Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: 'Dark Disciple' by Christie Golden

I am an unashamed Star Wars fan. If I have the chance to read a Star Wars book I will and when I saw that Netgalley had Dark Disciple up, a book centred around one of my favourite Star Wars characters, I knew I had to get it. And I can't quite tell you how glad I am that I did. Thanks to Netgalley, Random House and Del Rey for providing me wit a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 07/07/2015
Publisher: Random House, Del Rey
Based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this new novel features Asajj Ventress, former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter and one of the great antiheroines in Star Wars history. 
The only way to bring down the Sith's most dangerous warrior may be to join forces with the dark side.
In the war for control of the galaxy between the armies of the dark side and the Republic, former Jedi Master turned ruthless Sith Lord Count Dooku has grown ever more brutal in his tactics. Despite the powers of the Jedi and the military prowess of their clone army, the sheer number of fatalities is taking a terrible toll. And when Dooku orders the massacre of a flotilla of helpless refugees, the Jedi Council feels it has no choice but to take drastic action: targeting the man responsible for so many war atrocities, Count Dooku himself.
But the ever-elusive Dooku is dangerous prey for even the most skilled hunter. So the Council makes the bold decision to bring both sides of the Force's power to bear—pairing brash Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos with infamous one-time Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress. Though Jedi distrust for the cunning killer who once served at Dooku's side still runs deep, Ventress's hatred for her former master runs deeper. She's more than willing to lend her copious talents as a bounty hunter—and assassin—to Vos's quest.
Together, Ventress and Vos are the best hope for eliminating Dooku—as long as the emerging feelings between them don't compromise their mission. But Ventress is determined to have her retribution and at last let go of her dark Sith past. Balancing the complicated emotions she feels for Vos with the fury of her warrior's spirit, she resolves to claim victory on all fronts—a vow that will be mercilessly tested by her deadly enemy . . . and her own doubt.
The first thing that anyone who wants to go into this book should know is that, over the years it ran, The Clone Wars managed to create and develop some fascinating characters which were beloved by its audience. One of these characters is Asajj Ventress. In the TV show she was a notorious Sith warrior, not quite an apprentice, not quite just an assassin. As the seasons progressed her character and history were fleshed out significantly and Asajj became a fan-favourite. When TCW came to an end there were unproduced scripts for future seasons, which were worked into comics, reels or, as in the case of Dark Disciple, novels. Hence, there are some who will go into this novel having seen the show and knowing a lot of background information. It's definitely helpful to be familiar with the characters and their relationships already, since a lot of the fun might otherwise be missed. So much for the necessary information.

Dark Disciple made me cry. Not a lot of novels manage to actually get to me in that way but as I neared the final few chapters and pages I was hit by sudden emotion. Christie Golden really got into the story of the novel which can't have been easy considering the characters aren't hers and the story line was already roughly sketched out. Golden develops the tensions between the characters very well, continuing what is set up in The Clone Wars but also adding something new to it. The focus of the novel is split between a number of characters but mainly focuses on Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress. As their stories intertwine and separate again and again the reader gets a real understanding of their motives and feelings. Asajj is, however, the shining star of this novel. She is at the very centre of the story and although Quinlan Vos is a very interesting character, Asajj carries the novel from beginning to end.

Asajj Ventress is one of my favourite characters in all of Star Wars. She is a strong female character that is more than just physically strong. The problem with the "strong female character" trope is that these are too often women that can punch and be punched, but who are still incredibly emotionally dependent on the mainly male characters around her. The beauty of Asajj Ventress' story lines throughout TCW and Dark Disciple is that emotional independence and co-dependence is  always a major theme. Her whole relationship with Dooku is based on her seeking his approval and then lashing out when she doesn't get it, whereas her link to her origins, the Nightsisters, is one of strength. Asajj's story is one of growing emotionally, discovering your own worth for yourself and being vulnerable without being "weak". She is an inspirational character and I believe that Dark Disciple continues her story perfectly and is, hence, worthy of her.

