Review: The Other World, It Whispers – Stephanie Victoire

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Rating 3*

I picked this book up for a number of reasons. One, it’s published by Salt – who are amazing and one of my favourite publishers (also, local and when you order direct from their website you get wonderful little postcards, never fails to cheer me up!) – I’ve yet to read a book published by them that I didn’t like – be that poetry, short stories or a novel. Second, just look at that cover – it’s gorgeous and the quote is from Kirsty Logan. Third, the blurb on the back really appealed to me. Fairy tales and folklore, spirits and witches. Definitely up my alley.

However, for me, as a whole the collection felt a little underbaked.

Now, there were a few stand-outs for me; it was just that a few stories felt a little underdeveloped. I  think this would have been incredible had some of those underdeveloped stories been a little longer, just to give them a chance to grow! This book was a mass of incredible ideas and I wasn’t wrong, it was completely up my alley, it just needed something more.

A story I adored was Layla and the Axe – for me it felt like one of the more complete of the collection which is a little odd as it’s one that ends on quite an open note leaving the reader to make a decision of what ultimately happens. It had tones of Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood – mainly because there’s a forest and a house in it. But it’s much darker than even they are and I really loved it.

I also felt that she dealt with gender and sexuality well in a fairytale context. In Shanty our protagonist is a girl born into a boys body, and finds comfort in mermaids, and longs and wishes to be a mermaid, to have that freedom and liberation – that story alone contained some incredible prose which I read over and over. There is also the final story of the collection which is Morgana’s Shadow which deals with a young girl who is caught kissing another girl in a forest. “It was a kiss to seal a deal”, she explains, that deal being that in exchange for a kiss she acquires the power of shapeshifting. It was essentially a story which was one long metaphor which – in conjunction with Shanty – sort of puts in to words the emotional and physical struggles of breaking free and coming to terms with gender identity and sexuality.

I’ve read that the author is currently at work on a novel and, honestly, if it is anything like some of the stories in this collection I can’t wait to read it because I’m sure, with more pages and some heavy editing, this woman is capable of something incredible. I wanted more from this, and I’m certain a novel by her will give me that.

If you love short stories, love something a little bit on the odd-side. Something magical and captivating, I think this is definitely worth giving a go.

Review: The Dead Queen of Bohemia – Jenni Fagan

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Rating – 3*

I find it very difficult to review poetry collections – mainly because it’s not something I read regularly, or feel I have many things to say on. So this review is likely to be brief as I don’t really know what to say. Now that disclaimer is out of the way, I will go on to talk about this collection briefly.

I haven’t read any of Jenni Fagan’s fiction – although I have both The Sunlight Pilgrims and The Panopticon on my shelves and I have heard rave reviews about both. However, as someone who likes to break the mould a little, I thought I would start with her poetry. This book contains her new poetry as well as her two older collections which are both now out of print.

For me, this was very hit and miss. I found a lot of it repetitive – teenage angst and drug taking can only be told in so many ways. However, some of the poems – particularly those which focus on depression – really hit a spot with me and came in to my life at exactly the right moment. Two which stand out in this category of came-in-to-my-life-at-the-right-moment are Instruction Manual for Suicidal Girls (Boys, Trolls & Troglodytes) and Hitching a Ride. Those two were ones I found myself re-reading, flicking back to, and comparing other poems in the collection to – none made it to the same level as those two for me.

On the whole, this was good. It isn’t my favourite poetry collection, but there were some shining moments for me. I can’t wait to read her prose, that much is certain!

instruction manual for suicidal girls (boys, trolls & troglodytes)

Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes – Marie Brennan

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Rating – 4*

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is the fourth book in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I love this series, I really do, so far none of them have let me down – this one is no exception. I’ve been putting off picking this book up as the fifth and final book has not yet been released, and I didn’t want the wait to be too long between this book and the next one. As it stands, the next book is due out in April – but when the audiobook will be released is anyone’s guess. I absolutely love the audiobooks for this series, they’re read superbly and I would really highly recommend them to anyone who is after something engaging and easy to listen to!

