Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

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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!

Review: Felix Holt, The Radical – George Eliot

004 - Felix Holt

004 - Felix Holt

Rating: 4*

It’s no secret that I think George Eliot is one of the most incredible female authors of all time, and Felix Holt: The Radical only solidifies my feelings. It was the last full-length Eliot work I had to read, and while it was by no means my favourite of her books it was an enjoyable read, and very relevant in today’s political climate – something which I really wasn’t expecting.

This book is set around the Reform Act of 1832 and the local politics of the fictional town of Treby Magna. If there’s one thing Eliot can do it is capture a small town absolutely perfectly – she is so good at writing a novel which focuses in and around a whole community, with several people at the forefront of attention. As with Adam Bede though, the titular character isn’t really the main character (nor is he the most interesting), in fact as with all Eliot novels it is the female characters that take the crown as the most interesting character. Mrs Holt and Mrs Transome – the mothers of two of our main, male protagonists, are far more interesting than their respective sons. And Esther is, as with most of Eliot’s young, female protagonists, a young woman who want’s independence – she’s highly educated, some would argue too educated, for a preacher’s daughter in a small town.

Aside from it being a character study of life in a small town on the brink of political change, it does bring the question of do the electorate always get things right in to a Victorian setting. Obviously, that makes the book highly relevant to even today’s political climate – what with the result the electorates in the US and the UK in the last 18 months! Much as with today, the political climate is all over the place in this novel – the working class are frustrated and don’t agree with the ‘establishment’ but have no means to change it. Which is where radicalism came in to play. Felix Holt is one of our radicals, and he is an interesting character. He believes in empowering the working class from the bottom – starting with education. The coverage of the Reform Act is such a poignant reminder of how lucky so many of us are to have a vote. The Reform Act gave power to the people, not just land-owning, white men. Although it did still take 100 years for women to get an equal vote, education and the ability to vote was a start.

It is by no means her best book, and of her novels it definitely falls bottom-to-middle in my list of favourites but it was actually one of her most thought provoking for me personally. It falls in the middle of her career, and was succeeded by (arguably) two of her best books Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda – and that’s very clear for me when reading it.

So, if it wasn’t clear, while it was far from perfect, I can comfortably put it up there close, but not quite equalling, my two favourites – Daniel Deronda and Adam Bede. I still want to re-read Middlemarch, because having read the rest of her works I do feel that that book will have a better impact on me. I will be doing a whole spotlight on my beloved George Eliot in the not so distant future, so if you’re interested, look out for that!

Review: Three Daughters – Consuelo Saah Baehr

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003 - Three Daughters

Rating – 2*

Three Daughters is a book I picked up entirely on a whim. It was available to borrow through Kindle Unlimited on Amazon, and as I have a trial period on it I felt that I had nothing to lose. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t pay for it, so all was good. I was a bit hesitant, as it has very mixed reviews – but the historical aspect of it, that and it was very female-focused, really appealed to me.

This book follows 3 women – Miriam, her daughter Nadia, and her daughter Nijmeh – over the course of a century. Each woman has a third of the book, or thereabouts, as the main focus. I will say that I really enjoyed the first part of the book about Miriam and her life. I loved reading about Palestine, and how it was impacted by the Ottoman Empire and WWI. I found the first third very engaging, it just went a bit downhill from there. While I found Nadia a really interesting character, I felt that once she became the focus the book lost momentum – we didn’t get to see how WWII affected the lives of anyone, and the characters from the first part of the book just seemed to disappear. The last third of the book takes the story to America, and if there were any momentum left it fizzled out by this point, to the point where I just struggled through the remainder of the book to say I finished it.

I found the end of the book disappointing, and frustrating. There were a lot of errors which I chose to overlook as individual things, but when you put them all together it’s a bit daft and you’d have thought an editor would have picked points up – such as a Frenchman trading in USD in the early 20th century and UK universities not having “sophomore” years. Minor things, but they built up to irritate as a whole leaving me quite frustrated as a reader at the poor quality of the editing/fact checking.

