Review: The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

bosnt_collage_copy_2569_0This book has left me in a book hangover. I just cannot express how amazing this book is. Firstly, let’s just cover some general housekeeping. I loved The Crimson Petal and the White – in fact, I’m planning to re-read it next year some time (especially after reading this). Faber’s way with words is just extraordinary and I genuinely believe he could write about anything and it would be flawless. Naturally, I have a pile of Faber’s books to read on my bookshelf but this book, being as beautiful as it is and having the reviews that it did (especially from Jen, who I trust implicitly) I had to jump straight on this new, shiny, wonderful book.

This book is by no means tiny. Coming in at just shy of 600 pages it’s quite frankly a beast. But it’s a beast that I couldn’t put down. It’s a while since I read a book that I both wanted to savour every word of, hang on to and never let go but at the same time just devour it and find out what happens. I read this, essentially, in 4 sittings. Two of which were in my local Waterstones.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I want everyone and their aunt to read it. It’s about Peter Leigh – a pastor from England – who is chosen for a mission to a far flung world to give the word of God to the natives (the people on the mission call them aliens, but Peter is very quick to remind them that it’s humans who are in fact the aliens here). To do so, he must leave his beloved wife Beatrice behind with only the written word for communication. But this mission strains their relationship more than anticipated and faith is tested. There is of course a lot more to it than that, but I really, really don’t want to spoil this one for anyone. I just want to encourage everyone to pick it up.

There were unanswered questions; quite a number of them in fact but that didn’t seem to matter. There were a lot of characters who I wished to know more about; and truly I think I could have read another 200 or 300 pages of this because it is written so wonderfully. Grainger is just… I WANT TO HUG HER SO MUCH!

I’m a bit touchy with religion, I often find it hard to read about. But unlike the only other book that featured religion that I read this year (A Song for Issy Bradley) this didn’t seem preachy, even though it definitely contained more scripture than Issy Bradley did. But maybe it’s because, right now, I’m in a rough place. While I don’t consider myself the most religious person, I do have faith and maybe, just maybe, this book actually provided the words of comfort that I needed at this time. Or maybe it’s because the characters were a lot more flawed, more human and tangible irrespective of the circumstances we met them in.

All I know is this book is the best I have read this year by a long shot. 2015 literature has a lot to match up to!

Review: Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

peterpanQuite shamefully, this is another children’s classic I’ve never read. As I’ve got in to my 20s, and friends are having babies, I’m realising how woefully deprived of children’s classics I was when I was little. It wasn’t that I didn’t read, or wasn’t read to, but that I seem to have jumped from The Gruffalo to Harry Potter with nothing much in between. So I set out to remedy this and added Peter Pan to my Christmas list. I was lucky enough that Santa brought me the beautiful Puffin Chalk edition (along with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz from the same series) and I settled down Christmas Day to make a start on this.

I do, once again, have to just gush momentarily for the beauty of Penguin/Puffin publishing. I adore their reissues of classics. The Puffin Chalk series are all absolutely beautiful and have decaled edges and just feel so beautiful in your hands. I’m in no way sponsored by Penguin (if only!) but I just love their publishing.

On to the book. It’s not a story I’m actually particularly familiar with. Truthfully, I’ve never even seen the Disney movie! So I went in to this story pretty much blind. I thought it was going to be a sweet tale as from what little I do know it appeared to be a lovely story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enchanting and whimsical and perfectly lovely but in the same breath it’s really quite sinister. There is a lot of violence; I’m not sure how many parents would appreciate the unapologetic violence that is present in this book truthfully. Then there’s the misogyny – which though woefully period accurate – seems to be quite a bit heavier in places than in other books from this time frame. It made me a cringe in places. When there is such blatant sexism, I do find it hard to put it aside and enjoy the story that I’m reading.

But, it absolutely has to be said, it is a beautiful story. A story of flying and mermaids and all the innocence that childhood entails. All the things I was expecting in this book were present, just not quite in the way I expected them to be! Neverland is one of the most wonderful places in fiction (save for the Pirates). It’s written with such whimsy and delicacy the writing itself is a pleasure. There are some wonderful metaphors and explanations to things; it’s just magical.

My main issue was the characters. Peter was a manipulative, cocky brat. Tinker Bell was a jealous, spiteful little madam. Wendy was a wet blanket. The Lost Boys were just blah. It just really didn’t inspire me, or make me want to know more about them. Yeah, the characters were not all that great.

I think a lot of people assume that the Disney adaptation is an accurate retelling of the book, but from what I have seen of the movie since I began reading this (snippets here and there) it’s really not all that similar. The adaptation seems far more sugar coated.

Overall, the writing style won out for me in this one. The story itself was good, in spite of sexism and poor characters, this was mainly because the writing itself was just charming. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t a children’s classic I’ll be in a hurry to reread any time soon! 3/5

Review: A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

christmascarolI’m so glad I finally read A Christmas Carol properly this year! I’ve skim-read it in the past but never actually settled down with it and read it properly as I did this Christmas. It’s a story I think everyone and their Aunt are familiar with; I grew up with the varying movies – Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart and of course The Muppets! It’s my mum’s favourite movie, it’s one that isn’t exclusive to Christmas either now. But I don’t understand why I’d never read the book when the story is such an integral part of my childhood.

Anyway, I curled up with this (and a bottle of rum) at about half past 10 Christmas Eve and finished just before midnight. Quite appropriate if I do say so myself. And I loved it. It’s definitely one that should be read in one sitting; and as close to Christmas as possible for me. Also, I think that it will be a little tradition that I start that I read it Christmas Eve as it doesn’t take a particularly long time to read.