Obviously the end of the novel can't be discussed here since that would be the spoiler of all spoilers. Some reviewers have argued that there is some unfortunate trope in the end, but in many ways I felt like it was a great end to this novel. In a novel technically not entirely focused on Asajj, there was a very strong emphasis on her character development at the end. Not everyone will be happy with this ending and I believe a case could be made for disapproving of it. However, in the grand scheme of Star Wars, I believe the end of Dark Disciple fit in very well. The tragedy and mythical feel of all of Star Wars comes out very well in this novel, I believe, and that is why fans of The Clone Wars will also love it.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Yup, this is a brilliant book! Although it is probably limited to a Star Wars-audience, it is a lot of fun. The characters are well-rounded, Golden's style of writing is succint yet funny, and she taps into the Star Wars-lore perfectly. Being given the responsibility to write about one of TCW's most beloved characters is enormous but Christie Golden does so expertly. The novel flies by and is both exciting and emotional, at times. I'd recommend it both to Star Wars fans but also to fans of sci-fi and strong female characters.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Weekly Overview

It's been a fun and busy week, but unfortunately that has meant that I haven't blogged very much! I  did start a read-through for Les Misérables though which I'm quite excited for! I've never done one and I think I might need the help when it comes to Les Misérables! Although it's only been one post and 10 chapters I am really enjoying it. I also made a new header for my blog and chose a new background! What do you guys think? Good or no? I quite like it, it's very simple and sparse but in a nice way!
Les Misérables
Ok, enough chatting. Let's get on with the overview ;)


I think we can all see that last week was very much a Les Misérables-dominated week. I promise that next week will be less miserable! 

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

Friday, 28 August 2015

Friday Memes and a Haunting

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
It's Friday and it's almost the end of August. Why does time seem to go so fast? There is seriously no need for September to already be happening! Before I start procrastinating about the idea of time, let's get our meme on! Feature and Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee and this week's question was suggested by Journey Through Fiction:

Share a random quote from the book you are currently reading!

I'm reading Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities on the down-low next to everything else so I thought it might be fun to share a quote from his book.

'If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Ovctavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm's bed.' p.67
I love the description of the city suspended above a void.

The Haunting of Hill House Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which I saw recently. I love Shirley Jackson so I thought it might be fun to share!

The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
'No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.' p.1
Well, that is one hell of a beginning! Not only is the first opening line very suggestive of something going very wrong, the hint in 'whatever walked there' makes me think that there is something that will go very wrong.

'She shivered and sat up in bed to reach for the quilt at the foot. Then, half amused and half cold, she slipped out of bed and went, barefoot and silent, across the room to turn the key in the lock of the door; they won't know I locked it, she thought, and went hastily back to bed.' p.56
I wonder why she's amused! She is in a cold house, where she has to lock the door so 'they' can't get in! Who are they? It looks like within 56 pages quite a lot will happen.

So, that's me done for Friday! Does The Haunting of Hill House sound like your kind of book?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through: Chapters I.i.1 - I.i.10

My struggles with Les Misérables are very well-known to my friends, especially those who had to sit next to me while we watched the film adaptation of the musical. After seeing the film again last weekend I decided that something of the book's magic had to have been lost in the transition from book to musical, from French to English, and then from musical to film. So the time had come for me to dig into the novel myself and form a proper, informed, opinion. And since it's such a whopper of a novel I thought it would be fun to do a read-through. This is my first ever attempt at a read-through so hang in there as I find myself in it. I will read ten chapters a week and, every Thursday, write a post about them! I'd love it if anyone else wanted to join in or just comment along the way! Les Misérables is also one of my 100 Classics list which I put together for The Classics Club.

Plot Summary:
In the first chapter we're directly introduced to Bishop M. Myriel. Victor Hugo makes it really easy for the reader to like this guy since he seems to be utterly amazing at being a bishop. Kind, generous and calm, Myriel just seems to take everything in his stride, be it a nonsensical Senator or highway robbers. It is rather difficult to write a character that is truly good because it comes off as a caricature very quickly. Rather than try to convince us of Myriel's goodness himself, Hugo "shows" us by closely detailing his actions, budget, etc. It also helps that Myriel has a sense of humour which shines through every once in a while.

A surprising amount of things happen in these ten chapters without anything actually happening at all. Next to M. Myriel we're introduced to his sister and housekeeper, get to explore some religious philosophy with the previously mentioned Senator and find ourselves in the company of a member of Convention. What these chapters do successfully, though, is show the importance of kindness and charity, while also setting up the idea that sometimes people are forced to do terrible things out of necessity.

Feel of the Chapters:
So far the tone and feel of Les Misérables has been extremely relaxed. When you've only seen the film you expect the whole book to be one long, miserable journey up the mountain of tragedy and sadness. But in the first ten chapters this book has practically been a stroll through sunshine valley. On the one hand this is great because it has made the reading so far quite fun. The chapters are short and sweet, more like diary entries than complete chapters. On the other hand I am now worried for what's to come. If it's this good now, without any of the actual main characters having been introduced yet, then surely all the misery is still waiting for me and will come like one blow after the other.

