April Wrap-Up & May TBR

How is it nearly May? How are we nearly half way through the year already?! It’s horrible. I don’t like how quickly this year is going at all! What I do like, however, is my productivity this past month in spite of copious coursework deadlines and revision for exams, which started on Tuesday (28th) and, as I write this, I’m currently procrastinating revision for it (it’s Monday afternoon. I really ought to be studying!)

April has been a relatively good month. I found my reading mojo again after a bit of a slump last month, mainly because of Orlando. Virginia Woolf made me love reading like I’ve never quite loved reading before, this month. It was by far not an easy book but once I got in to it… damn. That book has definitely changed how I’m going to read books from now on. It’s up there with Rebecca as one of my lifelong favourites, there hasn’t been a book reach that level in quite some time!

April Stats:

It’s been a pretty good month, as I said. I’ve got through the TBR I set myself at the end of last month and a little more. I read 7 (8, but I read Orlando twice and I don’t feel that counts) books and I feel I’ve read a good variety too and that came to a total of 1799 pages this month. The 7 books were made up of 6 female authors and Ransom Riggs being the only male author! There was also one person of colour in my April reads in the form of the wonderful Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which already makes April more diverse than March!

My favourite book this month was Orlando if you hadn’t already guessed which was a 5* book but then, Frog Music was a 2* so my ratings were quite varied and my average was 3.7. I’ve read a good selection this month, from Silas Marner to Hollow City is quite a journey through time, genre and general style!

Overall, I’m a very happy girl with what I’ve managed. Especially given the workload I have had lately. Which brings me on to next month.

May TBR:

So May is full to the brim of exams. 5 of them in fact (1st, 6th, 11th, 15th, 28th). But, crazily enough, around exam periods I crave classics. I crave books that are weighty and take time and I can immerse myself in completely. But then I also want lighter things to enjoy when I’m feeling too stressed to focus. So May is a very mixed bag indeed.

From the top there is The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Having read Oryx and Crake a few months ago I felt it hight time I got around to the second part of the trilogy. I know it will require attention so I thought this a good month to read it.

Next is The Ocean at the End of the Lane which I’ve only heard good things about. I’ve read very little of Gaiman’s work but what I have read, I’ve loved so I’m holding out high hopes for this based on what I’ve read and the reviews I’ve heard of it.

Then there’s the two classics of the month; Agnes Grey by my beloved Anne Bronte and Frenchman’s Creek by the equally beloved Daphne du Maurier. Both of which I cannot wait to read this month. My only issue is I’m not a fan of the Penguin black classics as individuals; they look amazing on a shelf but meh. Why Agnes Grey hasn’t been released in the English Library editions I’ll never know!

Finally, the beast at the bottom, is Carol Ann Duffy’s Faery Tales which I bought months and moths ago based on the cover alone and I thought would be a good dip in-dip out type of book for the month. I really cannot wait to read this, I love her poetry (what I have read of it) and I have no doubt that this is going to be wonderful!

So this coming month is very well varied; it may all change of course. I may end up binging on classics which, quite honestly, is likely! But I will try and keep to my TBR if only so I don’t have to think about the next book coming my way!

If you’ve read any of the books I plan to read in May, let me know which ones I should hit first!

I Was Stressed and Bought a Lot of Books This Month || Book Haul V

I’m a stress buyer. Naturally, as April was a month in which I have had several pieces of coursework and exams starting I bought some books. A lot of books actually. £90 worth of books. Oh dear. Though, I am very happy as all the physical books I have bought this month I have bought in bookshops, two of which are independent. So I think I can say that I have injected £90 in to the local economy, right? I can feel good about that.

2015-04-27 19.42.25So I felt like buying classics. The majority of this haul is classics truthfully. I’m hoping to read a lot of classics next month too.

I indulged in a couple of Persephone books this month. I’m lucky in that Norwich has two amazing independent book shops that stock a really good selection of Persephone – The Book Hive and Jarrolds department store. So having loved Orlando, I decided to pick up Leonard Woolf’s The Wise Virgins just to see if Mr Woolf wrote as well as his wife. This is a semi-autobiographical look in to his marriage with Virginia so I was really interested by this. Also I bought Saplings by Noel Streatfeild. I adored Ballet Shoes so when I saw this I decided I absolutely had to buy it. It seems to be a WWII story told through the eyes of some children, it seems quite sad but cozy at the same time which is what I need right now

Next up is my Penguins this month. Why on earth has Agnes Grey not been published as a PEL edition? Surely that’s discrimination?! #JusticeForAnneBronte. Anyway, I bought Agnes Grey because I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall last September. It seems very Bronte (governess) and if the other book is anything to go on, I’m going to love this. Then there’s some Austen – I’m determined to get in to Austen – so I went for Mansfield Park as it seems to be a lesser talked about novel (and it was in the waxy PEL editions, not the papery ones!). The skinny one there is George Eliot’s Silas Marner which I actually picked up as soon as I stood at the bus stop on my way home; I thought it would be a good idea before Middlemarch! Finally, Little Dorritt by Dickens. I enjoyed The Old Curiosity Shop so decided to add this to my collection as, at £5.99, it is a bargain!