Most of the movies do this justice, even the Muppets stick to the main story! But in reading it there is such depth to the writing that you can feel snow underfoot and the crispness of the air and I think there is a power to the written word that you just don’t quite get even with the magic of movies. I just loved it. There wasn’t really any surprises as between the varying adaptations you get the full story in one way, shape or form. But still the book was just amazing and has that little something that just makes it superior to the movies.

I have to say, in reading it properly (opposed to just skimming it as I did a few years ago) I so want to read more of Dickens work next year. I’m going to try for at least 3 of his works – so yes, there’s a Reading Resolution for 2015! I just love his writing and I’m determined to love it even more.

Definitely a must for Christmas in my eyes! I’m sad I wasn’t introduced to it properly sooner, that I wasn’t encouraged to read it sooner, but I think it just makes it all the more amazing to read now!

Review: Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

littlewomenQuite shamefully, I’d never read this book until this year. I’d read the first chapter numerous times but had just never been in the mood to dedicate time to it. However, I swore this Christmas I would find time and upon seeing a readalong for it, I did find time. Simply, I’m so glad I did.

The plot is quite menial really; following 4 sisters who were each wonderful in a unique way. From what other people had said, I was expecting to love Jo. Truthfully, I found her quite annoying in spite of the fact she is a lot more ‘modern’. She did grow on me, quite substantially, but I found her quite frustrating at times. On the other hand, I loved Beth which really surprised me; I can’t say I’m usually a fan of the meek and mild, gentle female. I usually find female characters like that really irritating, but truthfully I found her very endearing. But Jo did grow on me, it would have been pretty bleak if she hadn’t and I can tell how much of herself that Alcott put in to Jo and by the end of the book, I’m glad it was happy for her. Marmee annoyed the heck out of me though. I can understand how in reading this book young, the quotes, morals and lessons she has for every occasion would be charming. Now if I had a mother like her I’d have moved out quite a while ago! She would drive me to insanity.

On a different note, I loved the simplicity of it. Often there are little quirks and underlying titbits that can be overlooked in fiction aimed at girls on the brink of teenager-dom. Not here. This book is so sickeningly sweet and straight forward it was a pleasure to read (once I got in to the ‘language’ which is often a hard thing with a classic). I also listened to some of it on audiobook (on youtube) which I think really helped me get in to the characters; and maybe altered the opinion I would have had on them had I have read it all myself because there was one particular narrator (as it was free it was read by varying people) who really got the personalities of the girls right down, and I think she’s the reason I really liked Beth! She just read all 4 of them so flawlessly it was much easier to give them voices when I then went on to read ‘properly’.

I’m glad I read this, it’s not my favourite children’s classic. I prefer The Secret Garden or Ballet Shoes if I were to pick two books that are comparable to this. But it is a beautiful book, and one I would very happily recommend.

Review: Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

oryx-and-crakeThis book was a weird one for me. I really enjoyed it but I found it a real hard going read. A lot of people who I trust for reviews and good book recommendations said that this was a really quick read, and maybe I’m just really ‘zoned out’ right now due to one thing and another, but I just really didn’t find that.

It’s of the speculative fiction genre; it’s a book that explores what could happen in the future. It is somewhat SciFi/Dystopia but it really isn’t. It’s very extreme but I think that’s the point. What I think scares me most isn’t the eugenics and gene splicing etc but the simple fact that gated communities actually exist. To me, there is nothing less desirable than having to live in this ‘perfect word’ as Atwood described them. I know that the person I am is down to how and where I grew up, going to a school in a ‘deprived’ area and growing up relatively unsheltered. These things really shaped the adult I’ve become and knowing that gated communities are out there, however far from the construct Atwood created, is a scary thought. Science – genetics – has it’s place in the world, there are so many wonderful things that can be accomplished by science but the thought of isolation is terrifying!

Ultimately, I am very mixed about this book. Some parts of it were just mindblowing, others were just meh. I feel in a minority because it seems everyone I know who has read this book just loves it. I wasn’t all that invested in Snowman at the beginning, Jimmy I was however interested in. I was tempted in parts to skip over Snowman and head straight back to Jimmy because it was just more tangible and relatable even though it was a little extreme. And while I did enjoy it, I didn’t enjoy it in the way I usually enjoy a book. It definitely made me think.

The characters in this were a little lacking in parts for me. I think that was intentional, truthfully, you’re supposed to be left hanging really. Oryx especially was vague, I wondered in parts if she was real or just simply a figment of Jimmy/Snowman’s imagination. She seemed ethereal, surreal, sometimes she was fleshed out and other times she was just ghost like. She was the only real connection to the ‘outside’ world, however harrowing her past actually was. She just seemed to be the female influence whenever Jimmy/Snowman needed one, she was exactly the woman he needed at each pivotal point. Crake was just power crazed, wanting to save the world but ending up as the hands of destruction. And Jimmy, as for our main protagonist, I found him pretty dull as Snowman, but found the story as Jimmy quite engaging. If the story was narrated in a less disjointed manner, I think I would have preferred it – but the whole point of it is to be disjointed and a bit higgledy-piggledy.

I preferred The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of writing. There are a significant number of parallels to it, they were on the whole very similar but I think the faint glimmer of hope at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale just elevated it marginally in my estimations. I’m quite interested to read the other two books in the series just because it was a really deep, compelling ‘world’ to read about. Ultimately I’d give this 4/5 stars, I think though this may change with time. I have a feeling it’ll be one of those books that stays quite firmly in my mind for a long time.