Review: Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

SapiensSapiens is a book that I’ve had sat on my shelf for a while. I bought it alongside a cup of coffee and a slice of cake in my local Waterstones quite some time ago with the intention to read it after all my exams were over and such as it’s a non-fiction book.

When I picked this up I was expecting something very much more based on human evolution. While there is a large part of this book which is dedicated to the evolution of humans, I would say it is very much more an anthropological study of human history. It wasn’t what I was expecting but it definitely surprised me in a good way! Also, I thought this book was much longer than it actually is. It appears to look a good 600 pages long but the actual book is only 466 – it’s just written on gloriously thick paper!

I felt like this book and I were a good match. It contained all of the bits of human evolution that I have studied at university and interest me alongside the anthropological evidence which corroborates it and biologists often overlook! It’s really accessible, as someone who has experience in evolutionary biology it filled in gaps in my education with information which actually makes it easier to understand than a dry lecture is capable of!

I think there is definitely something for everyone in this book, for me it wasn’t only the evolutionary aspect, which I’m very much interested in academically, but there were segments on how gender roles have been established over time and why some of it just makes no sense. Some of it made me angry, some of it was actually hard reading for me – reading how the gender gap evolved but then there were segments on the comparison of biological sex and cultural gender and how biological sex has not changed whereas how society views and treats women has, quite considerably (although, in many areas, still not enough!) changed which sort of offsets the harsh reality.

I find non-fiction very hard to review as it’s a much more personal taste than fiction as you have to have a passion or an interest in the subject of the book before you pick it up and it’s much harder to ‘lose yourself’ in non fiction. For me this was great though and I’d happily recommend it to my friends, peers and anyone interested in human history, evolution or anthropology! There are a lot of things to like about this book and a lot of people I think could enjoy reading it. So don’t be put off by its size because it’s totally worth the read and it’s not that difficult of a read, either. While it’s not complicated, it’s not patronising either. I’m happily giving this 4*!

Review: The Honours – Tim Clare

the honoursThe Honours is a book that I bought upon the recommendation of Robert in Jarrold’s book department during independent bookshop week. It is a book that had caught my eye in the past – mainly the design of the oversized paperback with a half-sized dust jacket of the clashing green. I loved the overall appearance of this book.

So needless to say, with a recommendation from someone I trust, I went in to this book with very high hopes! It was one that took some time to get in to – I was still waiting for the ‘weird’ to kick in at 175 pages and I was starting to get frustrated, it has to be said. I almost gave up and then I went in to Jarrold’s and spoke with Robert and that really gave me the motivation to continue. I’m really glad I did!

This book follows Delphine, a slightly precocious 12/3 year old at the brink of WWII. Her parents and her end up at this manor house in the Norfolk countryside which is filled with outrageous characters. Delphine has a gut feeling that something weird is going on and noone believes her – she is seen as a nuisance by pretty much everyone. It starts off very slowly, it took me over half of the book before I was actually fully invested in it, I really struggled with the first half. Then it starts to get a little weird and, Robert was right, I liked it. There was this undertone throughout the first half that did give that hint that it was going to get a bit hinky, but then BOOM suddenly you’re thrown in to this mad, fantasy story. It did feel a little forced, maybe. I can’t quite put my finger on it…

Tim Clare is a poet. In parts of this you can very much tell that he is a poet. The writing is beautiful, it sort of sweeps over you and whisks you away in to Delphine’s world. It was rich and full of imagery and once I got in to it, an absolute pleasure to read.

So, while I loved the second half. The first half really pulls this down so it was very easy to give this book 3*, it has its good and it has its bad points so a nice “I liked it” suffices. I’ll definitely be checking out some of Tim Clare’s poetry in the future though because his prose is wonderful!

Blog: To BookTube or Not to BookTube

The title of this is self explanatory, really. Having been blogging about books regularly for almost 18 months now, and having been watching booktube for nearly 2 years this is a question that has plagued me somewhat over the last few months. Should I start making videos? The easy answer is yes, but it’s the factors that lead up to it that are making it difficult for me.