General Thoughts:

  • I was not expecting to like reading Victor Hugo's writing style this much. Although it is quite dense, using a lot of words and preferring long sentences, it is very readable, even enjoyable. Hugo will tell you a lot, in a short space of time, but it is all relevant. 
  • Victor Hugo also has a very strong authorial voice. He will pop in to the narrative whenever he pleases and make a comment, either about the characters or where the plot seems to be going. He'll tell you what is relevant, what is only an anecdote, etc. and infuses the whole with a sense of humour as well. 
  • The character I have enjoyed the most is the member of Convention. For some reason I wasn't expecting Victor Hugo to be so sympathetic towards the Revolution or be such an advocate for the opposing parties to putting their differences aside and working together towards the greater good. I loved the debate between the Conventionist and Myriel, it was probably my favourite part of the ten chapters.
  • One final thing, why hasn't the actual plot started yet? Although I'm enjoying the relatively light tone of the story so far I do want to meet the actual main characters soon. Since I have already seen the film and therefore now the basic plot there are a lot of details and extra plot lines I know nothing about but which I really want to get to.

Something Interesting:
The French Revolution is one of my favourite periods in history because there's so much happening in those years. The upheaval of a whole society is fascinating and I was hoping that Les Misérables would teach me something new about it. What popped out to me in these chapters was the Convention and the year 1793, which was the year in which the Terror started. Marie-Antoinette was executed in this year and during the whole Reign of Terror, which lasted until mid 1794, more than 16,000 people were executed by guillotine and another 25,000 by summary execution. That's something to lift the spirit, no?

Favourite Quotes:
'Err, fall, sin if you will, but be upright.' Ch.4
This sounds like a motto to live by. You're bound to make mistakes in your life but as long as you make your choices consciously and in the moment you don't have to regret them.
'We have caused the fall of the old world, and the old world, that vase of miseries, has become, through its upsetting upon the human race, an urn of joy.' Ch.10
I just love the beauty and tragedy of this quote. It's from the member of Convention, of course, but not only do I love some of the expressions in it such as 'vase of miseries' and 'urn of joy', but the whole idea of Revolution and toppling the old world gets me excited!

So, overall, I found myself really enjoying the first few chapters of Les Misérables. I did have to take a moment to accept this truth because I had sort of been waiting for Hugo to confirm my suspicions and have written a dreadful book.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Miserable Intros and Teaser

Les MisérablesHave you ever done your best to not read a book? Disliked the movie adaptations of it and been vocal about that? Well, I have a number of books like that which I am determined not to read because what I know of them makes me slightly miserable. One of these books was Victor Hugo's famous Les Misérables. Everything I'd heard of it suggested that it was indeed rather miserable and I found the recent movie adaptation to be rather over-the-top. I only really care for the barricade and for Javert and until this weekend that didn't seem enough to pull me in. But Channel 4 seemed to have other things in mind for me when it showed Les Misérables on Sunday. By the end of the night I was thinking about how much more there has to be to the story than the film and musical show. So I decided it was time for me to get over myself and actually dig into this book. Long story short, I am using Victor Hugo's Les Misérables today in the hope to get myself more geared up to actually start it.

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean - the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. In Les Misérables Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832. 
Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope - an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted over at A Daily Rhythm.

'In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D—— He was an old man of about seventy-five years of age; he had occupied the see of D—— since 1806.Although this detail has no connection whatever with the real substance of what we are about to relate, it will not be superfluous, if merely for the sake of exactness in all points, to mention here the various rumors and remarks which had been in circulation about him from the very moment when he arrived in the diocese. True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.' p.1
Although the first paragraph is rather official sounding, I do like the tone of the second paragraph. It's always interesting when the author involves himself with the story so directly and tries to direct the reader towards what is most important. And that last line is simply true! We all care for what others say about us, to the extent we're willing to change what we do.

'The mouse which had been caught was a pitiful specimen; but the cat rejoices even over a lean mouse.' p.264
That sounds like it could come from a proverb! Hint, this is about the Thenardiers. I just thought it was a fun line and if there are more of these in the book I may actually enjoy it!

'Magnon was a sort of fashionable woman in the sphere of crime.' p.1594
As I skipped ahead in search of a good teaser I saw this one and how could I not share it. I wish someone would say this about me.

