I'm not in education anymore. Admittedly, this book wasn't so much an education for me as an affirmation - I kind of knew everything Haig was saying already, but sometimes it's important to hear someone else saying it, to have someone else make sense of it all for you. It's also the kind of book that could, hopefully, shed some light on how it feels to experience mental illness for those that never have. 
5. What is Not Yours is Not Yours - Helen Oyeyemi
Magical realism again, perhaps naturally now! I don't generally enjoy reading short story collections, because I prefer the experience of reading a longer narrative about characters (and usually have an urge to take breaks between each story to make it easier to separate them in my mind). However, the way that Oyeyemi's stories wove and connected together through characters and themes worked for me. What really placed this book so highly, however, was Oyeyemi's writing style - again, a writer to be envied and to aspire after. The first of Oyeyemi's books that I read - Boy, Snow, Bird -  was enjoyable, but didn't impress me in the same way as this did. I've yet to read any of her other work, but as with Han Kang, it's on the list!
What I'm looking forward to most in the coming months is definitely going to be getting new bookshelves and having my new place full of books - I feel like I could even start to whittle down my pile of unread books more once everything's sorted out! (I'm not even sure how many unread books I have, but it's definitely too many, whoops). I'll hopefully start uploading more pictures in reviews and posts in future too - watch this space!
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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May Wrap Up

I've read quite a lot this month, so I'm not sure whether scrapping the strict (ish) reading list for each month actually works out better for me - although it might be more likely that I just had more time to read this month as I haven't been working. I finished a total of eight books this month - I'm currently reading What is not yours is not yours by Helen Oyeyemi going into the month of June. I won't be setting myself a reading list this month either for various reasons, although I do intend to start reading Early One Morning (Virginia Baily) in June and I'm hoping to read Ruby (Cynthia Bond) too. 

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Jane Steele - Lyndsay Faye
Jane Eyre was my first classic novel when I was about 11/12 years old, and it's always meant a lot to me over the years. I wrote a major essay on it when I was 14, as well as doing my high school dissertation on it (and Great Expectations) when I was 17; it even inspired my university dissertation, although ended up being more of a reference text for my discussion of female madness. I haven't reread it for a while now (which I hope to change over the summer!) but I think I'll always love it, even if it's for different reasons and from different personal perspectives. As soon as I heard about this novel, I knew I had to read it. The novel's protagonist (and titular character) tells us her story after having read and adored Bronte's novel, and discovering the parallels between her own story and Jane Eyre's. This was a brilliant read - a full review should be coming in the future!

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan
I got this one from the library near the start of the month. I've seen/heard about this book a few times and thought it sounded interesting, but I didn't think it was the kind of book I necessarily wanted to own, so seeing it on display in the library was perfect. I did enjoy reading this, although I wouldn't say it was the kind of book I'd want to read again or mind about owning. It's a fascinating journey through the author's rare illness and often educational. I don't really have any strong criticisms for it; I just didn't end up feeling that strongly about it either way. 

The Book Collector - Alice Thompson
I should probably write a full review of this one at some point if I get the time, because there's just so much going on that I could talk about. I like books that make me think and make me want to talk to everyone in sight about what I've just read, especially when - in this book's case - I'm not even sure why I liked it. The writing style was a bit of a catching point at times, as it wasn't the best, but didn't really pose much of a problem overall. There's definitely interesting parallels or comparisons between this and books like Du Maurier's Rebecca and Angela Carter's interpretation of the Bluebeard fairy tale in her The Bloody Chamber collection, but I'd personally make a bit of a comparison to American Psycho or other books in questioning the reliability of the narrator. It's difficult to say much more on that without potentially spoiling the book, but I have been surprised that reviews I've seen so far don't seem to ever question just how reliable Thompson's narrator is! 

The Improbability of Love - Hannah Rothschild
I wrote a full review of this recently, so I won't go over myself again and get into too much detail about my problems with this book. I would say that, even though I wasn't a huge fan, it may well appeal to some people. It just wasn't the kind of book for me, even if the underlying story had some promise.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark - Anna North
Again, another book where it's difficult to explain exactly why I liked it! The title is fairly self explanatory here; the novel contains the perspectives of six people who arguably knew Sophie Stark best in order to tell Sophie's story. Keeping the reader at a kind of arm's length from Sophie in this way is interesting, because it's hard to really make your own decisions about a person when everything you know about them is told through the lens of someone else, someone with their own feelings and opinions and biases - of course, that's the whole point. In a way, the reader is placed in the same position as any other person who would be interested in Sophie Stark's life, particularly after her death and in relation to her directorial career. Perhaps it's difficult to say in simple terms what was good about this book because of its complexities, and the intricacies of its titular character. Still - I enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it to people who like books about women who aren't entirely likeable. 

