Review: Nefertiti – Michelle Moran

038 - Nefertiti

038 - Nefertiti

Rating – 5*

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump, so I decided to pick up a book I loved a number of years ago to try and get me out of it. Interestingly, I managed to pick it up 5 years to the day that I did originally and I loved it just as much a second time around.

The reason I read this book in the first place is because I’ve always loved Egyptian history (mainly due to my finding of The Mummy movies when I was only 7 or 8 and my baby gay self falling in love with Rachel Weisz). There isn’t really much fiction based in Ancient Egypt, definitely not the period in which this book focuses on, which upsets me because I do love it so much however it does mean that the few books set in the 18th Dynasty of Egypt hold a very dear place in my heart.

Like I said, very little is known about this period of history in Egypt – only 10% of this book is factual, the rest is educated guesswork and pure fiction. While on a second read I didn’t find the writing quite as good as I did the first time around, I still thought this book was amazing. The period in which it was written was so beautiful and Moran doesn’t skimp on details of art, architecture and how beautiful the country was at the time.

The book also explores the unrest in Egypt with Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign. Akhenaten wanted to be known as a builder and is responsible for the city of Amarna, and was also responsible for the religious shift towards monotheism from polytheism (didn’t work, he is known as a Heretic King). The book is rife with family politics, wars on the verge of breaking out – and it’s around these themes that the book is ultimately based.

I wouldn’t be the first, nor will I be the last, to bring up the likeness of this book to The Other Boleyn Girl. I haven’t read that book in a long time, but ultimately this book is written through the eyes of the overlooked sister of a Queen. Mutnodjmet is an endearing character when compared to her sister Nefertiti and I think that is ultimately what makes this book a lot more compelling to read. Through her sisters eyes you get a very different insight in to the life of the Female Pharaoh – while she was portrayed as a conceited, beautiful girl she was also strong willed, ambitious and ultimately an incredible Queen when out of the grasp of Akhenaten.

I really loved this book. It isn’t a literary masterpiece, but it is definitely still up there as one of my favourite books and reminded me why I love historical fiction so much. It isn’t going to be long before I revisit others of Moran’s books (and maybe visit some for the first time) as I just love the way she writes.

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

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Rating – 5*

I have been desperately in the mood for comfort lately, and when I feel like that I feel the urge to reread. With the third book in the Wayfarers series coming out in July I decided on a cold Saturday afternoon to curl up with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and reintegrate myself with the absolutely wonderful cast of characters and world that Becky Chambers created. I didn’t regret it for one second.

Since I first read this in 2016 I have wanted to reread it. Finally doing that was on a par with rereading Harry Potter, if not better. Reconnecting with the characters in here was much like that catch up you have with old friends you haven’t seen in a couple of years – and you can just pick up where you left off.

For anyone who hasn’t read this book before, a quick summary. We follow the crew of a spaceship called The Wayfarer. The ships job is to create links between areas of the cosmos many lightyears apart – they tunnel. On this ship you have the most incredibly diverse range of characters and personalities, and each of them you fall in love with a little bit. Rosemary is the “main” character – she’s the new girl, and is essentially how we as a reader experience the space they find themselves in as it is her first time up there too. If you as a reader are unsure of something, Rosemary is probably going to ask the stupid question so you don’t have to. That in itself is a genius technique so we don’t feel so confused as readers. We follow this crew as they cross the cosmos and head towards, you guessed it, an angry planet. A planet which is at war with itself. Along the way we learn so much about each of the characters, and they learn a lot about each other. And it’s beautiful.

Reading it for a second time I picked up so much more of the nuance, more of the depth in the characters, I appreciated the different cultures explored and while I did previously appreciate all of those things I appreciated them so much more. I also really just appreciated the diversity of the characters more on a second read!

One thing that I loved the first time around and loved just as much this time around is how this book focuses on so many different forms of love and family. I still love the idea of feather families – those families you make for yourself – and it gave me the warm fuzzies this time around as it did originally. Yes, I just loved all the relationships and different types of relationship in this book – familial and romantic. It’s just a glorious thing to read.

What I said when I first read it stands – read this book, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. If you like Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who, read this. If you enjoyed any sort of space-based TV show (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica etc) read this. It’s not just a great work of science fiction, it’s an incredible work of fiction full stop.