Have you read Les Misérables? And if you did, did you like it?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: 'The Marriage of Opposites' by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman has become one of my favourite authors in the last year or so. Her The Museum of Extraordinary Things was beautiful in its dreamy fantasy, whereas Property Of made my heart race. When I saw Hoffman had a new book coming out I knew I simply had to read it. Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 04/08/2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.
Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
Hoffman's writing is among my favourites. Her descriptions and characterizations always seem imbued with life and genuine affection. In The Marriage of Opposites there is plenty of both descriptions and characters. The novel starts with Rachel, a girl who is becoming a woman and is expected to take her role within her community. Hoffman beautifully describes Rachel's dislike for the rules and regulations that come both from being a woman in the 1800s but also for the way her religion influences her life. At times Rachel isn't the most likeable of characters, almost too headstrong, but at other times Hoffman makes the reader care and feel for her intensely. As such, Hoffman has created a beautiful main character in Rachel, who really carries the story of the whole novel. Although The Marriage of Opposites also switches between the point of views of different characters, it does so very clearly and always with a purpose. If the next part of a story really needs to be told from a different perspective than Hoffman doesn't shy away from doing so.

A real strength of The Marriage of Opposites is the multi-generational aspect of the story. This is a component of much of Hoffman's writing, such as Practical Magic, and always adds to the power of the story. It is interesting to see how events impact a family over a longer period of time, how things that happen to the grand-parents affects what happens to the grandchildren. By allowing stories to take place over years Hoffman is able to let her characters actually live and develop, to change over time and to play a continuous role. It is a much more realistic representation of family life than you get in many novels. What also adds to this is the continuing sense of cultures clashing. Whether it's the Creole culture of Adelle or the Jewish religion of Rachel and her family or the Parisian je ne sais quoi, there is a constant meeting of lifestyles and ways which is very interesting. Hoffman judges none of the cultures in her novel but also doesn't shy away from showing their good and bad sides. There is a beautiful mixing and co-existing of cultures in The Marriage of Opposites, which really lifts this book up.

In The Marriage of Opposites Hoffman tells the tale of the Rachel Pomié, mother to the artist Camille Pissarro, one of the key figures in the Impressionist movement. As such, the novel has the ungratefuly duty of showing the way in which in which this painter may have seen the world. The way Hoffman describes the nature on St. Thomas, the smells of food or the vibrancy of Paris draws the reader straight into her characters' world. The way Hoffman describes the world around her, both by drawing the reader's attention to colours and by the strong theme of stories or narratives that runs through the novel, makes it come to life for the reader. Hoffman's fluid and enthusiastic writing means the novel races past you and is very difficult to put down. 

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading The Marriage of Opposites. Technically historical fiction, the novel does really well in sticking to the key facts of Rachel's life while never not allowing the novel's story to develop on its own as well. I'd recommend this novel to fans of Historical Fiction and Women's Fiction.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Weekly Overview

So, I haven't done one of these in a while so in this post I'll cover the last two weeks. It's been a really strange time because two weeks ago I was in France, one week ago I was in Germany and this week I'm in London. I feel like my blogging has really suffered as a consequence of the weirdness of the last two months. I mean, I checked and i only managed to review four or five books a month in June and July... that's not good... Anyways, I'm working on changing that, also because I need to get back into a productive patterns before I start my MA in September!

Ok, enough whining, let's get to the actual post!

So, that's what I put up in the last two weeks. Not terribly impressive but I guess it could have been worse. This post is linking up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Friday Memes and John Muir

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

When you read a book that isn't for review, do you still feel the need to write a review of it?

It depends on what kind of book it is. If it's a guilty pleasure read that I'm only dipping into because I want to shut off for a while, then usually no. If it's a book such as the one that I am using for the memes below, then I might consider a review because it's sort of linked and also a book that I might want to recommend. Because int he end it all comes down to that. If it's a book I want to recommend to others, I will write a review for it.

The Mountains of CaliforniaToday I'm featuring a book I found in a slightly strange way. I had never heard of it or the author before until I read about it in a different book, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein. The main character was in love with this book and I decided I simply had to read it. That book was The Mountains of California by John Muir.
John Muir’s ebullient spirit and love of nature infuse these accounts of visiting Yosemite Valley, Kings Canyon, sequoia groves, and Mount Whitney. Blending keen observations of flora, geography, and geology, the natural forces that shape the landscape, and the changing seasons, Muir paints a timeless portrait of the wilderness he called “the Range of Light, the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.” Also included are visits to two famous Cascades peaks, Mount Shasta and Mount St. Helens.
Book Beginnings is hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda over at Freda's Voice.

