Friday, 27 November 2015

Friday Memes and 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood

The Blind AssassinMargaret Atwood has been one of the most inspirational female authors of the 20th and 21st century and unfortunately it took me quite long to get rid of the bad impression that reading The Handmaid's Tale in highschool left me with. Nothing is fun when you have to do it in school. I bought The Blind Assassin a week or so ago and have been very slowly working my way through it. So far I'm enjoying it very much.

"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge"
More than fifty years on, Iris Chase is remembering Laura's mysterious death. And so begins an extraordinary and compelling story of two sisters and their secrets. Set against a panoramic backdrop of twentieth-century history, The Blind Assassin is an epic tale of memory, intrigue and betrayal...
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively.

Book Beginnings:
'The Bridge 
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.' p.1
The opening of The Blind Assassin is one of the most well-known ones out there but I like the way that the rest of the sentences continue to show how heavily this still weights on the mind of the narrator, like the 'chunks of the bridge'.

Friday 56:
'But Laura never paid much attention to that kind of reasoning. She was more interested in forms - in what things were in themselves, not what they weren't. She wanted essences.' p.56
It's not the most spectacular of teasers but I quite like this description of Laura, of her desire to know the way things are, rather than what they're not. Also, the line 'She wanted essences.' is beautiful, I think!

So, what are you

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review: 'Of Things Gone Astray' by Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone AstrayThere is something charming about books which seem so abstract and ridiculous that they actually make genuine sense. Sometimes issues need to be pushed to the ridiculous as far as possible before they actually make sense. I had a feeling that Of Things Gone Astray was exactly that kind of book when I read the blurb and I'm very happy to say that I was right. Thanks to HarperCollins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

Pub. Date:28/08/2014
Publisher: Harper Collins
On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.

Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realize that his most valuable possession, his relationship with his father, is slipping away from him.

Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values and finding the things that really matter.
Of Things Gone Astray is a great insight into how humans can lose themselves sometimes. That might sound like an overly dramatic statement but Matthewson manages to pick up on small things that end up being symbolic for something much bigger. The storyline that got to me the most was that of Delia, who loses her sense of direction and never know where she's going or how she ended up there. And then, as you get to know her more throughout the book, you realize that maybe she has been lost for longer but that she's definitely heading towards something as well. It's with these kind of great links that Matthewson explores some of humanity's darker sides where we let ourselves get dragged down by everything around us.

Of Things Gone Astray is an incredibly fun book on the one hand and quite challenging on the other. All the chapters move between different characters and sometimes you have to think back to who exactly you're reading about. However, that somehow adds to the tone as well because it keeps you on your toes. Matthewson's writing is also fun and absurdly ridiculous at times. With some of the weird situations she puts her characters in there really would be no other way to talk about it without humour. I laughed out loud a couple of times, which made for occasionally awkward moments in public.

Matthewson won't make this book easy for you. All the stories are moving alongside each other, occasionally touching and interacting, but always moving where you're not expecting them to. They also won't necessarily end where or how you are hoping or expecting them to. The twists and turns, along with the absurdism of the book in general, are incredibly enjoyable, but the reader will have to put their trust in Matthewson to deliver a good story. There is also a beautiful sense of magic to it, in the sense of magical realism, where the things we see and do everyday take on a magical quality. It's one of my favourite genres and Of Things Gone Astray makes beautiful use of it!

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I adored Of Things Gone Astray! Matthewson beautifully weaves together the stories of different people caught up in their life. Whether it's family, loneliness, death or love, everything gets discussed in this book and it will do so in ways you definitely won't expecy. I'd recommend this to fans of Magical Realism and slight Absurdism.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Weekly Overview

It's been a busy week but good things have happened! I'd been writing essays, reading books and it's officially been decided I can apply to King's College in London for a PhD! I'm genuinely beyond excitement about it because I feel like my life is going somewhere again! And I've got some great books lined up for next week, including the second Tearling book after I stormed through the first one last week!


