Review: The People in the Trees – Hanya Yanagihara

013 - The People in the Trees

 

013 - The People in the Trees

Rating – 2*

This book is one that has sat on my TBR since I read A Little Life when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2015. Much like A Little Life this book doesn’t shy away from difficult topics – but the beauty of her writing didn’t make this any the easier to read for me. I’ve read somewhere that A Little Life was a follow up to this in a way, in that it is told from the victims perspective – so if that was difficult to read, this is exponentially more difficult.

The novel follows Norton Perina, a character who we know from the outset has been sentenced to prison for sexual abuse of one of his many adopted children. We know he isn’t a good guy from the first few pages, but this is his ‘biography’ – his side of the story. His story takes us back to the 1950s, we briefly get an insight in to his academic studies, but the book picks up when he goes on an expedition to a little known island with an anthropologist. His life is forever altered by the time on this Micronesian island, he goes on to win the Nobel Prize and is comfortable for the rest of his career from the groundbreaking discovery he made on the island.

While the science in this book is incredible, as is the writing, a lot of it didn’t sit comfortably with me. It felt very claustrophobic as a book, I was never comfortable in it. The landscape the majority of the book is set in is jungle, it’s oppressive, and that’s how the book felt to me throughout. At it’s core this book is about rape. Rape of people, land, nature, an entire culture. It’s about a man who does that to better only himself, and he admits in the book he’d do it all again.

I admit that her writing is incredible, I can’t deny that, and she has a way with writing problematic characters. I just felt really, really uncomfortable reading this book and I can’t separate myself from that. Reading a lot of reviews of this book I can see a lot of people liken it to Lolita – which I haven’t read and have no intention of reading – so maybe if you read that and appreciated it (I hesitate to say liked it) this could be a book for you?

For me though, I just can’t bring myself to give this more than 2* – it was on for a 3* until the final chapter, or rather the epilogue, which I most certainly could have done without.

Review: Wild Embers – Nikita Gill

012 - Wild Embers

012 - Wild Embers

Rating – 5*

What can I say about this collection other than, quite simply, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a poetry collection as much as I did this. I picked it up knowing nothing about it. I judged it entirely on it’s cover and I genuinely cannot put in to words just how incredible it is. I was hooked from the first poem, and by the 4th I was well and truly in love with it.

I hate reviewing poetry in that I struggle to find words to convey just how I connected with it, there isn’t a plot or characters to talk about, it’s a lot more abstract. This collection had several running themes – feminism, self love, trauma. For me it would be the ultimate medicine to ease any emotional ailment.

Not only are there beautiful ‘traditional’ poems, there is also a section of prose poetry which retells well known fairy tales, and gives stories of ancient goddesses from their perspectives – empowering these women, giving them voices and turning them on their heads.

I loved it. All of it. For me there wasn’t one bad page over the 160 this book is made up of. I went at it with post it notes and a pen, annotating nearly every poem in here. I don’t often feel a need to do that, but with this collection I found myself having thoughts on every page, and making connections that usually go above my head! I could read this book 10 times over in the next week and I would still be finding new things and not be bored of it.

This is truly one of the most beautiful poetry collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I have already purchased an ebook of her previous collection (as I can’t seem to find it in print, sadly). If you’re not 100% sold on poetry, then this is for you, and what’s better you can have a preview of her work as she posts on Instagram regularly (her account is here if you’re interested, I urge you to check her out!)

I have a feeling this is going to be a book I am reading for a number of years to come, that the pages are going to become battered and bashed, that I’m going to give it to others as a gift. Needless to say I already know it’s going to be one of my favourite books – if not my favourite book – of 2018, and it’s only the second week of February.

Please. Read this collection, it’s wonderful.

Review: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists – George Eliot

011 - Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

011 - Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

Rating – 3*

I have wanted to read this little essay collection by George Eliot for a very long time, and I thought that now was as good of a time as any. It’s a punchy little book in the Penguin Great Ideas series and contains half a dozen essays alongside the titular one.

Silly Novels is a 35 page essay in which Eliot criticises less able female authors of the period in which she is writing. She writes on how many writers perpetuated negative stereotypes of women which only enhanced the subjugation of women in history. She essentially summarises most novels of the time in one sweeping statement which covers pretty much all romantic novels written by women: a beautiful main character who falls in love with a member of nobility under exceptional circumstances. She argues that all these ‘silly novels’ give a bad name to the female novelist in general, which in turn makes it impossible for the actually talented authors to get recognition for their work. Hence why Eliot herself wrote under a male pseudonym, as did all three of the Bronte sisters.