This book, much like the previous books, follows Isabella on her quest to understand more about dragons. The focus of her academic study in this book is breeding dragons in captivity, but as can be expected that’s not the only element of this story; the whole arc of this series is becoming something I cannot wait to see resolved in the final instalment.

In this book we also have the return of some characters from previous books, and the introduction of some new ones. I really love this series because Isabella’s best friend is a man, Tom. It is so refreshing to read a book where there are two people of opposite genders who are just friends. Especially when there is some romance in this book, it’s a breath of fresh air that that part of the book doesn’t go down the trope of a love triangle. I will forever love the fact that Isabella and Tom are able to remain friends, they completely ignore the rumours that go around, the inevitable scandals their friendship causes. Honestly, it’s one of the most genuine friendships between characters of opposite genders I’ve found in a book!

But, on the subject of romance, if you liked the undertones in Voyage of the Basilisk then the developments in In the Labyrinth of Drakes will make you very happy. I won’t say too much, to avoid spoiling it, but needless to say I am very happy with how it all came together.

My only disappointment with this book is how it ended. Abruptly. I was ready to keep going, they had this massive discovery and then it just ends. I know it was building up to the fifth book, and I really hope that the finale to this series doesn’t disappoint because, how this one ended, just aggravated me.

Needless to say, I will be picking up the final book in this series – and I may even forgo the audiobook to read it sooner!

Review: The King’s General – Daphne du Maurier

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Rating – 4*

I picked this book up entirely on a whim, I hadn’t read any du Maurier in a while and I decided it was time to remedy that as, one of my many reading goals, is to finish reading her entire bibliography. I went in to this knowing nothing, I didn’t even read the blurb I just pulled the first du Maurier off of my shelf that I hadn’t read and, frankly, that was a very good decision.

Unlike most of her other novels I have read, this is a piece of historical fiction. And it’s one with a very interesting origin. It’s set in Cornwall, as most of her books are, and progresses through the Civil War – a period of history I know very little about. Reading the authors note at the end is something I rarely do, but in this case I think it adds so much to the story – and I understand why du Maurier was so inspired to write this novel because of it.

du Maurier never shies away from an interesting, possibly controversial, protagonist. Honor is no exception to this. It’s the 1640s and she does not give a damn about society and convention, and I loved her for it. She refuses to marry the man her family pick for her, and then flaunts convention by not marrying the man she loves. She has spirit about her, and doesn’t let any limitations get in her way. Possibly the thing that surprised me most about this book is the way that disability is represented – we as readers know that it is there, but it isn’t something that imposes many limits. Of course it is a bit dated, but at the same time thinking about when this book was written, and also when it was set, it’s a pretty positive representation which always wins some points for me!

As with most of du Maurier’s writing, there is incredible atmosphere built up here. There is suspense, mystery and intrigue. There are hidden rooms, and dubious women and it is just everything I love about du Maurier. If that sounds good to you, read this.

It isn’t her best book, but it’s one I read in a day. I found myself hooked, I didn’t want to put it down, so I just kept reading. I haven’t done that with a book for a long time, so it’s high praise indeed! For someone new to du Maurier, this would be a good place to go, especially if you’re a fan of historical novels.

Review: Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari

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Rating – 4*

I was lucky enough to get sent a copy of this for review all the way back before it was published last September. And I read it last September but failed to actually get around to writing the review for it due to one thing and another. So, in an effort to catch up and write reviews for the books I read in my blog/reading slump I decided to start with this one.

Much like it’s predecessor, Sapiens, this book was engaging from the outset. Harari’s writing is incredible, and makes even the most complex thoughts and issues accessible and approachable. As a book it also poses some really heavy information to digest which I think about now, a few months after I finished it especially when flicking through the pages of New Scientist magazine and advances in technology make the future posed in this book even more plausible than it did the week before.

In this book Harari looks at how human nature – and humanity – could be transformed due to developments in bio-technology, bio-engineering, and the like. Results of combinations of genetic engineering and bio-tech could result in very different humans to what we currently know, it could be a catalyst in to the next stage of human evolution. Science is progressing exponentially, day by day, and along with it humans are progressing – evolving – too.

