Review: Voyage of the Basilisk – Marie Brennan

44 - Voyage of the Basilisk

Rating – 4*

Voyage of the Basilisk is the third in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series, and while it was fantastic, for me a lot of it fell a little short of the mark. Don’t get me wrong, this series is great – I love the cast of characters we have, I love the world that has been created, and maybe I am being a little unfair as the book I read previously was absolutely amazing and this (however fabulous) could probably never measure up.

This third novel picks up quite some time after the previous book. We have a brief overview of what happened in the bridging time leading up to the action of this, but not all that much. Although, I would love a book which follows what happens in her library! Anyway, Voyage of the Basilisk follows Isabella Camhurst as she and her son (now 9!) and friends – both old and new – go on a 2 year voyage around the world to study all manner of dragons, on a ship named Basilisk. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, and a little bit before half way we find our cast of characters stranded on an island and trying to adapt to their situation.

The thing which surprised me most in this instalment was the introduction of some gender-fluidity. Isabella has never conformed to societal gender norms, and the island they find themselves stranded on has a belief in the third gender and this is interwoven so seamlessly I was mighty impressed. One line which stood out to me regarding this was:

“So long as my society refuses to admit of a concept of femininity that allows for such things then one could indeed say that I stand between”

One thing I found in this one, which shone out more than in the others before it, was that the dry sense of humour of Isabella really came through. The previous books have been amusing, but parts of this actually had me laughing out loud.

I was torn as to how to rate this, mainly because while reading/listening to it I had the previous book I read still on my mind. However, it’s unfair to mark it down based on that – something it cannot help – so looking at it objectively I decided it was definitely in line with the previous books and was deserving of another 4* review. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next book but I’m going to have to pace myself before picking it up as the 5th book isn’t expected until 2017!

Review: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

43 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Rating – 5*

I’m a little late to this party, mainly because I really thought this book wasn’t for me. I didn’t think it would float my kayak at all – how damn wrong I was. This was entirely my cup of tea and I have fallen in love with it. It’s so utterly, and completely, perfect and it is definitely up there with my favourite books of the year.

To put my love of this book in to context, it is the first fiction book I have happily given 5* since I read Adam Bede in May. This is up there with my love of George Eliot. That says something. It is simply incredible and I’m really finding it hard to quantify my love of it.

In this book we have the most incredible characters, you could say that the main character is Rosemary, and while she is the one we focus on initially this book is about so much more than her. Her point of view is more to make the entire world that Becky Chambers has created here accessible to us as readers, as Rosemary is seeing it all for the first time too. It’s so much more than Rosemary, as I said, there are so many wonderful characters who are so diverse – in race, beliefs, sexual preferences, everything – and incredibly it deals with some of the biggest issues in the ‘real’ world and spins them on a cosmic level with spaceships and aliens. And on the subject of sexual preference, I was just overjoyed to find a book like this – we have a whole spectrum of love in this book and it just made me so happy I could weep, not just romantic love either, but the love of friends, family, colleagues. This book is truly something special.

And the plot, I loved it. I really did. While all the action is going on, we’re learning about our characters and getting insights in to their lives and families. I loved learning about the characters pasts, and their species. All of the development of character is so well intertwined with the plot I just can’t separate the two really. While this is plot driven, it’s also one of the most intense character studies I’ve read.

One thing that stood out to me most is Sizzix’s feather family – the concept that your family consists of the people who impact on your life, that you make your own family. That is really the core of this book, it doesn’t matter how dysfunctional it is they’re family. And that, that alone, I loved.

I loved Sizzix full stop, actually. I loved all the characters, in their own way, but she was definitely my favourite. I have a thing for Lizard Women From The Dawn of Time and Their Wives (yeah, reading this I couldn’t help but get Vastra/Jenny vibes from Doctor Who).

So, to summarise, even if you don’t think this is your bag read it anyway because it’s amazing. Seriously amazing. If you like Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who, read it. If you enjoyed one, or both, of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, read it. But my words just don’t do it justice, my comparisons are pretty shoddy, it is truly a work of Science-Fiction Greatness.

If you haven’t already worked it out, this book is firmly among my favourites ever now. Definitely a 5* read, and I urge you to pop to your library, use a book token, pay for it with real money, download it with an audible credit, whatever… because it’s amazing. And finding out that there is a sort-of-sequel coming out in October, you bet I’m there because I’m really excited to see more of this spanning world that Becky Chambers created.