The titular essay had me laughing, because what she outlines as the issue with many female novelists is still largely something I can relate to, especially when reading books from the same period in which she wrote.

However, while I loved the first essay – the first essay was marvellous – the remaining 4 or 5 didn’t quite hit the mark for me. They were a lot more specific reviews and essays which were more period specific and, from my perspective, not as easy related to. I found them quite hard to enjoy when I hadn’t read any of the source material which inspired them. As a result, I did find myself skimming a lot of the other essays as they just weren’t keeping my interest.

The tile essay though is a perfect look at 19th Century feminism, and a really good step up from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women which was published around 50 years prior at the turn of the century. There is an essay in which Mary Wollstonecraft is referenced, which is quite a nice step between the two!

I’d say this is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in essay collections, early feminism, or George Eliot in general. I’d also say that if you’ve read A Room of Ones Own or A Vindication of the Rights of Women this is definitely a good essay collection to pick up as it bridges the gap between the two. Woolf cites Eliot as one of her favourite novelists, and one of the only ‘grown up’ writers – and reading this I really get where she is coming from.

Wellcome Book Prize 2018 || Longlist Discussion

WBP Longlist

Happy Saturday my lovely readers, and welcome to a bonus post this week in which I am going to discuss my most anticipated bookish event of 2018 so far – the announcement of the Wellcome Book Prize longlist.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Wellcome Prize , to summarise it is an an annual prize and eligible books are those which have central themes of medicine, health, illness, or biosciences. Because of this broad criteria the lists of books nominated are from a number of genres – both fiction and non-fiction, but can span across any sub-genres of those. And I love it.

Last year I managed to read the shortlist, this year I want to read the entirety of the longlist. As I write this I have already read 2 of the books – one is Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ which I read last Summer, and the second is The Butchering Art as when I was reading through the descriptions of each book that one was one I wanted to read asap. So I did.

So, without further ado, the books:-

 

Wellcome Longlist

image courtesy of WellcomeBookPrize.org

 

As you can see from the picture there is an enormous amount of variety – and something I am very happy about is the amount of books that I hadn’t even heard of on this list. I can say that there are 3 books here that I knew existed and the rest have me very, very excited (so excited that I have bought a huge number of them already!)

I’d be interested to hear if any of you reading this have seen any of these books (the ones I am familiar with are Stay With Me, The White Book and I Am, I Am, I Am – the rest I know nothing about!) and if you have read any too. If you have, are there any you think I ought to get to sooner rather than later?

The shortlist is announced on March 20th – thankfully a Tuesday (I don’t work Tuesdays) – and I’m hoping to have got through the bulk of this longlist by then. Needless to say I have a few very, very exciting reading weeks ahead of me and I for one cannot wait!

As I said above, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Wellcome Prize. For me it’s one of the most varied, vibrant literary prizes out there because it focuses across such a wide breadth of genres. I also think it’s a very accessible prize – those of you not as confident or comfortable reading science based non fiction can definitely still enjoy this prize as there’s a decent amount of variety and, for me at least, even the non-fiction is easy to read and get your teeth in to.

So, in the next few weeks you can expect to see all 12 (well, 11 because I don’t think I’ll be re-reading Stay With Me) of these books reviewed. Hopefully before March 20th! Wish me luck.

 

Review: Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World – Laura James

010 - Odd Girl Out

010 - Odd Girl Out

Rating – 4*

Odd Girl Out is a startlingly honest account of what it is to be on the autistic spectrum – and more importantly it’s an account from a female perspective. I wasn’t expecting this book to be as much of a memoir as it was, but that is by no means a bad thing as it added a dimension to the book I wasn’t expecting. Laura got her diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in her mid-forties, and the book follows her life from her diagnosis in August 2015 to December 2016 as she navigates life with the official “label” of ASD.

What I was expecting from this book I did get – an insight in to ASD in females. In females ASD is not picked up as readily because of how society views young girls and women, and because it has been found that females are mimetic of neurotypical behaviours and don’t ‘arise suspicion’ as easily as young boys and males with ASD. The science behind it is frankly incredible, and is something I find really interesting.

