Friday, 30 October 2015

My Favourite Scary Books and Films, with Casper!

At the beginning of October I found out the people at Casper wanted to know which books are the ones that keep me awake at night. Also, how beautifully fitting is the name Casper for a mattress-maker? Any tiny ghosts hiding under their beds? Anyway, it was the perfect question to be asked this time of year, so I've been thinking this whole month.

I wouldn't consider myself a scaredy cat because I love watching and reading thrillers (especially psychological ones) and actually slightly revel in the little chill running down my spine when something jumps out. So, check out my list of novels, short stories and even films below. If you read or watch even one of these on Halloween you'll have a great time.
Books & Short Stories:

One of my favourite reads last year was Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.
An original thriller from bestselling author Christopher Fowler that reinventing the haunted house story.
There are two things you need to know about haunted houses. One, there's never been an actual authenticated haunted house. Two, it's not the house that's haunted, but the person.  
Callie is a young architectural student who marries Mateo, a wine importer, and moves to a grand old house in Southern Spain. Hyperion House is flooded with light, it also has a mute gardener, a sinister housekeeper and a sealed, dark servants' quarters that nobody has the keys for. And although initially happy, and taking care of Mateo's daughter, Callie can't help being drawn to the dark empty rooms at the back of the house, and becomes convinced that someone is living in there. 
Uncovering the house's history, she discovers the shocking truth. As Callie's fear of the darkness returns, she comes to understand the true nature of evil.
FrankensteinThis book was utterly terrifying in a beautiful way. With stunning prose and fascinating story, I whole-heartedly recommend this one!

Up next is Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus by the brilliant Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein is a kind of ur-horror book, even bringing in some sci-fi elements in the creation of the Creature. You can't not read this one!!

The LotteryHere's a scary short story for you: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
Shirley Jackson's The Lottery is a memorable and terrifying masterpiece, fueled by a tension that creeps up on you slowly without any clear indication of why. This is just a townful of people, after all, choosing their numbers for the annual lottery. What's there to be scared of?
The Lottery was the first short story I ever read and Jackson's masterly build-up of suspense and the uncanny makes this a must-read for those wanting a quick and scary fix. Because what could be scary about something this mundane and simple as a lottery? If it's Jackson describing it, then everything!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Short Review: 'Slade House' by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is the kind of author many seem to be aware off and yet many have not read. When the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas came out many of my friends convinced themselves to try the book, only to despair at its length and intricacy. When I saw Slade House I knew my time had come to test myself against Mitchell and I'm very glad I did. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/10/2015
Publisher: Random House
From “one of the most electric writers alive” (The Boston Globe) comes a taut, intricately woven, spine-chilling, reality-warping short novel. Set across five decades, beginning in 1979 and coming to its electrifying conclusion on October 31, 2015, Slade House is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.
Slade House is a relatively short novel, especially considering the size of David Mitchell's other works. However, it is not technically a stand-alone since it is set in the same universe as The Bone Clocks which I didn't realize until I was too far into the novel to consider even stopping.  The good news is that even independently Slade House is a really interesting and gripping read. Unfortunately, upon knowing that there is more to the story's background makes Slade House at times feel too fleeting and quick. Mitchell happily moves from one decade to the next, telling the reader just enough to keep her entertained but not enough to truly make the reader a part of the story. As a consequence the ending feels almost rushed, with the novel ending before the reader has quite worked out all the intricacies of the actual story. If Slade House is meant to make on curious for The Bone Clocks then it certainly does that.

It's a shame that this novel is so short and, at least in part, dependent on another book because the power of Mitchell's writing style really comes through in Slade House. As he hops from one character to the next, crossing decades and generations, his narration never feels false or forced. He adapts as easily to the voice of a policeman as to that of an insecure female student, painting each character in a painfully detailed way but moving on easily to the next. It's definitely a read to get you in the mood for Halloween with its dips into the paranormal and the uncanny. There is also an aspect of the detective novel to it, with slight thriller influences, as the reader keeps jumping forwards in time in the hope to figure out what exactly happens.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Slade House  entertained me and was incredibly intriguing at times. Although it functions well as a stand-alone it does feel as if it would be more interesting if you've read The Bone Clocks before hand. It was a great introduction to David Mitchell and I'd definitely recommend it to fans of his.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Review: 'Sister Wolf' by Ann Arensberg

Sister Wolf: A NovelEvery once in a while you have to beat yourself up over not starting a book sooner. That time has come for me because I managed to not read Sister Wolf  for a whole year.For some reason or another it constantly slipped through the net, escaping my attention, much like a wolf itself. But I captured it and now I'm slightly fascinated by it.