Overall I had to give this 2* – it was really a 2.5* but I’m not feeling particularly generous to it right now if I’m entirely honest. It was okay, it was quite an easy, fast paced read for a 720 page book, it just wasn’t really my sort of read unfortunately.

Review: How Not to be a Boy – Robert Webb

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002 - How Not to be a Boy

Rating – 4*

I’ve wanted to read this book since it was released. I saw Robert Webb interviewed, talking about it, and I knew that it was going to be an amazing read but when I then saw several people on goodreads give it 4 or 5 stars, I knew it was something special. This memoir is by no means a rose tinted look at the world, or Robert as a person, but it’s honest, poignant, sad and funny all at once – and I loved it.

Robert is the youngest of 4 children, his eldest brother passing away just 10 months before he was born. As such, he grew up a little pampered by his mother and a lot of this book is about his relationship with her – but also the troublesome relationship with his father, who abused alcohol and was abusive to his mother. The crux of this book is his development from boyhood to manhood, and the realisation as an adult (and a father) that societies pressures and programming wasn’t only wrong but harmful.

The book is split in to two sections – “Boys” and “Men” – the former section ending with the death of his mother when he was 17. The overarching themes are what boys are ‘taught’ to be by society, and what men are ‘supposed’ to be in the eyes of society. He touches on his relationships with his family, friends and teachers and how each of them shaped him in to who he is today.

It is sad, but at times it’s laugh out loud funny too. One of my favourite chapters was one in which he was talking about a play he was in which Stephen Fry came to see with his partner, and the late, great Carrie Fisher. The antics which ensued after said play had me giggling for a little while.

‘I want the same thing for boys, men, girls, women and anyone who grew up feeling that none of these worlds held any meaning for them. I want them all to have the freedom to express their individual and contradictory selves with confidence and humility.’ 

This book should be read by a lot of people – young boys and men especially. The overwhelming majority of suicide globally is young men, because they’re taught to suppress their feelings and they shouldn’t – something I think is expertly conveyed in this book with his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. This book would start discussion and I think that is the most important thing of all.

Once again, I listened to the audio version of this (narrated by Robert) which has a little extra bit at the end of him reading his ‘wanky’ teenage poetry without editing it, or himself, so there was lots of laughter from both him and me while listening. I’d recommend this book to anyone in any format, because I think it’s important and everyone should read it.

Review: Parsnips, Buttered – Joe Lycett

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001 - Parsnips, Buttered

Rating – 4*

To start 2018 I have been on a bit of a comedian book binge. One of my friends read this and gave it 4* on goodreads, as such I wanted to read it because the few times I’ve seen Joe Lycett on my tellybox he’s had me crying with laughter. This book really didn’t disappoint – especially in audio format – and I was laughing throughout. I bought a physical copy on top of the audiobook because I knew I had to give it to my mum to read – and she’s already finished it. She’s not a reader by any stretch of the word, so it’s definitely a good one!

It’s hard to categorise this book, because it’s not much of anything. It’s not really a memoir, but equally it isn’t a self-help book. It is instead a collection of anecdotes and letters/emails that Joe has sent to various bodies/organisations – including a whole section on how he got out of his parking fine, how to annoy scammers, and generally how to wind up people you just don’t like very much. Joe is someone who is just full of energy and mischief, and definitely someone we could all take a bit of inspiration from.

The book itself is absolutely bonkers, but in between all the crazy there are moments where he raises important issues like homophobia, and also terrorism. He has no issue with calling a spade a spade, and manages to make very intense subjects lighthearted and something that, as a reader, I was able to laugh at. While they were funny, it wasn’t that he wasn’t taking them seriously, it was just dealt with in a way which made it entertaining.

I’d highly recommend this book if you like a good laugh, or you just want to learn how to challenge a parking fine. As I said, I listened to it as an audiobook but the physical book is also a beautiful thing with illustrations and the like throughout and I’d recommend both equally!

Review: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson

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059 - oranges

Rating – 3*

I have been looking forward to reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for a very, very long time. It’s a cornerstone of LGBTQ+ fiction, and it is a book that I’ve had on my shelf for a good 3 or 4 years and just never been in the mood to pick up. I have held it on such a pedestal that on reading it, I’ve been a little let down.

