Review: Quiet – Susan Cain

quietSo, 2015 I promised myself I would read more non-fiction. I found this book through Kathe Mazur – an actress in the US drama Major Crimes – as she narrated the audiobook. She mentioned it on twitter and I was instantly intrigued by the premise of it as I identify as an introvert and I often feel as if I have to justify that (people are often surprised too). So I eventually picked this book up and it was interesting.

I found the science behind introversion and extroversion something I would personally like to look at more, especially the evolution of the two traits and how they’ve developed over time with benefits to both. But really, all of the biology, neurology and psychology is so interesting and I wish there was just a little more of it. It’s something I’m definitely going to look in to more because it’s just so interesting!

While this did have adequate science, it did feel more like a study of corporate America at times. While this was, in the most part, relevant it sometimes detracted from the actual grit of the book. I didn’t feel I could identify with it as much because I’m not American! But I did like the insights in to people like Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt, the historical grasp on it was something I really enjoyed reading about; the corporate side not so much. I’m sorry, Wall Street business types just don’t interest me! Using these as examples of introverts who were able to overcome their crippling shyness or need to be alone (because shyness isn’t always an introvert-specific trait, as this book did teach me) to function didn’t really help; what would have been more powerful is more about the everyday office worker who overcame some of life’s obstacles would have been so much more tangible.

While the extroversion-ideal is present in the UK it’s not quite as prevalent, something I’ve particularly noticed at university is that it’s the international students (particularly those that are American) are the ones that don’t worry about putting their hand up to offer an answer or ask a question, they’re always the ones offering to do presentations. I’m an introvert; this book taught me so much about why I am the way I am and has really just highlighted that I’m not going to be ashamed of it or try to justify it any more.

Also, I did listen to some of this as an audiobook (I found it on youtube but I may invest in an actual download soon) and Kathe Mazur is just sublime. Her voice is just perfect for the tone of this book. I’m not often a fan of an audiobook but she’s almost convinced me! The audiobook is around 10hrs 30, but this book I really benefited from having it read to me at times.

A solid 4/5 – it’s taught me a lot, made me want to research the area more AND has made me more aware of myself. I’d recommend it to anyone; introvert or extrovert. It’s not the quickest read but it’s worth every minute!

Review: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

theminiaturistThis book was almost a masterpiece. Almost. I didn’t go in to it with much foreknowledge, I genuinely bought this on it’s cover (which was the special edition for Waterstones after it was named book of the year) which is beautiful – if you haven’t seen it, check it out. I was hoping for a book that was sort of a historical-magical realism and in a way it was, but not to the extent I was expecting.

We start with our protagonist, Nella, as she knocks on the door of her new home. Having recently married an Amsterdam trader, Johannes Brandt, she is hoping to be met at the door by her husband but is instead met by his sister, Marin. Marin has a bit of an attitude problem but over the course of the book she’s fleshed out and, actually, was probably my favourite character when all was said and done. Johannes wasn’t the man that Nella thought he was, or that Marin hoped he would be as a husband and over the course of the novel, we find out why. He buys his wife a cabinet; a miniature replica of their home for her to furnish and this is where the miniaturist comes in.

I was hoping for more on the miniaturist, truthfully. It felt almost like a side story rather than a titular part of the novel which was a little misleading. It was nonetheless a great aspect, but I was hoping for more focus on it. I always longed for a dolls house as a child and this just brightened my imagination; the description that Burton gave was just amazing and it did feel like it was alive. I would really like to see a story about The Miniaturist though, as in the person who makes the tiny dolls; the character was so intriguing and interesting and I’d really just love more!

I feel that the ending was disappointing. I’m so angry about what happened to Marin! I think it was very unnecessary, I’ll not lie, I grew very attached to her by the end and I was so angry I had to put the book down for a while and eat some comfort food! Was it so difficult for anyone to be happy in this book? Seriously?

So this book was a page turner, I read it in 2 days. I read 100 pages of it on a bus and took the long bus home so I didn’t have to put it down for 90 minutes! Jessie Burton can sure as hell weave a story but I feel that a little of it got a little tangled or caught up and didn’t quite reach it’s potential. Ultimately, it was damn good and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction or even just general fiction; history didn’t come in to it much! 4/5 – it wasn’t quite perfect and I think there was a lot of unnecessary stuff that could have been replaced with something more interesting!

Tag: Classics Book Tag

So, I’ve been debating doing a tag blog for a while but have been worried about translating a BookTube tag to a blog post because a lot of things are reliant on reaction to things. I’ll say it again – I wish I had the confidence to be a part of the booktube community. But more on my introversion in a future post (I’m currently reading Quiet by Susan Cain which is about introversion/extroversion so seriously, watch this space).