Pub. Date: 18/02/2014
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
Winner of the National Book Award for Best First Novel: Ann Arensberg’s celebrated work tells a hallucinatory tale of sexual desire, jealousy, and savage love
On a June night in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, Marit Deym prowls her land, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the van from the Dangerfield Zoo. When it finally comes—hours late—five wolves leap out onto the sprawling wildlife refuge Marit has created. And then one night, the wolves bring a stranger to her door.
A poetry instructor at a school for the blind, Gabriel Frankman lives in self-imposed exile after the death of the girl he loved. He visits her grave every weekend. He carries sunflower seeds in his backpack and his friends are the birds. Meeting the girl who keeps wolves will transform Gabriel’s life in ways he could never imagine.
Haunting and lyrical, shot through with grace notes of passion and sorrow, Sister Wolf is about the power of human beings—like that of their animal brethren—to survive and endure.
Sister Wolf takes you on a fascinating journey into that part of humanity which is a bit savage and which we keep so very tightly reined in most of the time nowadays. Society and civility have made great actors out of all of us, even though we often don't even realize we're actually performing. In Sister Wolf Arensberg dollows Marit Deym as she works on protecting the wolves and other animals in her wildlife refugee. Marit herself feels tightly reigned in, on the brink of revealing herself to be less civil and upstanding than the townfolk seem to assume. The metaphor of the wolf is a great one and has often been used, not always to such great effect as in Sister Wolf. The dual nature of the creature, both predator and victim to humanity, reflects the way we cage ourselves in quite well. It also allows for some beautiful descriptions which Arensberg seems to revel in.

Arensberg switches between different narrators, focusing mainly on Marit but also giving you an insight into the minds of some of the other characters. Gabriel Frankman is fascinating, his mind constantly torn between expressing himself and restraining himself. The back and forth in his own mind, his susceptibility to self-blame and the redemption he finds in that are interesting and strangely recognizable. Arensberg truly gets into her characters' minds and, as a consequence, into ours as well. Another character we get to see a lot of is Lola, a friend of Marit's, who seems so free and yet has imposed strict rules upon herself in order to live her life the way she wants. You walk away from Sister Wolf thinking of how you may be keeping yourself contained as well and that doesn't necessarily make it a comfortable read.

Sister Wolf is an e-book re-release by Open Road Integrated Media, the original novel having been published in 1981. It's always a pleasant surprise to me when I see a book that translates so well from one decade to another, even across centuries in this case. It's hard to date this book or its characters, which might be a flaw to some but, in my mind, actually allows it to remain relevant no matter when you read it. Some parts of the novel can be quite difficult to deal with, especially since Arensberg herself doesn't seem to judge her characters. She leaves it all up to the reader.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Sister Wolf is a great book, enjoyable and captivating at the same time. It's not an easy read but it's a worthwhile one, digging into the animalism of humans. This novel has stunning descriptions and even one or two twists, which are great. I'd recommend this to fans of suspense and thriller reads.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Weekly Overview

This has been a pretty good week for me although I had a spout of intense cold and flu-symptoms halfway through. Thankfully those have passed and they did help me get some reading done so that's always good. I've also made a leap with one of my University assessments to that is making me happy. Other personal things: I've finally joined the University gym, which can only mean good things; I'm probably going to buy a new pair of glasses soon; Clone Corridor (my Star Wars site) did ridiculously well this week and I read an absolutely amazing book I'm reviewing tomorrow!

That Tolkien news had me pretty excited since you don't often find something so personal and interesting. How was your week?

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

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Discovered: Tolkien's Annotated Map of Middle-Earth

Pauline Baynes01.gif
Yesterday the news broke that Blackwells has discovered an annotated map of Middle-Earth in the collections of Pauline Baynes, the acclaimed illustrator who has worked not only with Tolkien but also made the universally recognized paperback cover for Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pauline Baynes was chosen by Tolkien himself as illustrator for his works after he saw some of their drawings and although from her diaries it's clear they didn't always get along perfectly they did develop a strong friendship. She made poster-size versions of his maps of Middle-Earth, which required some close working together between her and Tolkien:
'On 21 August 1969, Baynes describes a visit to Tolkien and his wife in Bournemouth, "to chat about a poster map I have to do - he very uncooperative".The author later apologies for having "been so dilatory", and a later lunch sees the author "in great form - first names and kissing all round - and pleased with the map".' - Guardian
This process of working together is what led to the map which has now been discovered. As you can see in the image below Tolkien took the map drawn by Baynes and scribbled little notes all over it, from name changes or specifications to other notes such as 'FIR' next to Mirkwood, which I'm thinking must be either an abbreviation or a reference to the sorts of trees he thoughts would be there. This map is a fascinating little insight into Tolkien's mind and also a confirmation of his constant work on and care for the world and myths he had created. It's proof of Tolkien's own hand in creating one of the most iconic images of The Lord of the Rings. I myself have spend endless hours poring over this map, tracking the journeys of The Hobbit and the Fellowship, imagining other adventures that could have happened in those Misty Mountains.

Besides the map Blackwells is also selling Baynes' notebooks which actually offer some of the most exciting news. The notebooks reveals a number of interesting sources of inspiration behind some of Tolkien's most iconic creations. One of these is that Hobbiton is on the same lattitude as Oxford, where Tolkien worked as a Professor, which explains why it gives off such a strong sense of 'Englishness'. Something else mentioned by the Guardian is that Ravenna, one of Italy's most interesting cities, as a template for the capital of Gondor, Minas Tirith. Ravenna has a fascinating history which spans the Roman and the Byzantine Empire. The Italian influence was always quite clear in Minas Tirith and is also something that was consciously picked up by the art department of Peter Jackson's film trilogy.