2015-04-27 19.44.08That’s a lot of classics. Now on to the general fiction. I picked up the first book here (Strange Weather in Tokyo) in a complete whim because it’s short, by a Japanese author and was £1 in the Oxfam Bookshop! I know very little about it other than that.

Kazuo Ishiguro is next. He did his MA in Creative Writing at UEA, you know? Anyway, I picked this up in the Oxfam bookshop too. There’s The Remains of the Day which I’ve only heard good things about, a lot of people say it’s better than Never Let Me Go and then there’s Nocturnes which I believe is his short story collection. These were a whim simply because I loved Never Let Me Go and would like to read more of his work.

The Goldfinch was also found in Oxfam and I picked it up because I did enjoy The Secret History recently and wanted to read this at some point anyway. The main reason I read The Secret History first is a lot of people said that you should – whether or not this is true is something else.

Finally there’s Maddaddam which is the conclusion to the series Atwood wrote. This is signed. I can’t quite believe it myself but it is. She was in Norwich for a while, I believe she was camping out in the attic of The Book Hive and casually signed some books while she was there. So I’m hoping to get to this in the near future.

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Lastly is the non-fiction. There is a distinct theme here! This month I bought three eBooks – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstencraft, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (which I have already read). I bought We Should All Be Feminists as a whim because I felt like reading it at 10pm one night and the other two were recommended based on that purchase by Amazon and I just couldn’t say no…

I also couldn’t resist buying a copy of My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst. I’m really looking forward to the movie (Suffragette) which is out later this year and I think this is a really key book for me to read as a female who is intending to vote this year in the General Election. I didn’t do history at GCSE so I’m looking forward to this from a number of perspectives; feminist, political and historical.

So, April was a pretty expensive month. I’m thinking May will have to involve a book buying ban for sure. I need to get through so many books! Tell me if you’ve read any of these and what you think because I would love to hear your opinions!

Review: Free Love and Other Stories – Ali Smith

freeloveAli Smith’s strength is her ability to write captivating short stories. I love her novels, I loved Artful which was a collection of pseudo-essays, but the thing I love most is most certainly her short stories.

This is her first published collection, it does some of the signature poetic style that she has developed in later years and I don’t feel that all of it is as polished as her later works but this by no means missed the mark as a good short story collection.

This collection was just wonderful; I’ve read a couple of her later collections and it’s definitely noticeable how her work has evolved over the years. It starts off strong, there are 3 short stories that are solid 4/5 – 5/5. The middle plateaus a little, they are good stories with good characters but they just lacked the depth that a lot of her later works have. Towards the end there are a couple more really strong stories that bring the collection to a close on a high note.

The titular story, Free Love, is the first story and is about a young girls first sexual experience in Amsterdam. I feel it was the standout story in the collection. It is about love, friendship and everything in between. It was beautifully written, as is expected with Ali Smith and the characters were so well developed for such a short story. This is a common theme with Ali’s work, however short a piece is she can establish a character to the point that they’re tangible and you, as a reader, know them personally. The depth she can put in to a relatively short amount of words is insane!

The other favourite I have is Text for a Day. The imagery in this was beautiful. The standout bit of the collection was for me this quote which I shall leave you on:

Pages flutter across motorways or farmland, pages break apart, dissolve in rivers or seas, snag on hedges in suburban areas, cling round their roots. Fragments litter a trail that blows in every direction, skidding across roads in foreign cities, mulching in the wet doorways of small shops, tossed by the weather across grassland and prairies.

There are poems in gutters and drains, under the rails laid for trains, pages of novels on the pavement, in the supermarkets, stuck to people’s feet or the wheels of their bikes and cars; there are poems in the desert. Somewhere where there are no houses, no people, only sky, wind, a wide-open world, a poem about a dormant grass-covered volcano lies held down half-buried in sand, bleaching in the light and heat like the small skull of a bird.

Review: Frog Music – Emma Donoghue

frog-musicSo I was really excited to pick this book up. I’ve read a couple of books by Emma Donoghue before (Room and Slammerkin) and while Room was a standout, Slammerkin was a little more nondescript. From what I understand, Room is very different to the majority of her work but nonetheless I enjoyed a couple of her novels and I really liked the premise of this.

Frog Music is set in San Francisco and based on an unsolved crime – obviously there is a lot of wiggle room for Donoghue to play with characters and the actual plot. In chapter 1, Jenny is murdered and her friend, Blanche, is trying to bring justice.

