Review: The Honours – Tim Clare

the honoursThe Honours is a book that I bought upon the recommendation of Robert in Jarrold’s book department during independent bookshop week. It is a book that had caught my eye in the past – mainly the design of the oversized paperback with a half-sized dust jacket of the clashing green. I loved the overall appearance of this book.

So needless to say, with a recommendation from someone I trust, I went in to this book with very high hopes! It was one that took some time to get in to – I was still waiting for the ‘weird’ to kick in at 175 pages and I was starting to get frustrated, it has to be said. I almost gave up and then I went in to Jarrold’s and spoke with Robert and that really gave me the motivation to continue. I’m really glad I did!

This book follows Delphine, a slightly precocious 12/3 year old at the brink of WWII. Her parents and her end up at this manor house in the Norfolk countryside which is filled with outrageous characters. Delphine has a gut feeling that something weird is going on and noone believes her – she is seen as a nuisance by pretty much everyone. It starts off very slowly, it took me over half of the book before I was actually fully invested in it, I really struggled with the first half. Then it starts to get a little weird and, Robert was right, I liked it. There was this undertone throughout the first half that did give that hint that it was going to get a bit hinky, but then BOOM suddenly you’re thrown in to this mad, fantasy story. It did feel a little forced, maybe. I can’t quite put my finger on it…

Tim Clare is a poet. In parts of this you can very much tell that he is a poet. The writing is beautiful, it sort of sweeps over you and whisks you away in to Delphine’s world. It was rich and full of imagery and once I got in to it, an absolute pleasure to read.

So, while I loved the second half. The first half really pulls this down so it was very easy to give this book 3*, it has its good and it has its bad points so a nice “I liked it” suffices. I’ll definitely be checking out some of Tim Clare’s poetry in the future though because his prose is wonderful!

Review: Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami

sputnik-sweetheart1Ah. Murakami. It’s a long time since I’ve completely immersed myself in a Murakami – by that I mean it’s a long time since I found one of his novels so utterly readable. Murakami is a very hit and miss author for me, while I sometimes love his work there have been a number of books that I’ve read and really struggled through.

Sputnik Sweetheart was one of the more readable and approachable of Murakami’s work from what I’ve experienced. While not as packed full of his usual magical realism elements, it was still a good read once I got in to it.

We follow the story of Sumire, a young woman who falls in love with another woman – Miu. It’s told from the perspective of Sumire’s friend, who we only know as K. We follow the period of Sumire’s life in which she meets Miu and how their lives overlap and fall in to sync with each other, we follow them on a tour of Europe when something then happens to Sumire.

It’s an interesting look at passion and the borderline with obsession. It was an interesting look at sexual fluidity and desire. But there was something lacking, some of this felt rushed and some felt that it wasn’t giving me all it could. The ending was just “boom and I’m done” and that frustrated me somewhat because, as always, Murakami left the ending up to interpretation for the reader rather than closing it all nicely and putting a bow on it!

This was a very passive narration which I think really fitted the story well. It was fluid and easy to read, it was quick to read. It just left me feeling a little empty. I think with Murakami, instant impressions are not a fair representation of his work because often I have to settle down and think about what I’ve actually read and process it fully. Sometimes my impressions are improved, or in the case of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, my initial impressions are generous!

My main thought with this book is that I really need to go and read 1Q84 again because this reminded me of it so much! Mainly the focus on the moon which was a really big focus in 1Q84.

So, ultimately this is one of the better of Murakami’s books I’ve read but still left me wanting more. First impressions give this a 3/5!

Review: The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

gracekeepersThis book is beautiful. Inside and out. I’ve taken my time to compose this review – and decide on my final rating.

I could very have easily read this book in one sitting but it was one I actually wanted to savour. The prose in this novel is just absolutely gorgeous and the world building that Kirsty has done here is just masterful. This story wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it wasn’t for her use of language; it really captured the magic of the mysterious circus ship.

In the end, after listening to a clip of Kirsty reading this, I couldn’t resist buying the audiobook and I seriously, seriously recommend it. It added a whole new level to it and allowed me to savour it for longer! It definitely added a little more magic to the story – it was a very passive narration, it was slow and gentle but powerful all the same.