'Go where you may within the bounds of California, mountains are ever in sight, charming and glorifying every landscape. Yet so simple and massive is the topography of the State in general views, that the main central portion displays only one valley, and two chains of mountains which seem almost perfectly regular in trend and height: the Coast Range on the west side,t he Sierra Nevada on the east.' p.1
I do like the tone which Muir strikes, this mix between love and respect for mountains. I'm hoping the book isn't all too technical because there's a reason I dropped Geography before the end of high school.

'In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple of the dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white; while the sunbeams pouring through the passes between the peaks give a margin of gold to each of them. Then the spires of the firs in the hollows of the middle region catch the glow, and your camp grove is filled with light. The birds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge oft the meadow for sun-baths after the cold night, and looking for their breakfasts, every one of them as fresh as a lily and as charmingly arrayed. Innumerable insects begin to dance, the deer withdraw from the open glades and ridge-tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, the flowers open and straighten their petals as the dew vanishes, every pulse beats high, every life-cell rejoices, the very rocks seem to tingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and small.' p.56
I know this was only supposed to be a line or two but how can you cut a description like this short? It's absolutely beautiful and I now know why Garth and his characters loved this book so much. You can just feel Muir's love for California's nature shining through in these passages and, I never thought I'd say this, I'm now slightly desperate to visit California.

So, that's me done for today. Have you ever visited California?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Intros and Teasers - Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

Atlas ShruggedI'm getting ready to buy my copy of Ayn Rand's Ideal and in order to prepare I have decided to finally read Atlas Shrugged. I absolutely loved The Fountainhead but have always been intimidated by the sheer size of Atlas. But it's time and I'm using the lovely Tuesday memes to drag you along with me.

This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world and did. Was he a destroyer or the greatest of liberators?
Why did he have to fight his battle, not against his enemies, but against those who needed him most, and his hardest battle against the woman he loved? What is the world’s motor — and the motive power of every man? You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the characters in this story. 
Tremendous in its scope, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life — from the productive genius who becomes a worthless playboy — to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction — to the philosopher who becomes a pirate — to the composer who gives up his career on the night of his triumph — to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad — to the lowest track worker in her Terminal tunnels. 
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

'"Who is John Galt?"The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still—as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.' p.1
I love this opening. At this point you have no idea who John Galt is and why he would be relevant. Eddie Willers himself doesn't know either but I really like the description of the 'causeless uneasiness within him'. I think everyone has that feeling every once in a while and I love seeing feelings described accurately.

'An inexplicable kind of distaste, part fastidiousness, part boredom, stopped him whenever he tried to consider it.' p.31
I love how Rand plays with words, analyses feelings and describes them. Her characters aren't always likeable but quite often they are recognizable.

So, that's me. I really love the way that Rand writes, it's very honest. I am quite excited for Atlas Shrugged now, seeing what's coming up soon. Which book are you reading?

Monday, 17 August 2015

Review: 'Candide' by Voltaire

CandideIt's time for me to review another novel from my 100 Classics List, a great incentive from the Classics Club to get people like moi to finally read the classic novels we've been lusting after. Today's novel is Candide by Voltaire, a novel I've been both intimidated and excited by. But I'm extremely glad I gave it a chance.

Original pub. date: 1759

Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world. 
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.
Voltaire is an amazing narrator. From the beginning of Candide he is a constant presence, lurking in the back of the narrative and popping up frequently with subtle, and not so very subtle, barbs at his main characters. What the great thing is about Voltaire's style is that it is unapologetically his own. While reading Candide one gets the feelings that Voltaire wrote it for himself as much as for anyone else. Perhaps this sentiment is best expressed in Voltaire's own words:
'Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.'
Candide is not necessarily admirable, but it is highly enjoyable. Voltaire's comparisons and metaphors are ridiculous and incredibly over the top, but they're so much fun. Voltaire drags his characters all over the world and puts them in the worst situations, yet Candide never loses its light and fun tone.

Candide seemingly has a lot in common with Samuel Johnson's The History of Rasselas, also written and published in 1759, which I reviewed earlier this year. Both works focus on young men leaving their Edenic homes in order to explore the world and test their beliefs. However, aside from this basic plot structure there are crucial differences in what Voltaire and Johnson were attempting with Candide and Rasselas. Voltaire's work was meant as a satire, mercilessly ripping into Gottfried Leibniz' philosophical conclusion that this word must be the best of all possible ones, no matter how we may perceive it. Johnson's Rasselas on the other hand is a genuine effort on Johnson's part to explore whether humans can ever achieve true happiness. This affects the tone of the works but also the impact they have on their reader. Candide is fun and ridiculous, whereas Rasselas is serious and only at times ridiculous.

