Sunday, 3 May 2015

Weekly Overview

It's been a pretty good week for me! I'm returning from a family celebration today and last Thursday I survived my only exam for this term. I have been offered pretty sweet accommodation by my next University! Besides that, I got a few reviews up and overall it has been good.

So, that was my week! How was yours? Happy with what you put up? 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Follow Friday and 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn

It's Friday, I've survived my first, and only, exam and I've pretty much finished my dissertation so yaay for me! I'm flying to a family reunion  this weekend, which will be fine, and then I'm spending the week after in London for some family time, quiet work time, and a visit to the Arthur C. Clarke awards! But, today is Friday which means memes!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by Take Me Away...:

How do you cure a book hangover/blogging slump/reading slump?

I hate having any of those three. Ever since I've started blogging, I have at times felt the pressure to keep reading and to jump straight into the next book. Because my reading is usually very decided by "what I feel like", this can read to me feeling a bit done with it all. However, I love reading too much to ever really give up on it, so eventually, even if I hit a slump, I will always magically get over it.

Book Blogger HopBook Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was suggested by Elizabeth over at Silver's Reviews:

Do you belong to an online book club?

Does The Classics Club count? I made a list of a 100 Classics I want to read for it and we all read our books and visit each others' reviews etc. but we don't really read books together. I would love to be part of a book club but I'm also very aware that together with university and blogging, I have enough reading on my plate for now.

Gone GirlI am terribly late with getting on the hype for this book and have already seen the film, so many twists and turns won't be surprises to me. But I recently read the author's Sharp Objects and loved it, so I am looking forward to getting into this one now. I'm talking about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn of course!

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media--as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents--the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter--but is he really a killer?  
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted, respectively, Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'Nick Dunne: The Day OfWhen I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of her head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.' p.1

I like this beginning because you immediately get the idea that something is already different about their relationship and the way they see each other.

'Then maybe we'll have sex again. And a late-night burger. And more Scotch. Voila: happiest couple on the block! And they say marriage is such hard work.' p.56
Sex, burgers and alcohol sounds like a great marriage solver.... I love Flynn's sarcastic tone about marriage and the way people put on a facade to the outside. I am going to like this book, I can tell.

So, that's my Friday post! How do you guys deal with a reading-slump? And any only book clubs I need to get in to?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Review: 'The High Druid's Blade' by Terry Brooks

The High Druid's Blade (The Defenders of Shannara #1)Here I am with another fantasy-read from Orbit, who have been putting out some amazing fantasy books lately. Many thanks to Orbit for allowing me to be part of the blog tour for The High Druid's Blade and providing me with the copy of the novel.

Pub. Date: 28/04/2015
Publisher: Orbit
Legend has it that Paxon Leah is descended from the royals and warriors who once ruled the Highlands and waged war with magical weapons. But those kings, queens, and heroes are long gone, and there is nothing enchanted about the antique sword that hangs above Paxon’s fireplace. Running his family’s modest shipping business, Paxon leads a quiet life—until extraordinary circumstances overturn his simple world . . . and rewrite his destiny. When his brash young sister is abducted by a menacing stranger, Paxon races to her rescue with the only weapon he can find. And in a harrowing duel, he is stunned to discover powerful magic unleashed within him—and within his ancestors’ ancient blade. But his formidable new ability is dangerous in untrained hands, and Paxon must master it quickly because his nearly fatal clash with the dark sorcerer Arcannen won’t be his last. Leaving behind home and hearth, he journeys to the keep of the fabled Druid order to learn the secrets of magic and earn the right to become their sworn protector. But treachery is afoot deep in the Druids’ ranks. And the blackest of sorcery is twisting a helpless innocent into a murderous agent of evil. To halt an insidious plot that threatens not only the Druid order but all the Four Lands, Paxon Leah must summon the profound magic in his blood and the legendary mettle of his elders in the battle fate has chosen him to fight.
This was the first novel I have read by Terry Brooks, whose Shannara-series are loved my fans all around the world. The High Druid's Blade is the first stand-alone novel from Brooks in almost twenty years and as such might be a great place for me to get into the world of Shannara. The novel introduces the reader to the character of Paxon Leah, who within the first few chapters goes on a rescue mission for his sister Chrys and discovers the existence of magic. This beginning was almost too fast, with not enough time given to the reader to truly get settled in with the characters and start caring for them. When Chrys is kidnapped the reader doesn't really know her yet and as such it is hard to care for her. It's similar for the main character, who is not given quite enough time to really be explored by the reader.

What Brooks excelled at were the short bursts of history and culture he infused into the narrative. They were interesting and well-written and showed how much Brooks has worked on the world of Shannara. However, this mainly made me more interested in reading Brooks' other books rather than continuing with The High Druid's Blade. I somehow didn't find myself really engaging with the narrative of the book or caring much about the characters. They were interesting, but along with the plot, they followed very typical paths within the fantasy genre. Things seem relatively easily resolved as Paxon goes on his way and I felt that at times the tension was lacking. As such, The High Druid's Blade is definitely marketed best for younger readers who are getting into fantasy.