Other cities mentioned to have offered inspiration are Belgrade, Cyprus and Jerusalem. Personally I am absolutely fascinated by this new information because I'd always imagined Middle-Earth to roughly span Europe, with Mordor lying where we'd picture Germany. Shows you how one can delude themselves. I hope that there will be loads of speculation and discussion about which places these and other cities could have inspired.

And we can only agree with Henry Gott when he says this map is:
'"an exciting and important discovery: new to scholarship (though its existence is implied by correspondence between the two), it demonstrates the care exercised by both in their mapping of Tolkien's creative vision."'
All the quotes and images in this post are taken from the Guardian.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Friday Memes and 'Landfalls' by Naomi J. Williams

Today I'm sharing an amazing novel with you guys that I reviewed yesterday: Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams. I gave it four out of five Universes and absolutely loved it. There's nothing like a good sea voyage/exploration novel to get your escapism fix. Do check out my review if it sounds like something for you!

An epic voyage, undertaken with the grandest of ambitions. 
When Lapérouse leaves France in the Spring of 1785 with two ships under his command, he knows that he sails with the full backing of the French government. This is to be a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery - but every person on board has their own hopes, ambitions and dreams. 
As the ships move across vast distances in their journey of nearly four years, the different characters step forward and invite us into their world. From the remote Alaskan bay where a dreadful tragedy unfolds, to the wild journey Barthélemy de Lessups undertakes from the far east of Russia to St Petersburg, the reader sees the emotional, physical and mental toll exacted by such an endeavour. 
Landfalls marks the launch of a brilliant new writer, who creates an unforgettable world through a web of voices and narratives.
Doesn't it sound exciting? Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilian over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

Book Beginnings:
'No one knew what to make of the new galley stoves when they arrived. There were two - one for each ship - and they came by boat, first for the Boussole and then for the Astrolabe, disassembled into their cumbersome components and accompanied by a foul-mouthed shipyard locksmith charged with installing them.' 1%
This paragraph is from the prologue, which gives the reader a first glimpse into the atmosphere aboard these two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe. The beginning isn't the most gripping ever, but I liked the description of a 'foul-mouthed shipyard locksmith' so chose this one.

Friday 56:
'Since that night, Lamartiniere had caught only fleeting glimpses of the woman when she served them tea in the drawing room, but the awareness of her presence in the house tantalized him in private and buzzed like an unacknowledged background hum between the men whenever they were in the house.' 56%
Since Landfalls switches a lot between narrators it can be a bit of a surprise to see who gets to narrate what, but Lamartiniere is quite a fun one since he's always worrying about a lot of things. In this case I thought his description of the tension in the house due to the presence of a woman, shock horror GASP!

Does Landfalls sound like the book for you? And what are you featuring today?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Review: 'Landfalls' by Naomi J. Williams

Landfalls is a novel that had me on the edge of doubt until the moment I started reading it. Was this a book for me? Would I be as gripped by it as I was hoping to be? It turned out that I didn't have to worry at all because Williams had me right where she wanted me after the first few chapters. Thanks to Little, Brown and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange of an honest review.

Pub. Date: 22/10/2015
Publisher: Little, Brown
An epic voyage, undertaken with the grandest of ambitions. 
When Lapérouse leaves France in the Spring of 1785 with two ships under his command, he knows that he sails with the full backing of the French government. This is to be a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery - but every person on board has their own hopes, ambitions and dreams. 
As the ships move across vast distances in their journey of nearly four years, the different characters step forward and invite us into their world. From the remote Alaskan bay where a dreadful tragedy unfolds, to the wild journey Barthélemy de Lessups undertakes from the far east of Russia to St Petersburg, the reader sees the emotional, physical and mental toll exacted by such an endeavour. 
Landfalls marks the launch of a brilliant new writer, who creates an unforgettable world through a web of voices and narratives.
Multiple-person narratives can be either the best thing for a novel or can be incredibly detrimental to understanding the actual plot of the novel. Each of the characters allowed to speak has to actually add something to the story or else they only serve as a distraction to the reader. Williams takes it one step further in Landfalls and also has different chapters and narrators write in different mediums. You see everything in Landfalls, from straight up first-person narration to seemingly dramatized incident reports. And the best thing is that it all works. Williams weaves all of these different stories, points of view and mediums together into a single, whole story, illuminating the story of a single voyage. Through her switching in narratives, which remains largely chronological, Williams very much makes the reader a part of the exploring party while also giving the reader the chance to try to figure out for themselves what happened to Lapérouse and his crew.

Nothing is as fascinating as exploratory sea voyages. However, nothing is also as marked by historic imperialism and racism. Works such as The Heart of Darkness and Kipling's work have been marked by their ties to imperialism and are often decried for it. However, just as I believe with The Heart of Darkness, Williams' Landfalls is not in and of itself racist. The attitudes of her characters are unapologetic but, as such, are also judged by the novel. With our modern day awareness it is clear to readers not only where these attitudes come from but also why they're wrong. That doesn't mean Landfalls is an easy read. It can be quite difficult at times to swallow the casual dismissal of the native populations by some of our main characters, but Williams also shifts the point of view around by having some chapters narrated by native characters. Although I can't judge to what extent this portrayal is completely successful it definitely adds an extra layer to the novel. It makes Landfalls an intriguing read, giving a fascinating insight into the mindsets of the people of the 18th century.