I apologise in advance for this inevitable ramble but, as I want to be as honest as possible, I’m not going to edit too much.

Continue reading

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente

fairyland1I finally caved to peer pressure! This book has been on my radar for pretty much a year now and I finally gave in and read it. Well, actually I listened to it. I used one of my audible credits this month to download the audiobook which is read by Catherynne herself. I was very dubious going in to this, it’s been compared to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland so many times by so many people that I didn’t want to read it because I love both of those books dearly. Even recommendations by friends who love either or both of those books were not swaying me! While I loved the audiobook, I will definitely be reading the future books in the series as physical or eBooks as I don’t think the narration did this one favours.

For anyone who doesn’t know, this book follows a young girl – September – who is whisked away from her boring Nebraska home by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. But September soon finds herself travelling through Fairyland herself, encountering a number of interesting characters on the way! This book is utterly nonsensical but completely charming alongside it. While there are striking similarities to classic fairy stories such as Alice and Oz and others such as Peter Pan and The Chronicles of Narnia it is a completely beautiful story in its own right, it was charming and full of its own fantasy that made those other books equally as wonderful. For me though, it was a little too whimsical in places which made it somewhat hard to follow at times, especially listening to the audiobook!

As for the audiobook, while this was beautiful being read by Catherynne herself, I did have to download the Kindle version to follow along as I often found myself missing things! I think if it was being used for a child, or someone who is happy to read on x1 speed it would be perfect, but I like to listen at the speed I generally read which is x1.5 or x2, this didn’t really lend itself to that in my opinion! As I’ve said, I found it somewhat hard to follow without the words in front of me, I was struggling to keep up with what was going on and while it was beautifully narrated, I did need the book in front of me to actually keep up with the story.

So, for all my doubts I too firmly love this book. It wasn’t as incredible as others made it out to be so I’m glad I went in to it with some trepidation as I actually think I enjoyed it more because of that! Ultimately this is a 3/5 from me which is, among the people I’m friends with on goodreads, unusual.

July 2015 Book Haul || Book Haul VII

I’ve been at it again! I really ought to stop, and I will. Soon. But July is at a close and while I promised, promised myself I would ease up on the book buying I seem to have failed spectacularly. Some of these books have actually been sat on my shelf for quite some time and I have simply forgotten to haul them. But without further ado, let me show you the damage that has been done in July!

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So at the start of the month I actually went to an event at my local Waterstones store. Peer pressure paid off because I got to see Emma Healey and M.O. Walsh in conversation. I have read and reviewed Elizabeth is Missing not so long ago but M.O. Walsh was a completely unknown author to me until the event. I completely forgot to blog about it so consider this the event overview. It was great. Emma had never ‘hosted’ before and she did a cracking job of it, it has to be said. We had a brief interlude of singing from Mr Walsh (who’s name I have forgotten, that is so awful!) I’m yet to read his novel but I’m very much looking forward to it. It seems quite interesting so we shall see. Anyway, it was a fantastic evening and I actually intend to start going to the book group because I met a couple of people there who inspired me!

20150728_180830582_iOSAlso in the general, literary fiction category we have another recommendation from Ben at Waterstones in the shape of After Me Comes the Flood – again, this is one I know very little about but was inspired to pick up because I give in to peer pressure. On the top is a gift from my friend Sar – we met in London on the 20th and she finally gave me my Christmas gift. She knows my love for Ali Smith and gifted me with the gorgeous Penguin anniversary edition (I think it was for their 75th). Finally we have a bargain in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as I picked this up today for a whopping 50p. It’s pretty much brand new too! Result.

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The next pile is my classics. From the top we have two charity shop buys – Ted Hughes Crow and finally my own edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which I first read in a book group because of Cait a good number of years ago.

