Thursday, 14 June 2018

February Reviews

The Charmed Life of Alex Moore
Molly Flat
Pan macmillan May 2018 paperback
Uncorrected Proof from work

Unfortunately, I agree with the three reviews on Goodreads - 1 star. The story is complete fantasy but not handled in a way that would make the reader believe it. It's like Inside Out but externalised and for adults. I think the closest description of the genre is magical realism, but to be honest, that's a bit insulting to magical realism as well.
There are too many moments where the characters don't know what is happening and neither does the reader. Those unknown "What the fuck" pages are not really enough to keep the attention of the readers. The confusion is all explained and theorised out in the end, but it is disappointing. The writing is good and readable, it's the story that I'm against.
The romantic story line is seemingly unimportant, until the end when apparently it is the only burning goal of the character. It doesn't make sense. I was not a fan.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

January Reviews

The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Hiro Arikawa
Doubleday Nov 2017 Paperback

This book is exquisite and an absolute joy to read. Anyone who has ever seen a cat and its owner interact is likely to understand the inner monologue that Arikawa describes for our feline hero. There is something of 'The Cat that Walked By Himself' by Kipling in it. It is a very very catlike voice that we discover the story of his owner.
As well as the cat, as well as his owner and friend, this is also a road trip book. The travel across Japan is reflected in the slowly emerging plot. Its a really heart warming story and surprised me with its sophisticated ideas and the tale it follows.
I think its a really special book and is a great gift for the cat lovers in your life. Having read it just after Christmas I immediately gave it away to someone else. It's special enough you kind of need everyone to read it.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Book of the Year Award

As is tradition, every year in May I total up how many books I've read and more importantly how many I've read since the start of this blog page. It makes it a bit weird to count from May to May, but its a tiny piece of nostalgia that I like to do. 22 books since last May!

May - The English Patient, Dirty Great Love Story
June - The Monk, Butter
July - The Handmaids Tale, The Muse
August - Station 11, Chocolat, The Power, Tipping the Velvet
September - The Girl on the Train, Blackberry Wine, The Red Tent
October - Hag-seed, The Woman in Black and other stories
November - New Boy
December - Northanger Abbey, Persuasion

January - The Travelling Cat Chronicles
February - The Charmed Life of Alex Moore
March - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
April - Lamentation

Book of the Year May 2017- April 2018 is The Power 

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Penguin 2017 Kindle
Amazon Gift Voucher

I read this for a feminist book club at work. But it was also recommended to me by several people. The idea is that one day women discover a power with in them, similar to the electricity of an electric eel. And what they do with that power is explored.
What I found brilliant about this book is that EVERY element of society is explored and with the idea that women hold power rather than men. There is an interesting exploration of sexual power being used for rape or between consenting partners.politics and newly forming nations, rioting and the media. It's incredible.
For anyone who thinks it's too scifi for them, it doesn't feel like science fiction at all. It's a tiny concept. Women have a physical power that they did not have before and everything changes. The world is the same and there it nothing else to suspend your imagination over.
It was an incredible way to get the reader thinking about the structure of society and the arguments that people have regarding the hierarchy of the genders.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

December Reviews

For someone who delayed picking up an actual Jane Austen novel until well after university, people have thought of me as liking that kind of thing. I grew up on VHS tapes of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. As there are only 6 precious novels to devour I am almost glad that I accidentally held off until now to slowly get through them.

I have been gifted many Jane Austen treats over the years. A themed colouring book, a little book of quotes, a quill and ink set, and others. However, last year for my birthday a friend happened to be in a second hand book shop and saw a double edition of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, the two I am reviewing today. It was a small old fashioned edition that made me feel I ought to be wearing gloves to read it. Not because the book was delicate but because it makes me imagine reading it on a long carriage ride from London to Bath. *dreamy look*

Only negative to reading this gorgeous book was that I crossed two off the list at once. Only Mansfield Park left to go.