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down - Alice Walker
This was May's Feminist Orchestra read, and was my first time reading any Alice Walker. I did enjoy reading it, and naturally some of the stories were more interesting and memorable to me than others, particularly the very first one in the collection. I think I might appreciate them more if I re-read them again in the future, especially once I've read some more of Walker's work (I've got a copy of The Colour Purple which I've been meaning to read for ages!). 

The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods - Matt Bell
Another library book, this time one that caught my interest after I saw Jen Campbell talking about it (although I can't remember where). It was an interesting and surreal read, but in a way a difficult book - not because it was inaccessible or unpleasant to read, but because it was hard to grasp onto the story and follow it properly - invest in it properly - without putting a lot of energy and focus into it. I found some parts of it far more enjoyable than others, and I think often this was because I was too tired or preoccupied and was just drifting through the pages without really connecting with the story. Additionally, I was far more interested in the character of the wife than in the male protagonist, so when scenes were focused more on him than on her I started to lose some interest too. Overall, I did like it and I think I would recommend it to people who are fans of modern takes on the fairy tale genre, but would also advise that it requires a lot of your attention to truly enjoy! 

Charlotte Bronte: A Life - Claire Harman
Back to Charlotte Bronte again - this time, her life. I already knew some of the details about her life going into this book, but in some ways I regret to admit that I actually knew surprisingly little about her. At times, I did feel it a bit tiring to read as it wasn't always as engaging, although that may have been as much my own issue as the text's. It definitely is a good one for fans of Bronte, and am happy that I learned so much more about Charlotte and her family. It's also made me want to re-read Jane Eyre even more than I already did, as well as wanting to re-read Wuthering Heights and to read Anne's books too!  
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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Improbability of Love - Hannah Rothschild // Book Review


When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered. Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting - a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’. Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.
[Goodreads] // [My Goodreads review]

The Improbability of Love was shortlisted for this year's Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, which is the primary reason that I ended up reading this book - in all honesty, I don't think I would have read this book otherwise as the description did not appeal to me. I was also very fortunate to receive a copy of this for review from the publisher, which is why this was the first of the shortlist that I read (aside from A Little Life which I had read already!).

I'm doubly grateful to have received a review copy of this book, as I think I would have regretted buying it otherwise. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I actively disliked this book, but I also wouldn't have had any intentions of keeping this book in my possession if I had my own copy.
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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

April Wrap Up

It's been quite a hectic and strange month for me this April. It's my first April for as long as I can remember that I haven't been wildly stressed and busy studying/preparing for exams, so it's interesting that despite it being my first time not having any exams to prepare for, things still ended up being less than straightforward.

Nevertheless, it's been a good month for reading... I started and am still working on The Improbability of Love, although it's been a bit of a slog to get into and to get through so far (I think I'm somewhere around 45% in now). I'm hoping it picks up and comes together, so I'm going to persevere with it into May!

I've not got a TBR for May; I feel like I need a bit of a break from setting myself a reading list for this month, especially as my reading habits aren't necessarily going to be that consistent over the next month.

Cinder - Marissa Meyer
I hadn't planned to read this one in April, but I think spontaneously borrowed it on Overdrive at the start of the month and tore my way through it. I'm not planning on writing a lengthy/individual review of the book, as it was more of a 'for pleasure' book and I didn't think particularly critically about it while I read it - but I definitely enjoyed it and I will absolutely get to reading the rest of the Lunar Chronicles in the future! I do love a good fairy tale adaptation (or just fairy tale anything, to be honest) and I think the way that the source tale was used and updated was fantastically done. Admittedly, the plot was somewhat predictable, but not to the detriment of my overall enjoyment.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson
I wasn't necessarily a passionate fan of Winterson before I read this, although I had read and enjoyed Oranges are not the Only Fruit twice and liked, although not rated as highly, her novel Sexing the Cherry. However, having read this - the more autobiographical version of the already (semi-)autobiographical Oranges - my appreciation of Winterson and Oranges have grown immensely. I was already hoping to read more of Winterson's work in the future, but I expect I'll enjoy it more now with this increased appreciation and context to it!

Adventures in Human Being - Gavin Francis
I posted a fuller review of this a few days ago. A fantastic book that I'd recommend to everyone, but especially for those with a casual interest in medicine and/or anatomy.

