Review: MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

maddaddamMaddAddam has been a book that I’ve put off for a while as I haven’t quite felt ready to end the trilogy. I found Oryx & Crake okay, I absolutely adored The Year of the Flood but this, I actually found this a little disappointing as the conclusion to the trilogy.

After finishing The Year of the Flood I was pretty excited to get started on this. The prior two books had converged neatly at a point – they were told from two perspectives about the same events and because of this I was very much expecting this to go full steam ahead in to the future and conclude in some epic ending and it just didn’t. It was mostly flashbacks, which while interesting made the book feel painfully slow. Zeb is interesting and finding out how he got to the point he is at in this book was great but I wanted to go in to the future, not go further back! Jimmy spends most of this book in a coma, the women from the second book are mostly ignored. Toby gets some ‘screentime’ but not nearly what I feel enough and… I just felt disappointed.

The main issue for me is I don’t think this was what I was expecting. It was like walking through treacle, in all honesty. What I found most disappointing what it went from two books with genetically engineered dystopian futures to, well, what I felt was a joke. Nothing about this was believable an it felt as if it were a parody of the two previous books. It just paled in comparison. It doesn’t change my opinion on either of the former, The Year of the Flood remains one of the best books I’ve read this year but I can’t say I would recommend reading this. It wasn’t the satisfying ending I had hoped for and yes, it was perfectly readable but it just wasn’t anywhere near as good as Oryx & Crake or The Year of the Flood.

Because of this, MaddAddam gets a 3* review from me with the advice that you should only read this as a completionist and not with any expectations for it to meet. I wish I had stopped at The Year of the Flood. It was good, but it was a let down from the previous two.

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke

strangeandnorrellTo try and sum this book up is difficult. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a book that spans 1005 pages, it is modern yet reads like something by Dickens, it’s a slow burn that builds up ever so gradually and to try and summarise it in to a review and do it justice, I feel, is an impossibility. This is going to be a long review which tells very little as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who does want to read this!

I’m going to break from my mould of reviews to give this a quick taster to anyone who has looked at the sheer enormity of this book and been put off, as someone who was really dubious as to whether this book was going to be for me, I just want to give a brief indication of the reading experience for this, because 1000 page books are daunting for even the most avid of readers. My first thing to say to anyone thinking about this is that if a 1000+ book that is a very slow burn with several sub-plots and footnotes isn’t something that tickles your pickle, then this book is probably not one for you. I would say if you like fantasy or historical fiction maybe give it a go and try the first 100 pages or so if you do want to just step outside of your comfort zone, just to see if you like it. On the other hand, if you appreciate all of those things and like a book that reads as if it was a very approachable, borderline fantasy book by Dickens then you will more than likely love this.

With that brief introduction over, I have to say I loved this book. It probably could have done with being 200 pages or so shorter but then, I enjoyed every minute I was either listening to or reading this. It straddles the borders between several genres of fiction – all of which I do enjoy – there is historical fiction, fantasy, it reads as if it were written by Dickens and has that approachability of a YA novel and I just loved that. The characters themselves were incredible. Mr Norrell is detestable yet oddly endearing; I found I liked him much more in the first half of the book than the second but, then, the first portion of this book is primarily Norrell with only a smattering of other characters. Jonathan Strange isn’t actually introduced until the 250 page mark and is a character who I did find interesting but somewhat annoying, he’s much more likeable over the course of the novel than Norrell and the twist in his story towards the end of the second section did break me a little. What I particularly liked is the downward spiral from that point in to the third section where things become desperate.

What I loved so much about this is that the characters were severely flawed. I appreciated that magic couldn’t solve all their woes. As I said above, the downward spiral of Jonathan Strange over the final third of the book was one that I could hardly put down. I actually read most of this book over the period of the bank holiday weekend because I was just so enthralled by it all!

The research that must have gone in to this book is also incredible. Susanna Clarke has written a fantasy novel which is based around the Napoleonic War and the affect on England and in spite of the magical elements it is historically accurate. Some of it did read more like an academic work; there are long arguments of why some magic can or cannot be done, citations from works of magicians who are long dead with footnotes which are insanely long (and I found really interesting though, I can understand why some people hate them!) There is also this grasp on the age in which Strange and Norrell are living which makes this feel very authentic in it’s efforts to come across as a 19th century novel.

