Review: The Story of Egypt – Joann Fletcher

24 - The Story of Egypt

My Rating – 3*

Something that not many people know about me is I have always had an avid love of Ancient Egypt, bit it has been rekindled to almost obsessive levels lately! My main method of procrastination has been watching documentaries about the subject, which is how I discovered Joann Fletcher. Joann is a professor of Egyptology based at the University of York. he has presented a number of documentaries about Egypt, most recently Immortal Egypt – The World’s Greatest Civilisation which is the companion TV series to this book. The Story of Egypt is very comprehensive book on the subject, and covers everything in much more detail than the 4-part TV series, starting in the pre-dynastic period right the way up to the fall of the Ptolemaic empire with the death of Cleopatra.

I had high hopes for this, I love all the documentaries I’ve seen with Joann at the helm and in a way it met them but in many others it didn’t. It is very, very accessible for the non-expert and the generally curious reader who wishes to expand their knowledge. It really is incredible how such a broad period of history (pre-5000BC to 30BC) was covered in such a small number of pages. The content of this book is amazing, it follows Egypt chronologically, and while there were a couple of parts which seemed out of place, and would have been better in another section, on the whole it was well organised and read well. Each chapter is dedicated to a dynasty  (approximately), which means that it’s all very bitesized and easy to see how each dynasty impacted on the next.

However, what I didn’t like was the writing. I found it repetitive, and in turn it became quite dull and hard to engage in. There were a lot of niggly things which irritated me in use of language, and while I understand it was both factual AND easy to digest there comes a point where simple language becomes repetitive and disengaging and I really feel that was the downfall of this entire book for me, unfortunately. A lot of sentences started the same way, and the phrase ‘so-called’ was thrown around a lot (while it was perfectly legitimate to be used, it was a little grating after a while!) Also, there is a lot of issues surrounding her opinion of Nefertiti – namely that a lot of her evidence is unsubstantiated and that her claims were published without going through the correct channels. Her unsubstantiated claims were reiterated in this book but I found them very interesting to actually read, I don’t know the true facts surrounding Nefertiti – I am afterall no expert – all I know is that her claims have received a lot of controversy!

I think though that this book is a great introduction to Egyptian history to someone who just wants to learn more. It’s accessible, it’s relatively easy to read, I would just recommend not reading it in large chunks or it does get repetitive and blur together a little! On the whole I enjoyed this, and I will read more by Fletcher. So it has to be 3*.

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Review: The Vegetarian – Han Kang

23 - The Vegetarian

My Rating – 4* 

This is a book which came on to my radar quite a while ago, eventually I got around to it and boy am I glad I did. The Vegetarian is an incredibly powerful book; focusing on a young woman who takes it upon herself to eat a plant-based diet in a country where that just is not the done thing. I was curious about this book, I’m a vegetarian myself (and considering the possibility of becoming vegan) and as this is a very different cultural look at plant-based diets I approached it with what I can only call a morbid curiosity. Not only that, but I’d never read a book by a South Korean author and I really love to branch out across the world with my reading! What surprised me most is this is more than a book about a woman who  becomes a vegetarian; it’s an insight in to society in South Korea, and also a tentative narrative about mental illness.

Yeong-hye, our protagonist, after having a vivid dream decides that she is to be a vegetarian – or rather a vegan; upon waking in the middle of the night she goes to the kitchen and rids the house of meat. This is much to her husbands dismay and anger, who says “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.“. We follow this experience of Yeong-hye’s decent in to veganism (as she rids her life of animal based products as well as meat) through the eyes of three members of her family; her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. Each of these narrators gets around 60 pages to tell their part of the story. Their sections don’t really overlap, they don’t really have much in common, the only common factor is Yeong-hye. It was a little jumpy in parts, and I wish there was more from Yeong-hye herself but I sort of liked the peripheral look we got at her throughout.

Now, this book is not for the faint of heart – it is frankly quite brutal in places. There is moments of force feeding, there is sexual assault, and I would also say that it could be quite triggering to people with any eating disorder. But that brutality? It really made this book stand out, and I think it will stick with me for that.

I gave this 4* because it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I loved this book, I loved the premise, I loved the decent from the slightly odd to the out-right bizarre, I loved the journey it took me on. I just don’t feel it quite lived up to what I had imagined it to be in my head. I wish this were more of a social look at one woman and her plant-based diet in South Korea and less of a family drama. But really, that’s my only criticism. The prose was absolutely beautiful, and while a lot of that is down to the translator (Deborah Smith), there is no denying that this woman can write! I will definitely be checking out her other novel (Human Acts) at some point in the future.

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Review: The Book Collector – Alice Thompson

 

22 - The Book Collector

Rating – 4*

This book may be small but it is certainly mighty. At just over 150 pages I was concerned that it wouldn’t provide all it promised, but it did and it provided so much more. It’s my first book by both Alice Thompson, and from the publisher, but it certainly won’t be my last.

