Review: Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs

29 - Library of Souls

Rating – 3*

This is possibly one of the most highly anticipated books I on my bookshelf, I absolutely loved book 1 and 2 (reviews here and here). Now, I would suggest if you want to read this and it was a while since you read book two, go back and read at least the last few chapters of book two to refresh yourself because I was lost. This book throws you right in at the action, immediately as the second book ends. This series would definitely benefit from a solid read-through over the course of a week or so.

As I said, this book throws you straight in at the action, and it starts at a really good pace. The problem is, it slows down. The sense of adventure was there throughout the book, and it did pick up again, but that initial loss of momentum threw me off a little. There are a number of new locations introduced in this book, each bringing with it a set of challenges and a new aspect to this rescue mission that Jacob and Emma are on; these places are incredible, and the descriptions were vivid enough that I didn’t even need the pictures alongside the words. The primary one, Devil’s Acre, really adds to the desperation that Jacob and Emma are feeling and I do love it when the setting adds to the mood of the book.

Once I reoriented myself with where I was and the characters, the story slowed considerably. There was also the issue of a lot of new characters being introduced at this late stage of the overall story, while I appreciate that sometimes that is necessary, all the characters introduced were forced and convenient. Not only that, but even the existing characters fell a little flat and lacked all depth; Jacob became conveniently amazing at harnessing his peculiarity and it was down to him to save all of peculiardom and all the others, well, they were pushed aside and I really hated that. The end was what annoyed me most. Don’t get me wrong, I love a book which ties up loose ends, but this book tied up all the ends in such a perfect little bow that it was infuriating. I like a happy ending, but this one took the biscuit.

Saying all that, I still enjoyed this book, and I really enjoyed the series as a whole. It’s by far and away one of the most unique book series I’ve read, the combination of antique pictures and such a vivid world just makes this so interesting. I absolutely cannot wait for the film which is due out sometime this year! I’d recommend this series highly for someone who wants something different, or something immersive but quite easy to follow. So yes, this is mighty fun in spite of the problems I had with it, they were just personal issues really. Don’t let those put you off.

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Review: Signs Preceding the End of the World – Yuri Herrera

28 - Signs Preceding the End of the World

Rating – 3*

Hello and Happy Sunday! Today, I will start with a short disclaimer, I’m finding this book very difficult to review and find the right words for. I picked it up for Brave New Reads 2016, and I’m very glad that it was pushed up my TBR because of that. I just find myself struggling to actually write about this novel(la). I think maybe it’s a book that you just have to experience for yourself!

Signs Preceding the End of the World follows a young woman, Makina, on her journey to find her brother, who crossed the Mexico-US border. Makina is a great protagonist, she’s intelligent, diligent and headstrong. In her village she works as a switchboard operator, able to speak both native language, ‘latin’ and ‘anglo’, she cares about this job and the people in the village when she’s tasked the job of crossing the border. She carries two messages on her journey, one from their mother and one from the Mexican gang leader who sent her brother across the border in the first place. The actual geography is never explicit, which is what makes this book feel almost ethereal, there are never any place names – instead she walks to the place where the hills meet and takes a bus to the place where the wind cuts like a knife. It adds a mythical quality to the book. It reminded me of the story of Persephone, on her journey to the underworld in Greek myth and I’ve seen that comparison pop up quite a lot.

This was an incredible translation by Lisa Dillman, however every time I read a book so wonderfully translated I really wish I could understand the original language. I found her note at the end of the book really quite enlightening in to her process, and I found it gave me a greater connection to the story itself. I feel that it was a very true translation, and it has all the key elements that the original had. It was a captivating book, and the translation was – as I said – incredible.

It was certainly a book which hit me, it was beautiful to read, but for me it felt like it was just lacking in a little something. Maybe I should have forced myself to stay awake and read it in one sitting, I don’t know, all I know is I don’t feel I got as much out of this book as others seemed to. I would urge people to try it, because it’s certainly a special book, and I will be reading the next book published by &Other Stories of the authors work because there was definitely something captivating about it!

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Review: Cheer Up Love – Susan Calman

26 - Cheer Up Love

Rating – 5*

If you don’t know who Susan Calman is, go no further in this review and have a google, find a clip on YouTube – she’s hilarious. She’s appeared on numerous UK TV panel shows including QI, Mock the Week, and (my personal favourite) Have I Got News For You. She’s also does a lot of radio work (Susan Calman is Convicted). When I heard she was writing a book I immediately knew I had to get my hands on it and it did not let me down, in fact it is possibly one of the best books I’ve read all year. I chose to listen to this as an audiobook, and I highly recommend that to everyone, but I loved it so much I immediately went and purchased a physical copy so I could read passages to people.

