Blog: Harry Potter Re-Read 2015

Happy Halloween!

I’m kicking off this Halloween with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A forum I’m part of have an annual reading challenge and, this year, I’ve decided to host a Harry Potter Re-Read for us! It all started after I bought the beautiful Jim Kay illustrated edition and I’ve been holding off reading it, saving it for today because I felt Halloween was the perfect day to read it!

So I’m going to reread the entire series over the next two months, the goal is to read the full series by the end of the year. I have read the whole series and watched all the movies in a week before but with uni work, that isn’t going to happen! I think they’ll be the perfect comfort reads during the next couple of months that will undoubtedly be full of stress with coursework deadlines and postgraduate applications. I’m really looking forward to reading it for the first time since Pottermore has been in play and reading it with the new dimension added to the characters.

Anyway, I’m now off to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’m unsure as to whether I will review them individually or do a big discussion post at the end, I shall see. I may just do brief updates throughout the next couple of months. So if anyone wants to discuss Harry Potter with me at any point in the near future, feel free, I will be more than happy to chat back because I love Potter. Lots.

I reiterate what I said in the beginning, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Review: The House on the Strand – Daphne du Maurier

houseonthestrandI love Daphne du Maurier. Absolutely love her. Every book I read by her just confirms that fact more and more. This is possibly one of her best, it’s her penultimate novel and it is just incredible. A lot of people disagree with that sentiment, however. All I will say is it was definitely the perfect October read!

The House on the Strand is an astounding novel. As nearly always with du Maurier, it has the backdrop of Cornwall but, unusually, this book is a bit sci-fi. Our protagonist, Dick Young, is spending the summer at the family home of his friend, and biophysicist, Magnus Lane. The latter is conducting experiments with a drug which enables Dick to travel back in time to the 14th Century. There is never a dull moment and even when Dick is living up to his name, I empathised with him and was on his side; I opposed anyone who stood in his way even though he was a bit of a prick throughout most of the novel.

As always, her writing was fabulous. It was both easy to follow and intricate, it was vivid yet thick with atmosphere. Even though you’re back and forth from the 20th century and the 14th century, it’s not confusing instead it’s absolutely effortless. She creates such beautiful imagery and an intriguing plot an I just love her.

This is the best book of the month for me so far, the time of year I read it was a big help (cold, dark nights under a blanket!) and I would definitely recommend this to any fan of du Maurier’s writing. It’s probably not a place to start but definitely one to think about if you’ve read a few of her novels and/or short stories. Easily a 5* read!

Review: The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma

thefishermenI’ve spent some time since finishing this book trying to decide what to say about it. I went in to it with high expectations because of Jen’s feelings about it; high expectations can be detrimental to my final feelings but not in this instance. This book lived up to the expectations I had, even surpassed them.

The Fishermen tells the story of four brothers who are growing up in a Nigerian village with the rather unstable political situation of the 1990s in the background. Their father leaves to work in the city and they go down to the river to fish, the river isn’t somewhere they ought to be. One day they meet the local madman – or prophet – who says that the oldest brother will be killed by a fisherman. This book is ultimately a story of how that unravels them.

The writing of this book is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I find it hard to believe that this is a début, quite honestly! There is such a richness to the language he uses and a depth to the characters, it’s astounding. There is so much to think about in this novel; there are so many things that will keep me thinking for days. I’m certain that the more I reflect on this novel, the more I will enjoy it.

As it stands, I’ve given this 4*. It’s probably 4.5*. It may move up to 5*. It’s a beautiful book and one with a lot of things to think about. There’s more to this than meets the eye and I will definitely get my hands on whatever Chigozie puts out next.

Review: A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

AStudyInScarletThis is my second venture in to the literary world of Sherlock Holmes and it was much better than the first. Maybe, as Julie Andrews once said, “start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start”.

The first half of this book was incredible, I finally felt I was getting Sherlock Holmes. The introductions between Holmes and Watson, the actual murder that takes place, it was all grand and I loved it. The main problem I had was that the perpetrator is caught within the first half of novel. We then spend the majority of the second half of the book, 20 years prior, which details the history and motivations of the killer and his victims. It all felt a little disjointed to me, the first half and the second half didn’t marry up very well and, honestly, it all went downhill for me in the second half.

Overall this was okay. The first half I would have been much happier with on it’s own or expanded somewhat, the second half I could have really done without. It dragged the entire book down for me, quite considerably, because up to that point it was a 5* read for me, it ended on a 3* though. I still enjoy reading a Sherlock novel and I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon, I just haven’t quite got that buzz that others seem to get from them yet!