Both of the books that I reviewed this week were amazing! Although A Banquet of Consequences was a bit of a slow burn, the way detective novels always are for me, The Queen of the Tearling was a 'done in one night'-kind of read because I couldn't put it down!

So, how was your week? What was your favourite book that you read this week?

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

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #9: II.vii.4 - III.i.13

I know, I didn't post last week but there is a good reason for that, namely my lack of time. But I have been reading, slowly but surely, and now have 19 chapters to tell you about. The reason I read only 19 rather than the usual 20 is because it's the end of a book and it just felt like a great moment to pause. With what happened in Paris last week it was a bit tough to read certain chapters because Victor Hugo is so clearly in love with Paris and was waxing lyrical over its beauty.

Plot Summary:
A lot of different things happened in these chapters. On the one hand these 19 chapters saw the end of the second Volume, 'Cosette', and the start of the third 'Marius'. With that shift, the focus of the book also changes. First we're told about the way Jean Valjean escaped and then re-entered the Convent. As I said before, this is something I didn't know was going to happen and it as actually an ingenious way to continue the plot and to give Cosette and Jean Valjean a bit of a break.

From here we move on to talking about Paris and its droves of little children, ruling the street. Principle amongst it is of course little Gavroche. Describing him and those like him allowed Victor Hugo to go on a digression about Paris and how it reflects the world. It was fun to read and beautifully written but probably one of the less useful digressions. At the end, however, we were introduced to Gavroche and also got a hint at Marius, who will be introduced in the next chapters.

Feel of the Chapters:
I really enjoyed these chapters because much of it felt so vibrant! When Hugo was describing Paris or the gamin it just felt as if you could be running through the streets of Paris yourself and that's great when a book can transport yo that way. It was also a nice escape from the slight gloom and doom of the convent life we had been witnessing. I'm noticing a pattern here where Hugo will insert a substantial diversion or a new storyline at the moment where the main storyline gets to be very depressing.

General Thoughts:

  • I really like the whole 'hiding in the Convent'-storyline because it makes so much more sense than the idea that they would easily escape with all of  Paris' police on his heels. And it's beautifully covert and hidden!
  • The more I read, the more I realize that Hugo really has a magical way with words. Les Misérables is such a long book that there is no way I would've gotten through it if it wasn't for Hugo's writing style. 
  • A lot of attention is paid to the life of the gamin, the street urchins of Paris, which was really interesting. It is true that a society sets itself up for failure if it fails to looks after its children.
  • One of the chapters had this brilliant title which needs to be paid attention to: It is not necessary to be drunk in order to be immortal. How amazing is that?

'Paris is the synonym of Cosmos, Paris is Athens, Sybaris, Jerusalem, Pantin. All civilizations are there in an abridged form, all barbarisms also. Paris would greatly regret it if it had not a guillotine.' p.1005
Hugo loves Paris so much it's almost unbelievable unless you've been there yourself. However, he doesn't allow himself to be distracted by it and not focus on the darker sides of the city as well.

'The cry: Audacity! is a Fiat Lux. It is necessary for the sake of the forward march of the human race, that there should be proud lessons of courage prmanently on the heights. Daring deeds dazzle history and are one of man's great sources of light. The dawn dares when it rises. To attempt, to brave, to persist, to persevere, to be faithfull to one's self, to grasp fate bodily, to astound catastrophe by the small amount of fear that it occasions us, now to affront unjust power, again to insult drunken victory, to hold one's position, to stand one's ground; that is the example which nations need, that is the light which electrifies them.' p.1009
I love it when Hugo gets political and revolutionary. His writing has me all tingly and excited!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Review: 'The Queen of the Tearling' by Erika Johansen