I am a huge fan of Fantasy-literature, yet mainly find myself enjoying what is called 'high fantasy', a term which mistakenly suggests an inherent difference in quality to 'low fantasy'. Urban fantasy is a great example of what is called 'low fantasy' because it takes place in a real or relatively realistic world, whereas high fantasy is set in a completely fictional realm, a la the Disc-world in Terry Pratchett's books. Another example of high literature is The Lord of the Rings in which Tolkien not only creates different lands but also different languages, cultures and thousands of years of history. The reason I bring this debate up is because at times I was wondering in which of the two categories to put The High Druid's Blade. Although technically classed as 'high fantasy', the Four Lands are identified as Earth after a nuclear war. Magic exists besides technology and both supplement the other. Personally I thought this was really interesting, but it also meant I didn't completely sink into the world the novel was creating because I was thinking too much about it.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

The High Druid's Blade is a fast-paced, interesting read which hits a lot of high points Personally I was expecting a bit more, yet this novel is meant for younger readers. I would recommend this book to lovers of Fantasy.

Tuesday Intros & Teaser Tuesdays - 'The Undeground Girls of Kabul' by Jenny Nordberg

I'm reading an absolutely amazing book from Netgalley at the moment, The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. I requested it ages ago and never really got to it
An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl
In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh(literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. 
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. 
At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
It sounds amazing and from what I have read so far, it is as interesting as the blurb promises.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted over at A Daily Rhythm.

'Prologue:The transition begins here.I remove the black head scarf and tuck it into my backpack. My hair stays in a knotted bun on the back of my head.' 2%
'Chapter one:'"Our brother is really a girl."' 2%
I liked both of these beginnings. Although the beginning of Chapter 1 is a bit more eye-catching, the prologue was a great way of settling the reader in with the main character.
'Similar to Carol's take on the subject, it made a certain sense to Nancy: "Segregation calls for creativity, she told me."' 7%
I'm not very far into the book yet as you can see and I didn't want to jump ahead. Also, I thought this teaser was really interesting because I definitely think it's true. When people are suppressed they find ways around it.

Have you read this book? And what do you think of it?

Monday, 27 April 2015

Review: 'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin

There are moments in your life where you're browsing through a bookstore and you find a book that you simple can't not buy. I had a moment like that when I found this copy of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Not only is the cover stunning, but this book is also on my 100 Classics list.

Pub. Date: 2014
Publisher: Canongate
First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, "The Awakening" has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threatened to consumer her. 
Originally entitled "A Solitary Soul, " this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here, a woman in search of self-discovery turns away from convention and society, and toward the primal, from convention and society, and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses.
The Awakening is recognized as one of the earliest landmarks for feminist literature. Part of what made it special for its time was that it describes women's issues without being condescending about them. Chopin gets right to the heart of the issues for many women in her time and does so through beautiful prose. Even nowadays, a novel completely dedicated to a woman's spiritual growth, without it being a guide book or a 'how to be happy'-kind of manual, is rare. With The Awakening Chopin unconsciously opened the way for a lot of female authors to express themselves and express women's problems in their own right. Chopin was raised in a house with three generations of independent women: her widowed mother, her grand-mother and a great grand-mother. Herself widowed early in life with six children depending on her, it seems fate that Chopin wrote a novel such as The Awakening

Although the basic plot of The Awakening seems relatively straight-forward, there is a lot of intricacy in it. The idea of a woman awakening, realizing how restrained she is and how free she could be is hard to explain without sounding either over the top or melodramatic. The beauty of The Awakening lies in the fact that Edna's awakening is completely natural. The awareness that she gains of herself as an independent human being is one which most people nowadays can easily relate to. However, for her time it was something unusual to dedicate a whole novel to. I thought I'd share a beautiful passage with you which showcases Chopin's brilliant writing style.
'There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day.' p.144

As you may be able to gather from the passage above, Chopin's writing style is very descriptive while remaining realistic. The focus on the novel lies on human behaviour and how that shows the complexity of social hierarchy and relationships. As such, Chopin can't rely on telling the reader how her characters "feel". She has to show us. She does this by tapping into roles which everyone is familiar with, those of the mother and wife. She also brings in her own experiences of the Creole lifestyle, however, which adds a new layer of restriction onto her female character yet also allows for the reader to see two different cultures and their respective rules next to each other. On a side note, casting her characters as being descended from France allowed her to get away with her writing since she was describing characters and lifestyles that could be put aside as "foreign".