As always with Winterson’s prose, it’s beautiful. But I’m glad this wasn’t my first foray in to her writing. While I found the semi-autobiographical nature of it interesting, and I enjoyed the main crux of the plot surrounding the coming-of-age of Jeanette, I did find it disjointing on the whole. There are several side stories within the book, which while beautifully written, distracted me from the main plot. They probably had purpose, in literary circles they’re probably genius 5 page long metaphors but to the average reader (me, hi) they were a bit off putting.

One thing I will say is I listened to this as an audiobook which Jeanette Winterson read – and it was glorious. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, authors reading their own works is a pleasure and something that should be done more often. I attribute a lot of my enjoyment of this book to the audiobook as I think were I reading a physical copy alone I may have actually put the book down.

On the whole, this was okay. I will definitely continue to read Winterson’s work, but so far this has been a low point for me. I’m glad I read it, of course I am, and I can understand on reading it how it has impacted so heavily on society. It just didn’t meet the expectations I had for it unfortunately.

 

Review: Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

058 - Warbreaker

Rating – 4*

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you’ll know that at the start of 2016 I read the entire Mistborn series in 2 weeks. Since then I have bought several Brandon Sanderson audiobooks (they’re so bulky I get them in audio format as to not swamp my bookshelves) but haven’t got around to them. However, Warbreaker was the shortest of the books of his I own, and I felt in December it was about time I got around to it.

As with the Mistborn series, the thing that drew me in to this was the magic system Sanderson has cooked up – this time it is based around colour and oh my word, it is glorious. For once I didn’t mind the vast descriptions of colours because in the context of this book it made sense, and made for very good reading. I can’t even describe in depth the magic system in this book, but jeez I don’t know how the man does it – coming up with different magic systems in all of his books, all of which are different and have their own lore. It’s incredible to say the least.

Now, the story is about two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, who are from Idris. Vivenna has been groomed her whole life to become the God King’s wife in order to form a treaty between her home nation and Hallandren, the nation where the God King rules. Her father, the king of Idris, instead sends the youngest daughter Siri to Hallandren. Vivenna naturally goes on a mission to save her sister, war is starting to stir between the two nations and she doesn’t want her sister to be involved in it. It’s fantastic, and an adventure, and ultimately while there is romance it’s a story about two sisters and their love for each other.

I loved both the sisters for very different reasons – Siri is a wild child; kind, caring, opinionated, naive, but sharp as a tack. Vivenna at the start is very pompous, poised character. I didn’t like her all that much but, come the end, she was damn badass and I liked her character a lot more than that of her sisters.

As for the background politics and building war, I didn’t see the bad guy being who it was in the end. Of everyone in the entire story, the dozens of characters that the kingpin could have been, I didn’t see it being that one. So go Mr Sanderson for making me actually gasp at the plot twist, and good on readers of goodreads for using their spoiler tags effectively and not ruining it for people!

There is apparently going to be a 2 more books in this series, but it does work really well as a standalone, which I love. No idea when the next one will be out but I will, most definitely, be reading it.

Review: Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

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Rating – 4*

What can I say about this collection other than I absolutely loved it? Some background first, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Emma Donoghue in that I either really love, or really dislike, her books. Room was amazing, so was one of her historical novels, then came along Frog Music which is one of the few books I have DNF’d over the years. This was definitely a hit, in spite of my trepidation going in to it.

Essentially this is a collection of fairy tale retellings – people like Kirsty Logan have cited it as a source of inspiration for their work. High praise like that really puts a book on a pedestal, but on reading it I fully understand why it is so highly regarded. All of the stories in this book, or rather snippets in to the characters lives, twist the well known version of the story in to feminist, slightly queer retellings which still (somehow) keep the character of the original. How Donoghue worked all of the fairy tales in to the same world, and had them seamlessly flow in to each other was genius and it made the collection flow absolutely perfectly.

Each tale is the story of a female character before they became the trope in the original fairy tale – their story before they were witches, stepmothers, crones or spinsters; their stories of being girls, sisters and daughters. Each story flows in to the next by the protagonist simply asking who they were, and we go through generations of women, and ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch.