Fantasy and interesting female protagonists are two of the main passions in my life and when they come together as beautifully as they do in The Queen of the Tearling there is genuinely nothing else I need. All that's left for me is to beat myself over the head for not reading this book earlier! Thanks to Random House, Bantam Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 17/07/2014
Publisher: Random House/ Bantam Press
Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret by foster parents after her mother – Queen Elyssa, as vain as she was stupid – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s 19th birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother’s guard - each pledged to defend the queen to the death - arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding... 
And so begins her journey back to her kingdom’s heart, to claim the throne, earn the loyalty of her people, overturn her mother’s legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea's story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance - it's about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive...
The Queen of the Tearling falls into a  number of categories and genres.It could be classed into Fantasy, Dystopian and Young Adult, with a strong argument being possible for it being something of a Bildungsroman as well. However, Johansen traverses each of these genres and their respective tones very well, combining them whenever necessary. As such we get to see Kelsea as a young girl, in a world that is clearly Dystopian and yet fantastical enough to allow Johansen enough freedom of invention. Kelsea grows as a character throughout the novel, with each new obstacle in her way adding or revealing something about her to the reader. By moving fluidly between narrators and between different influences, Johansen makes The Queen of the Tearling something that feels organic and evolving.

One of the strongest parts of The Queen of the Tearling is the slow world-building. This might sound strange since a slow build is not always good, but in the case of this book it really works. The reader starts out with Kelsea and hers is the only perspective that consistently guides us through the book, with other perspectives only forming asides. Kelsea has been kept in the dark about many things throughout her life leading up to the start of the book, so as she discovers more, more is also revealed to the reader. Each chapter begins with an entry into fictional history books about the Tear which gives both an interesting insight into some of the happenings of the book while also giving you glances at the culture surrounding the book. There is everything from war history to lullabies and it all comes together to make the Tear a country that actually interests the reader. Despite this it still took me some time to realize how Johansen's world relates to our own.

Key to what made this novel so enjoyable was the main character. Kelsea is most definitely a girl when the novel starts out and often referred to as such as well. Her realization that there are big shoes out there she needs to fill, expectations of her that scare her more than she's willing to admit, is very recognizable to a lot of girls out there. As The Queen of the Tearling progresses and Kelsea matures it's amazing to see how Johansen reflects the world and the people around her changing towards her as well. No one exists in a vacuum and for people growing up nothing is more important than to get confirmation from others for their efforts and it's rewarding to see Johansen make this a part of her world as well. Kelsea is a heroine the way heroines should be allowed to be: emotional, full of conflict, strong, kind and full of potential. Unlike a lot of films and books, The Queen of the Tearling has a woman with a destiny, rather than a woman helping a man reach his destiny.

This paragraph may contain a couple of spoilers but there's nothing specific enough here to really "ruin" anything. What I absolutely loved about The Queen of the Tearling and what I'll always love Johansen for is the absence of romance in this book. Kelsea does develop a slight crush on someone but Johansen never allows that to take over the story she's trying to tell. It's incredibly refreshing to read a Young Adult novel in which the use of a female protagonist isn't an excuse to focus on love above all. The Queen of the Tearling is about Kelsea and about her journey to discovering herself, not someone else. I don't know how the trilogy will progress from here but by allowing the reader to actually spend time with and get invested in Kelsea, rather than forcing them straight into understanding a relationship, the whole story is off to a very good start.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I read this book within a single sitting and I don't often do this. Something about The Queen of the Tearling really fit with me and I'm thinking it was the strength of its main character. I know I'll be getting onto the sequel within the week and hopefully get my hands on the third book int he trilogy as soon as it comes out! I'd recommend this to fans of Fantasy and complex female protagonists!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Teasers and 'The Queen of the Tearling' by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)Me being unable to finish a book within time seems to be a constant factor I'm struggling with as my life outside book blogging gets more hectic. But once again I have an example of a book for you that I'm now finally starting despite being excited for it for more than a year. Why do I do this to myself? Especially when I found out that they would adapt it into a film with Emma Watson in it?! Ok, enough of me, more of The Queen of the Tearling!

Update: I just read the whole of this book in one sitting last night...
An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.
Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom's haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.
Long ago, Kelsea's forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea's nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen's Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.
Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen's vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen's Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as "the Fetch."
Kelsea's quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea's journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm respectively.