Review: Spectacles – Sue Perkins

spectaclesI don’t often read an autobiography/memoir, but when I do it’s because I really like the person who has written them. So, somehow this slipped under my radar until the week it was published and naturally I had to get my hands on it. I’m so glad I did!

Reviewing autobiographies is hard because it’s essentially someone’s life you’re commenting on, or at least how they’ve put their lives across to the world. This book was great. It had me laughing and, at one point in particular, I did cry a little. Reading it, it was one of those books that the authors voice was clear as a bell in my head. It could have definitely been longer for me, I don’t think I could tire of her anecdotes or her turn of phrase and some of it did feel a little truncated; I respect that she wanted to keep some of it quiet and personal but still touch on it, but there were parts I was really getting in to and they just seemed to stop. Maybe that’s just me?

Favourite parts were definitely those about Pickle. I’m a Crazy Dog Lady so reading about other people who love their dogs and their experiences is always going to get me a bit emotional. She did recently release the open letter she wrote to Pickles, and I read that with my own dog at my feet and, like any good dog when I needed comforting he grunted and ran away.

I also loved the more backstage stuff about Maestro, some Supersizers and GBBO, obviously. Then there was her friendship with Mel, her family, it was all great. I loved it on the whole. For me though, there was just a tiny something missing – so it’s a 4*. It’s a great read though, it has to be said!

Tag: The Man Booker Prize Tag

man bookerSo, I found this over at Jean’s channel (BookishThoughts) and really wanted to do it. I’m currently making my way through the shortlist for this years prize and really want to make an effort to read more of previous prizes and thought this would be a really good way to do that! This will probably include a bit of a long-term TBR as there are a number I want to get through it seems. Going through the shortlists (here) there are a number of books I really want to get around to that I, honestly, had no idea were nominated in the past. So, anyway, let’s get on with it.

1. How long have you been following the Man Booker Prize? (If this is your first year, have you followed any other prizes previously?)

I use the term follow loosely. Really I’ve only been interested in it for the past few years – maybe since 2009? I remember Hilary Mantel winning for Wolf Hall and I then remember the next few years quite well even though I didn’t actively go out and read the books. I’ve been aware of it for a long time though, I think my English teacher in year 6 (I was 10/11) was the first one to introduce us to literary prizes – I didn’t go out and read any that young but she was the one who made me curious enough to go out and investigate when I got that bit older.

As for other prizes, I don’t follow them as I do the Man Booker, I’ve dipped in and out of the Orange/Bailey’s Prize and the Costa Book Awards but mainly to see what books are out there rather than following it religiously!

2. If you read a book you know has been longlisted, what expectations do you have going in to it?

In the past I’ve headed in with a sense of trepidation. It’s only the last few years I’ve been aware of the longlist, previously I only ever noticed the winner and a lot of the winning books seem a little untouchable. Books longlisted for the Man Booker are those that are the best in the class, they’re the elite and being elite doesn’t always mean that they’re approachable for the average Joe!

However, now I’ve developed as a reader, I go in expecting something amazing. I go in wanting the experience to be amazing. I want the book to be something different, something that I’ve not read before. I want it to maybe make me think differently.

3. Have you read any books from the longlist this year (if not, which ones interest you?)

I’m currently making my way through the shortlist. I’ve read A Little Life and Satin Island – the first being amazing and the later being a disappointment. I want to get to the final four in the next week or two. I know I’m not going to get through them all by Tuesday when the winner is announced but I do want to finish them. Off of the longlist, I’m quite interested to read The Chimes!

4. Which previously longlisted or shortlisted Man Booker book is your favourite?

From last year, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, it just has to be.

I’ve also loved A Tale for the Time Being (2013), Room (2010), The Accidental (2005), Never Let Me Go (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2003), Oryx and Crake (2003), Fingersmith (2002) and The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)

5. Which previous Man Booker Prize winner is your favourite (or which would you like to read?)

I’ve actually not read all that many of the winners, and those I have read I’ve not necessarily enjoyed all that much. The one I enjoyed the most will probably be The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Ones I want to read in the near future The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014), The Blind Assassin (2000) and Midnight’s Children (1981)

6. Is there any book that you hoped would make the longlist this year and didn’t? (to be eligible it has to be a book published in the UK in English between 1st Oct 2014 and 30th Sept ’15)

I would have loved to have seen The Book of Strange New Things, The Buried Giant (even though I didn’t much like it when I read it, it’s one I’ve grown more warmly to in hindsight) and The Gracekeepers in the mix.

Review: Satin Island – Tom McCarthy

satinislandThis is a book that seems to split its readers in to two camps; the lovers and the haters. I sadly fall in to the latter. Satin Island has been shortlisted for the Man Booker this year and, honestly, it’s books like this that give prize lists a bad name and make them feel out of touch to the average Joe.