The remainder of these were bought in London. Sar and I met at Platform 9 and 3/4, naturally. It was actually the first mutual station between our inbound trains so it was also a good plan. In Kings Cross there is Watermark Books, which is very sadly closing down soon. Anyway, in there I picked myself up The Persephone Book of Short Stories. It doesn’t have the bookmark but hey ho! After that we went to a few other bookshops, where I was restrained but I was saving myself for the Persephone store. It is truly beautiful, I did fall a little bit in love. In there I picked up their 3 for £30 deal – I picked up The Montana Stories by Katherine Mansfield, No Surrender by Constance Maud and finally Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf.

The bottom book, another edition of Orlando, is a very beautiful hardback that Sar treated me to in Foyles. I should have hugged her longer for that!

20150728_180959370_iOSSome fantasy-ish stuff now! These are relatively self explanatory. I want to get more in to fantasy as I think when I’m in it I will love it, so when I saw the first two books in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson in a charity shop for 50p each, I bought them. Simple. Don’t know what to expect but I think I may read these pretty soon.

On the bottom is a beautiful, beautiful book that I have had my eye on for quite some time. I was out with a friend and we happened to dive in to a little antiquarian bookshop on Elm Hill in Norwich. Elm Hill has been used in a number of movies including Stardust and it is all medieval and beautiful. Anyway, I saw this Philip Pullman book and I fell in love – the fact it was only £7.50 made the deal a little sweeter! I shall definitely be heading back to The Dormouse Bookshop in the future as they have far too many pretty books!

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Finally we have the non fiction. Two of these were bought in London also – on the top we have Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley. I’ve read a book or two by him in the past and, I saw this in Daunts books but refused to pay £9.99 for it then walked 3 minutes down the street and found it in Oxfam for £2.

Then we have two Penguin books; one in the orange spine-pretty cover editions by Brian Cox. I’m not a physics kind of girl – I hate anything maths and physics without context so I’m hoping Brian will sweeten the deal a bit. Then we have another of the Penguin Anniversary editions in the non-fiction blue. I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time even though I know little about it – it’s one that has always caught my eye in the non-fiction section of the bookshops! These were all bought in charity shops, which ones I can’t remember!

Phew. That seems like a lot of books. That’s a lot of books? That’s not including the few eBooks I bought and the 3 audiobooks that I downloaded… Oops. I really need to curb my book buying.

If there are any of these that you’ve read and recommend please share as I’d really like to know where to start!

Review: A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

a room of ones ownSo, after reading The Count of Monte Cristo I felt bereft. No book I picked up called to me whatsoever so I decided to pick up A Room of One’s Own because if all else fails, Virginia Woolf, right? It was a good choice and, honestly, I wish I had started my love affair with Virginia here. I had actually started this previously, I had almost finished it too, as I was reading this on the bus for several days but I chose to pick it up and read it properly and that was a much better decision. Woolf is an author who needs a lot of attention to pick up the nuances of her work and it is hard to put any of her books down; at least in my experience!

A Room of One’s Own is a non-fiction text, it’s a slim 112 pages and is based on a series of lectures that Virginia delivered in Cambridge. It is pegged as a feminist classic and I have to agree with that term. While it’s a classic and is 86 years old, so much of it still felt relevant today. She covers female writers in history, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and also, Shakespeare’s fictional sister. She tells us how it is only with a fixed income (500 pounds a year) for independence and ‘a room of one’s own’ that a woman will be free to create whatever they please. She makes sure that as a reader we know how brief and limited their histories are. It seems she wrote this to be enduring as she encourages the reader to to acknowledge how their female ancestors fought for just five minutes peace and a few pieces of paper to pen their thoughts.

Trying to put my thoughts in to words for this book is, again, difficult. I just don’t know how because she has left me with so many thoughts and feelings I don’t even know how to put in to words. Virginia Woolf is just one of the finest writers that has ever lived. This only emboldens that statement, for me. If you haven’t read any Woolf, I would really suggest starting here because it is so readable – it is much easier than Orlando to get through! I ultimately think I give this 4/5 but it is one I know I will revisit and KNOW I will possibly love more on doing that.