Williams' writing style is beautifully descriptive throughout Landfalls. An initial reason of mine for hesitating before picking up the book had been whether it would actually capture the "feel" of discovering new places, seeing things no one else might have seen before. Williams put this worry at rest very easily. Her descriptions of different territories, the different people and the different lives are fascinating and each strong in their own right. The only addendum I have to this statement is that throughout the text there occasionally pops up an authorial voice which, at times, feels out of place because it's not entirely clear whether this is indeed the author looking over her character or an "in-text" author looking over his findings on the journey. Since this voice seems to speak from hindsight it adds a lot of interesting comments to the text, but it also always brings the reader back outside the story.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I absolutely loved Landfalls and it is a novel I will no doubt be rereading. This may not sound like a compliment but there aren't a lot of contemporary novels which I feel that need with. I'd recommend this to fans of adventure novels and aren't afraid of novels that switch it up a bit.

Les Misérables Read-Through #8: II.iii.8 -

It's been another really exciting week in the Les Misérables world. Loads of stuff has happened and Hugo is really drawing me in more and more. So much happens in these few chapters and yet it never feels forced or as if the novel running out of time and just cramming everything down your throat. A lot of contemporary novels feel like that sometimes, as if they're too aware of their own page limit. Hugo just takes his time where he feels it's appropriate and as such the pace of the novel is brilliant.

Plot Summary:
Cosette has been saved, well and truly, by Jean Valjean but she is not truly safe by any measure. Jean Valjean truly takes her away from the Thenardiers in these chapters and the way Hugo describes how Cosette and Jean form a daughter-father relationship is simply beautiful. It had me close to tears which doesn't happen often. The bliss that momentarily exists for them is beautiful but unfortunately also quickly dismissed when Javert pops back up on the scene. A chase scene occurs which feels a lot more tense at this point in the narrative than it does in the film because the relationship between Cosette and Jean is much more tangible. Hugo's decision to relive the chase a second time but through Javert's eyes is also an interesting choice.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is something truly happy about these chapters, at least about the initial ones. Both Cosette and Jean have suffered a lot and it's truly extraordinary to see how Hugo brings them to each other. There is definitely a sense of them healing each other purely by both having suffered and their (admittedly tangential) relation via Fantine gives them another reason to throw their lot in together. They bring out the best in each other and, for once, it's truly a relationship I admire.

General Thoughts:

  • Hugo has a really good feel for how to set up a new area. He will introduce a place by elaborating on a completely random person there, an inn-keeper or a landlady and although that character will hardly be relevant to the plot it will still be a great way to be introduced.
  • Cosette is turning out to be a really interesting character. In the film she feels a bit empty to me because none of her experiences ever seem to stick with her. Hugo's description of Cosette goes very deep and creates a lot of empathy for her.
  • It's quite special how Hugo manages to make Javert the villain while also making him sympathetic to the reader. It's a fine edge to walk and Hugo goes so with grace.
  • Hugo goes off on a small digression about Paris at the beginning of Book V which is lovely. It seems a bit random, perhaps, to go into such a familiar place but Hugo's point is exactly that his Paris is different from mine and different from yours. Added is that his descriptions of cities always make them calmer and more nature-like than anything else.
  • There is also an enormous digression about the convent where Jean Valjean and Cosette hide out. It's interesting and very much traditional of the kind of novel Hugo is writing, but it is a good thing that Hugo is such a good writer because otherwise it would be terrible.
'It was an inhabited spot where there was no one; it was a desert place where there was some one; it was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris; more wild at night than the forest, more gloomy by day than a cemetery.'
I really love this quote. Hugo is describing the boundaries of Paris, where metropolis fades into countryside. The whole being alone while being surrounded is something I really recognize from London and it's something I actually quite enjoy. 
'Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!'
This quote was part of Hugo's description of Jean Valjean rediscovering his ability to love with Cosette. Fatherhood isn't something very often addressed in literature but Les Misérables does so beautifully.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Review: 'Pop Sonnets' by Erik Didriksen

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite SongsEvery once in a while you'll get a book coming your way that simply brightens up your day. For me Pop Sonnets has become one of those books. Although I was initially a little bit sceptical I should've trusted in Quirk Books since they always deliver amazing books, especially Shakespeare-related. Thanks to Quirk Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/10/2015
Publisher: Quirk Books
The Bard meets the Backstreet Boys in Pop Sonnets, a collection of 100 classic pop songs reimagined as Shakespearean sonnets. All of your favorite artists are represented in these pages—from Bon Jovi and Green Day to Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, and beyond. Already a smash sensation on the Internet—the Tumblr page has 20,000+ followers—Pop Sonnets has been featured by the A.V. Club, BuzzFeed, and Vanity Fair, among many others. More than half of these pop sonnets are exclusive to this collection and have never been published in any form.
Before I discuss these sonnets a bit closer I probably have to explain why I was hesitant about Pop Sonnets at the beginning. I can hear you shouting, 'How could you not immediately love the idea of an Iggy Azalea song in iambic pentameter?'. I can be quite protective of my favourite classics, which is what stops me from reading Jane Austen adaptations, for example. I love Shakespeare's plays and hence I can be sceptical about his constant use as reference in popular culture. His plays have sparked some great 90s high school movies, but they have also led to some utter catastrophes. Pop Sonnets sounded  too funny to pass up on though, despite my worries, and I am immensely glad that I did because it had me laughing out loud.