I really can’t express my love for this book enough. It took me a month to read in full, but 600 pages were read over 2 days in the end. It was a slow, meandering read and I appreciated that. I’m still torn as to whether it is a 4* or a 5* book so I’m going to say it’s a 4.5 for now. However, I’m very excited to now go and watch the TV series, I just hope it lives up to the novel!

Review: The Parasites – Daphne du Maurier

the-parasitesThe Parasites is one of du Maurier’s lesser known works. It is significantly different to her other works that I have read, it’s much more realistic and there isn’t as much of the gothic influence in it – at least not obviously. Once again, I have to say I’m glad that I am being a completist with du Maurier’s work because I think this would have been a book I ordinarily overlooked.

It follows the story of three siblings, well, sort of. Maria and Niall are step siblings and Celia, their half sister. They’re a product of famous singer and an even more famous dancer. It’s mostly a story told in retrospect, as in the first chapter Maria’s husband calls the siblings parasites and from there we delve in to their mutual past as they try to understand why they are parasites. While this isn’t so heavy on plot, it is one of the best character studies I have read in a long time. The three siblings are so symbiotic it’s both interesting and disturbing.

This is a very ambiguous book, with absolutely detestable characters but I found myself loving it because of the way it was written. The novel itself is told from the mutual ‘we’ perspective, never quite certain which one of them is narrating because they’re all so intertwined. As with all of her other books, this is written flawlessly and the past and present are seamlessly flipped between. I don’t often like a book with characters I hate but, this was du Maurier and it was done so well and so intentionally that I rather liked this change from the norm.

Overall I think this is a solid 4/5, it is by no means perfect and I didn’t much care for the ending but I really liked this interlude in my reading of her works because it is so very different to all the others in her bibliography that I have read. Once I got in to it I read it quite quickly, as I usually do with a du Maurier. I really can’t get enough of this woman’s writing and to think I’m almost at the half way stage of her bibliography is heartbreaking – the next du Maurier can’t come soon enough!

Review: Flush – Virginia Woolf

flushFlush is a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel, Flush. Yes, it is a book which tells the story of a dog, through the dogs eyes but it is actually wonderful however absurd that sounds! This book was picked up purely on the basis that it was written by Virginia Woolf and was published by Persephone, both of whom I love.

It’s a short book at just over 100 pages but every word is wonderful. It was written in the come down from her writing The Waves (a book which I am yet to read) when she was relatively drained. It was something she wrote for fun and you really get that humour come across in her writing in this instance.

Flush was a dog that lived a very varied life, it gave an insight in to Elizabeth Barrett’s life also. From the fields he roamed as a puppy to his life in a London townhouse and then moving to Italy and the freedom he gained, Flush lived a very good life. This is a parody of sorts as the Victorians did love writing a good biography of an esteemed gentleman and from Flushes point of view, he is an esteemed gentleman. Some of the feelings he had were just so human and, really, believable. A particular chapter that really resonated with me is when Miss Barrett meets Mr Browning and Flushes jealousy!

This book is by no means the masterpiece that Orlando is but it is, however, a really charming book. This book is a very accessible book to read if you’ve not read any Woolf or even if you have but didn’t particularly have that resonance with her writing. It’s a solid 4/5 read and, honestly, one I think I would reread because it was just so lovely!

Review: Skin – Ilka Tampke

skinSkin is the début novel of Australian author Ilka Tampke and it is one that weaves historical fiction with fantasy. Is is the first book in a duology but I think it can definitely be read as a standalone. And, on the whole, I loved this given the fact that it was actually a cover buy on my part!

This is set in Iron Age Britain (43AD) on the brink of invasion by the Roman empire. Our protagonist, Ailia, who works in the kitchens of the Tribequeen. Ailia is unskinned, as a foundling she has no knowledge of her family and as a result of this is forbidden from learning and she is keen to do just that, she is inquisitive and bright, she longs to know her skin so she can be a journeywoman.