'Kelsea Glynn sat very still, watching the troop approach her homestead. The men rode as a military company, with outliers on the corners, all dressed in the grey of the Tearling royal guard. The riders' cloaks swayed as they rode, revealing their costly weapons: swords and short knives, all of them of Mortmesne steel. One man even had a mace; Kelsea could see its spiked head protruding from his saddle. The sullen way they guided their hoses toward the cottage made things very clear: they didn't want to be here.' 1%
This isn't the most gripping of beginnings, I'll admit! But I do like what it tells us about Kelsea, because we now know that she's perceptive, smart and the kind of girl who gets herself into trouble. Basically, I like her already!

'Dinner was an unexpectedly lavish affair.' 17%
You always know a book will be good if it has time for dinner, especially if dinner is good. It's one of my favourite things about The Lord of the Rings, the constant willingness to take out some time for dinner!

So, have you read The Queen of the Tearling? And are you excited for when they turn it into a film?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Review: 'A Banquet of Consequences' by Elizabeth George

I discovered my passion for crime and detective fiction at a suspiciously young ago but picking up a crime novel that was way too gory and intense for a 9-year old. Elizabeth George was the one who wrote that book and I've been in love with her Inspector Lynley-series ever since despite not reading it frequently. So I was extremely excited to see another one of her books pop into my life. Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/10/2015
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Inspector Lynley investigates the London end of an ever more darkly disturbing case, with Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata looking behind the peaceful façade of country life to discover a twisted world of desire and deceit. 
The suicide of William Goldacre is devastating to those left behind. But what was the cause of his tragedy and how far might the consequences reach? Is there a link between the young man's leap from a Dorset cliff and a horrific poisoning in Cambridge? 
Following various career-threatening misdemeanours, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers is desperate to redeem herself. So when a past encounter with bestselling feminist writer Clare Abbott and her pushy personal assistant Caroline Goldacre gives her a connection to the Cambridge murder, Barbara begs DI Thomas Lynley to let her pursue the crime. 
Full of shocks, intensity and suspense from first page to last, A Banquet of Consequences reveals both Lynley and Havers under pressure, and author Elizabeth George writing at the very height of her exceptional powers.
As I said, I was a fan of Elizabeth George before I started reading A Banquet of Consequences. I didn't have to be convinced that she was a good author, but she did have to show me that after all this time there is still spirit left in Inspector Lynley and co.Whenever these kinds of series drag on too long it becomes obvious, with too much happening for the little time that's passing, with main characters that really are so emotionally scarred they shouldn't be able to function normally. I always liked the way George treated her main characters, both the care and the recklessness with which she painted them and their exploits. I was wondering whether I'd fall into liking them as easily again as I did the first time, but it only took me a few chapters to connect this book to the last one I read in the series and love them all again.

What is key to a detective/crime novel is that it manages to set up both stories that it's trying to tell. On the one hand there is the story of the crime, which is often told through the survivors of the crime and those closest. And then on the other hand there is the story of the detective, the woman or man who are chasing down the criminal, following clues and themselves desperate to get to the ending of the book. If either of those two doesn't work, is boring or starts flagging the whole structure of a crime book really falls apart. Elizabeth George is a professional and knows the genre as well as anyone could and both stories work in A Banquet of Consequences. The struggles of the main series-characters clearly have their origin in earlier books and despite not having read those I wasn't ever lost when it came to them.

In A Banquet of Consequences George really focuses on the toxicity of family, friendship and gender relationships. The Goldacres are a turbulent family, to say the least, from the very start of the book but they only descend into more chaos as it progresses. George offers us everything, from broken first marriages and estranged parents to possessive mothers and frenemies. It could feel like a little bit too much, as it often does with these kinds of books. How can one family have so many issues all at once? And why are they coping with it so badly? George switches between narrators, which allows her to portray all the different sides of the conflicts and not le it become too much. The progression of the novel feels natural and the pace is high without skipping over important things.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Elizabeth George is a master of  crime fiction. She knows exactly what to do and how to manipulate her readers into the position where she wants them. Her new characters are fascinating and horrible, whereas returning to the series-staples was amazing. I'd recommend this to anyone who wants a good crime novel to curl up with this winter!