Didriksen quite simply does an amazing job in Pop Sonnets. Not only did he manage to pick out a great selection of songs, his "translation", or rather adaptation I guess, into the Shakespearian sonnet form is simply quite astounding. Everyone who has had to read Shakespeare's sonnets in high school knows that the form can be quite difficult to make sense of, let alone adapt easily. Didriksen makes it seem as if it's easy, adapting songs from the last few decades with hardly a problem. Aside from that there is also simply the pure joy of reading a line like:
'No suitor's vows of love shall I attend
deliver'd from the carriage of his friend.'
I hope you all recognize that as TLC's 'No Scrubs'! It's just the best!

Split into a number of different sections, i.e. love sonnets, sonnets about despair, etc., Pop Sonnets is surprisingly easy to just keep reading one sonnet after the other. They will have you laughing and giggling, but what's also really fun about Pop Sonnets is that Didriksen doesn't reveal the title of the song until after the sonnet. Because of that the book almost feels like a puzzle book as you try to figure out through little hints which songs Didriksen is adapting. It makes for a great time and this would be an ideal coffee table book, in all the best meanings of the term!

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I absolutely loved Pop Sonnets, all the way from 'Never Gonna Give You Up' to 'My Way'. Shakespeare would have loved this book himself, absolutely enjoying the creativity of Didriksen's use of language. Pop Sonnets is fun and is a great thing to share with friends as well. I'd recommend it to fans of Shakespeare and general popular culture content.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Weekly Overview

Sister Wolf: A NovelI didn't have an incredibly productive week in all fairness. I did finish two books but the pub date for that is still another week or so away so I couldn't share the reviews yet although I really wanted to. For the rest I've been trying to get on with my University work since that is my main priority right now. Next to that my other blog, Clone Corridor, is taking up quite some time as well even though I'm very much enjoying working on it. I'm just going to stop complaining now before I bore anyone to death ;)

So, that was my week! I've got a couple of reviews coming up next week of books I'm really excited to share with you so pop by then!

This post is linking up with The Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer! Enjoy your Sunday :)

Friday, 16 October 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #7: II.i.11 - II.iii.8

The Thenardiers
Note: This post was supposed to post itself yesterday but somehow Blogger prefers to let me do all the work myself so hence why it's late. I do apologize! Reading 20 chapters at the time is really helping me get a better grasp of the story at large so I'll definitely be continuing with that. I'm also glad that this week we returned to poor Cosette who really needs to be given some love!

Plot Summary:
After last week's investigation of the Battle of Waterloo I hoped Hugo would move on from it quite a lot, but then we still got multiple chapters on it this week round. It's fascinating to get an insight into such a historic event from someone who was closer to it chronologically and, being French, would be more involved in it as well. However, only towards the end did it truly become relevant to the story when Thenardier popped up, robbing a Pontmercy.

From there we moved on back to Jean Valjean who escaped custody, dug up his buried money and found his way, finally, to poor Cosette. From what we'd been told before it was clear that she wasn't having a very good time with the Thenardiers but these chapters really emphasized just how dreadful her life had become. It was heart-breaking and I felt the need to shout at and shake all the adults in the book.

Feel of the Chapters:
The chapters on the Battle of Waterloo have a very historic feel to them. Hugo is great at writing heroically, I've realized, and his descriptions of the battle is stunning. As said above, it is really the description of Cosette's state of mind that really gets to the reader. It's darker than almost anything that's been written in Les Misérables so far. So far each of the characters has been, in some way, a conscious part of their downfall, but Cosette is truly a victim.

General Thoughts:

  • The Thenardiers are my favourite part about the Les Misérables film, but here in the book they are truly horrid people. I'm not quite sure who made the choice to so switch it about but they realy work as characters in the book since they are just terrible.
  • Jean Valjean is really growing on me, to such an extent that it's almost scary. He is so torn and conflicted in a way that is interesting, rather than coming across as spoiled, the way he unfortunately does in the film.
  • There was no Javert in these 20 chapters, but I'm thinking he won't be happy as soon as he finds out Valjean is, once again, gone.
  • I wonder whether there is going to be another time jump now, from here to when Cosette is grown up. It seems like it would take too long to really describe those years.
  • I have officially made it a quarter though the book, almost even a third in. It's 
I'm skipping the Something Interesting today because we already covered the Battle of Waterloo and no other event etc. really popped out.