Anyway, the lovely Samatha (Novels and Nonsense) posted a video on the Classics Book Tag which is right up my alley and, also, very easily translated to a blog post. So I decided to give it a go! The original can be found here as a blog post!

Questions:

1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like:
2. Favourite time period to read about
3. Favourite fairy-tale
4. What is the most embarrassed classic you haven’t read yet
5. Top 5 classics you would like to read (soon)
6. Favourite modern book/series based on a classic
7. Favourite movie version/tv-series based on a classic
8. Worst classic to movie adaptation
9. Favourite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from
10. An underhyped classic you’d recommend to everyone

Continue reading

Review: Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

Station ElevenI always go in to post-apocalyptic/dystopian books dubiously. I have a very mixed relationship with them and I feel that the hype surrounding the genre now often means that you get a not so well constructed book. That there is hype around it because of where it’s set and not the content. This wasn’t the case for Station Eleven.

Station Eleven gives you everything that you need to know for it to not be left with too many open ends. We start with Arthur Leander, on stage, performing King Lear and he just drops down dead (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the blurb and happens in chapter one!) This is seemingly a catalyst for the end of the world; from here everything falls apart but we don’t really understand the full timeline until the final chapters of the book. Then you progress to 20 years later and follow a capsule civilisation – the Travelling Symphony – a group of performers who have found eachother over the years since the apocalypse and they too perform Shakespeare; travelling up and down and across the US taking their show on the road.

I was at first dubious about the bouncing back at forth opposed to following the story chronologically but actually, I felt it worked really well the way it was set out. I settled in to it really quickly, the first 100 pages just breezed by but then I started to struggle through the next 100. The prose however was beautiful and what kept me going. I was very quickly re-immersed in the storyline; I enjoyed the connections between the characters. The little things that bound them together, whether they knew it or not. One thing that disappointed me is we never got to see all of the characters come together – not quite. I know that would have been cliché but I was holding out for a complete character meetup!

Ultimately, this book was great. It wasn’t quite perfect, I feel that there were a few things missing and that it maybe could have been a smidge longer. I don’t know. But it’s a comfortable 4/5 from me! A review that you should listen to is one by Jen which actually got me to buy this book; she’s far more eloquent about things like the intertextuality than I am so I’ve not even tried and will instead point you in her direction – here.

Also, this cover is beautiful. Has to be said. It can be a little gross, it’s white and shows all the marks (reading it while having nutella on toast for breakfast was a bit messy and required a gentle wipe down with a wet wipe after!) but it is just gorgeous & does address so much of the book’s content believe it or not.

Review: I’ll Never Be Young Again – Daphne du Maurier

INBYAI love Daphne du Maurier. Anyone who has followed this blog or knows me in any way knows I love this woman. This book however is one of the weaker ones of hers that I have read. It’s by no means awful, it’s a really good book it’s just not up to the strength of her better known books or even her first novel which I reviewed recently.

The opening chapter is just wonderful; I thought I was in for a treat. We open with our narrator standing on a bridge, ready to jump. But it just didn’t really take flight for me. Richard, the narrator, is insufferable. While du Maurier captured the male voice almost perfectly, I found him intolerable to read through.

The point of this book is, essentially, a coming of age novel. We follow Richard from this broken shell of a boy, who is melodramatic and has a lot of growing up to do, through an adventure that sees him become a man. Ultimately this was probably my problem as I, on the whole, cannot stand a coming of age story. There are few that I have enjoyed and it’s just a personal taste

As always though, du Maurier’s writing was exquisite. She has such a dreamlike quality to her writing and knows how to make an atmosphere work. She wrote quite powerfully through first person narration too, which is something that I often have difficulty getting in to. There are also some vivid descriptions of the mountains and fjords of Norway and the other places that the characters visit, particularly Paris with its cafés and boulevards – the only thing I can compare this level of description to is that of the short story Monte Vista in her collection The Birds – actually I felt there were a number of parallels between them but maybe that’s just me!

Anyway, this is by far not her strongest work that I have read but it is by no means awful. It isn’t a book I would suggest for a new reader of du Maurier to begin with but for someone who has read a few of her books and wants to explore her lesser known works, this is a good one. A solid 3/5!

Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami

hbwateotwThis might be an unpopular opinion but this book didn’t grip me from the offset. In fact, I really debated putting this down within the first 100 pages because it was just so… bland. And also, it really riled me up. I won’t lie.

Genuinely, my inner feminist was screaming reading this book. Within the first chapter we have an entire paragraph dedicated to justifying why a ‘chubby’ woman is still attractive. Seriously. The only identifying feature he gave this woman was ‘chubby’. Whenever this girl is mentioned, her weight is mentioned, her size is mentioned and that made me angry. Oh and also, there was half a chapter about how she makes really good sandwiches! It made me even angrier when in chapter 7 another female character is introduced and her defining feature is ‘slim’. Yep. Maybe I was a little intolerant of it but this pissed me off to no end to the point I wanted to throw the book across the room in spite of the fact that I was just starting to enjoy it. I know it was written in 1985 and ‘times were different’ but seriously, I’m not down with this objectification of women and outright misogyny!