There are some parts of Candide which drag. Voltaire is clearly making a point and especially during the second third of the book this becomes quite repetitive. Candide's search for enlightenment, love and everything else is fun in the way that good reality shows can be. His journey is a string of disasters which, at times, leads to touching truths but mainly to hilarity and a fascinating array of side-characters. Hence it's to its advantage that Candide is quite short and reads easily and quickly. Candide shouldn't necessarily be read for its story but for its tone and idea. It's ridiculously quoatable and had me laughing out loud quite some times.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed Candide. Voltaire makes it easy to read philosophical satire, which is quite a feat. His characters are funny, their adventures ridiculous and the writing highly enjoyable. It might take some determination to get into, but once Candide's got you it'll keep you.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Friday Memes - 'Sleeping on Jupiter' by Anuradha Roy

It's Friday today and I am, once again, flying! This time it's to Germany to go see my granddad and have some bonding time but I hope to get some blogging time in at the airport! I figured today would be a good day to get back into the Book Blogger Hop, a Friday meme I haven't done in ages. BBH is hosted by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer and today's question was suggested by Elizabeth from Silver's Reviews:

Are you ever without a book?

The simple, quick and easy answer to that is no. I always have my Kindle with me which stores a shit ton of books. Aside from that I quite often also pack physical books. Now, for example, I'm at the airport with my Kindle and an ARC of The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. I don't like not having books with me and even when I have my Kindle I like having an extra book just in case.

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using a book which as been long listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy.

A train stops at a railway station.A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping.
The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?
Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons.
The full force of the evil and violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes evident when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear, as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.
This is a stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love, and violence in the modern world.
It sounds good, no? I'm only halfway through but I am really enjoying it.

'The year the war came closer I was six or seven and it did not matter to me. I lived with my brother, father and mother and out hut had two rooms with mats on the loot and a line of wooden pegs from which our clothes hung and in the evening we sat in the yard outside, watching out mother cook on the fire by the grapefruit tree. When the tree flowered I opened my mouth wide to swallow the scent.' p.9
I love this beginning. Anuradha Roy really manages to show the narrator is a child at this point through her writing style. The continuing of the sentence through the repeat of 'and' is a very reminiscent of a child's speech but also gives a good impression of the main character's world.


'Suraj wondered again at the way she spoke, as if she had no sure identity. She looked Indian, even spoke a faltering Hindi, but sounded at times American, at times like a German friend he had, Matthias.' p.56
This exploration of identity is really interesting, especially in a world as globalized as ours. The questions who we are and where we come from are, I believe, at the bottom of every good piece of literature.

That's me for today! What do you think of Sleeping on Jupiter? Is it your cup of tea? And are you ever without a book?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Review: 'Imitation' by Heather Hildenbrand

I got interested in reading Imitation after reading an interesting review about it. I was intrigued by the premise and how Hildenbrand would be able to set up this world. In the end, I found myself slightly disappointed but strangely not by anything particular. Thanks to Netgalley and Alloy Entertainment for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 29/07/2014
Publisher: Alloy Entertainment
Everyone is exactly like me. There is no one like me. 
Ven wrestles with these contradicting truths every day. A clone of wealthy eighteen-year-old Raven Rogen, Ven knows everything about the girl she was created to serve: the clothes she wears, the boys she loves, the friends she loves to hate. Yet she’s never met the Authentic Raven face-to-face. Imitations like Ven only get to leave the lab when they’re needed—to replace a dead Authentic, donate an organ, or complete a specific mission. And Raven has never needed Ven . . . until now.
When there is an attack on Raven’s life, Ven is thrust into the real world, posing as Raven to draw out the people who tried to harm her. But as Ven dives deeper into Raven’s world, she begins to question everything she was ever told. She exists for Raven, but is she prepared to sacrifice herself for a girl she’s never met?
Fans of CinderThe Selection and Sara Shepard’s Lying Game series will love Imitation, a thrilling, action-packed novel sure to keep readers guessing until the very last page. 