'This vertigo, this terror, this downfall into ruin of the loftiest bravery which ever astounded history, -- is that causeless?'
This is one of those stunning descriptions of Hugo's for the Battle of Waterloo. It's ready to make me cry about the heroics and bravery of the days gone by.
'Forests are apocalypse, and the beating of the wings of a tiny soul produces a sound of agony beneath their monstrous vault.'
This was part of the description for Cosette's wandering in the forest to the well. It was a great moment of psychological exploration from Hugo's side and his writing was stunning.

Friday Memes and 'Sister Wolf' by Ann Arensberg

Sister Wolf: A NovelToday I'm featuring a book which I've just finally started, which is really a little bit too late. I am talking about Sister Wolf by Ann Arensberg which I requested ages ago from Netgalley and Open Road Media.
In the picturesque Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, Marit Deym lives alone on a thousand-acre inheritance from her aristocratic Hungarian parents. Though bright and attractive, she is a stranger to the complexities of human relationships. She keeps to herself, venturing out only to defend her one passion: the care of her wild animals--the lynx, bears, fox, and family of wolves for whom she has established a sanctuary on her land.
Then the wolves bring to her door Gabriel Frankman--a thoughtful young teacher at the nearby school for the blind, lost hiking in the woods. Despite his fear of the wild creatures, Gabriel seems oddly calm in their presence. For Marit, too, there is an immediate, consuming connection to the stranger--the first of her life. But it is a dangerous one. Soon her love of Gabriel will bring forth an unspeakable tragedy: to an innocent life, herself, and her precious animals.
It sounds good, no? Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda by Freda's Voice respectively.

'Between eight and nine on a June night in the highest corner of the Berkshire Hills, there is still some light to see by. On nights when the wind is high and the clouds are racing, the light in the sky is an unstable tinge, reading white, gray, gray-green, yellow-green, and smoke-yellow. BY the gray-green rays Marit Deym prowled the hallway of the story under the eaves, using the turret window at one end of the corridor as a lookout for the closed can that should have pulled into the driveway an hour before. The van was coming from the Dangerfield Zoo, an easy trip on the interstate highway, but Marit had instructed the driver to take the long route on unnumbered back roads. If the van had left Dangerfield at six-thirty, there was no chance that it would meet the police patrol car, which made its scheduled rounds at eleven o'clock.' 1%
It definitely sounds like Marit has got it all figured out and yet clearly something hasn't gone according to plan. I thought about not sharing the whole paragraph but it was simply too complete as one to not. I quite like how she's 'prowling', it fits with the whole wolf-theme.

'Death's interest in Marit was only theoretical, but his pupil had a literal turn of mind.' 56%
So, I have no idea what's happening but I loved the sound of this teaser. I mean, why is Death personified and what does he have to do with anything? I'm definitely intrigued by this teaser though which is why I decided to share it with you.

What do you think of Sister Wolf? Does it sound like your kind of book>

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Intros and Teasers - 'The Constant Nymph' by Margaret Kennedy

This week I'm using The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy, a book I have still not read despite the fact Netgalley and my conscience are practically shouting at me to just get on with it. But I've now decided to just ignore the fact I don't have time and start it.
A publishing sensation in the 1920s - 'It was the age of The Constant Nymph' (Jessica Mitford) - this acclaimed novel about a bohemian family and an unconventional romance is reissued by Vintage Classics. 
Avant-garde composer Albert Sanger lives in a ramshackle chalet in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by his 'Circus' of assorted children, admirers and a slatternly mistress. The family and their home life may be chaotic, but visitors fall into an enchantment, and the claims of respectable life or upbringing fall away.
When Sanger dies, his Circus must break up and each find a more conventional way of life. But fourteen-year-old Teresa is already deeply in love: for her, the outside world holds nothing but tragedy.
Sounds good, right? Why did I wait this long with starting it again? Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm respectively.

'At the time of his death the name of Albert Sanger was barely known to the musical public of Great Britain. Among the very few who had heard of him there were even some who called him Sanje, in the French manner, being disinclined to suppose that great men are occasionally born in Hammersmith.' 3%
I like this beginning. It's quite direct and to the point about Albert Sanger's state while leaving pretty much everything else about him in the shadows. I am interested to keep reading and see how he goes together with music and what else happened to him. It is, however, not the most intriguing of beginnings.

TeaserTuesdays2014e'They began by narrowly missing their train down to Erfurt, owing to a scene with Teresa and Paulina over their toilets. They had discovered a number of black garments, inexplicably left behind by Linda, and had thought that they might as well go into mourning for their father.' 44%
Well, this is definitely something else! I love the casual tone of Kennedy's writing, as if it's all a little bit of a joke and only really good for a laugh but then I have a feeling she could quite easily switch it around as well and make it very serious. I'm also thinking that Teresa and Paulina are now mourning Albert, their father, which I don't really consider a spoiler.