I really enjoyed this. It was written beautifully, I could scarcely put it down. However it was predictable. I found myself expecting what was coming, I put two and two together before things were revealed. It didn’t really spoil the book for me but I didn’t feel myself meandering with the story, I was a step ahead of it for most of the books – the twists that people in other reviews didn’t see, I saw a mile off! I don’t think that was a big problem on the whole though because the writing was beautiful and the plot was just a device to push great characters further.

The fantasy element of this was neither here nor there. I found it more spiritual than fantasy, not in a preachy kind of way but the fantasy explored is based around the spirituality of the time and I actually really liked that. As someone who has not read much fantasy at all, I found this very easy to understand and it was really interesting to read too.

On the whole I liked this book a lot and I will definitely read the sequel when it is released in the UK. While this wasn’t perfect, I’m happy to say this was a 4/5 book for me and that I would recommend it to people who like both historical fiction and a bit of fantasy, or even people who have no particular liking to either but want to try something out of their comfort zone.

Readathon: Bout-of-Books 14.0

Bout of Books
I love a good read-a-thon so I’ve decided to take part in Bout of Books 14.0 next week! If you don’t know what Bout of Books is:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team
So, I’m really excited because I really want to get a good chunk of reading done over the next week and also, read-a-thons mean TBRs and I love making TBRs! So, below are the books I want to get around to or at least have the pick of over the next week! I doubt I will read them all but I’d like to get some of them started and/or finished. Without further ado, a TBR pile:
Two of these books I am currently reading (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Skin) but the other four are books that I just want to read sooner rather than later. I always like to throw some du Maurier in to a readathon TBR so, while Hungry Hill is the next to read chronologically, I picked The Parasites because it is considerably shorter. Then we have two off of me August TBR The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ and also The Montana Stories. Topping it off we have another Persephone book and some Virginia Woolf to boot in Flush: A Biography.
So that’s my TBR for the week. I doubt I’ll get through all of these books but I’m aiming to complete 3, maybe 4, and make headway in to the others. I know I won’t finish Strange & Norrell this week but I’m 200 pages in and haven’t picked it up since the start of the month so just want to make a further dent in to it!
I’m really excited to be taking part in this and I shall update with reviews over the course of the week and my wrap up at the end. But YAY! Read-a-thon!

Review: Uprooted – Naomi Novik

uprootedUprooted is a rather beautiful fantasy novel which I picked up with some Amazon credit. I’ve seen it mentioned a few times in various places and the cover was just too beautiful to turn down.

To summarise this book, we follow our young protagonist – Agnieszka – who at the start of this novel is taken by a wizard known only as the Dragon. There is a Wood, which is possessed with darkness which infects the people of the surrounding villages and the Dragon takes a girl every 11 years or something and protects the people in the valley from the corruption of the Wood. It reminded me very much of Beauty and the Beast, I think that’s really the best way to describe this book without giving anything away.

It read very much like a YA novel, a 17/18 year old girl as a first person narrator and it’s very fairy tale – it is a combination of Beauty and the Beast and Polish folklore with a bit of the story of Baba Yaga thrown in! It read beautifully, it was very flowery and gentle however it became a bit more sloppy in the second half and even though I was happy with how it ended, there were some big problems for me towards the 300-page mark.

The characters introduced in the first half were awesome. Agnieszka is one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve read in a long time, she’s clumsy and awkward but she develops and her confidence builds over the course of the novel and I just clicked with her. The friendship with Kasia was one of the most authentic friendships I had read. Even the Dragon was somewhat endearing and over the progression of the novel he developed too. Some of the side characters were great too, Alosha particularly I wish we had more on. The problem is that characters introduced towards the half way point or further are just thrown in, they receive very little time or words and there were times where I felt a little confused because I didn’t feel that they had the same depth of character to those introduced in the first half – they felt rushed, haphazard and just there. I felt the plot had the same problems in the third quarter of the book – the final 70 or so pages were beautiful but there was a middle section which I feel could have been either elaborated on or cut out entirely. Oddly, the romance in this book wasn’t something I was opposed to but it did, at times, feel forced.

So, this book was good. It has me wanting to read more fantasy, which is never a bad thing. It is most assuredly not a YA novel; there is sex in it, and also an attempted sexual assault at one point, which actually surprised me because I did feel it was a YA novel until those points occurred! I would definitely give Novik another go in the future because her writing is beautiful but, while this novel did have some really exceptional points it was just good. It wasn’t exceptional. So it’s a 3/5.