Censored after its release, The Awakening was considered immoral by many of its, predominantly male, critics due to its depiction of female sexuality and Edna's rejection of stereotypes. On the other hand, there were also positive reviews which hailed Chopin's novel as ground-breaking. I myself have always been interested in books which seem to cross this contemporary boundary  being considered right and wrong. On the one hand they highlight contemporary social issues and are commended for that, but on the other hand they cause a lot of furor and arguments. Especially the idea of a woman abandoning her husband and children was very controversial and led to a lot of discussion. The reason literature is so fascinating to me is exactly because of this quality that books have, to influence people, to change their minds and to inform them. The Awakening is one of those novels, one which can make its reader take a moment to really think and consider. And not just women. It is a novel for those who are alive and painfully aware of it.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Chopin's The Awakening is a great novel in many different ways. Not only is it lyrically beautiful in its descriptions, it is interesting and engaging. Despite being written over a hundred years ago, some of the novel's topics are still relevant and fascinating. I'd recommend this to readers of realist fiction and women's fiction. 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Weekly Overview

This has not been the productive and life-changing week that I would've liked it to be. I'm still struggling with some of my university work and I have a test I need to revise for which is killing me. However, I still find what I do interesting, so that is good! I also didn't get as much posted this week as I'd like but that's what next week is for!

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #4)
So, that was my week. How did your week look? Happy with what you posted?

This post is linked with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Follow Friday and 'The Heir of Redclyffe' by Charlotte M. Yonge

I haven't done half of what I planned to do this week but I'm just going to hope Fate carries me through! Please Lord... Anyways, it is also Friday which means there's some great memes out there which you can join in today! The first one is Follow Friday, hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by The Paperback Princess:

How did you  come up with your blog title and address? Does it have a special meaning for you?

Great question! Initially I started my blog as a way to write down some of my thoughts on the books I read for school. I chose the name because I realized there were so many books out there that I hadn't read or even heard of. For me, the title works on two different "levels". On the one hand, there is a whole "universe" out there which is full of books and stories which I want to read. When I see my blog title it reminds me to expand the search for my next read to include something different. On the other hand, words can craft whole universes. Authors create lives, galaxies and beauty through words and I never want to forget how magical words are.

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week's question was suggested by Elizabeth over at Silver's Reviews:

Does the title of a book make or break your choice to read it?

I wouldn't say a book's title is a 'make or break' factor, yet I have to admit that if a title is utterly dreadful I am less likely to pick a book up. Wait.... let me start again. Although a title isn't necessarily a 'break' factor, it is most definitely a 'make' factor. If a book has an intriguing title I will definitely pick it up and read the back. It is one of the first things that grabs my attention. Also, and this is slightly awkward to admit, if a title is terrible I might be to embarrassed to talk about it, in which case I won't be mentioning it to anyone!

This week I'm using another 100 Classics read which I have wanted to start for quite some time. It's The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge.
The Heir Of RedclyffeFirst published in 1853, The Heir of Redclyffe was among the most successful novels of the century, equalling even the work of Dickens and Thackeray in popularity. The story of a clash of personality between well-born cousins, Guy Morville and Philip Edmonstone, the plot focuses on Guy's spiritual struggle to overcome the darker side of his nature. Philip's sinister insinuations about Guy's character almost thwart Guy's marriage to the gentle Amy, yet despite their bitter feuding the novel reaches an unexpected and dramatic conclusion that vindicates romantic virtue, self-sacrifice, and piety, epitomizing the period's nostalgia for an idealized chivalric past. Adopted by William Morris and Burne-Jones as 'a pattern for actual life', Guy was a popular role model of noble virtue, while Amy is the ideal Victorian wife - redeemer and inspirer, support and guide. The Heir of Redclyffe is a virtual paradigm of the trends of thought which characterized the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It is deeply marked by the influence of the Oxford Movement, an aspect explored by Barbara Dennis in her Introduction to this unique critical edition.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'The drawing-room of Hollywell House was one of the favoured apartments, where a peculiar air of home seems to reside, whether seen in the middle of summer, all its large windows open to the garden, or, as when our story commences, its bright fire and stands of fragrant green-house plants contrasted with the wintry fog and leafless trees of November. There were two persons in the room - a young lady, who sat drawing at the round table, and a youth, lying on a couch near the fire, surrounded with books and newspapers, and a pair of crutches near him.' p.3
I like this beginning. Setting is majorly important for me and when a novel is quite clearly centred around a house I like getting a feeling for the place. I like Yonge's description of the house and how she shows it to us in different seasons.

'"He expostulated with all his might; but at nineteen he could do little with a determined sister of twenty-seven; and the very truth and power of his remonstrances must have made it leave a sting."' p.56
I feel slightly sorry for this younger brother since he should not have to try and convince his sister. On the other hand, this woman should be able to do as she pleases. I feel like this book will get me quite worked up.

So, that is my post for today! How important are titles to you? And what was the inspiration for your blog title?