This book is about depression, but while brutally honest about the experience of living with The Crab of Hate (as Susan so beautifully names it), it is truly one of the most hilarious books I have read. I laughed until I hurt listening to this. It was poignant, uplifting, intensely relatable too. And as for a book to explain depression? I would recommend this over Reasons to Stay Alive – for me, this was immensely more powerful. I’m aware that saying that is very high praise, given how loved Reasons to Stay Alive is. But for me, what that book lacked this book contained in abundance, and it had so much more on top of that.

I feel this is a book which has to be experienced, I have already recommended it to several friends and will be suggesting it to more! It is honestly one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read lately. If you’re unsure as to whether an audiobook is for you, just give the first 5 minutes a go on Audible because I promise you it’s worth it!

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Review: Adam Bede – George Eliot

25 - Adam Bede

Rating – 5*

Adam Bede was Eliot’s first published novel and that youth in her writing is tangible throughout. But like most debut novels, what it lacked in literary rigour, it made up for with passion in the writing. This was, I felt, a novel which the author put her heart in to and I really, really enjoyed it. The more I read of Eliot, the more I love her work, and I found it very difficult to find fault with this because I just love every word.

It has echoes of Far From the Madding Crowd in the start – maybe because it’s a quiet farming community – and pre-dates it by 20 years. For me, I preferred Eliot’s take on the quiet farming town life to Hardy’s, Eliot was a lot more brutal in plot and her characters were far superior. While Adam is the titular character of this novel, Hetty Sorrel is definitely equally as much of a main character, and the side characters are equally as rich and full of life – something which I have found a theme across all of the work of Eliot’s I have read so far.

The plot is quite sparse in the first half, it is instead full of life and the hustle and bustle of everyday village life. We follow the hard-working Adam, and he’s quite a dull man, but is diligent and, unfortunately for him, madly in love with the narcissistic Hetty – who is aware of his feelings but does not reciprocate. Hetty has longings for the finer things in life and desires to get away from the village; this is a common theme among books of the era and I imagine it was a (sadly) common theme in reality. Hetty was definitely the shining show of this book, even though intensely dislikeable in terms of how she treats Adam, I empathised with her and felt her pains, especially in the second half. If it wasn’t for the first half, where as a reader you build a relationship with the people of this village, that intense building of character made the second half hit me, as a reader, so much harder. I don’t want to spoil it, so I urge you to be patient if you decide to try this and work your way through the slow burn of character building in the first 300 or so pages.

One thing I’m noticing about Eliot’s work is her focus on religion – in Daniel Deronda she focused heavily on Judaism. In this book, she focuses in on the Methodist faith with the character of Dinah, and in part Adam’s brother Seth. I find the insights in to religion in different periods of history really interesting, and while some people found this book a little preachy I actually found it really interesting.

While not as enormous as Daniel Derdonda, or indeed Middlemarch, this book is nonetheless incredible for very different reasons. I find it hard to do anything but give a George Eliot book 5* now, I really do. So naturally, this was a 5* read. After a really pretty bad beginning with Middlemarch (which I must reread this Summer, after reading nearly all the rest of her work this year!) George Eliot has fast become one of my favourite authors of all time – and I intend to finish her bibliography this Summer and do a bit of a spotlight on her.

I leave you with parting words: do not judge this book by its cover because – frankly – this edition is hideous; just do not let that detract from what is inside.

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Brave New Reads 2016

Today I am bringing you something different – an BNRintroduction to Brave New Reads 2016!

Brave New Reads is a reading scheme which takes place across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. A shortlist of 6 books was picked from an initial 120 books, by over 100 readers across East Anglia. There is little to nothing which connects these books aside from their generally amazing calibre, and status a chronically underhyped. It’s like a reading group, across the Summer there is going to be a number of events across East Anglia with the authors (including writing workshops). There is also an incredible online community, with podcasts and the like being available to those not able to get to events and, of course, Twitter (#BraveNewReads)! On the whole it’s an incredible project, and one quite fitting with Norwich being a UNESCO city of literature!

I personally became aware of the project last year, I’m from Norfolk and while the scheme as a whole has run for a number of years, last year they rebranded to Brave New Reads. That caught my eye. Unfortunately I didn’t read any of the books due to my own laziness. This year I’m going to endeavour to change this and I’m going to attempt to read all 6 books over the Summer months because they all sound incredible for different reasons, and one of them was actually already on my to-buy pile so that’s already a reason to shift it up the list!