Frankly, this collection is genius – and having read a lot of works which have been influenced by it, I can now see the influence it has had on some of my favourite authors (particularly Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter). It is definitely up there with my favourite short story collections, and one I will be reading again in the future for certain.

I listened to this as an audiobook and can’t recommend it highly enough – it was narrated beautifully and while it was the same narrator for each story, every character had their own voice, it wasn’t flat or monotone like a lot of short story collections, or multiple personality audiobooks suffer with!

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Books I Hope Father Christmas Brings || Blogmas Day 19

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Hello and welcome to another top ten Tuesday! Today’s topic is one I thought would be easy – it’s the top 10 books that I hope Father Christmas brings me. It was not easy whatsoever. Surprisingly, there aren’t many books I’m after right now, and generally speaking I know my family won’t have bought me books so it’s fruitless to hope!

I really struggled finding 10 books that I’d really like. In the end I settled on special editions, or anthologies, and generally good ‘gift’ books that I’d quite like to have in my collection. There are also a handful of “Christmas” books which is a must at Christmas!

Firstly, the few books that aren’t as “special” – Effi Briest in the Persephone classics edition. I really loved the sound of this when I received a newsletter from Persephone, and it’s been on my wishlist for a long while! The other two that fit in to this category are Egyptian Myths which is a book from a Penguin collection that I’m slowly collecting – I absolutely love myths and legends, so books like this are right up my alley! Also, The Iliad in the Clothbound Classics version – it’s one of the few in the collection I don’t have. The reason it is in the ‘less special’ section is I do have a copy of it in the black spine, so it would be a duplicate book!

As for “Christmas-y” books, we have The Faber Book of Christmas Stories which is absolutely blooming gorgeous and I would absolutely adore to have a copy of! The same, in fact, goes for the remainder of the books. Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson is purely to fuel my love of the womans writing right now. The Night Before Christmas by Gogol is one of the Penguin Christmas Classics, and I love these wee gems. I’ve taken to reading one every Christmas Night, so I’d really like a new one to add to my collection!

The last on the top line is a bit of left field entrant on this top 10, I’ve not had much experience with Wodehouse but a selection of short stories sounds like a good way to get started. This book caught my eye when it was published in hardback around 3 years ago, and even now I’m curious about it. We all need a good laugh, and I think this would be the perfect combination of festive cheer and a good laugh!

Finally we have A Poem for Every Day/Night of the Year – these two books are gorgeous and as I want to get in to more poetry I feel like it might be a nice way to do that, that and I like the idea of actually reading 1(2) poems a day and having it as a project throughout 2018!

The last book on the entire top 10 is The Fox and the Star which I have wanted since it was released but haven’t bought myself but if someone got it for me as a gift I would be over the moon.

As I said, this was a hard top 10 to do! I didn’t realise how few books I actually wanted at the moment until I struggled to get 10 together!

Have you got any books on your christmas wishlist?

300 Subscribers!|| Blogmas Day 18

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Hello my lovely subscribers, all 300 of you!

Today is a brief one, it’s been a long old day and didn’t have anything prepared/scheduled – but in a way that’s a good thing because while I was at work I hit 300 subscribers. So today I’m thanking all 300 of you who have taken the time to read, comment and subscribe over the last few years.

Seriously, thank you so much. Every like, every follow, every comment means so much to me. I know 300 people isn’t a huge amount to most, some of you guys probably have 10 times that amount of subscribers, but it’s a huge amount to me.

This blog started as an outlet when I started university, I never intended for it to become a place where I reviewed every book I read over the course of the last 3 years. It was an online diary for a while, it still is sometimes, but it became so much more to me than that. It’s still an outlet, but for a very different part of me – the creative part of me, the part of me who wants to find like-minded individuals as my Real Life sorely lacks in bookish types.

Because of this blog I have had some amazing conversations with amazing people. I have found other bloggers, read books I wouldn’t normally read, and importantly I’ve found my voice. I feel like my voice and opinion are valid, it’s given me confidence both online and in the ‘real world’.

So, thank you to every one of you who has subscribed, liked, commented, anything because it means the world to me.