Review: The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

countofmontecristoTrying to put this book in to words is a challenge. I don’t think there are enough words to just quantify how amazing this was, I really don’t. This is an enormous book, it’s a beast at over 1200 pages, the font isn’t exactly easy to read either but somehow it could have gone on for 1200 more and I don’t think I’d have been bored. I’m so glad that I wasn’t put off by the sheer enormity of it because this book is wonderful.

The way I recently described it to my friend is Sirius Black gone right. Edmond Dantés, our protagonist, has everything going for him at the age of 19 when this book starts; a beautiful girlfriend, the job of his dreams, a loving father… then it all goes wrong and he is imprisoned for 14 years. That isn’t really a spoiler as such as it generally features on all descriptions! Upon his leaving his imprisonment, he takes revenge on those that caused him to end up there. He takes up the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo and, after developing a very intricate plan over a number of years, dishes out his revenge cold. There are so many threads to this story which are woven together in such a satisfying way, there is no such thing as a loose end at the end of this 1200 page epic!

And while this is a story about revenge, it is also ultimately about love. All Dantés has done in the years after prison – and during – were because of his love for Mercédès. All the actions that seem awful in some respects are actually, in part, driven by love of another character. Talking of the characters, they were all incredible. They were all rounded; they had merits and they had flaws – Dantés included! Some of them I loved, others I loathed but I just loved every interaction and how all of the characters wove together… it was incredible.

I think I owe the speed at which I read this to the audiobooks assistance. It was a 52hr audiobook, which I listened to on 2x speed and I just loved it. It just really brought it all to life. I was so invested in this book, and audiobook, that I was having dreams that seemed to merge with the plot of this. I was completely immersed.

This book has gone to the top of my favourite books list. Honestly. I’ve read some good books in my life but few have been as incredible as this. This has gone in to my Top 5 Ever list (along with – to name a couple – Rebecca and Orlando). It is daunting; it’s a 1200 page book, but please – if you are going to read one classic (pre-1900) this year, or in your lifetime, make it this. If you’ve read this please speak to me. I NEED to talk to people about this book because I just don’t think I can ever forget it and I want to experience it as long as possible.

Needless to say this is a 5/5 book. Definitely the best I’ve read this year (although, Orlando is fighting with it a bit). I urge you – READ THIS BOOK! (and make it the unabridged version).

PS: As if you needed any more convincing, there’s a not so closeted, 19th century lesbian. It’s not there unless you look for it, but it’s not just in my head, there is critical reviews that defend this point. And if that isn’t enough of a sell, I don’t know what else I can do to convince you.

Review: Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

northangerabbeyI’m going to start this review off by stating the fact that I am still yet to be completely enamoured by Austen. Anyone who has followed this blog for any period of time, or knows me in any way, will know that I’m not really a fan of Austen and it’s not that I don’t try, because I have many times, it’s that I just don’t feel that attraction to her writing that many others do. However, just over a year ago I promised myself that I would continue to persevere and at least complete her works even if I didn’t enjoy them to the full extent.

On the whole, though, I still find Austen’s writing dull. I just don’t seem to connect. While this book is short, I found it quite difficult to wade through. I didn’t find that her writing flowed all that much and, for my liking, there was too much dialogue. However, I do think I appreciated some of that humour in her writing that people go on about which, until now, I hadn’t seen.

I will say though, I enjoyed the characters in this and when I got in to it, the plot was pretty good too. Catherine Morland, our 17 year old protagonist, is an optimistic young girl who is a little naive and easily manipulated. She’s quite lovely, really. As with any Austen novel, there is romance and I have to say Mr Henry Tilney is one of the better Austen men, he seems to at least be cut from a slightly different cloth and have some features that make him stand out in my against other literary men! The other characters aren’t so bad either; we have the Thorpe’s – John and Isabella – who are both pretty odious. John is a hideous male who I loathed from his first appearance on my page and then Isabella, who starts out as a lovely girl who we slowly see is not as nice as she appears to be, which actually makes her more interesting!