So, the books are below and I have linked them all on goodreads:

They are so very diverse, some I’m more excited to pick up than others (simply because they’re more in my reading comfort zone!) So over the next few months expect to see these books pop up from time to time, I’m also hoping to get to a few events relating to the books too and will also be popping those up here all being well!

Finally, I just want to state that I am in no way affiliated with this scheme, I’m just a very excited to try something new and be a little brave with my reading! This is an incredible thing that the local libraries and reading groups put together, and I just really want to spread the word about it, because it’s pretty special. Norwich is one of the few UNESCO cities of literature in the world, the only one in England, and it’s the city at the heart of this scheme (and it’s my home, so I’m a little bit bias, but I think it has an amazing bookish community!).

Review: A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

25 - A Natural History of Dragons

Rating – 4*

I feel I have to thank Cinzia (C.A. DuBois) for bringing this book to my attention because I absolutely loved this, and it isn’t a book I would have picked up if it wasn’t for such an enthusiastic review. I actually downloaded this as an audiobook (which I would highly recommend) and devoured it in a day. I hate to repeat myself, but I absolutely adored this book. I’m only really starting to get in to fantasy, and I’ve never been someone who was drawn in to a book by the premise of dragons; this book was both and it really worked for me in spite of my habit to be dubious!

This book is set in a Victorian era, and our protagonist Isabella is fighting against society – she’s a scientist, and she loves dragons; that is simply not the done thing for a proper girl of society. This is told as Isabella writing her memoirs and that worked so, so well and A Natural History of Dragons focuses on her childhood interest, how that was nurtured, we hear how she grew up, how she fell in love, and then went on her first adventure with the dragons. I have to say it was one of the most loving – and healthy – relationships I’ve read between Isabella and Jacob. I really enjoyed how this was a fictional memoir, it really enabled me to connect with Isabella and honestly, it felt so real!

The reason this book is so incredible for me is the science. I really loved the depth of the science and I have no doubt that in the next books there will be more and that excites me so very much! One criticism is that there wasn’t all that many dragons, but I have a strong feeling that there will be more of those in future books.

As for future books, I will definitely be reading them, or listening to them. I would really like to pick this up as a physical book as I’ve heard there are beautiful diagrams and things scattered throughout which I would really love to see – while I love an audiobook there are a lot of things you miss out on! The narrator for this – Kate Reading – was perfectly suited for the book, and more importantly Isabella’s voice as she really came to life with this narrator. I would happily recommend her as a narrator, and will definitely be checking out more of her work in the future, aside from this series!

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April Wrap-Up & May Goals

Hello lovely people and happy May! After a few hideous weeks of weather, us in the UK are finally starting to get something which resembles Spring and I am very, very happy about that! The only downside of May is I have two exams to look forward to (and a third to prepare for in June!). April has been a pretty good reading month, all things considered, partly aided by the absolutely abysmal weather!

april wrapup

So in April I read 8 books which given I was finishing my dissertation and revising for exams I am really happy with. It came to 2104 pages, and there was – I feel – a nice mix in genre which was really aided by taking part in genrethon at the start of the month as I did step outside my comfort zone and read some poetry (and loved it!)

While I had no 5* reads in April, I had one which was pretty close and that was The Vegetarian by Han Kang. That book absolutely blew my mind and left me in a little bit of a book hangover. Since I finished it on the 22nd, I have tried to pick up several books and have been unable to get in to any of them! Based on reading this I’m really wanting to read the remainder of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist as it was phenomenal and to be competing with it, the others must be too!

Also in April this blog had a makeover and got itself a new name – Ashleigh’s Bookshelf. I’m really excited about this new change, and you can read all about it here. As for other bookish things, I finally discovered OverDrive; I don’t know how it missed me for so long but I am definitely going to be taking advantage of in the coming months!

may goals

With exams looming, the start of May is going to be relatively slow for me. I’m going to be picking up smaller books, which is a perfect opportunity for me to start crossing some of the books I have from independent publishers off of my TBR! As always, I am going to try and read a classic and will probably pick an audiobook to achieve this goal! One thing I do know is that I am definitely going to be reading The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood as I picked that for a book club I’m part of.

So May is going to be a mood-reading month with very different goals to normal, namely to get through and do well in my exams! If you want to follow what I’m reading, feel free to friend me on goodreads.

I hope you all have a marvellous May!