We follow Violet, a young, influential girl who is seemingly swept off of her feet by a book collector, Archie. They marry, have a son, everything is rosy. Then the rose tinted goggles start to come away from Violet, she starts to see things, and as a reader you question her sanity. From this point the book takes a decidedly dark and twisty turn of events – we have a visit to the local asylum, murder, adultery; it’s all so very creepy and I loved it.

This comprises of such a small cast of characters, while they’re not all fully fleshed out  I think that it added to the story. The murky atmosphere, and not quite knowing everything, really boosted the book for me. This is one of the best, modern, Gothic novels I’ve read (and I love a Gothic Novel). It had elements of Rebecca which were done really well, not in an outright mimic of du Maurier but in a very subtle way which was really effective.

The writing here was really vivid. There was beautiful use of language, the atmosphere was created masterfully, the interwoven fairy tales also really worked for me. My one resounding impression from reading this though is that it would make such a good stage production. It was dark and creepy, but also beautiful. When I was reading this, I could see it all so clearly… Oh I so hope this is adapted in some way!

To explain the 4* rating; for me it was a little short and a bit too snappy. While I loved it the way it was, I wish there was just something more!

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Blog: Taking it Seriously

At the start of this year I decided I wanted to take the things I love to do more seriously. I have a lot of things I like to do, but if you haven’t already worked it out I love books more than most things. As I’ve gone through my degree they’ve become a lot more important to me, as has this blog. But in spite of that personal promise, it took me a long time to realise that this is something I could take more seriously.

Reaching the end of my degree, and not really knowing where I’m going next I put the important things down on paper. Oddly, or not so oddly, reading – and indeed this blog – came out quite close to the top of things I love to put time an effort in to (and feel like I achieve something in doing so!)

To take this more seriously, I gave myself a facelift; new layout, header, and even a new picture of me! Secondly, more importantly, you can now find this blog at ashleighsbookshelf.co.uk. While things will remain, on the whole, the same some things might change up along the way. Needless to say I’m quite excited about this next phase of my blogging experience.

Any suggestions you have for me, or things you’d like to see, I’d love to hear!

Thanks for sticking around

Ashleigh

Review: Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

21 - Far From the Madding Crowd

Rating – 3*

Far From the Madding Crowd is my first foray in to Hardy, and I definitely will be reading more from him. However, I really didn’t enjoy this much.

Now, Hardy can write. There were periods of description in this book which I actually read twice over because it was just so beautiful. Passages about the night sky and the English countryside really set an amazing tone throughout the book and where really what kept me reading. It was the characters, and the plot, which I didn’t like.

Everyone says Bathsheba Everdene is one of the best characters in literature. She’s a strong, independent, feisty woman in a mans world. I found her to be a male interpretation of a ‘strong woman’. But then she can’t just be that, she can’t be this independent woman, instead she has to be portrayed as cruel. Then she goes gaga at the sight of a man in uniform. All of this build up of her being this independent woman who doesn’t need a man turns in to her just needing the right man. She had the potential to be incredible, but for me she was just a caricature. As for the men, they were very much a victim of the same fate – they were bland and literally were created to fit in to the right slot. The primary problem with every character is that I felt I’d read about all of them before.

The plot was predictable, and was very much driven by the predictable characters. From the outset I think it’s obvious where this was going to end up, it just went around the houses a bit to get there. There were elements which did surprise me and were unique and I really enjoyed those parts. At the beginning I found myself really heartbroken for Gabriel when he lost everything. Most of the positive parts of this book come from Gabriel. However, come the end of this book, in spite of predictable plot and characters, I found myself rooting for a happy outcome.

While it was frustrating, I couldn’t actually put it down. Hardy’s writing is so readable and I enjoyed that, and actually for all it’s faults this book it was still good. I still enjoyed it. It’s by far and away not the best book I’ve ever read, but it has me interested in Hardy and I really want to explore his writing more.  I just found that if he applied even a little bit of the time and effort he put in to the scenery in to the characters and plot to give three-dimensional, fleshed out individuals and a more well rounded story this could have easily been a 5* book. Unfortunately, for me it was just OK and that means 3*.

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Review: The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

20 - The Thing Around Your Neck

Rating 3*

I finally finished this book and, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. Now, don’t misunderstand me, this collection is incredible and her writing is beautiful but I think I went in to this with far too high expectations. Previous to this, I didn’t really get along with Americanah; I didn’t enjoy it and the problems I had with that I felt were also present here in some respects.

The collection primarily addresses Nigerian immigrants to north America. The stories were all powerful but having read The Alphabet of Birds which addresses a lot of the same themes, I found this just didn’t quite hit the mark when compared to it.