This is an old fashioned story in my opinion. It’s based on Scottish folklore and myth but is a modern fairytale twist on several bits of the history. We follow, mainly, North and Callanish and their experiences as a bear girl in a floating circus and a Gracekeeper respectively. Their paths inevitably cross and it changes both of their lives for the better. I won’t give too much away because I feel this is definitely a story that needs to be read!

I struggled getting a rating for this one because I really loved it, I really wanted to give it 5 stars but… the ending was a little hurried in my opinion. It was a fitting, wonderful ending but it felt rushed. The last quarter I couldn’t put down whatsoever, the combination of circumstance and great characters made this so difficult to put down and I just felt bereft when it was actually over. So, on a lot more thought I decided to stick with the initial 4/5. READ THIS. It’s beautiful. It’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year!

Review: The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell

bone clocks

I finally read this book! I know, I’ve put it on several TBRs over the last 10 months but it took someone to tell me, in person, “read it!” to actually bother. I’m really conflicted about this, I have to be honest – overall I loved it but it took me a long while (over 300 pages) to get to that point. Once I was there, I couldn’t put it down – the final 200-300 pages were read in one day.

I’ve never read any David Mitchell before – I’ve had Cloud Atlas on my shelves to read for years – and maybe going in to this without the background on some of the more subsidiary characters was a bad thing (although I now do want to go back and read more of his work and I’ve been motivated to do that!).

This essentially is a book about the life of Holly Sykes. The first section, in 1984, is told from the perspective of Holly aged 15 on the day her brother disappeared. The second follows Hugo in 1991 and how he meets Holly in Switzerland (he then features somewhat in future sections of the book). Then we fast forward to 2004, where Ed Brubeck is waiting – he’s been waiting to say his piece for a while as he featured heavily in Holly’s tale in part one.

The fourth section is set in the present day – 2015 – and follows author Crispin Hershey and this is where I started to lose the thread a bit. Up until this point the book was chugging along at a good pace, I read most of the first 300 pages in a day, but this section felt stilted and slowed me down considerably, I just drifted and I wasn’t invested in this thread of the overarching story. I really didn’t like Crispin, or his voice which is a problem I do frequently have with first person narration. Then Holly popped up and it started to find it’s pace again, I still didn’t like Crispin but Holly (and Aoife) were the shining parts of this section and the only time I actually felt invested in Crispin was when Holly was around. Eventually, I was sad to see this section go as while I didn’t like his voice, I liked a lot of the plot that happened during this section!

I got what I wished for in the fifth section; it answered a lot of questions. Who IS Esther Little? Who IS this mysterious Marius character. This section made the drag of the previous sections worth it. It was crazy, it was by no means an easy read but it was a good one! It gave background to things and while some of it was a little confusing and required reading twice, some of it was a little outrageous, it was what I’d been waiting for from the beginning!

Then, finally in part 6 we’re thrown way in to the future, a dark and twisted future where Holly is raising 2 orphans. I won’t give too much away about this section but it’s something I would love to read more of. I would love to know what happened to Lorelei, I’d love to know what happened to Marius. By the end of this book I was so invested in Holly I felt sad to put it down, however much me and this book disagreed to begin with!

Overall, I’d give this a 4/5. The start was a bit rocky, then it started to up the pace; once I had completed it I understood things that were maybe confusing very much earlier on, subtext became important and I really liked that intricacy. I will definitely read more of Mitchell in the future!

Review: The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

BuriedGiantThis was a book I was highly anticipating this year but, as someone who is a complete fusspot when it comes to matching covers on books I was naturally going to wait for a paperback copy. However, Tracy – the lovely woman who runs my favourite bookshop – let me borrow her ARC of it so I could finally read it. I’ve only ever read Never Let Me Go and that was a few years ago now, so I can’t exactly call myself an Ishiguro expert.

Set in 6th Century Britain after the death of King Arthur, in a country divided between Britons and Saxons, The Buried Giant follows an elderly couple who set out from their village to find their son. However, there is a mist that is covering the land; making memories hazy and reducing everyone’s perception. This is a very clever tool, it adds an air of intrigue and mystery to the novel but is also frustrating because everyone is an unreliable narrator or character. You can’t really believe anyone’s story!