The Vegetarian - Han Kang
This was such a strange, beautiful book and I'm still not entirely sure of my thoughts on it. It's one of those books that it feels odd to say you enjoyed, but I will say that it was an incredible book and that it certainly earned its spot on the Man Booker International shortlist for 2016. I hope to write a full review of this one in time, so watch this space!

Angela Carters' Book of Fairy Tales - Angela Carter
Fairy tales again! The quality of the fairy tales arguably varied throughout the collection, although it is clear that Carter tried to stay as true as possible to the original tales she gathered. There's a fantastic variety between the tales, and although I didn't quite enjoy all of them, I did enjoy reading the book as a whole. A must for any lover of fairy tales - not to mention how beautiful it looks in the hardback edition!

Nightwood - Djuna Barnes
Modernist writing tends to be one of those things that I love, but that requires a lot of work from me before I can actually understand it or enjoy it properly. Sometimes it isn't really worth the effort (sorry, not sorry, James Joyce) but with others I can tell that it will be worth it, given the time and energy. So, having read this book for the first time, I did (sort of) enjoy it. In the introduction by TS Eliot, he remarks that you have to be able to appreciate poetry to truly enjoy this book, and I could definitely see his point. There is a different reading experience when you read poetry compared to reading prose, and although this novel is not poetry, I think you have to let yourself go and read it like poetry to get a better appreciation out of it. I'll re-read this again in the future (potentially later this year, as I think when you're re-reading something to understand it more its better to do it sooner) and potentially dedicate some time to reading up on it too.
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Thursday, 28 April 2016

Adventures in Human Being - Gavin Francis // Book Review

Drawing on his experiences as a surgeon, ER specialist, and family physician, Francis blends stories from the clinic with episodes from medical history, philosophy, and literature to describe the body in sickness and in health, in living and in dying. At its heart, Adventures in Human Being is a meditation on what it means to be human. Poetic, eloquent, and profoundly perceptive, this book will transform the way you view your body.

This book caught my eye purely based on the cover - it has a beautiful, eye-catching design. Aside from that, it also grabbed my attention enough to make a lasting impression because anatomy (and, more recently, medicine) have long been an interest of mine. 

I didn't pick it up that first day, but after a second or third time of seeing it and being drawn to it, I caved and bought it (despite the ever growing pile of unread books I own... whoops).

It was definitely worth it, though; this is a fantastic book. The way Francis interweaves his own experiences and the stories of his patients with the facts, the history, and other sources works brilliantly to make this an engaging and fascinating read. It's evidently a very well researched and prepared book, but I think that it's the real stories from patients Francis has encountered over the years that really makes this book stand out. There's nothing I love more than a good 'people' story, and this book has plenty of them. These stories are often emotive, sometimes funny (the ketchup bottle story being one of the most memorable!) and always working well to illustrate and emphasise the facts. 

The attention paid to how medicine and anatomy are included in literature, philosophy, art etc is also a brilliant touch. As someone who loves literature, I particularly appreciated references to texts like The Bell Jar and others that I'd read or would like to read. 

The many references to places around Edinburgh - my home town! - were another joy in this book. It's wonderful to be able to picture places clearly when you read a book, yet the stories he told also added extra layers to places that I know but I've never fully explored.

Even if you're not that interested in medicine or anatomy, I would recommend this book highly!
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Thursday, 31 March 2016

March Wrap Up + April TBR

It's been a good month for reading, even if it hasn't been the best month for posting reviews! I'll be honest, I think with the combination of Easter weekend and job hunting (as my current contract ends in mid April, eep!) I was just enjoying the pleasure of reading this month and not even thinking about writing reviews - bar The Painted Ocean, which I received in order to review so naturally, I read it more critically and took notes on that one.

It was a good month for reading. Nothing's knocked Reasons to Stay Alive off the top spot yet for 2016, but Middlesex is definitely going to be up there for this year!

 Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
This book took me quite a while to read, which isn't really a surprise given how long it is. Lately, I've been quite apprehensive about reading such long books - not because I don't enjoy them, but because I've found that the small sense of achievement I get from finishing a book really motivates me to read more - and it's really important now that I don't have as much time to read as I did in university! Though it was long, Middlesex was brilliant, and definitely lived up to the standards set in my head by The Virgin Suicides. I was a little bit disappointed when I read The Marriage Plot by Eugenides, but Middlesex was fantastic - perhaps even better than The Virgin Suicides, if only for how much I've come to enjoy a good sprawling American narrative that looks back into family history, that dances through time.

The Painted Ocean - Gabriel Packard
I wrote a full review of this book, which should already be online by the time this post goes up. I had somewhat high hopes for it, and I was really let down. I think this book could have been so much better with more time and development on it - it was a struggle, but the potential is still there and it almost redeemed itself with its unusual ending.