But the thing is, Haruki Murakami just has a gift when it comes to creating an atmosphere, it’s something I really appreciate in an author and this ‘atmosphere’ thing features heavily in a lot of books that I enjoy. When reading some of this I felt like it could do with being a black and white adaptation with a heavy voiceover, it was foggy and mysterious and yes… I do really love that in a book. All the issues I have aside, I can’t help but compulsively read a Murakami book.

Forgetting the fact that women can evidently only be identified by their body mass, this was okay. After I got in to it around the 100 page mark I really enjoyed the story. Some of it was surplus to requirements, shall we say but the main crux of it was really engaging. It’s essentially two stories that eventually weave together, but as with all Murakami it is really best to go in blind and just let the story take you! To be fair to this book, it is an amazing story, it was a masterful novel but I just can’t get over how it made me feel on the angst front. Murakami may be a master with atmosphere but he is awful at writing women and for that reason I didn’t enjoy this to it’s 3/5 from me

Review: Moby Dick – Herman Melville

MobyDickI genuinely don’t know where to start with this book. It’s just… boggling. Truly this is a masterpiece. While it was a slog, while it was hard to get through at times it was so completely worth it. The prose in this book is just mind-blowing to the point that I actually read it more slowly, reread things, I just wanted to consume it. I know that I really cannot do it justice in a review so instead I’m going to focus in on little bits rather than trying to just go through everything. It’s just so vast it would genuinely be hellish to try and cover everything!

Firstly, I need to thank the wonderful Choncey Boddington (who can be found here and here. Seriously, check her out, she’s wonderful.) because without her review of this book I really would never have even dared to pick this up. Really. Her review of Moby Dick was just so passionate that I decided that I needed it in my life. So I put it in my life and I’m very grateful to her.

Now, on to the actual review, which is a lengthy one.

This book just says so much about life. Ultimately, he links whaling back to the human psyche and with it gets in to the depths of humans souls to show that deep down inside, regardless of our differences, we all run on the same desires and also the same spirit. It can be said that Moby Dick as a character is a metaphor; that thing that all people chase but it’s how we chase it that sets us apart as individuals. How Melville got so deep in to the soul by talking about a whale is just astounding. It just says so much and so little all at once, it’s all subtext that you extract and it’s amazing.

What also blew me away about this is the intimate knowledge that he had of whales. I mean, he knew all of this, he didn’t have Wikipedia at his fingertips he actually had to go to libraries and research and understand all of this and that’s just completely astounding if I’m honest. Some of the chapters which dealt with whale anatomy and the differences between species were really interesting too; it’s a fiction book but it’s educational with it (okay, it’s a little dated, but I went away and I googled things and googled the whales and learnt the differences for myself. Again, it’s amazing that Melville knew all of that, he didn’t have google-fu!)

A lot of reviewers of this book said they had trouble with the language and while that is partly true, I found it was quite easy to pick up. There is a glossary in the back for specific terms but generally, the style and flow of language is in keeping with the period. Having read Dickens last month this is just as accessible in terms of language and story! It does get a little confusing but truthfully it is a book that I couldn’t sit and read for an extended period of time, a couple of chapters was more than enough before I had to take a step back and focus on something else for a while!

Also, as with Dickens it’s first-person narration which can be a bit of a pain. It was done well to an extent, but sometimes first person narration has a tendency to get a bit of ‘tunnel vision’ and be a little frustrating as a reader. Once I got through that wall I was fine, but it is something to be aware of when you go in to it. On the whole though, characters were well developed. I also found that the flip between first person narration to the occasional ‘non fiction’ type chapter or even a chapter where it’s laid out like a script which was just something to break up monotony.

The climax of this book is one that can only be compared to The Odyssey. The tension and atmosphere created were just astounding and by this point I just could not stop reading. I didn’t want to put the book down, I just wanted to know what happened. The ending was just… boom. Boom. Seriously just boom. I think it was an inevitable way for the book to go, it would have been difficult to have been able to justify it happening any other way. There were heavy tones of fate and myth and legend leading up to it and I think it actually made the ending all the more powerful.

Ultimately this is deserving of a 5/5 rating. Seriously. It is by no means a light book, it is hard to follow at parts but some patience and determination and you’re really rewarded with one of the most astounding books I’ve ever read. Definitely near the top of my ‘favourite classics’ list and one that I will reread in the future! Ultimately, this book taught me that sometimes we don’t get the whale, but that’s okay, sometimes not getting the whale is the best thing that happens to us.