Initially I loved this book, I did go in to it with some trepidation as I know a lot of people have said it was a little disappointing. It was great, it was very fairy-tale or fable, it was full of intrigue and fantasy; it really got me wanting to actually read some epic fantasy. Then I hit about 40% of the way through, pretty much at the start of Part II and I slowed. It started to lose my interest. This is really the point at which it switched from Axl and Beatrice in to the secondary characters points of view and… I really wasn’t interested in it. All I wanted to do is finish it because I wanted to know what was the actual point of it all?! The introduction of Sir Gawain was where, I feel, it started to lose it’s charm a bit.

This book had a charm about it, it was great in places but… it just didn’t resonate with me on the whole. It was good, the themes were good but I just found it somewhat cumbersome and clunky at times. Also, I hate books that just stop. I was just getting invested in it again and it just stops. It was necessary I think, but it still felt a bit dissatisfying.

It was by no means an awful book, it was just not as a whole as good as the first 90 or so pages were! This was a hard one to get through, but I think it is one that I will purchase myself when it is in paperback and reread as I feel maybe it would benefit from that. It has me thinking and I feel that maybe it’s one that I will have kinder thoughts of in hindsight! Right now, it’s a 3/5 but that is likely to change at some point.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

OceanAtTheEndOfTheLaneSo far in my life, I’ve read The Graveyard BookAmerican Gods and Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman and I’ve never really got the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great author (and screenwriter, The Doctor’s Wife is one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who) but I’ve never really loved his books like others seem to. This book made me understand that hype that he is surrounded by. This book was magical.

I decided to listen to this as an audiobook and I don’t regret it. I really have trouble with audiobooks. I generally when reading need to invest everything in to the book, I struggle to then focus on anything else. But Neil actually narrated this himself and I couldn’t say no, really! So I settled down on Saturday afternoon and listened to this for nearly 4 hours while colouring and… I just loved it!

Essentially, this book is about a man who returns to the village where he grew up; triggering memories from when he was 7. We then get taken back to when he was 7 and, for the majority of the book, spend time in his mind when a big event happened in his life and everything comes down to the house at the end of the lane. As the story progresses there are a number of other peculiar events, including us meeting Lettie Hempstock and her family who seem almost magical. This book was magical.

This story is wonderful. Really. Having it read by the author is so much more engaging because it is read how it was intended to be and I really like that! The descriptive nature of his writing is brilliant, the characters are expertly crafted. I cannot explain how much I loved Lettie and her family! While it is short, it really packs a punch! It’s a really rich, expertly written book and I just loved it.

I’m still not entirely convinced by an audiobook, I did find it hard to pay attention at times but I think once in a while I may listen to one, especially now I’ve found a love of colouring! Gaiman reads this expertly, obviously, so I may well check out more of his books as audiobooks because I find his voice really good to listen to.

Ultimately, this is a 5/5 from me. I loved it!

Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami

hbwateotwThis might be an unpopular opinion but this book didn’t grip me from the offset. In fact, I really debated putting this down within the first 100 pages because it was just so… bland. And also, it really riled me up. I won’t lie.

Genuinely, my inner feminist was screaming reading this book. Within the first chapter we have an entire paragraph dedicated to justifying why a ‘chubby’ woman is still attractive. Seriously. The only identifying feature he gave this woman was ‘chubby’. Whenever this girl is mentioned, her weight is mentioned, her size is mentioned and that made me angry. Oh and also, there was half a chapter about how she makes really good sandwiches! It made me even angrier when in chapter 7 another female character is introduced and her defining feature is ‘slim’. Yep. Maybe I was a little intolerant of it but this pissed me off to no end to the point I wanted to throw the book across the room in spite of the fact that I was just starting to enjoy it. I know it was written in 1985 and ‘times were different’ but seriously, I’m not down with this objectification of women and outright misogyny!

But the thing is, Haruki Murakami just has a gift when it comes to creating an atmosphere, it’s something I really appreciate in an author and this ‘atmosphere’ thing features heavily in a lot of books that I enjoy. When reading some of this I felt like it could do with being a black and white adaptation with a heavy voiceover, it was foggy and mysterious and yes… I do really love that in a book. All the issues I have aside, I can’t help but compulsively read a Murakami book.