I Call Myself a Feminist - Victoria Pepe et al.
I read this for March's Feminist Orchestra pick. Jean's Thoughts posted a review which kind of summed it up for me. I didn't really gain a lot of new knowledge or opinions from it, and I did find some of the pieces less engaging or enjoyable than others. It was still an enjoyable read, however, and I did enjoy seeing many of the perspectives and points made by others - and I also think it'd be a fantastic book for those who don't know as much about feminism or are newly interested in it. I think one of my favourite pieces - mainly for the fact that it was one of the ones that did teach me something I didn't really know - was Rosie Brighouse's on the Human Rights Act. I had no idea how important is truly is, and although I always felt it should stay in place, I'm now far more concerned about the risk of it being taken away and feel much more strongly about it.

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
I knew absolutely nothing about this book going into it. It was just one of those books with a title (and rather beautiful and distinctive cover) that always seemed to be cropping up. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. At times I got a little bit lost with the way the narrative swung around through time and it took me some time to get to grips with the plot, but it was a truly beautiful and wonderful book to read. I think this is the kind of book I would want to re-read again, more than just once, in order to pick up on all the things I probably missed or didn't fully absorb in my first reading.

The Adoption Papers - Jackie Kay
I've had Jackie Kay's novel Trumpet on my tbr shelf on Goodreads for a while now, but with the announcement that Kay had been selected as the Makar this month, I decided it was about time I read something of hers - and what better than her first published work to start with! I borrowed this one on Overdrive and read it in the space of an afternoon. I preferred the poems in the first part of the collection (I'm not sure if it'd be right to say 'half' as it's less obvious when you're absorbed in an ebook than a physical book!) which focused on the narrative of the child, the birth mother and the adoptive mother - a reflection of Kay's own life, as she was adopted as a baby by a Glaswegian couple. The rest of the poems in the collection were excellent too - I'm looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.


Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters
I'm not sure if I'll end up writing a full review of this one at some point, although I think it might be unlikely... regardless, I enjoyed this book. I'm glad I started with her first novel, because I do think there's room for improvement and that I'll enjoy her more recent books more. At times, I wasn't entirely sure about it and was mostly just worried about Nancy and the different lives she seemed to be living - she didn't really seem to think for herself so much as let herself be buoyed along in life by whatever came along. Although I'm not sure she entirely lost her naivety, she does eventually grow up and seem to settle down into a healthier, happier life by the end of the book. I've already got a copy of The Little Stranger waiting for me, so that'll likely be my next Sarah Waters at some point later this year.




And here's what I'll be aiming to read in April...


Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson 
Having read and enjoyed Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Winterson (and re-read it for a class at university) it's about time I read the more autobiographical account of Winterson's life that was the foundation for Oranges.

The Improbability of Love - Hannah Rothschild
This has been included in the longlist for this year's Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, so when I saw it on NetGalley I requested it. I don't really know much about it, so there's not much else to say aside from that I hope I enjoy it!

Nightwood - Djuna Barnes
This is a book that's been sitting on my shelf for a while, so it's on the list (in the unofficial 'books that have been waiting for long enough' category). Set in 1920s Europe, it feels like it'll be a fantastic book, although again I don't really know an awful lot about it right now!

Adventures in Human Being - Gavin Francis
I picked this up recently in Waterstones on a complete whim. I think I'd seen it a couple of times before while I was in there and had quickly fallen in love with the cover - I'm not even sure I absorbed much more of what this book was about before I caved and bought it! The author is a doctor based in Edinburgh (like me, which may or may not have been an additional selling point) and it's non fiction on the topic of the human body and illness. It's a subject that I'm very interested in, which was especially piqued at university, so I can't wait to read it!

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales - Angela Carter
Another of my favourite genres/subjects - fairy tales. I bought this one late last year (for once, it's a book that I can actually remember buying). I've got mixed feelings about Carter's work going into this based on the work of her's that I've already read - I wasn't a huge fan of The Passion of New Eve but I thought The Bloody Chamber was brilliant. Since the latter was fairy tales, I'm quite optimistic that this will be a good one.  
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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Painted Ocean - Gabriel Packard // Book Review

When I was a little girl, my dad left me and my mum, and he never came back. And you're supposed to be gutted when that happens. But secretly I preferred it without him, cos it meant I had my mum completely to myself, without having to share her with anyone. And I sort of inherited all the affection she used to give to my dad - like he'd left it behind for me as a gift, to say sorry for deserting me.