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen
1818 Hardback

It is clear from the first that Catherine Morland is going to be tumbled about on the tide of society, by people who are much better at navigating than she is. Perfectly innocent ready to be outraged and confused by the society world of Bath. And that is exactly what happens. I wonder if Austen wanted us to collectively roll our eyes for Catherine.
The story follows her and her adventure as a companion to Bath where she meets her first men. I think it is key to remember that the heroine is 15 at the time! I enjoyed the story it's definitely a tumble and seems to work itself out in the end, but feels a little less sophisticated than her later books. It's almost too complicated.
Overall though, I did enjoy reading this lovely book but it is definitely an early work and not one of my favorites.

Jane Austen
1818 Hardback

As I creep closer to the spinsterish age of 27 I am relating pretty hard to Anne, also 27 in the story. Known to have missed her chance at love at 19 she is resigned to being the best person she can be for her family and friends. She is generous and caring and a stark contrast to her elder sisters and father who are frivolous and stuck up. When that love interest returns to her world it is almost too awkward to bare.
I loved persuasion more than I thought I would. I think I saw a movie adaptation of it and I found Anne so restrained and difficult to watch. However, in the reading of it, I got much more of an insight into her inner turmoil. The book also handles the past and its events better than the films do. For much of the movie I wasn't sure what the problem was.
Austen's last work is clearly well put together and heartfelt. This one is coming in a solid 3rd place behind Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, with Emma in 4th and Northanger Abbey in 5th.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

November Reviews

We are slowly getting there with the reviews. Luckily it was just a one book month for November 2017. Still a long way to go until I am caught up again!

New Boy
Tracy Chevalier
Hogarth Press May 2007 hardback

As I mentioned in my review for Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood, New Boy is the second book I've read in the Hogarth Shakespere project. New Boy is the retelling of Othello, which I read in January 2017. It was definitely useful having read the original before hand, which I had not done for the Tempest and I must admit at times, Hag-seed lost me on the allegory.
The story of the outsider is a familiar one and the petty playing out of rivalries and bullying tendencies work perfectly in a school setting for Tracy Chevalier. I loved each character and how despite their age they were easily able to take on the original characters. It just goes to show how early we all become who we are.
Chevalier is a fabulous writer and very easy to read, which makes her a great choice to re-write Shakespere, which some find difficult to follow. I look forward to reading a few more in the series, but will take pains to read the original first!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

October Reviews

It's been a tricky time for me settling into a routine where I can and want to write. I am slowly plodding through books and I am slowly plodding through reviews. 

I used to love that I reviewed everything I read, and I might be wrong here, but occasionally I think people read what I write. But something has shifted. I am less driven to write the review and I feel I just want to read for me. 

Any tips for getting your blogging mojo back? While I figure that out, here are October 2017s reads 

Margaret Atwood
Hogarth Press Oct 2016 paperback
Work Leaving Gift

Appropriately in a week where I've admitted that my new job hasn't afforded me much time to write or read, here is a book which was given to me as a leaving gift.
Part of the Hogarth Shakespere project, where 8 novelists rewrite some of the great works, Atwood does a fantastic job. Without spoiling my review of New Boy, Tracy Chevalier's retelling of Othello, Atwood does something a little different. Taking the play with in a play into a spiral of theatres. Putting another cast performing The Tempest, plus the characters are themselves the characters of the Tempest, plus a running analysis from the characters themselves about the characters they are unwittingly playing, there is no doubt Atwood has done something clever here.
However, where it fell down for me is that The Tempest has a layer of the mystical and I think that by setting it in a modern/realistic setting meant that it felt slightly discordant, which perhaps was the point.