This book is a bit messy. It has the story running as two timelines parallel to each other, the dialogue is quite sloppy and in some parts unnecessary. The story is grim (it is a murder, but there’s so much grimmer than that). The characters, something which I feel are often Donoghue’s strength felt really underdeveloped and I disliked most of them. If she had been written in a different situation, Jenny could have been simply amazing – a Victorian-era cross-dressing lesbian who goes out catching frogs and sent for wearing trousers – but she wasn’t established well enough for her to hold my interest. I would read a book about that woman but… this one wasn’t the one for her.

I forced the remainder of the book during the start of Dewey’s 24hr Read-a-Thon (which I found out about quite late, around 10am Saturday) and had to really force it down. Truthfully I skimmed a lot of the dialogue because it was just dull. It was a quick read, it just wasn’t all that good.

This has seriously made me question whether I want to read any more by Donoghue. This makes me sad, I held such high hopes for this – and for Donoghue’s writing if nothing else. But this just let me down. I think I went in to it with such high expectation I could only be disappointed. The on;y redeeming feature was Jenny, and she was so poorly used that I’m being generous when I say I’ll give this a 2/5.

Review: We Should All be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

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This is a very short essay that was written after Chimamanda’ s hugely successful TED talk on feminism. I haven’t seen the talk, but I have recently heard a number of good things about it, so it went on my to-read pile. It is only about 50 pages long and it seriously took me about half an hour to read before bed – it was very good food for thought!

Picking it up as an eBook for 99p for my kindle I couldn’t really complain. It was what I felt in the mood for and it is very rare I read on my kindle now but I wanted to read it, and I wanted to read it now! I’m really glad I succumbed to the desire because I really enjoyed this.

This is by no means an extensive text on the theory of feminism, it barely scrapes the surface but it is a very good introductory text on the subject. It covers pretty much all bases of gender equality from a personal perspective of Chimamanda herself, growing up in Nigeria and her experiences as a woman returning back to her roots.

It is, under no circumstances, perfect. There is casual cissexism, which may turn a fair few readers away but it is so well written. She is eloquent, she is unapologetic and I definitely liked this more than Americanah! As I said, it would be a really good introductory text to someone who is wanting to understand more about feminism and why, in 2015, we still need it. It was a solid 4/5.

Review: Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

EIM-pb-jacketThis book has really hit me. It was probably the hardest book that I’ve read lately on an emotional front. My grandfather has dementia and this book just really hit me in the gut, and the heart.

Our protagonist is Maud, an 82 year old who suffers with dementia. While she still lives independently, she is reliant on carers and her daughter coming in daily to do tasks such as cook and clean for her. Her memories have become jumbled and nothing seems to fit; the disappearance of both her sister in the past and, of course, her friend Elizabeth in the present dominate most of her thoughts. It really captures the anxiety and bewilderment that Maud is suffering perfectly – I think this is what affected me so much. It also captures some of the frustration of the those in a position of caring for someone with dementia/Alzheimer’s face.

This book is heartbreaking; it is also funny, warm and charming. While it was somewhat predictable (it is pretty clear what the situation with Elizabeth is likely to be, it is also not too difficult to decipher what happened with Sukey all those years ago) it was compelling. It was simply written so beautifully it was hard to put down, once I started I could barely stop myself reading.

This book hasn’t changed my life, but it made me more empathetic. It wasn’t an easy book to read, for me it was emotionally draining but I am so glad I did read it. I think anyone would be hard pushed to not be at least a little moved by it. However, it really isn’t the best book ever written and I don’t really understand how it won awards – just throwing it out there; while it is emotional and compelling to read it isn’t a literary masterpiece (harsh, I know). It is however a book that hits you, I did form an emotional connection with the characters and as one person in four is affected directly or indirectly by something like dementia I think it was a much needed book to raise awareness.

A solid 4/5 and I look forward to what Healey does next!

Review: Orlando – Virginia Woolf

orlandoI loved Mrs Dalloway when I read it a few years ago, but I did say it was a book that I would have to reread to appreciate. Because of that I waited, 5 years, before picking up any more of Woolf’s work and… I’m so glad I waited.

Orlando is a book that requires patience. It’s a book that required me to slow down my reading to fully bask in the beauty that it is. I think having a few more years on me also helped comprehend and appreciate her grasp and use of language. She is a genius. I love her. This book has changed me, it has changed how I will read from now on. I just cannot verbalise how amazing it is.

I actually read this twice; the second time straight after the first because I didn’t feel like I took enough out of it the first time around. I read a different edition (I have a mass market paperback sized edition which isn’t nearly as pretty) and actually annotated it – this is a huge thing, I hate to write in a book but it was beautiful to do that. To just fully appreciate her writing and put my own thoughts in the margins, highlighting the bits that stood out to me. A second read made me notice how vividly she describes colours and textures; the first chapter/section has far too many references to the colour green but never once is it repetitive and God – this woman!