Shruti is eleven years old when The Painted Ocean begins; she's living in an English suburb with her mum, who speaks little English, and faces losing her mother to the pressure from her family to move to India and remarry - and leave young Shruti behind in England. Alongside and beyond the story of Shruti and her fight to make her mother stay with her in England is the story of Shruti's relationship with another Indian girl, Meena, who joins Shruti's school. 


This book wasn't what I had expected or hoped it would be; unfortunately, it didn't live up to its blurb/synopsis. I had relatively high hopes for this book going into it, and even as I went on through it, I still kept hoping that it would grow and reach the potential that I felt the story had. At most, I will say that the ending was certainly a huge surprise and that it changed my opinion on reflection - but I still can't say that I liked this book, and for the majority of my time reading it, I didn't enjoy the book. 

Shruti is the narrator of this novel, and she was one of the most major issues I had with it. Her narrative voice was completely infuriating. From the ages of eleven to around eighteen/nineteen, where the average writer/narrator would go for the unobtrusive "she said" for general speech, everything in this book is either "she's like" or "she goes" or something to that effect. It was not only hideously cliched, but also felt like a heavy handed and inaccurate attempt at representing how a pre-teen/teenage girl would speak. The only time this would appropriately have been used would be within dialogue, as that's how it's used in real life. To use it in place of the standard "she said" was completely distracting and unnecessary within the narrative itself. This is, of course, only one of the most frustrating ways that the author tries to emulate how a young woman would speak. I took a note of one particularly cringe worthy sentences I came across that to me exemplified my issue with how Shruti is made to speak (spoilers in the quote - don't read it if you don't want to know anything about the plot in the latter half of the novel):

And I wish I could lock him inside that goat cage and torture him till he tells me how to get off the island. But I'd have to lock Meena inside it as well, otherwise she'd just let him straight out. But this is all just whatever, cos I'm blatantly never gonna do that.

The most offending part of the quote is in bold. When I read this line, I had to stop reading for a few minutes and just breathe in an attempt to calm my frustrations with the way the author was treating his main character. 

I really did feel - arguably still do - that this story had a lot of potential. I could even almost tolerate the way that Shruti spoke in the beginning (when she was eleven), but as time went on and she didn't seem to mature as she aged, it just grated on me more and more. There were many other issues I had with Shruti's character. Her naivety, for instance, was verging on painful to deal with throughout the novel, as well as her complete disregard for common sense and logical thinking. I could understand this to a degree with Shruti at eleven, but it actually seemed far worse when we're with her at eighteen/nineteen and the events that take place at this point in her life. There also seemed to be an inexplicable flip where Shruti goes from worryingly obsessed and possessive of Meena to an unexpectedly and comparably normal attitude towards her, which I felt went unexplained. Her relationship and her feelings towards her mother, too, seemed to get sidelined into the second half of the book considering how integral they had been to the first half of the book.  

Having finished the novel, there seems to be two clear halves to the book (excluding the ending); Shruti's childhood and her relationship with her mother, and Shruti's trip to India to meet with Meena and what happens there - I won't go into too much detail about this to prevent spoilers. I think the problem with the book is that it felt too much like the author had stuck together two separate and only partially formed ideas for novels, and attempted to join them together by inclusion of some common characters (namely, of course, Shruti). 

If anything, I think these two halves of the novel would have been better served as separate novellas, with more time spent on developing each. Shruti belonged in the first half of the book - her characterisation fitted the storyline, fitted the tumultuous and complicated relationship she had with her mother. There was a lot of potential to look more at the relationship between the English and the Indian, the cultural clash, and the impact of all of this on the mother and the daughter. There were still flaws with the first half of the novel, but had there been a stronger focus on their relationship and the cultural differences, it would have balanced out.

The second half of the novel could have had potential as a novella too, if it only had a different (or rather, better written) narrator at its centre. Objectively - and without focusing too much on how Shruti acts in this half, and how she narrates - the plot of this had some good potential and could also have been really interesting. I think the ending of the novel (which to me felt somewhat separate to the other two parts) went well with this second half - but didn't really feel right when taking the first half into consideration too. 

Ultimately, I don't think I actually regret reading this book. It wasn't the best book that it could have been, but the ending certainly threw me off balance in a way that at least made me think and talk about this book far more than I'd been anticipating. If nothing else, it's got an interesting ending that puts a new spin on everything you just read - so if you can cope with Shruti, it might still be worth your while. 

(Thank you to NetGalley/Little, Brown for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review).