Review: The Bricks that Built the Houses – Kate Tempest

42 - The Bricks That Built the Houses

Rating – 3*

I went in to this book blind, having read both of Tempest’s poetry books published I knew I had to give her turning her hand to prose a go. It was, as expected, glorious. Tempest’s background in rapping and poetry is evident in this book with the way she writes her prose, it’s lyrical and when reading it I couldn’t help but find a light rhythm to her words in places.

Ultimately, this book follows the lives of Harry and Becky – although Leon is mentioned in the blurb he has a much less prominent role. Along the way we meet and array of characters, we learn their stories and each one has a part in the forming of the people that Harriet and Becky are today. Even though the plot, what little of it there was, didn’t really resound with me I felt like I knew Becky and Harry, and all the people we were introduced to over the course of it, simply because she has such a grasp on people.

What Tempest excels at in this novel is her depiction of family dynamics. The way in which she paints the characters, and the overlaps and intersections of their lives are definitely her strength. She really just gets the human psyche, each character – and there are plenty – is unique and has their own voice; and yet it is still her voice which resounds.

This is definitely a character study, if you want a plot driven book this probably isn’t the one for you. While the plot is rather thin, and I love a plot driven book, this was a nice break in pace of my usual reads. I just found myself longing for more prose, and less dialogue (as anyone who has read my blog for some time now will know, I’m not a big fan of dialogue in books which can be quite unfortunate!)

As debut novels go, this as a good one. It didn’t engage me as fully as I had hoped, if there were more prose I would have easily given this 4*, however as it stands I feel it has to be a 3* – and a lowish one at that. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I really can’t wait to see what she does next, this woman is seriously talented!

Review: Human Acts – Han Kang

41 - Human Acts

Rating – 4*

I feel very conflicted about this book, on the one had it is a masterpiece – I cannot deny that, however I didn’t feel that compulsion to read it. It was a book I could put down and not read for a while, and that is what disappointed me. Human Acts is a brutal book, and tells of a period of South Korean history that I didn’t even know happened.

The book is split in to 6 chapters, each from the perspective of a different character affected by the massacre and also using a variety of different narrative voices. Each of these voices is so distinct and unique it’s quite special – much like The Vegetarian was – and I think that Han Kang’s ability to capture so many different voices, and Deborah Smith’s ability to then translate them, is incredible. Often, when there are many different voices in a novel, they get lost amongst each other but with the combination of Kang and Smith that just doesn’t happen.

Human Acts really drained me reading it, I think I should have just set aside an afternoon and read it in one go because it’s a book that needs your attention, but for me it just wasn’t one I could curl up and read in bed which made the reading experience of this quite jolting and an uphill struggle. It’s a book you have to completely get immersed in and I feel bad I couldn’t give it that. I feel if I did I would have rated it completely differently.

As I have said though, this book is a masterpiece and one I will read again in the future, maybe in one sitting on a rainy afternoon while wrapped in a blanket. I’m no literary critic, and there are plenty of reviews on goodreads which take this book apart and really analyse it and do it justice and that’s just something I’m not going to be able to do.

So, this book is incredible and if you have patience and time to completely immerse yourself in a book, if you want a book which will really challenge you and make you think about humanity… this is the book. I don’t think you would be at any disadvantage to pick this up over The Vegetarian as a first book by Kang, all I know is I will definitely be picking up anything she writes in the future – and I hope they keep the pairing of her and Deborah Smith.

Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

40 - The Essex Serpent

Rating – 4*

Where to begin with this book, I don’t know. It is a magnificent feat I will give it that. I liked this novel quite a lot, but I didn’t love it and for that simple reason I feel a little disappointed. Oh, this book did nothing wrong. It was beautiful. But for me there was just something lacking, and what that was I don’t know.

The Essex Serpent was right up my alley. Historical fiction, slightly fantastic, fabulously Gothic, and reads like a classic. Honestly, it really wouldn’t be out of place among books written in the period it was set. It’s really hard to say that it didn’t feel like a recently written book, because it was fresh and the ideas in it were fantastic, but stylistically for me I would compare it to work by the Bronte’s, especially Anne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

We follow Cora Seaborne, a young widow with a son, who moves to a village in Essex for a new start. She enters the parish as it is caught up in the myth of the Essex Serpent, a creature who is said to roam the marshes and take lives, who they think has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist, is convinced this creature is real and sets out to find it, and prove the myth true. Cora is, generally, a delightful character and her enthusiasm for natural history is awesome – I love a lady scientist, especially in a historical context! It is truly an incredible tale, with a cast of amazing characters (none of whom are too small or insignificant to be well rounded, though some fall a little flat for me). One thing I liked most is that often a historical novel, with a woman who has what we consider modern interests and ideals, seems out of place and contrived yet this really didn’t. In fact, it was done so sublimely that it didn’t feel forced, it was very believable and I really appreciated that.