While what he paints in these pages is very much a dystopian future it is also scarily plausible. Every argument in this book is logical, rational and well thought out and even now, some months on from reading it, I occasionally find myself thinking about it (as I said above, most commonly when flicking through the most recent issue of New Scientist).

It is a book which the non-scientist, non-anthropologist can digest, but I strongly recommend reading Sapiens first even though this could stand alone quite easily. As someone who is more interested in bio-tech and bio-engineering I actually preferred this book to Sapiens but I know that isn’t a general consensus among most readers. Both this and Sapiens are definitely worth the read, and they appear bulky but they are so, so easy to read.

Review: The Waves – Virginia Woolf

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Rating – 5*

This book is a masterpiece. It’s taken me a couple of days to actually try and find words to write this review because, honestly, this is a book you have to experience and I know that I will not be able to do it justice.

I tried to read it before, last Summer I believe, and we just didn’t get along. I wasn’t enjoying it, I wasn’t in the place where I could lose myself in the pages. This isn’t a book you can dip in and out of, in my opinion, it’s a book you have to let yourself get lost in. As it stands, I read it in two sittings. I tried reading it on my commute to work, but I ended up rereading those passages when I curled up to read the remainder of the book. Woolf is a writer who demands your full attention, and that just cannot be given while sitting on a bus.

In it’s most basic form, this is the story of a group of friends; told through their individual thought processes from childhood, through marriage and children, to middle age and ultimately death. Each of them has a distinct voice, and tells of moments of their lives. Snippets of time, some of which overlap, some don’t. It’s so difficult to put this book in to words because, honestly, I’m not sure I have any of the right ones.

More than anything, the writing is what captivated me. It’s poetic, lyrical and has rhythm. The more I read the more I could decipher the ebb and flow of it, yes there are many references to waves and water but, truly, for me the story itself is told in waves and it is just magnificent. If I can one day write a sentence as well as Virginia Woolf, just one sentence, I will die happy. I want half of this book tattooed on me, but if I were to pick one sentence from this book, one sentence to encourage you to try it. It would be this:

There was a star riding through clouds one night, and I said to the star, ‘Consume me’

I want to read this book again to fully appreciate it. I want to read it in one sitting, not two. I want to completely immerse myself in the lives of the 6 people who tell this story. Woolf for me is an an author whose books have to be read more than once to fully appreciate, and while I appreciated this, while I loved this book, I know that should I read it again and allow it to consume me, I will love it even more.

Give Woolf a go, people. Please. Don’t be daunted by stream of consciousness!

Review: Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

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Rating – 3*

Most people know the story of Black Beauty, or at least an overview of it. It’s the story of a horses life as told through his eyes. Interestingly, I always assumed this was a children’s classic, however it wasn’t intended as one. The primary purpose of this book was to induce kindness, sympathy, and understanding – particularly in the treatment of horses but I think it just applies to anything who doesn’t necessarily have a voice of its own. Not having a voice does not mean an animal does not have feeling, which I think is the take home message of this book.

It’s a very simple book, which is probably why it has ended up becoming a children’s classic. I think I would have enjoyed it much more had I actually got around to reading it when I was a child myself. The fact it’s narrated by a horse is quite a fun one and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I love a story told from an unconventional point of view, but whereas – for example – Flush by Virginia Woolf had an animal with a very mature voice, Black Beauty is told with a simple and more childlike quality. I feel that it could have had more expanding to make it a more ‘adult’ book. Instead, I found it was more a collection of moments in the life of the horse, which is perfectly fine, however it did become a little repetitive.

There were a vast array of characters, which was something which surprised me! The animals were much more well rounded than the humans, that’s for sure. Out of all the characters, the one who was most fleshed out for me was Ginger. The back story to Ginger really tugged at my heart strings!

It was a very enjoyable read though, and a nice one to read one evening as it’s quite short and easy to follow along with. I really wish I had read this when I was younger because I think I would have got so much more enjoyment out of it. I would recommend this if you haven’t read it, and maybe if you haven’t read many classics – or children’s classics at least – this would be a good one to pick up as it is quite easy to read.