Forgetting the fact that women can evidently only be identified by their body mass, this was okay. After I got in to it around the 100 page mark I really enjoyed the story. Some of it was surplus to requirements, shall we say but the main crux of it was really engaging. It’s essentially two stories that eventually weave together, but as with all Murakami it is really best to go in blind and just let the story take you! To be fair to this book, it is an amazing story, it was a masterful novel but I just can’t get over how it made me feel on the angst front. Murakami may be a master with atmosphere but he is awful at writing women and for that reason I didn’t enjoy this to it’s 3/5 from me

Review: A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

27.Ruth Ozeki-A Tale For The Time BeingIt’s been a long while since I read a book that I had to stay awake to finish. Sleeping before I had finished this just wasn’t an option because I needed to know what happened. I can’t put in to words just how this book hit me, but you know when you get that kick right in the gut from a book? Yeah. That. This book kicked me right in the gut and it just had a really big impact on me. I laughed and I cried both happy and sad tears. I wanted to read as slowly as I could but had to read as quickly as possible to just know what happened. It sucked me in, spun me around and spat me out again. It was just beautiful.

This is a take on an epistolary novel, really. There are diary entries, letters and emails. As for our characters, we have Nao, Ruth and the two Haruki’s. I adored how the 4 voices were intertwined and how each impacted on the other. Nao is a beautiful protagonist – her point of view is something I don’t feel I’ve heard before. Ruth is, for all intents and purposes, the author herself. That is a little odd, it has taken me a while to get my head around the fact! And then we have Haruki #1 and Haruki #2, who are both very distinct personalities even though they’re separated by 60 years, life and death, and never actually speak for themselves. Then there’s Jiko, who I’ve yet to mention. But she is a 104 year old Buddhist nun and she’s awesome. I want a Jiko.

This book just touches on so many themes; religion, life, death, time, war… it’s pretty much all there along with a handy helping of Marcel Proust! Suicide is probably the most predominant theme and I like that it wasn’t sugar coated, even if that sounds harsh. In making it rough and honest, I think it made it all the more heart wrenching and I think also, ultimately, heart warming.

“Time itself is being…and all being is time…In essence, everything in the entire universe is intimately linked with each other as moments in time, continuous and separate.”

While it’s very realistic, it also has it’s moments of magical realism. Is time tangible? Do events now have any influence on the events of the past? I won’t spoil it but yes. There is a crow, and he does magic things. Some of it is a little odd, makes little sense, but it’s one of those things you just have to accept and carry on reading. I also have to say I really liked the way that quantum theory was interwoven with the time aspect of this novel! I am by no means a fan of physics (I avoid it where possible) but for once, what little knowledge I have came in useful!

Ultimately, it is about being happy in the here and now – not looking to the past or the future for contentment or hope; and not indulging in regret or wishes. As the character Ruth states in the epilogue: “I’d much rather know, but then again, not-knowing keeps all the possibilities open. It keeps all the worlds alive.”

This review is very broken and all over the place, for that I apologise. I wanted to write while it was still somewhat fresh in my mind, but I’ve found that it’s all a bit jumbled! This book was amazing, no buts about it. It’s by no stretch an easy book to read but it is definitely one that should be read. Possibly the best book I’ve read this year – 5/5

Review: Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

murakami coverI think it’s fair to say this book wasn’t what I was expecting; but then, what really is expected when Murakami is at the helm? I haven’t had much prior experience with Murakami, I didn’t much enjoy Norwegian Wood when I’ve tried to read it but I absolutely loved 1Q84 – which is apparently a very different opinion to the masses! There was a question on Goodreads asking if disappointment in 1Q84 affected decisions as to whether or not to read this book – my answer to that is I loved 1Q84 so it absolutely affected my decision, in a positive way. I cannot remember the last time I bought a book (even an eBook) on release day. It was probably Harry Potter.

Back to this book, it’s about a man named Tsukuru Tazaki.  At the age of 20, Tsukuru Tazaki is kicked out of his group of five friends, three boys and two girls. Each of them has a colourful name: Red, Blue, White and Black, except for Tsukuru. It’s representative for the way he thinks about himself: colourless, with nothing valuable to offer the rest of the group – or even the world. This book follows him – in a series of present day tellings and flashbacks that cover the course of the 16 years since that day.

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