However, at this point I hear you saying “if you loved it so much, why only 4 stars?”. Well, I wasn’t caught up in all of it. While it was a beautifully written book, and I loved the main plot point, I found the interaction between some characters forced. I didn’t much like Will, or his involvement in the story, and because it heavily revolved around his interaction with Cora I then found myself getting frustrated at the book as a whole. I wanted to love this, so much; so many people I respect have adored this book, but for me it was just lacking that something to make it amazing for me. While on the whole it was great and beautifully crafted, in parts I found it a little dull.

But, I am glad I finally read it. And it is absolutely beautiful. So give it a go if historical, fantastical, lady-scientists do it for you because I think you’ll like it!

July Wrap Up and an August TBR

07 - july wrapup

July was beautiful. It was possibly the most crazy month of my life and I have made so many memories. I was working full time (and managing, something I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do), I graduated, I saw Finding Dory on opening night, and I went to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I laughed until I was crying, I smiled until my face hurt, I got a sun tan, I didn’t fall over on stage when they called my name, I made new friends, I caught up with old ones, played some Pokemon Go and honestly, I didn’t read all that much. But it was amazing and I don’t regret one second of it (okay, I lie, I wish I didn’t wear the heels for graduation).

But, as this is primarily a blog in which I talk about books, that is what I shall do now. I read 5 books, I’m happy with 5 books. Sadly, there were only a couple that I really loved, most of them were 3* reads. I read in total 1964 pages, which I’m pretty happy with, though I would like to see myself break 2000 again soon as I haven’t done that since April!

My favourite book was Animal by Sara Pascoe, closely followed by The Cursed Child (obviously). Animal was better than How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, and I loved that book. As for The Cursed Child, well, it was glorified fanfiction but what can I say, I’m fanfiction trash.

07 - august goalsThis month I want to read the remainder of the books I wanted to read in July and didn’t. So, that’s The Essex SerpentThe Brinks That Built the Houses, Human ActsThe Adventures of the Busts of Eva Peron, and finally The Last Pilot. So that’s the 5 books I definitely want to read, I would like to get around to another classic this month, and maybe some poetry too.

One thing I definitely want to do this month is keep on top of this blog a bit more, and be a bit more structured. I’ve recently lost my mojo when it comes to what I want to say and do on here and, like I said a few months ago, I want to take this more seriously which is something I haven’t been doing as of late and I want that to change. So, consider that a promise!

I’ve got some really fun things planned this month, I’m going to see Sarah Millican on the 8th, I’m helping some friends move in to their first home together, seeing two of my oldest friends and having dinner. So I think it’s going to be good. Life is feeling good, and that’s a little strange if I’m honest.

Have a lovely August!

Review: Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

38 - Great Expectations

Rating – 3*

I decided it was about time I finally picked up Great Expectations, I had wanted to read some more Dickens for a while and this one was just staring at me. After A Tale of Two Cities being a huge disappointment, I had a little block in place when it came to which Dickens to read next. I’m glad it was this one.

Most people know the bare bones of Great Expectations, a young orphaned boy – Pip – dreams of stepping up in the world and becoming a gentleman. On the way to him discovering his “great expectations” he meets some very interesting characters, and one of the most iconic Dickensian characters of them all, Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham, having been left at the altar as a young woman now spends her days in her wedding dress with all the clocks in her house stopped at 8:40. I found myself drawn to her, and I do wish this book was about her not Pip because damn, Pip is boring.

The biggest issue I have with this book is Pip. He is self absorbed and, as the story is told from his perspective, it’s very hard to enjoy. It is told in three sections, and while the first story about his younger years is quite interesting – mainly due to the presence of Joe and Miss Havisham – the second part following his journey to his expectations in London was so dull! However, come part three, after finding out who his benefactor was and the fallout from there it does become more interesting and the pace picks up considerably. There was some intensity to some chapters which really made up for the drab chapters which came before it. I also like that Dickens does wrap everything up, it’s quite satisfying (if a little contrived)! On the whole, I liked the way this book went, even if I did find Pip insufferable.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I enjoyed The Old Curiosity Shop, but it was still enjoyable. I will be giving it some time before picking up my next Dickens! I will, however, be watching both the TV Miniseries and the 2012 movie adaptation of Great Expectations as reading it, I could see how well it would translate on to the screen and I’m pretty excited about that!