I absolutely cannot wait for the third book set in this world to be released this summer (I have it on preorder already) and I really wish I could experience this book for the first time all over again. I’m really hoping that Netflix pick this up for a series or something because I genuinely believe this is perfect for a series adaptation, and I would absolutely 100% binge watch it.

So yes. If the last 600 words didn’t convince you, please read this book!

Review: With the End in Mind – Kathryn Mannix

023 - With the End in Mind

023 - With the End in Mind

Rating – 5*

Hands down this book is one of the best I have read this year – possibly ever. It was by no means an easy read, but it was incredible and trying to put in to words the profound affect this book has already had on me is difficult.

Dr Kathryn Mannix is a palliative care consultant – she has seen a lot of people dying and, in this book, is trying to relieve the stigma that modern society has around death and the process of dying. It is something as natural as birth and waits for us all but it’s something we don’t really talk about, least of all with those people in our lives who it really matters to talk about it with!

She explores the pattern of dying – what most people experience at any rate. But rather than doing it in medical jargon she tells stories – the patients who lives (and deaths) touched her in some way. The care she and her teams over the years have for patients in their final minutes is the care we all wish we could experience, but fear among loved ones means that often that gentle, understanding death doesn’t happen. She takes time to explain to loved ones the patterns, what they can expect and honestly, it is the frank and honest conversation that so many more people should have when keeping vigils at someones bedside. I know I’d have benefited from this woman – or even this book – 3 and a half years ago when I said goodbye to my grandmother.

This book had me sobbing. Fat, ugly tears. Each chapter is someones story, their life, their death, and what she as a clinician learnt from them. She does justice to each one of the lives she tells in this book, she handles them all with grace and dignity. Equally, parts of this book had me laughing. That is something I was definitely not expecting in a book about death! At some points I was somehow doing both simultaneously.

Mannix does also tell some personal stories – how sitting on the other side of the fence (so to speak) with her own grandmother was something which only made her a better doctor, it was something she learnt from. And also how she had the conversation with her son when their cat had been injured and wasn’t going to survive. I’m not going to lie, I cried when the cat died too.

I cannot praise this book enough. So far it’s a head and shoulders above the rest on the long list and, honestly, if this doesn’t get short listed I may well kick off! As I said at the start, it is by no means an easy read but I think it’s a necessary read for so many people. Death shouldn’t have a stigma attached to it and this book is absolutely hammering this point home.

I put on twitter that I’d like this to be on prescription – and I really thing it ought to be. Maybe not prescription, but it should definitely be handed out to people facing an imminent death of a loved one.

My only criticism is that in parts it was repetitive, but honestly every time I felt that it affected me just as much. It was an absolutely beautiful book, and so far it’s my front runner.

I would also like to say that I listened to this as an audiobook in parts, I found that a really good way to take it in. Elizabeth Carling was a fantastic narrator for this, her tone was just right and it really had a positive impact on my overall feelings about this book. If you’re a little unsure about it, definitely give the audiobook a go because it was marvellous.

Review: Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson

020 - Written on the Body

020 - Written on the Body

Rating – 5*

After saying not so long ago that I was going to forgo Winterson for a little while, I caved. This more than made up for the issues I had with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It was beautiful. It’s a work of art. It absolutely blew me away.

This book is, essentially, a book about worshipping a lovers body. It’s sensual, it’s captivating, and it’s intricate. It’s the first time with one of Winterson’s books that I’ve felt a full connection with the narrator – and I think this might be the book that I fall in love with her.

The main character remains not only nameless, but genderless. At the beginning I felt so sure that they were female, then in the middle I questioned it (and promptly changed my mind again), but by the end I was absolutely certain that they were female. It remains unsaid, it remains unnecessary to the story, and it also makes you as a reader question why you need to know in the first place – what does it matter? They have had female and male lovers, but focuses primarily on the love they had for one woman – Louise – and the fall out of their relationship.

The first section of the book focuses on the narrators love life, past lovers, sexual experiences, pitfalls of romance, and love. We see them in a stagnating relationship with a woman, which is comfortable but not passionate. Then they meet Louise, and things change. But Louise is married, and we get an insight in to her marriage and all the faults with it. Then something happens, which changes how our narrator looks at their relationship – and they follow their head not their heart, leaving Louise behind.