Firstly, the positives, the structure of this book is quite interesting and it was under 200 pages. Other than that it’s absolutely exasperating with a detestable main character and absolutely no plot. I can honestly find nothing to discuss about this book regarding the plot as there just wasn’t one. I don’t mind that as long as there are good characters, but the main character was just blah and the peripheral characters were barely there either. This just really frustrated me.

It read like non-fiction in parts, but the worst kind. If I wanted to read an essay on anthropology I’d have found one. Oh and also, there was an excessive use of parentheses which really got on my wick.

I gave this book 1* and I feel that is generous. It was pretentious, it felt self-absorbed and just didn’t give off a good impression. It could have been great, there were a few passages that were just stand up beautiful but, on the whole, I just felt I was banging against a wall constantly while reading it and never quite getting to the greatness. I felt unfulfilled reading this book. I wanted more but at the same time, I wanted far, far less. Essentially, I just wanted a different book entirely and I thank the Gods that this was short.

NB: I was stuck on a bus and only had this to read. I don’t know if I would have finished it had I not been stuck on said bus. Take from that what you will.

Review: A Little Life – Hanya Yanagigara

ALittleLifeFirst off, this review will not do this book justice, for good and coherent reviews scour Goodreads – there are so many incredible reviews of this book I don’t even want to imitate them. This book is beyond words, I have been trying to put my feelings in to words and I just can’t but anyway…

This book has taken me a lot longer to read than I anticipated but, oh what a read it was. I don’t think I’ve been this invested in a book, felt so in touch with the characters, felt so soul destroyed ever. This is just incredible and, in short, it fully deserves all the hype that is surrounding it. As I said, this book took me a long time to read, I couldn’t read much at once and I couldn’t read anything alongside it; it just completely consumed my life for nearly a month.

In short, A Little Life, follows the story of four young men in New York and slowly it focuses down to just the one of them; Jude. While this book is ultimately Jude’s tale, throughout it you get to know JB, Malcolm and Willem to the point you feel that all four of them are people you know personally – none of them felt fictional by the end of this. The depth of character is incredible, their souls are laid bare before you and I think they’re the sort of characters that will just sit with me. I will probably judge every book from now on on this level of characterisation that Yanagihara has put forward and I don’t feel remotely guilty

It is by no means an easy read, it isn’t one for everyone, it is a rollercoaster filled with trauma and harrowing events that absolutely destroyed me. This book really ought to have trigger-warnings galore on it’s front cover because some things were so difficult to read I had to put it down for a little while. But the thing is, I don’t think a book has ever had me openly crying like this did and I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I’ve been punched in the gut while reading a book either. By the end of my month of reading this, I was emotionally exhausted but I think I came out of it a different person, it was just one of those books that really affected and changed me.

It was a powerful, painful and exhausting book to read but so, so utterly worth it. It took me a month to read but I don’t mind that, I have read an incredible book here and it is one that I will reread in the future for certain. In short this book is a 5* read and I’ve run out of adjectives to describe it. I have the entire Man Booker shortlist sat in front of me but, honestly, I think this might just win it because damnit, it’s incredible.

September Wrap Up & October TBR

On the whole, September was a really, really poor reading month for me. I read 4 books in full and still haven’t finished the fifth. On the whole, I have been in a bit of a reading slump and the fifth book I picked up has completely consumed me. A Little Life has rendered me rather incapable of being a book bigamist and has been the only book I can focus on, even if very little, for the better part of the month.

So with the four books I completed, two of which by John Burnside, The Dumb House was the best of the books I read. Middlemarch was a bit of a disappointment in the grand scheme of things – there is no denying Eliot is a fantastic writer but it just wasn’t really what I was hoping for. My average rating was 3.5 for the month, nothing really blew me away aside from The Dumb House which feels like I read it ages ago now.

20151003_144401297_iOSOctober I’m hoping will be a little more promising. I’ve been feeling that urge to just disappear in a book for a few days. I’m hoping I can get A Little Life finished in the next few days so I can finally pick something else up. I have a few books that I feel are good for October sitting there – some Wilkie Collins and a selection of Poe’s short stories and a bit of Sherlock Holmes. I also would like to read some more of the Man Booker shortlist even though the winner is announced in the not so distant future! The books I selected for the month are very classic heavy so I’m not entirely certain I will be able to manage them all but I can try!

A slightly different goal is that I want to make a bit more dedication to blogging this month as last month it fell by the wayside. So as I’ve slowed my reading I will be filling space with some different things; tags, academic, life… it’ll all be thrown in there!

Have a lovely October!