Reading this book once is not enough to take everything away from it; it’s just so complex. I know that I can’t write about it and do it justice. I will however, briefly gloss over the general gist; Orlando begins the novel as a man (He – for there could be no doubt of his sex) in Elizabethan England; by the end, Orlando is a married woman in the 1920s.

It is just sublime, there are no other words for it.  The experience I had reading this was transformative; it is already changing how I approach books and what I take away from them. I will reread it again in future and make further notes with a different colour, for sure as it is – undoubtedly – a book that with every reading I will take more away from. Read it. 5/5.

Review: Hollow City – Ransom Riggs

hollowcityFor anyone who doesn’t know, this is the second book in the Miss Perigrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. I read the first one in October (review here) and I loved it, so when this came out in paperback I snapped it up.

It picked up right where book one left us. This one is much more action packed than the first, the way I described it to my friend today was it’s very Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz but written by Tim Burton. It’s an adventure, it’s a quest, it’s dark and twisted and I loved it. There were flaws in it, it was a bit far fetched even for a ‘fantasy’ novel (is this a fantasy novel?!) in places but ultimately it was damn good.

It is a very slow start and I struggled to find the willpower to get through the first 100 pages or so; the final 300-ish pages I read in 2 days. The characters didn’t really develop all that much more, which saddened me a little, there was a lot of missed potential with them. I think there was just so much that Riggs could have done with such vibrant characters – instead they were all quite one dimensional.

The ending was just “what?”, that twist I did not see coming and I loved it. It was a mad frenzy in the last 50 pages or so and I just need a 3rd book now because leaving it on that cliffhanger was just mean! Seriously, if you’ve read the first one and thought that was a tough cliffie, this is worse.

On the most part I loved this book. I loved the characters even though they were underdeveloped and I loved the plot. It was just good and compulsively readable once I got past the 100 page mark. This series is one that is way out of my comfort zone of reading, I just love it though. I’m glad I took a risk on this series and I can’t wait for book 3. It’s a solid 4/5 from me!

Review: The Secret History – Donna Tartt

I picked this up in a 2 for £7 in Tesco, something I hate doing now as I do prefer my local bookshop, but when it’s a book that I’m a little unsure as to whether I’m going to like I try look for it a bit cheaper. Seeing this at what was effectively £3.50 I nabbed it up in an instant. It’s been recommended to me from various people; several friends on goodreads have read it and given it 4+ stars so I consider that a book that is highly recommended, especially as it comes from various people who don’t often have similar tastes.

This book was a bit of a mixed one for me. I hated it, then I loved it, then I hated it again. I plodded through the first 200 pages, whizzed through the second 200, then struggled a little bit with the final 200 or so (of course this is estimating). The prologue had me gripped; opening with the knowledge Bunny being dead, we know who did it and in the first 200-300 pages we begin to understand why it was done. It’s a passive book initially and is very slow to get going, but it picks up pace to work in with the urgency that comes with the situation. Damn as it picks up it’s good!

The characters are intensely dislikeable but somehow, you can’t help but actually like them. All of them are horrible people, if you knew them in the real world, you’d hate them. The situation, the characters, it’s all crazy but for some reason it’s believable. It’s compelling, in some ways it’s addictive. There is just something brilliant about this book and something that is going to stick with me; what it is exactly is unknown but there is just something.

I will definitely be reading more of Donna Tartt’s work; this for me is a solid 4/5!

March Wrap Up

Overall, March has been miserable. My overall motivation for anything has been through the floor – uni work has taken a nosedive and anything that I take pleasure in has also been put aside. So basically, reading hasn’t happened all that much this month.

In total I read 5 books. 1 was a reread, 4 were new to me. 3 were by women, 2 were by men. I had a spread of ratings from 4 to 2 stars – my average was 3.4. My favourite book of March was probably Artful and my least favourite was The Virgin Suicides. I barely touched my anticipated TBR, I was just picking up what I was in the mood for. I don’t know if my down mood affected how I was reading books this month or not, but anyway… March was poor, let’s move on!

April I’m feeling positive about and my TBR looks something like this:

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So I haven’t set myself any wild goals and I feel that with revision going on around me, this is an achievable pile! I never aim higher than the month before’s achievement. From top to bottom we have Ali Smith’s Free Love – a short story collection and her first published! Next down is Frog Music by Emma Donoghue which is one I’ve really been looking forward to since it was first released in hardback (but I couldn’t warrant the cost of the hardback!) Then there is Orlando which, I feel, is self explanatory and finally I have Hollow City which is the second on the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. I enjoyed the first one so I thought I’d give this a go!

Hopefully I will get around to more than this, but I have revision to do and exams start at the end of the month so… we shall see!

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