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. 


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!  

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.

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.