But, it was the personal experiences, the bit I wasn’t expecting, that I enjoyed more. The science is amazing but it’s that personal touch, her raw, honest experiences they were what got me most. I knew it was going to be a powerful book, but once I started reading I had to stop in places because I was nodding in agreement, or crying because I related. I related so much to so many of her experiences. While I’ve not been married, nor have I got children, a lot of the simple day-to-day examples of her life are things I understand. Sensory issues, struggling with daily tasks; she says how she often needs notes reminding her to do things that neurotypical people may find second nature such as getting dressed, eating, brushing their hair and cleaning their teeth. She goes on about how socialising is hard, as is understanding feelings and emotions. And I related so much more than I expected to, I underlined so much of this book because I saw myself in a lot of the pages.

On finishing this book I’m still undecided as to whether I want to go down the path of getting a diagnosis – is having another label going to be powerful? I don’t know. But I do know it is now something I am seriously considering because of this book. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in behaviour, psychology; to anyone who has someone in their lives who has autism, and generally anyone who wants to read some non-fiction because it’s an amazing book with an incredibly important topic at the centre.

Rating: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – Kathryn Harkup

009 - A Is for Arsenic

009 - A is for Arsenic

Rating – 3*

I am going to preface this review with a rather profound statement – I have never read any of Agatha Christie’s books. Not one. It’s not that I don’t own them, I have a fair collection of them in fact, it’s just I’m not a big reader of crime fiction. However, when I saw this book I was intrigued because (as many of you who have been here a long time will know) I’m actually a scientist and this seemed like a rather perfect crossover for someone who loves both books and science.

While the book is written primarily for those who have read Christie’s work, I don’t feel I lost much by having not read any of her novels. Each chapter focuses on one branch of poison featured in a book, and how it is highlighted within the said book, but there are also real life stories about the poisons, their history, the science of how they work and where relevant there is also information on antidote and how the situation could have been avoided. On the whole it’s a really well rounded book, and actually has me a little excited to pick up some Christie at some point soon!

There is a lot of science in this book, it’s quite high level, and you don’t need a degree to understand it, but it really made it more interesting for me. Christie would have had to understand a lot of this information in order to make the stories work, and what surprised me most is that she was an apothecary assistant/dispenser before she was published – she had the most incredible breadth of knowledge of chemistry and pharmacology which only benefited her writing.

I absolutely would have loved to have read this during my degree – it would have been the foundation of a pretty amazing essay during my 3rd year had I have done! So, if you have a morbid curiosity for poisons, or love Agatha Christie, or just fancy picking up some interesting non-fiction, I’d highly recommend this book.

 

Review: The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

008 - The Alchemist

008 - The Alchemist

Rating – 1*

This is one of those books that I feel I ought to have read by this point in my life. The Alchemist is just one of those titles which I’ve known about for a long time, and actually known relatively little about. It’s really short, which is it’s biggest pro point, because I actually hated this book.

At it’s centre, this book follows a young shepherd named Santiago as he journeys in hope of finding treasure. As he travels he encounters obstacles which he has to overcome, and ultimately he has to learn a few important life lessons. Maybe I would have enjoyed it had I been a bit younger, but I found the book to be preachy and predictable, there was no nuance – it was just being rubbed in your face with no tact or skill. Maybe if I were younger, and still influenced heavily by what I read, I could have taken a lot away from this, but as an older reader I just wanted to rip pages from the book.

Essentially this book is a 150 page metaphor for what destiny is – and it is infuriating. Even though the writing was okay the skill I found there was completely overwhelmed by how much I disliked the content of the pages. Reading other reviews I can see this is the epitome of a marmite book, and that’s great that it can produce such varied responses – some love it, some hate it, and I am personally in that latter category.

The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden

007 - The Girl in the Tower

007 - The Girl in the TowerAfter reading The Bear and the Nightingale in December and being completely swept away, learning it was going to be a series made me very excited! I was even more excited when I learnt that I didn’t have all that long to wait. This is the first ‘open’ series I’ve picked up in a very long time, and already I can’t wait for the 3rd and final book.

We pick up nearly immediately after the events of The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya has fled her hometown after being accused of witchcraft and is travelling across the country to her remaining family in Moscow. When she gets there we learn a lot more of the life of a Medieval Russian court, we get an insight in to things like the politics all while still having a fantastic fairy tale playing out.