I want to say more, but I also want others to experience the beauty of this book first hand. I was blown away by it. I always felt that Jeanette Winterson was going to be just not in my grasp and then I go and read this. For me, it’s a slightly sexed up, more modern version of Orlando and I think that having read Orlando recently really helped with my enjoyment of this. There were a lot of similar themes across the two, so maybe if you like Orlando as much as me, you’ll love this too.

Oh, and the ending isn’t all sad, I promise.

Review: Orlando – Virginia Woolf

018 - Orlando

018 - Orlando

Rating – 5*

He – for there could be no doubt of his sex” is how this book opens, and it is one of my favourite opening lines in literature. Anyone who has been following this blog for a while knows how I feel about Virginia Woolf, and in particular this book. Orlando. This is my 3rd or 4th time reading the book, and this time I took more away than I ever have before.

Orlando is a book written long before its time and it is no spoiler to say that the character of Orlando starts as a boy of 16 in an Elizabethan court and one day, some years later, wakes up as a woman. This book astounded me this time because Woolf was essentially pointing out that sex and gender are two different things in this book. Gender is a social construct which is built around stereotypes of what society expects from people of a particular sex. It explores things like Male Privilege in a time where that wasn’t even a talking point, illustrated by Orlando (as a woman) needing to marry in order to claim her estate.

I don’t think I will ever be able to coherently express my feelings for this book. I absolutely adore it. Parts of this book I just read over and over again. There are so many beautiful passages in these pages, I wish I could share them all but I’d basically just be typing the book out. I think though, the passage below sums up this book quite well:-

“And as all Orlando’s loves had been women, now, through the culpable laggardry of the human frame to adapt itself to convention, though she herself was a woman, it was still a woman she loved; and if the consciousness of being of the same sex had any effect at all, it was to quicken and deepen those feelings which she had had as a man.”

I also feel it important to mention that this book was a love letter from Woolf to her female lover, Vita Sackville-West, on whom Orlando was based. They definitely don’t write love letters like this any more! This book is, ultimately, about freedom to be yourself, and to love who you want to love, and to be happy with whoever makes you happy.

I said when I first read this book 3 years ago that every time I reread it I would find something new to love, and this time around I took it more slowly and enjoyed the prose – because Woolf writes the most beautiful prose. I don’t regret it.

Honestly, I urge anyone to read this book, and when you do take it slowly. It may be a 220 page book but it’s a book that needs time taken on it to fully appreciate!

Review: The Gloaming – Kirsty Logan

015 - The Gloaming

015 - The Gloaming

Rating – 5*

I am so, so excited that I was able to receive an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for a review. The Gloaming will be published by Harvill Secker on April 19th – and I’m going to urge anyone reading this to pick it up because it is gorgeous. Much like with all Kirsty’s previous books it focuses on Scottish folklore and queer themes – lesbian mermaids. Need I say any more? But it has been one of my most anticipated books of 2018, it didn’t let me down, it didn’t suffer with Second Novel Syndrome – if anything I may love this just a little bit more than The Gracekeepers.

I had very high hopes for this book ever since I saw Kirsty talking about it on Twitter and it didn’t disappoint. It focuses around the Scottish myth of Selkies and deals with it in a much more tasteful way than my last encounter with a book which revolved around the myth. I’ve loved everything about it, and while it wasn’t what I was expecting it was still absolutely gorgeous.

The book follows the story of Mara Ross and her family. They live on a small, unnamed island off the coast of Scotland and it’s a magical, but dark place. Her family are haunted by many things, in a house that’s not quite right on an island which just seems to be filled with ghosts. It felt a lot more grown up, a lot more rounded than her previous novel – the characters were more real and the relationships between them also felt very believable. The relationships between parents and children, sisters, lovers; all of them felt real.

Something else I loved about this book is the nod to her short stories. I loved how she wove things like The Rental Heart in to this so seamlessly, and how that in this slightly fantastical reality it was believable. It also made me want to go back and reread her entire back catalogue – so keep an eye out for reviews of me rereading her books!