I’m still to be fully convinced by Austen but at least I can say I am trying! I can’t see myself rereading Austen as I can the Brontë sisters work. I know that isn’t a fair comparison but it is as simple as I find that the Brontë’s work is compelling, it’s memorable, it’s a story I want to read again. This, while sweet, is not any of those things really; which ultimately gives it a 3/5 for me.

Review: The Wicked Will Rise – Danielle Paige

thewickedwillriseAfter reading the first book in the space of 2 days I read the second in a matter of two sittings and about 3-4 hours. This series has just been unputdownable for me, and it’s rare that that happens to me with a book – never mind a series. I’m very much a standalone reader!

So, after the first book we were left with Dorothy needing to embark on a quest before she can kill Dorothy. This picks up pretty much exactly where that left of, with just a little recap of the events of the first book and, what can I say, it was fantastic. It was about half the length of the first book but it was definitely all action and an improvement, in my eyes, on the first.

The dystopian Oz just gets darker and darker in this book, it has to be said. And the characters! We’re introduced to the Wingless Monkeys and we get a look at the versions of Polychrome and Bright, who featured in the original series by Baum,  as envisioned by Paige in this Oz Dystopia which I loved.

My biggest issue with this is the romance. It is why I avoid YA books because the romance does often seem a bit forced or unnecessary. I love Amy, Amy in this book was just fantastic but I felt the whole thing with Nox was somewhat meh. And then there was this thing with Pete and… I just despair because this would honestly have been a 5* book if it wasn’t for the romance. The strongest part of this book is how many characters are badass girls! Badass girls who are off saving people and killing witches; if only they, or at least Amy, didn’t get distracted by boys!

So ultimately this is a 4/5 for me and I’m anticipating the 3rd book (I thought it was a duology, it is not) which is out next year some time. So it’ll be a long wait in which I may find myself reading the prequel novellas that Paige has written. I’m so glad these books were recommended to me because I probably wouldn’t have picked them up myself!

Blog: Dorothy Must Die – Danielle Paige

Dorothy Must DieSo this was a book that was recommended to me by Robert, one of the best book recommenders, at one of my local independent bookshops (Jarrold’s) during Independent Bookshop Week. Even though I knew very little about it it was one I took from his hands with glee because, if you don’t know, The Wizard of Oz is one of my favourite books of all time – for some it is Alice in Wonderland but for me it will always be The Wizard of Oz.

This is the story of Amy Gumm, that other girl from Kansas. She’s not had the best upbringing, she lives in a trailer park with her not-so-great mother and things are pretty rough for her. They don’t get much better even when a tornado whips through her home and lands her in Oz. Oz is not the happy, cheery place it was and it’s all because of Dorothy. Dorothy returned to Oz to stay and, as a result, Oz is a somewhat dystopian version of itself.

Now, this was YA. YA is a genre I don’t read a lot of, it’s a genre I don’t often enjoy and, in a way, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped. It was great but some of the general tropes of YA fiction I felt held it back at times. Amy is a great main character. She’s a young girl with sass and I like that, but sometimes she was a bit Mary-Sue in that she filled a lot of tropes of a generic ass-kicking female. I still liked her. It has to be said.

My favourite part I think is simply that Danielle Paige has remained faithful to the original series. Really there are few original characters, most of them were in some way introduced in the original series by L Frank Baum (maybe even more than I think because I am yet to complete the entire series!) It was just wonderful to revisit the series in a slightly different way. The Oz Dystopia is so interesting!

My main problem is that I feel that the blurb is a cop out. All I can say is I’m thankful I have the second book already sat there because honestly, what is written on the back isn’t actually introduced until the final chapter. When going in to this, I was expecting what was on the blurb to actually happen not just be introduced in the final 10 pages!

Overall, this is a solid 3/5. There are problems with it, but it’s a really enjoyable, quick read. Before going in to it I would definitely recommend reading a few of the Oz books by Baum just to get a feel of the characters. It was great to read a much lighter book (I’m also reading The Count of Monte Cristo right now so this was a great reprieve!) Anyway, I am actually going to start the second book in the series right now because I want to know what happens.

So yeah. A good book, 3/5 and definitely one of the better YA books I have experienced!