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Saturday, 5 March 2016

Satin Island - Tom McCarthy // Man Booker 2015

I'll be honest: I was putting off reading this one. I started reading the first chapter months ago; I didn't feel strongly about it either way, but there were so many more exciting books waiting to be read that I just couldn't get myself interested in reading any more of this one.

It's hard to even talk about this book now that I have read it, because I'm not really sure if I know what I think of it. I can't say I enjoyed it - but then, I don't know if I was supposed to. The main character and narrator of this book is a man called U. He's an anthropologist based in London, of an unclear age (unless I missed that in amongst all his rambling thoughts and musings about eighteen different things that I didn't really care about). If I had to, I could probably guess a rough age for him based on the references to his history - fleeting though the references to his own life and history are, he does talk about one of his anthropological studies and places this in time.

I think the problem I had with this book was U. I didn't like him. I didn't even dislike him. He was barely even a person for me; U acted more as a mouthpiece for a variety of scraps of information and ideas than as a fully formed narrator. Although there was something of a story running through the book, it wasn't enough to justify the amount of time spent purely inside U's head as he dwelled on pretty much anything and everything.

One of the few elements of this book that I could actually like - which also fell down as being an under-utilised one - was the character of Madison. It's hard to say what I liked about her, especially given how little time she got in the novel, but I was always hoping to see more of her in the novel as it went on. I think my interest in her also strengthened my dislike for U, because he didn't really appear to care about her. Mentions of Madison, for the most part, consist of U finishing one of his many musings by saying something to the effect of 'and then I had sex with Madison' before moving on to a new discussion point, or returning to an earlier one. For the majority of the novel she exists as a woman he has sex with and has little identity beyond that.

U does, however, have an unusual fixation on finding out why she was in Turin, something that begins from the very first chapter when U is stuck in Turin airport and, during a Skype call with Madison, learns she had been there once. Even this proves how self-centered U is - despite her repeated insistence that she hasn't been to Turin, only to its airport, he still continues to probe her and ask why she had been in Turin.

When U - and the reader - finally find out Madison's story about how she came to be in Turin airport, for the first time I actually found myself compelled to keep reading. I wanted to hear her story, wanted to hear her talk about her life and experiences; I wanted to know more about her after desperately seeking more information for so long in the novel as a whole.

I suspect it was intentional on the author's part, but all it really did for me was prove to me that I was reading the wrong person's story. When Madison talks about her time in Italy, how she ended up at Turin airport, U barely says a word - and I vastly preferred it that way. Admittedly I'm not sure I'm happy with how Madison was treated in the snippet of her life we were given, either, but regardless - I wanted Madison's story, not U.

Ultimately I think that if I was to view this text outside of my own feelings, I could see some of its merits. It strikes me as being the kind of novel that you're meant to think about, that's meant to make some kind of point about society as a whole and possibly about people like U. For that (and for Madison, who deserved a better novel) I don't outright dislike this book. I just can't say I particularly liked it, either.


** I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher in exchange for an honest review**
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Thursday, 3 March 2016

March TBR

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
This is leftover from last month's TBR, although I did start reading it in February - I just didn't finish it. I'm looking forward to continuing this one, and hope it's as enjoyable (if not more so) than The Virgin Suicides.

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
I've had this on my bookshelf for too long, so it's my choice for this month's unofficial category of "books that have been waiting far too long to be read". I don't actually know anything about it off the top of my head, and I think I'm going to leave it that way and let myself enjoy the book without any expectations.

I Call Myself a Feminist - Victoria Pepe et al.
This book is the first pick for the new feminist book club started by Jean's/BookishThoughts  (aka The Feminist Orchestra Book Club). I debated picking this up a few times when I saw it in Waterstone's, but I usually ended up finding something else that I wanted to read more and leaving it behind out of duty to my bank account. However, now that I have an excuse (as well as having saved up enough stamps to get £10 off in Waterstones!) I've bought a copy of this and am looking forward to reading it this month! 

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters
Waters is an author whose books I've been meaning to get into for ages, so I'm going to be starting at the beginning this month (hopefully!) with her debut novel. I don't know much about it aside from it being set in Victorian London and having lesbian main characters, but I hope I enjoy it - and then it'll be on to the rest of her books!

The Painted Ocean - Gabriel Packard
I requested this one for review last month as the really appealed to me. It's due to be published on March 3rd, which is the day after this post is due to go up; the odds of me having finished it before it's published aren't great, but I hope to get it read and reviewed this month.
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Monday, 29 February 2016

February Wrap Up

February ended up being a slow reading month than I had thought it would be, although the main shortfall for this month was my decision to stop reading The Letter for the King. I decided to put it down because I wasn't feeling that excited or enthusiastic about reading it, and I'm aiming not to persist so much with books that don't really feel right for me at the time!