The Woman in Black and other Ghost Stories
Susan Hill
Profile Books Sept 2015 hardback
Christmas Haul

Definitely one to read in October in time for Halloween and all things terrifying. Susan Hill is one of the go to writers of ghost stories and is always on blog posts for spooky reads.
The title story The Woman in Black is obviously one of her most well known stories and has been adapted for stage and screen. I was surprised how much further the film version took the story as the original seems to be the first act of the film, building general dred but little action. Not the spine chilling tale I had been led to expect. It seemed unfinished but maybe that's because of having seen the film.
The other stories were also hit and miss. The Printers Devil's Court and the Small Hand, were similarly quiet in terms of action. The man in the picture was creepy and more interesting to me personally as an idea and seemed to capture my imagination better than the rest. On the other hand, Dolly, still stays with me and ticks all the boxes for: making me gasp on the tube, needing to have a little break to remember to breathe, turning around stuffed toys to face the wall for a bit, feeling bad about mistreating them and turning them back. Yup, that one got to me.
Overall, not the most frightening of my Halloween reads and only 1/5 actually frightening.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

September Reviews

Looks like it is time to catch up on my book reviews doesn't it! *Shame Face* In my defense, I have started a new job, which brings me to a much happier place in my head. However, it has taken some of my time for blogging away because I am actually working during work hours and not writing.

Still I am determined to catch up. :) Here are September's reads

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
Doubleday Jan 2015 paperback
Charity Shop

I had held off reading and seeing the film, for a few years because of the inevitable Gone Girl tie ins that I heard along with it. "If you liked Gone Girl you'll like this" and it's not that I didn't like Gone Girl, I think I am a stubborn when it comes to that kind of marketing, even from friends.
But when we added this to the pile in a 3 for 2 offer in a charity shop, one book for me, one for my friend and one we both hadn't read, I found my self getting first dibs on reading it.
I enjoyed the writing style immensely. It is lovely to read, and the voice of the narrator is appealing and off putting at the same time. The way the character describes the way she looks is really interesting because she really hates herself in a lot of ways, not just her appearance. The unreliable narrator is really well handled.
In terms of narrative, it just about makes it on to the plausibility spectrum, which keeps you guessing because you have no idea what might happen next. I didn't see several of the twists coming. Lost a point purely because it got a little muddled towards the climax and it lost focus a few times, maybe that was intentional.

Blackberry Wine
Joanna Harris
Black Swan 2000 paperback

Although I've read Blackberry Wine about 3 times before, I still cannot remember where I got this book. It was on my dorm room shelf at school and my mantle piece at Uni, my window sill at home and now in my bookcase. I never quite feel at home unless I have it, my interior design of any bedroom would be incomplete without it. The book itself holds nostalgia for me, the cover is bleached by the sun, the pages are too but only on two sides.
The feeling of a book like this in your life is unique and the thing I like the most about it is that the same nostalgic and warm fuzzy sensation I have from the book itself is the same thing I get from reading it. Joanne Harris, famous for her brilliant novels, largely set in France, is the Queen of the warm fuzzy.
The plot cannot by summarised, it's about a young boy and his relationship with a old allotmenter who introduces him to the world of gardening. And then it's about the boy grown up and struggling as a writer. No, further, it is about a small village in France. No wait it's about a mysterious neighbor family with an unusual tale. It is the puff pastry of narratives, so many layers woven together with buttery magic. An absolute delight.

The Red Tent
Anita Diamant
St Martin's Press 1997 paperback

Billed as the greatest love story ever told, the female love between wives and daughters of Jacob, I wasn't sure that it could live up to that statement. I liked the idea of the untold stories behind Jacob and his 12 sons, the mothers and sisters who raised them. Particularly, as I know the bible story well. I also have an interest in midwifery, which is a huge theme in the book.
We read this as a book club book, and I did enjoy it. It's not a difficult read and it's quite a good story. I know it is set in a different time...and partly reading it should be to highlight the position of women in historical and religious societies. However, I could not get over the slightly tedious toil of reading endless information about cooking, and births and babies and weaving and convincing men to make better decisions.
There was something of the superficial in the telling. I think the whole point was to celebrate marginalised characters, but instead the bulk of the book was evidence that there is a reason they were marginalised. The voice was absolutely spot on because those WERE the concerns of women at the time, but it seemed two dimensional and almost lacking in feeling which I do not think was the point. It is well and beautifully written, but it is not a favourite of mine.