Review: A Portable Shelter – Kirsty Logan

PortableShelterSo I read The Gracekeepers, I also read The Rental Heart; both of them got 4* from me so it was given that I was going to pre-order this because Kirsty is just fabulous, her writing is beautiful and I just needed this in my life. However, I didn’t expect this to be quite as wonderful as it was. I went in with trepidation, I had such a good feeling about this collection that I just didn’t want to be disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed – how could I have been, this is just beautiful – and it’s my favourite short story collection of the year – without doubt.

This is a collection of short stories told within a novella. So it’s a bit inception-y in that there is stories within a story. Ruth and Liska are having a baby, they have promised to only tell the truth to their child but both want to tell their unborn child fairytales and things they have learnt from them. So Ruth tells stories to her unborn child when Liska is at work and Liska tells them to the child inside Ruth when Ruth is asleep, so neither get caught breaking their promise.

How this series of stories was told was inspired. The fact that it’s stories within a story, that between each fairy tale we get an introduction from either Ruth or Liska to the story directed at the unborn child is just such an interesting way to approach a series of short stories.

This collection was a 5/5 for me – even though it is full of fantastical tales of witches and werewolves and fairies it was really relatable. The messages that Ruth and Liska were telling their unborn child through these tales hit me. I was so emotionally invested in some of these stories, the emotions were raw (the last story made me cry, it was about grief and really just hit me in the gut after losing my grandmother at Christmas. Reading that last paragraph of the book I couldn’t see straight.)

This is an incredible collection and I really, really recommend it. The hardcover was a limited run of 1000 from an independent publisher in Scotland but I think Amazon still have a few copies left. If not, Vintage will be publishing the paperback next year. Seriously, try and get your hands on this because it’s the best of Kirsty’s work that I have read and the best short story collection in a long time, if not ever. This woman is a marvel and I really can’t wait to find out what she’s writing next because I already feel bereft!

Top Ten Tuesday: My Ten Most Read Authors

So, once again I’ve decided to do Top Ten Tuesday (I did one back at the start of July and none since). Anyway, TTT is a weekly bit of bookish fun which originated at The Broke and The Bookish. Every week there is a new top ten list and followers are invited to share their answers! This week, as the title suggests, is my 10 most read authors! I thought this was also a good time to show you my favourite books by those authors as those you read most tend to be your favourites!

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Review: Hotel World – Ali Smith

hotel worldHotel World was an interesting book but probably my least favourite of Ali Smith’s work that I’ve read. It was still great, I still loved it, but there was just something that I didn’t click with in this.

This book follows 5 PoVs; the ghost of a woman who dies when she following getting in a dumbwaiter at the hotel, a homeless woman who begs outside the hotel, a receptionist at the hotel, a journalist who stays at the hotel and also, the sister of the girl who dies. Now, Smith’s writing really works for multiple perspective writing. The stream of consciousness really gives each of these characters an individual, distinctive voice and she brings the individual threads of their stories together so well.

However, at times it all felt fragile. I think that was intentional. The chapter from Clare’s PoV was hard to read, it was 20-something pages of unpunctuated stream of consciousness and it was intentionally difficult to read – Clare is grieving, you can’t punctuate grief. It’s choppy and rather than the word ‘and’ there are numerous ampersands which, really, is quite effective and clever and does convey the emotion that Clare is feeling at that time.

My favourite section was the first, told from Sara’s perspective, or rather her ghost’s perspective. That section was just so beautiful and fluid, I didn’t put it down. Else was a little more difficult but still, nonetheless, interesting. Lise I could connect with on a more personal level – that section hit home a lot more than I would have liked. Clare, as I said, I found difficult to read but nonetheless understand why it was difficult and finally, the last bit, was a beautiful way to wrap it all up.

Ali Smith is a phenomenal writer. Her use of language is just so clever and I always finish on of her books, marvelling at her skill. It was unique, it wasn’t what I was expecting, I’m glad I read it but it’s not my favourite of her work; I prefer all four of her other novels that I have read to this. For that reason, it’s a 3/5 with a comment of ‘read this if you’re at least somewhat familiar with her work, don’t start here’!