Review: All Over Creation – Ruth Ozeki

aocI’m going to start this review by simply stating that A Tale for the Time Being was one of my favourite books of 2014. I bought this book with great anticipation based on the book I loved so much and… I’m seriously disappointed. I found this whole book disjointed and somewhat infuriating to the point I considered giving up on it more than once.

It essentially is the story of Yumi (or Yummy, whatever) as she comes home to a farming community in Idaho after she ran away at 14. She comes back to find everything very much changed – her father is seriously ill, her mother has Alzheimers and her best friend who has her own share of problems. While the premise is good it just failed to reach its full potential in my opinion and Ozeki got too wrapped up in a side story of ethics to actually care about developing her characters to their full potential.

This book is preachy. There’s a lot of interludes about God (which I generally don’t mind if done well) and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and how chemical intervention in farming is a sin and unnatural (or words to those effects) and it’s just a pain in the ass. It drove me mad. I just couldn’t put up with it! It could have had SO much potential if it wasn’t quite as preachy, it could have been a really thought provoking book if it was done with some subtlety.

Then we have characters who are just puppets and caricatures of stereotypes. We have hippies who live in a mobile home that runs on fryer oil and try to preach all their anti-GMO stuff. We have the runaway daughter returning home who seems to be ruled by her inner 14 year old and her hormones. Let’s just not mention her kids. Then we have the former teacher that is the reason 14 year old Yumi ran away who conveniently ends up back in town the same time Yumi is… It was just too much drama and not enough story.

I read this in 3 days, it was an easy read but it wasn’t one I enjoyed. It was quite a quick read, Ozeki is a really skilled author it’s just this novel was just bad. If I’m honest I only finished this because I’m a completist who has an urge to finish whatever I start and I’ll keep it on my shelf because of the same reason (it looks pretty between Ozeki’s other two books). But ultimately, this book just didn’t sit right with me so it’s 2/5 simply because some of it, just a little, was enough to redeem it from 1/5.

January Wrap-Up & February TBR

You know, as old as I am I still fail to spell February correctly. Fact.

So, January has been a prolific reading month for me – 10 books! I’m impressed with even myself. I probably would have managed my initial TBR easily but having the Underhyped Readathon in the middle of the month really challenged me and pushed me that bit further and I’m grateful for it! It’s definitely made me want to read more each month over this year & while my goodreads goal is still at 75 books, I’m tempted to up it to 100.

2015-01-31 21.36.09Some stats for the month. My average rating this month was 3.6/5 – I read a lot of books I liked a lot but none that just hit me in the right place to boost to 5*. A 3 or 4* rating is pretty normal for me – I don’t often read anything less than 3 because I generally only pick up books I have a pretty good feeling that I’m going to enjoy anyway and I rarely persevere with a book long enough to rate if it’s poor, truthfully if it’s bad I generally leave it as ‘unread’! Though in this month, and in reading A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing I have actually changed one of my ratings from a 4 to a 2 because in hindsight I didn’t enjoy it and it’s left a bad taste in my mouth! I did say it would likely change. I’ve read a lot across genre too, but my diversity has been a little slack. 4/10 books were by women – this is unusual for me as I’m usually quite bias towards female authors. Only 1 was by a person of colour and only 3 were by non-British authors. Truthfully, that is quite diverse for me as a reader BUT at present I do feel a little pressure to do more to diversify my reading and that sort of sucks. The page count was 3717 this month which I’m really happy with! So, overall January looked pretty good and has left me optimistic. My favourite book was probably The Loving Spirit though it’s close to The Girl with All the Gifts. My least favourite, while still good, was probably A Girl is a Half Formed Thing – but it was still a 3* just because it made me think!

2015-01-31 22.44.35So on to February. The reading challenge I’m part of has 4 categories that begin in this month; a book written by an author under 30, a book with non-human characters, a funny book and a book by a female author. I also want to throw in a couple of other books to just expand my reading a little more so my February TBR looks something like the picture on the left!

An author under 30 is I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier. This was published when she was 23 or 24 and while there were a number of other books I’d like to read, I want to work through her bibliography in it’s entirety this year, in chronological order so this works! Non-Human Characters is pretty obviously Moby Dick by Herman Melville, it’s a new addition to my shelf but I can’t wait to read it. Funny is the first in the Blandings series by PG Wodehouse – Something Fresh and finally a female author I’ve gone for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The two books I’ve decided to read for the sake of it are Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation and Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Both of those work for diversifying my reading too, but the main priority with them is they’ve been staring me down since October and I really want to read them both soon!

So, that’s January in a nut shell and my plans for February. I’d like to hear if you’ve read any of these books and your opinions on them and I’d generally just like to hear what you’re reading this month! Expect reviews for each of them over the course of the month & I hope to hear your thoughts too!