Honestly, I cannot praise this book enough. It was absolutely gorgeous and I cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy in April. If you have a chance to get your hands on this, do, and let it wash over you because it’s beautiful. I read it in one sitting, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and come the end I wanted to read it all over again. I feel so lucky that I was able to read this 2 months before release, and it’s genuinely one of the books I have been most excited for this year. I can’t wait to share it with my friends.

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.

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: Mythos – Stephen Fry

054 - Mythos

Rating – 5*

When I saw this book on Audible I knew I had to get it – it’s one of the few audiobooks I’ve actually preordered this year. My thoughts were it is Greek mythology and Stephen Fry; sounds like a perfect combination. I wasn’t far wrong.

Greek Myths have an awful habit of being very dull reads – this however was not dull. The familiar tales were told in a much more modern, approachable way than the starchy collections I’ve read in the past. What I love most about this collection is how seamlessly he wove modern culture, and what we have obtained thanks to classical myth, in with the story – literature and music are referenced in abundance, but then there is also origins of elements and compounds in science which I had absolutely zero idea about prior to reading this! It’s both fiction and non fiction simultaneously because, actually, I feel I learnt a lot about what shaped humans (given that modern civilisation has a lot to owe to the ancient Greeks!)

The collection is told in a round-about chronological way, starting with the creation myth of Chaos, on to the Titans and the Olympians. The way the stories are put across is like a multi-generational saga, it makes it so much more modern than other collections I’ve read which are essentially the same stories. We get those familiar stories of Pandora and her box (or vase, as it was a mistranslation), Midas, Echo and Narcissus… so many of the stories which I adored as a child (and on reading this, love again).

Not only is it more modern, it’s so much more fun and I can’t help but think that’s entirely down to Stephen Fry as an author putting a bit off lightness in all the characters and having a bit of fun – and I loved it. I listened to this in the space of 2 evenings and it was a joy to listen to as he narrates it himself, making it twice as much fun as it would have been otherwise. I can only hope that he does more like this because, damn, it was so much fun!

I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes Stephen Fry, classical myth, audiobooks, or is generally curious because actually while this is fiction I feel I learnt a lot of (useless) information from it which I can now use to impress my friends!

Review: Winter – Ali Smith

052 - Winter

Rating – 5*

I love Ali Smith (I absolutely adore her actually) and I have been looking forward to this book as soon as I finished reading Autumn. Winter is the second offering in the Season quartet and is as equally as powerful as its predecessor.

Essentially, this follows the story of two sisters – Iris and Sophia – but we also follow Sophia’s son Art (Arthur) and Lux, a young woman who has come in to their lives by chance. It’s a very dysfunctional family coming together at Christmastime. It reminded me a lot of The Accidental – Lux is similar in character to Amber in that she’s an outsider who brings a family together. It’s in some ways it is also reminiscent of A Christmas Carol – very subtly but oh so slightly there and I definitely found the connection with the season a lot easier in this book than in Autumn.

As she did in Autumn, the events of the past are mirrored with current events showing that history does repeat itself (to quote Battlestar Galactica, “All of this has happened before and will happen again”) and that we don’t often learn from it. History moves in cycles of events, and in Iris we have a character that bridges a generation gap and links events of the 1970s to those of the present day – nuclear war, racial tensions, so many other factors – and enables us to have a tangible link between the two periods of history which I found a very clever technique to make the entire book feel present not as if it were leapfrogging through time.

I actually decided to listen to part of this as an audiobook and I would highly recommend it. There are not many of Ali Smith’s books available as audiobooks but if you find your main issue with her writing to be the lack of punctuation (something which took me a long time to overcome) then definitely consider the audiobook as it takes that issue out of the equation completely! The narrator for it – Melody Grove – is fantastic and captured Lux as a character perfectly.

Much like with Autumn (and pretty much every Ali Smith book) I have so much trouble finding the words to review and describe this book as I genuinely believe Ali Smith is an author whose books have to be experienced, I find her work so immersive that when I come out of the other side I do then find it hard to review it without spoiling. Therefore, I will always tell you go just go and read (or listen) to it because in my eyes, this is even better than Autumn and that was shortlisted for the Man Booker.

I know Ali Smith isn’t for everyone, but honestly I love her writing and cannot wait to read her next book.