So, that's me for today. What do you think of The Constant Nymph? And have you heard of it before?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Review: 'Another Man's City' by Ch'oe In-Ho

Another Man's CityA while ago I read and reviewed The Republic of Užupis, another Library of Korean Literature read, which really interested me in reading more Korean literature. Another Man's City was the next one on my list and it's a fascinating read, one which takes the reader on all kinds of strange journeys, has twists where you least expect them and leaves you flabbergasted, in a good way. Thanks to Netgalley and Dalkey Archive Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/10/2014
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
Another Man's City is structured as a virtual-reality narrative manipulated by an entity referred to variously as the Invisible Hand or Big Brother. The scenario is reminiscent of Peter Weir's 1998 film The Truman Show and Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Unconsoled. The novel begins with a series of seemingly minor juxtapositions of the familiar and the strange, as a result of which the protagonist, K, gradually finds himself inside a Matrix-like reality populated with shape-shifting characters.
Before going into talking about the plot etc. it's interesting to point out how well books from the Library of Korean Literature translate into both English and into our ideas of genre and literature. One would expect that there might be a cultural hurdle and yet In-Ho's narrative fits perfectly into the strain of writing by the likes of Kafka. It's what's so brilliant about Dalkey Archive Press releasing Korean literature because it shows just how universal stories are. The thing called the 'shared ocean of stories' covers the whole world because every single human being wonders about where we came from, where we're going and what we're supposed to do in between. Just because something is written in a different language doesn't mean its story doesn't apply to readers all over. The Library of Korean Literature is a perfect example of why translation should be more common because language really is the only barrier between bringing book-lovers from all over the world closer together.

Another Man's City starts out very recognizably with an annoying alarm clock, but it gets more and more absurd in a way. As out protagonist K. finds himself waking up in a world that doesn't feel like his own. Everything from his pyjamas and his aftershave to his wife and daughter feel wrong, not like they did yesterday. And then there is that hour and a half the night before which is a blank, which surely must be the cause of why everything is so wrong. In-Ho takes the reader through what is seemingly K.'s whole life, flashing back to childhood and minutely taking apart the present. It's a wild ride which spins faster and faster as we get closer to the end. Another Man's City is close to impossible to put down as In-Ho manages to both reveal what's happening and yet tell us nothing.

Another Man's City manages to pull a number of different genres and feels together into one narrative, which is partially what gives this novel such a "weird" vibe and feel to it. On the one hand it is almost Kafka-esque, veering deeply into the abstract and strange, but there is also a strong thriller aspect to it with In-Ho marking each event by the time it happens, giving the reader the feeling the clock is definitely running out. It also has a sense of the uncanny to it while coyly playing with sci-fi ideas as well. In-Ho moves very fluently between all of these different influences and it never feels disingenuous. K. is a fascinating protagonist whose interior monologue is so convincing the reader can't help but at least consider all of his crazy theories about what's happening. In-Ho isn't afraid to push the boundaries a little bit on what we might feel should be discussed or even just mentioned, but it's what gives Another Man's City its edge. And let me tell you that you'll not see the ending coming.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Another Man's City is an astounding read. It will keep you captured from the beginning to the end, taking you on a roller-coaster ride. Hence I'd only recommend it to those willing to go where a book takes them and not abandon it along the way, This isa  book for fans of the absurd and weird, but you'll get a lot out of it, I promise!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Weekly Overview

Brutal YouthThis has been a really good week for me, blogging-wise! I'm still in the process of dropping by everyone who dropped by my blog but I've been able to actually post every single day this week. That is definitely not something that happens every week and although I do feel that maybe my Uni-work has suffered a little bit from it, I do really enjoy seeing all this content on A Universe in Words!

That's a successful week in my books! Two reviews is not too shabby and the Invaluable post on Friday actually took a lot of time to prepare since they've got a massive amount of books etc. up on their website! Aside from that I've been travelling through Scotland this weekend where I saw some amazing sights like below but, unfortunately, nothing of the Loch Ness monster!

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

Friday, 9 October 2015

Going Once, Going Twice...: my Dream Literary Collection and Invaluable

Every book lover knows that a book is a door to a whole new world, a way of escaping the humdrum of every day life and a great way to fill up whole afternoons, if not days. One of my favourite things about book blogging so far has been getting to know so many other book lovers sharing their own passion with the world. Nothing quite beats freaking out over an upcoming release together! But book lovers are successfully camouflaging as normal people everywhere and some of those can be found at, who were kind enough to invite me to have a look at their online catalogue of rare books and much more and decide what my dream literary collection would consist of!

Since I never stop thinking about what my future library will look like I thought this challenge might turn out to be relatively straight-forward. I, for a moment, forgot that when it comes to books I am hopeless at making a decision, especially when you through in first editions, manuscripts and maps. I managed it though, eventually. So below I offer you a look at what not only my dream collection would consist of but also what the library housing it might look like.

Oh, you betcha I'm getting me a globe for my library! From Lot 197 I picked this Cary's New Celestial Globe since I've always wanted one of these. There is something stunning about the detail and attention with which these globes were crafted. Made in, roughly, the 19th century, this globe has 12 engraved and coloured curved panels, each detailing a segment of the night's sky. I was torn for a while whether to choose the Celestial globe or the equivalent Terrestrial one, each of which is estimated to be worth between $10,000 and $12,000. Never accuse me of having cheap taste. Since my Geography is pretty good I decided to go for this one since I love the illustrations of mythical beasts. Myths, legends and history will be a strong theme running throughout this whole collection we're building here, so be warned! I think this globe would make for a great first impression when entering my library, wouldn't you agree?