There were some stand out stories for me, I really liked ‘A Private Experience’, in which a Christian and a Muslim woman shelter together from a raging war between their faiths. It is possibly the most poignant of the collection, and even though I read it some time ago now it has stuck with me. Another I liked was ‘On Monday of Last Week’ which follows a Nigerian immigrant to America as she becomes a nanny to a wealthy family.

I found this collection very samey, a lot of the stories I felt were just the same thing told slightly differently. Once I had read one, I felt I had read them all. The characters all tended to blur together. I think it would be unfair to give it less than 3* because there were stand-outs in the collection, and the writing was beautiful even when I was feeling bored of the story. I think I’m slowly reaching the conclusion that me and Adichie’s writing are never going to fully click.

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Review: Daphnis and Chloe – Longus

19 - Daphnis and Chloe

Rating – 4*

This is one of the new Little Black Classics that Penguin have released after the success of their first 80. The second batch are a little bit longer, which makes me incredibly happy as they published this little gem. It came on to my radar a couple of years ago after seeing a couple of booktubers /bloggers recommend it and I’m so glad I finally got around to it.

Daphnis and Chloe follows Daphnis (a goatherd) and Chloe (a shepherdess), who fall in love without actually understanding what these feelings they have for each other are. They learn about what they’re feeling through a frankly baffling series of events, some of which involve nymphs and pirates! Both were found abandoned as infants by their respective families, and along the way they both come to learn of their origins. It is really, really quite a sweet tale and it just warmed my heart a little bit!

One thing I wasn’t expecting is that it is actually quite a hilarious book. I found myself openly laughing at certain parts of their absolute confusion, at some of the situations they somehow got themselves in to. It was actually quite refreshing to be able to get in to a classic book without any effort. I’d seriously recommend this to anyone who wants to just try something new, this series of books is so good for that! So, this book I’ll happily give 4* to, it wasn’t quite perfect but I loved it nonetheless.

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Review: Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs – Lina Wolff

17 - Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs

Rating – 4*

This book is very hard to rate and describe, and I really don’t know what kind of person I would recommend it to. I would like to preface this very confused review with an overarching statement of I really enjoyed this, the prose is absolutely stunning and this book it just captivated me when I was reading it. But for me this was a very, very slow read. This wasn’t a particularly long book, either.

The structure of this book is what interested me the most, it’s like a Russian doll. There are stories within stories in this book, and it flits between these stories and somehow they all come together quite beautifully. In a way it’s a short story collection, or at least a collection of vignettes. It doesn’t always make sense, I did often find myself a little lost and having to reread over sections, but it works. I hazard to say this, as I hate comparing authors, but this was for me very reminiscent of both Virginia Woolf and Ali Smith. Yeah. Those are big words, because if you know me you know I love those of those women. It wasn’t the story which brought these comparisons to mind, it was the way in which it was written.

We follow Araceli Villalobos, a young girl from a sleepy Spanish town. However, this book generally focuses on her glimpses of Alba Cambó. Alba, a writer, presents as this very confident woman and acts as both a guiding influence on Araceli but also is quite vindictive towards her. Without the relationship between Araceli and Alba, this book would not work as a novel. It would, frankly, be a bit of a mess and neither a short story collection or a novel. It’s hard to pick out key points of this book because it is so many little things without much of an overarching story. Honestly, how the narrative of this book came together is incredible, it’s like a patchwork quilt!

However much I enjoyed this book, it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. My main issue is that I found it hard to pick up where I left off when I had put it down. I wish I could have sat and read it through, I think having done that I’d have adored this book. But picking it up after a few hours away was quite jarring for me, personally. It’s a solid 4* read for me though, I really enjoyed this. I’m also hoping to get the an event with the author on Monday so I’m really looking forward to hearing her feelings and how she wanted this to come across!

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Review: Hold Your Own – Kate Tempest

17 - Hold Your Own

Rating – 4*

In absolutely no way am I an expert on poetry, but it is something that once in a while I do enjoy. This book has been everywhere in the bookish community, but I was unsure if I was capable of appreciating this. I read some of the first poem, which spans about 20 pages in all, and I just fell in love.

The theme of this is that it’s based around the myth of Tiresias, a young prophet in Greek myth who was transformed in to a woman by the Gods, only temporarily. It’s simply inspired. The collection is split in to four sections, inspired by the stages of his/her life: childhood, womanhood, manhood, and “blind profit”.

This poetry is easy to get through and it’s relatable. And while there were some which I just couldn’t get in to, I think that’s the beauty of poetry though because even though I couldn’t get the rhythm of some of them, I still liked what they were saying. For me, there were a handful of standout poems in this collection, but my favourite in the entire book was On Clapton Pond at Dawn. This one I found myself reading several times, flicking back to to re-indulge myself.

Honestly, I think this collection has made me more likely to pick up poetry as a whole, but also I really want to pick up more by Kate Tempest, both Brand New Ancients and her novel which came out in the past week or so! This is a very solid 4*; I don’t feel I can give it 5* because I’ve not got much poetry to compare it to!

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