Imitation was a novel which I felt held a lot of potential but that didn't really come to fruition. The basic plot very much reminded me of the film The Island but covered in a thick layer of YA. The basic plot surrounds a clone who is called into the real world to do what she was made for. From the very start of the book it feels as if this story could have served from more time and more space. Although Ven is an easy main character to root for there is also not much else that the reader can cling to since the book shoots past many things. They are explained in an almost too casual way which lead to me not caring for a lot of parts of the book. This also affects the romance-part of the book. Although it's sort of adorable and sort of works it's once again too rushed. Insta-love is simply not credibly and considering everything else that happens in this book I would've wished that Hildenbrand would've taken more time to let everything develop. 

I read Imitation within an evening. Sometimes being able to read a book quickly is a good sign because it's clearly a book you can't put down. However, at other times, it's a sign that there is nothing to a book that really captures and holds the imagination, nothing to really linger on. The latter was very much the case with me for Imitation. The plot developed along familiar lines with none of the twists really shocking the reader or actually twisting anything. Most of the book was executed pretty much exactly how I expected it to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It shows it clearly as a genre-read, in my opinion. If the slightly romance-y mix between dystopian and YA is something you enjoy then Imitation will be right up your alley. If you're looking for something that is a bit more challenging you might find yourself bored with this book.

Of course Imitation is the first book in a series. This means that it has the task to create a setting, introduce the characters and set up the main narrative arcs. Something I was expecting a lot of was the world-building. When it comes to dystopian fiction I have realised that it is incredibly important that the world's main struggles are well-founded and explained. In Imitation I couldn't find enough background information or hints to believe in Hildebrand's world. The narrative moves on too quickly in the beginning to really get a feel for the situation of the Synthetics and then there seems to be an issue between the rich and the poor in the "real world" which is only ever casually mentioned but never seems important. If Imitation is meant to set up an arc here which will be important later on it fails. The lack of time spent on world-building, however, does serve the main character. Ven feels relatively real and although her development is also rushed it comes across as believable.

I give this book...

2 Universes.

Imitation is a fun but simple read. Not a lot of it really held my attention for a long span of time, but as narrative it worked relatively well. Imitation has a lot of promising ideas and the hope is that Hildenbrand continues to work with an don these in the next books in the series. I'd recommend this book to YA fans who are looking for a dystopian read.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - 'The Story of Kullervo' and 'Ideal'

I don't do this meme very often because I'm usually not the best at keeping an eye on all the upcoming releases and I find it impossible to pick just one book from the heaps that I do know about. However, when there are books such as these coming up (or having just been published, I'm cheating a little bit here), there is no way I will not be posting about it.

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and lets you spotlight upcoming releases that you're eagerly awaiting! Today I'm featuring two books, one which is coming out soon and one which came out last month already but I completely missed then!

The Story of Kullervo - J.R.R Tolkien

This one may have been the big news of the last week! Only published before once in an academic collection of Tolkien's works, The Story of Kullervo is one of his first attempts at writing legends. Based on The Kalevala, the Finnish epic, it promises to be amazing. It will be published on the 27th of August, 2015.
The Story of KullervoThe world first publication of a previously unknown work of fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who swears revenge on the magician who killed his father. 
Kullervo son of Kalervo is perhaps the darkest and most tragic of all J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters. ‘Hapless Kullervo’, as Tolkien called him, is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny. 
Brought up in the homestead of the dark magician Untamo, who killed his father, kidnapped his mother, and who tries three times to kill him when still a boy, Kullervo is alone save for the love of his twin sister, Wanona, and guarded by the magical powers of the black dog, Musti. When Kullervo is sold into slavery he swears revenge on the magician, but he will learn that even at the point of vengeance there is no escape from the cruellest of fates. 
Tolkien himself said that The Story of Kullervo was ‘the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own’, and was ‘a major matter in the legends of the First Age’. Tolkien’s Kullervo is the clear ancestor of Túrin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion. In addition to it being a powerful story in its own right, The Story of Kullervo – published here for the first time with the author’s drafts, notes and lecture-essays on its source-work, The Kalevala – is a foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien’s invented world.
Ideal - Ayn Rand