As you can expect, the story is a lot more complex than the one in the first book. Vasya herself is a lot more complex; she’s more confident, she’s older and wiser, and more importantly she’s absolutely kickass and refuses to conform to societal norms. I absolutely adore Vasya as a character. Who doesn’t love a book where a girl doesn’t want to fit in to gender-norms, isn’t afraid to be herself, knows that bravery and intelligence aren’t just traits for men to boast, and knows that being a woman does not make her a lesser person? Vasya loves freedom, loves exploration, wants to see the world; not get married and have children which is what everyone expects of a young woman, whether she likes it or not.

Ah, I just love Vasya as a character. I could easily talk about her all day.

Vasya isn’t the only character in this book though, in going to Moscow we get reintroduced to her remaining family, her monastic brother Sasha and her older sister, Olga, who has 2 children and one on the way when we first meet her again. I was quite surprised at how rounded they were as characters in this book, I’m not sure I was expecting such rounded ‘background’ characters. Come the end of the book, both of them were in my good books again (Sasha rarely left them, but Olga did). One thing I am looking forward to is how the story with Vasya’s niece is going to progress because we learn a few things about that little girl, Masha, and I’m excited already as to what will happen!

This was my first 5* read of 2018. I adored this book. absolutely loved it. I would recommend this series to so many people – it’s an absolutely beautiful read. The third, and final, book in this series is expected to be released Autumn 2018 – needless to say it’s already on my pre-order list.

Highly, highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in a little bit of fairytale, Russian folklore and history… anyone who loves a bloody good read, actually.

Review: The Impossible Fairytale – Han Yujoo

006 - The Impossible Fairytale

 

006 - The Impossible Fairytale

Rating – 3*

The Impossible Fairytale is a rather unsettling but interesting book and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. While it was beautifully written and very well translated, I found myself feeling rather at odds with it at times and I did struggle to get through it.

The book, primarily, follows the story of The Child – an unnamed 12 year old – who we learn has suffered abuse at the hands of her mother. She’s learned that everything is minimised if she can go through a day unnoticed, meaning she lives life on the fringe and noone really knows who she is. She blends in to the background, living a near silent life. But she’s a rather twisted young girl who it is quite hard to get my head around – but I think that was the entire point. Another character in the book is Mia, a girl in the same class who is thoroughly spoilt by her parents, and somehow she gets brought in to The Child’s life which leads to devastating consequences.

The second part of the book becomes very meta, and where I rather lost my pace with the book. I struggled it, and wondered in parts if maybe I just wasn’t clever enough to enjoy it like many others have!

My congratulations have to go to the translator, Janet Hong, who has done a stunning job here. Reading the translators note was actually fascinating as this book relies so heavily on wordplay, and that had to translate – which is difficult with the nature of the Korean language and a lot of the wordplay also being visual.

Needless to say I did enjoy parts of this book. I’m not sure who I would recommend it to – someone with a strong stomach, appreciation for word play, and maybe a bit more literally minded than me to pick up on the nuances of the second part of the book.

What I will say is I can’t wait to read more from Tilted Axis Press, what they do seems to be really up my alley and this was, all in all, a great first foray in to their catalogue.

Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

005 - The End We Start From

005 - The End We Start From

Rating – 3*

The End We Start From was a book I just happened to stumble upon. I was looking for short books, novellas, anything of the sort to fill a couple of hours on my day off and found this – a 160 page dystopian novella – which ticked a lot of the right boxes for what I was in the mood for.

For an impulse purchase I had no information about prior to picking up, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was absolutely gorgeous and sucked me right in to the book – on further research in to the author I found that she’s a poet and when I think about it, that isn’t all that surprising when I think about the writing. A lot of people have said in reviews that this book reads like a prose poem, and I really get that.

The plot itself spans around a year in the life of our narrator and starts in the last weeks of her pregnancy. During those weeks, a flood occurs in London nearly destroying it and she and her husband have to evacuate for their own safety. They move several times over the course of the novella, and through all the devastation and heartache we get an insight in to motherhood through the eyes of our narrator which is actually beautiful.

It’s by no means a fleshed out book, the writing is sparse, there are a lot of gaps left for the reader to imagine what happens, no characters have full names and are referred to by only their initial; but I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was the relationship with water in the book, but at times I found myself thinking about The Waves by Virginia Woolf – not that this book is similar whatsoever, really, but the prose washed over me in a similar way (excuse the pun).

Megan Hunter is going to be an author I look out for, I enjoyed this book a fair bit for an impulse purchase. If you want a quick read which gets you thinking, I’d recommend this highly!