I did, however, manage to read three books in February, as well as starting a fourth:

The Price of Salt (Carol) - Patricia Highsmith
I'm not normally one for love stories, but aside from the obvious difference between this and other more popular/common love stories available, this was incredible. Everything was so subtle and yet powerful at the same time. I didn't adore the characters, but I think that worked - they were both supposed to have their own flaws and reservations, and it made them both seem real and complicated in their own ways. I guess my only real disappointment with the book is that it wasn't longer. 

Room - Emma Donoghue
This was a re-read, partly in honour of the film coming out and partly because a friend was reading the book for the first time, and I realised I didn't remember half as much of the book as I'd like to! I read this in my time off this month and it was just as brilliant to re-read as it had been to read for the first time years ago. 
Satin Island - Tom McCarthy
I'm writing a review on this one which will be up not long after this post. I wasn't really a fan, although I may give other McCarthy books a chance in future (mainly due to the praise they've received from Zadie Smith, who just happens to have written the final book I finished in February)

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays - Zadie Smith
I absolutely love Zadie Smith and her writing, so this was a pleasure to read. I definitely enjoyed some of the essays far more than others, partly because the content was more accessible (for instance, I could appreciate her essay about Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I have read, far more than essays about books I haven't) but I also thoroughly enjoyed reading essays about her life. I don't know if I'll end up writing a full review of this one or not - if I do I might end up focusing on one or two of the essays in the collection that I loved the most.


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Friday, 26 February 2016

The Moor's Account + A Spool of Blue Thread // Man Booker Mini Reviews

It's been quite a while now since I read both of these texts, but as I'm still determined to read at the very least all of the Man Booker shortlist for 2015, I want to make a quick post about these two. Since I don't have an awful lot to say about them individually, however, I'm putting my thoughts on both together into one post.

To begin with; The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami. I think I wanted to enjoy this one a lot more than I did in the end - the premise was fascinating, but I didn't find myself particularly invested in any of the characters or in the plot. I think part of my issue was the length; I would have appreciated it being more condensed and focused than it was. I ended up skimming through a lot of the text out, although I kept going because I cared about how the story would turn out. Now that it's been a while since I read it, there's very little of the actual journey they take that sticks in my mind - what impacted more on me was Estebanico's story from before the expedition. I suspect his history was drawn almost completely from the author's own imagination, compared to the journey the men take which would have been influenced by research of the accounts of the other men who survived. 

All in all, I would say that from what I've read of the Man Booker nominees so far, this didn't really deserve a place in the shortlist; however, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading - it just wasn't as exciting for me as I'd hoped it would be.

*

The second text, A Spool of Blue Thread, did make it to the shortlist. I think it was deserved, based on my own opinions and the books I've read so far. I've yet to read the winner, although I do now own a copy of it (I'll aim to read it soon to see whether I think it was better than my current favourite out of the nominees, A Little Life). Out of the books I have now read (full list here), I would probably place this in second place. 

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what I did and didn't like about this book (while I might put it into second place, it's not exactly a close call between this and Life for me), I just enjoyed the entire experience. I love books that delve into history, including family history; I love when books focus so closely on the lives of a handful of people, showing us how they develop over time, how they connect with each other. I did have a few issues with how underdeveloped I felt some of the characters were - there wasn't much of a look in to Red and Abby's daughters, compared to how much attention was paid to their sons - but overall I liked this book, and I think it deserved its place in the Man Booker shortlist.
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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

January Wrap Up + February TBR

I'm running a little bit late with this one, as we're already a couple days into February now, but here's a wrap up of what I read last month, and my tbr for February!

JANUARY

A Court of Thorns and Roses - Sarah J Maas
I started this one in December, but finished it in January. I'm still somewhat aiming to stick to my own rule of reading a YA book every month, so I guess this counts as January's. I seem to be repeatedly drawn towards books that are inspired by fairy tales lately, which doesn't exactly count as something new - I've always been a lover of fairy tales, so it makes sense that I'd get excited about fiction that has any connection to them, no matter how minimal. In fact it's a surprisingly common theme in this month's books! 
This one takes its inspiration from the Beauty and the Beast style of tale, although only at some of the core elements. Otherwise it's far more of a fantasy, which isn't usually something I'd go for. I struggled to get into this for a significant part of the book, and although I did find it more compelling towards the end I'm not sure I'll be in any rush to read the sequel when it comes. 

Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
Non-fiction is another category I seem to be finding myself reading with more frequency lately, although it's a good thing as it's one of my aims with my reading. I'm glad I read this book; it's the kind of thing that I almost missed and ignored. I wrote a review on this one for a lengthier idea of how I felt about it. Overall, I think it's probably my favourite read of January and of the year so far.

The Dressmaker - Rosalie Ham
I started this one in December as well. My interest was piqued because I saw the film trailer, and if I can I do always like to read the book first so that I get a fuller enjoyment from it without knowing anything about the plot. It was definitely an interesting and unexpected book and I thought it had a particularly rich cast of characters who all stood out well. Although I liked it generally speaking and I did finish the book, I didn't really get that excited about it either. I would still like to see the film, however, as I think it might work better on screen than on paper.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo
Another non-fiction book, and a self explanatory one from the title! I enjoyed reading this, especially for all of the things I've learned about tidying - my favourite being the principle that if you don't love it or need it, you should get rid of it. It's 

Becoming Unbecoming - Una
I picked this up on a whim in the library one afternoon and started reading the first couple of pages, mostly out of idle curiosity... and then I ended up sitting down and reading the entire thing in one sitting! It's my first real graphic novel, although having said that, it can't really be classed as a novel as it wasn't necessarily fiction. There's a blurring of the lines in terms of genre, as there's little information provided about the author of the text - who appears to be the narrator. It was a fascinating read, somewhat a given since I ended up reading it in one go! The text wove together the experiences of the narrator in her youth as she faced misogyny, assault and cruelty with the cases of young women being murdered in the Yorkshire area, making poignant points about the standards put on women and about the police's determination to follow a victim blaming narrative for so long. It seems to be an underappreciated text based on the Goodreads page for it, which is a real shame as it was an incredible text.

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
As with A Court of Thorns and Roses, this is another fairy tale inspired novel. I wasn't actually that familiar with the fairy tale that this was based on, but I've been meaning to read it for a while now. It made for a good wintery read as most of the novel is set around winter in Alaska, which makes for a very cold and snowy setting. I struggled to get into this one too at first, mainly because I didn't find myself connecting well enough with Jack and Mabel. Further on I did start to enjoy it more, mainly because I felt that the novel opened up; there were more characters, the plot moved faster, and I felt more invested in the story and the world the author was creating overall. 

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
I hope to write a lengthier review of this in time, although it's potentially going to be difficult to say much about it without giving away the plot. Something I enjoyed immensely while reading this was how little I knew about the story in spite of the fact that I've been aware of it for so long I can't even remember first hearing of it. Another one that to me has a loose connection to a fairy tale (saying which one is definitely a spoiler), and certainly a close runner up to Haig for book of the month and year.

FEBRUARY TBR

The Letter for the King - Tonke Dragt
I've read a few chapters of this so far, and although I can't say I'm hooked on it yet, I am interested to see where it goes. This is an Overdrive book, which is a shame in a way because it's got such a beautiful cover! I've heard a couple of people talk about this one and I've even seen it on display in bookstores more recently, so I hope I do get into it and enjoy it this month. It's also my YA choice for February!

Satin Island - Tom McCarthy
This is back on the TBR list again as I've still not managed to read it yet... I've got this as a Kindle book so I aim to get started on this one after I finish The Letter for the King, as I tend to aim for one ebook and one physical book at a time where possible!

The Price of Salt (aka Carol) - Patricia Highsmith
This has been on my list for a while now, but has been bumped up to the top now that the film version has come out. I am hoping to read it in time to catch it in the cinema too, although time will tell - I do however have some time off this month which will give me plenty of opportunity to read, as well as to take a trip to the cinema!

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
One of my new reading resolutions is to choose at least one book a month that I've had sitting on my shelf for a long time. I'm not sure how I'm quantifying 'a long time' exactly, but at any rate if I didn't buy it recently enough to remember how long I've had it, then it's been a long time! I'm quite interested to read this one due to its topic/themes and see how it compares to the other Eugenides books I've read (I liked Virgin Suicides but wasn't particularly impressed by The Marriage Plot).

Changing My Mind - Zadie Smith
I wouldn't normally be so optimistic as to put five books on my TBR - which is odd since I'm quite likely to read at least that many in a month, even if they're not the same ones I chose at the start! - but I do want to read this one soon. I got it for Christmas, so it's not been waiting for long, but it and the other books I got at Christmas have all been sitting calling to me for weeks, so I owe it to them/myself to make a start! This fulfils the unofficial non-fiction quota for February, too. I love Smith's writing, and I've been getting quite into non-fiction lately, so I'm excited to read it!

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