This may seem like a completely opposite read, but I carry a massive torch for Ayn Rand and her heroes and heroines who refuse to live their lives for others. This previously unreleased book (see the theme of this post?) follows an actress and, looking at the blurb, it could have been written today! Here's a link to an excerpt, which has me all excited!  This book was published on the 7th of July, 2015.
In print for the first time ever, author and philosopher Ayn Rand’s novel Ideal.
Originally conceived as a novel, but then transformed into a play by Ayn Rand, Ideal is the story of beautiful but tormented actress Kay Gonda. Accused of murder, she is on the run and turns for help to six fans who have written letters to her, each telling her that she represents their ideal—a respectable family man, a far-left activist, a cynical artist, an evangelist, a playboy, and a lost soul. Each reacts to her plight in his own way, their reactions a glimpse into their secret selves and their true values. In the end their responses to her pleas give Kay the answers she has been seeking.
Ideal was written in 1934 as a novel, but Ayn Rand thought the theme of the piece would be better realized as a play and put the novel aside. Now, both versions of Ideal are available for the first time ever to the millions of Ayn Rand fans around the world, giving them a unique opportunity to explore the creative process of Rand as she wrote first a book, then a play, and the differences between the two.
So, those are the books I'm featuring today! Which book are you waiting for? And what do you think of the two books above?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Review: 'Masquerade' by Joanna Taylor

Displaying 9780349407289 (1).jpgRomance books can be tricky reads. On the one hand the reader wants there to be happiness and love, but on the other hand there has to be a plot that might create tension and suspense. Masquerade manages to strike the balance between the two well.
Many thanks to Piatkus and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book, and including me in the blog tour, in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 06/08/2015
Publisher: Piatkus

1786: Regency London. Everyone is hiding something. But someone is hiding everything.
Lizzy Ward never meant to end up working the streets of Piccadilly. So when a mysterious noble pursues her, it seems her luck is changing. But though Lord Hays offers to grow Lizzy's fortunes, his price is unexpected. She must masquerade in the sumptuous gowns and social mask of a true lady. With the stakes so high, love is out of the question. But as Lizzy navigates the fashion and faux-pas of the London elite, she finds her tough facade failing her. Lord Hayes wants to show her that nobility is more than skin deep. . . and as the connection between them grows, it's no longer certain who's wearing the mask. As the street-girl and the lord collide. Regency London is poised for scandal . . .
A love story of surpassing power and imagination, this is a stunning new British voice in Historical romance for fans of Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, Stephanie Laurens and Georgette Heyer.
As I said above, a romance book walks a thin line between being good and being boring. The core story of romance books doesn't really vary, two people always have to fall in love in order to really get the book's plot going, much in the way that in detective novels someone always has to die in order to start off the book. Where the skill of a romance, or detective, book lies is in taking a well-known starting point and adding something new to it. Much has been tried, from vampires to zombies, but not all of these are successful in creating captivating stories. What makes Masquerade enjoyable is the infusion of historical fiction into the plot. Taylor sets her lovestory in the London of the late 1700s during the Regency period. There is a genuine effort on Taylor's side to make Masquerade fit into this time period, both through her descriptions and through the language that her characters use. Too often romance books are set up as period dramas, only for them to fall flat on any effort of continuing so. Although maybe Masquerade isn't factual about Regency London it gives a fairly accurate impression and that makes it so much more interesting to read.

Displaying Masquerade poster.jpg
Masquerade isn't a complicated read. The fun of the novel is very much down to the characters and Taylor's descriptions of Regency London, while the plot continues relatively as expected. There are some minor twists and turns here and there which aren't as shocking as they might have been, but they are entertaining. There is a very solid connection between this novel and the film Pretty Woman which will be obvious to everyone who has seen the film. At times this is enjoyable, but there are also moments where it would have been better had Taylor deviated from the film and the known storyline a little bit. Taylor's willingness however to discuss her main character's career and its consequences openly throughout the novel really made a difference.

For me one of the highlights of the book was Taylor's characterisation. Both Lizzy and Lord Hays feel like solid characters who are maybe recognizable but still have their own independent traits that make them interesting. Taylor makes it easy for the reader to root for them and feel for them, which is key in a romance novel. Lizzy is an interesting main character whose loyalty lies mainly with herself. As her backstory is revealed to the reader a lot of sympathy is gained and her choices become understandable and almost praiseworthy. The same goes for Lord Hays who, though starting off like the stereotypical hunk, is given more layers by Taylor than was expected. What really lifted the novel's characterisation, however, was Taylor's willingness to go a bit into the class-issue she is using as the vehicle for her romance. Initially I was worried that this would be completely swept to the side in order to let romance happen, but through Lizzy's eyes Taylor makes some astute observations and gives some insight into how society in all its different layers entraps itself. Lizzy's search for independence was also well-written and hence understandable although I would've loved to see more about this.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I read Masquerade quickly and there is not a lot about it that challenges the reader. However, it is very enjoyable and the characters are well-formed. Taylor spins a fun story where everyone seems to be hiding something but everyone also has to put down the mask at some point. I'd recommend this to fans of romance books and light historical fiction.