Next is something I'm hungering after ever so not subtly: an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. As frequent readers of this blog might know I am currently studying for an MA in Medieaval English. Naturally I have a massive passion for anything from the Middle Ages, although my interest quite solidly lies in the early Middle Ages. Unfortunately Invaluable doesn't have anything even remotely Anglo-Saxon or Old English on offer, but then neither does the Special Collections-section of my current University library so they can hardly be blamed for that. Most of it is simply, and unfortunately, lost. However, that doesn't deter me from desperately wanting an illuminated manuscript (MS) in my dream collection. It's a shame that the description for Lot 161 doesn't actually mention which text this is although there is of course a chance the seller themselves doesn't know either. That would be the first thing I'd do with this text if I could get my hands on it. It would also provide me with a good chance to preserve my recently-acquired paleography and transcription skills! These two beautiful leaves are estimated between AUD500-1000, which is woefully outside of my budget.

Each good library or collection needs a number of staple literary classics. If someone wanders into your library and can't find a single Jane Austen book you're not very well-stocked. It's with that in mind that I chose the next object: a 1792 edition of Paradise Lost, John Milton's masterpiece. I did find a second edition of this book as well on Invaluable but I preferred the look of this edition, which is naturally the more expensive one. My dream collection won't come cheap. Although there is some wear and tear on this copy I personally love to see that a book "has lived". I was made to read Paradise Lost last year and even if I didn't really like all of it (what's God's problem?) I definitely recognize it as one of the key texts in the development of English literature. Not only did it anticipate the Romantic movement, it is also one of the best works to come out of that whole tradition. It introduced us to a sympathetic Satan, setting up the Byronic hero before Byron was even born! I'll just leave you with a short and cheerful quote from this book and move on to the next item:
'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.'
Next up is something a little bit more modern. A lot more modern and contemporary actually, but no less brilliant. Yes, I'm talking about Harry Potter and I'm serious. Although so far all my choices have been, if I may say so, educated and slightly pretentious, I'm a book lover at heart which means every book has something to offer me. I can't imagine having a dream collection and not, somehow, including the Harry Potter-series in that. J.K. Rowling and her books can very much be credited for getting me where I am or who I am now, hence these hardback copies from Lot 218 deserve their place right next to Paradise Lost. For many people roughly around my age Harry Potter was the equivalent of what Star Wars was for kids in the 70s. Not only did it introduce so many people to the joys of reading, it also introduced a lot of people to each other. Some of my best friends I've only met because of Harry Potter and I know it's the same for many others. Invaluable doesn't have the biggest selection of modern fiction, unfortunately. On the one hand maybe these haven't trickled down into auctioning houses yet, but on the other hand it would be great to have a wider selection of contemporary fiction to fill my library with,

The final piece that I'm choosing is one that is both stunning but also one with which I'm trying to send a message. As frequent readers will know, I set up this blog to be able to read more widely, discover the literature of other countries, cultures and societies, and thereby broaden my horizons! So far it's done a good job because I've read literature from Korea, Bolivia, South-Africa, and more. A key text which I also read was the Qur'an and I definitely feel that it has helped me grow as a person. So I was very happy to find Lot 512 with its beautifully illuminated Ottoman Qur'an. Dated to 1867, this is an absolutely stunning edition, showing the craftsmanship of the Ottoman empire as well as the stunning illuminations that trademark Arabic texts. I'd want my library and collection to reflect my attitudes towards life and humanity and that's why I'd include this edition of the Qur'an. In many ways it's as sacred to me as the Bible is, although I'm a Christian, but no one should dogmatically prevent themselves from not reading or seeing someone else's point of view. 

 So, this is where I end my foray into the depths of and many thanks to the people at Invaluable for giving me the chance.As you can see their collections of books are quite extensive and hold some utter gems. Although, as I said, they're not the best on contemporary fiction, I'd recommend every book lover to have at least a quick peek at their website. It's incredibly easy to manoeuvre and I've got one or two things that I'm keeping an eye on in case I find a pot of gold sometime soon!

Friday Memes and 'A Thousand Nights'

A Thousand NightsI've been meaning to read this book for so long but because I know I'll probably get so stuck in it once I start it I keep waiting for a moment where I actually have the time to read it all at once. But I've decided that such a break will probably never come so here I am, just starting it! I'm talking about A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston.
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.
Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
Doesn't that sound amazing? And how stunning is that cover? Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion from Rose City Reader and Freda from Freda's Voice respectively.
'Lo-Melhkiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village looking for a wife.
She that he chose of us would be a hero. She would give the others life. Lo-Mehkiin would not return to the same village until he had married a girl from every camp, from every town, and from each district inside city walls - for that was the law, struck in desperation though it was. She that he chose would give hope of a future, of love, to those of us who stayed behind.'
I love this beginning. I thought of only sharing the first line but I couldn't just not share the second paragraph especially since that first line is technically in the blurb already as well. I also preferred this beginning over the prologue which is stunning but not as directly gripping as the beginning of Ch. 1 is!

'She knew. She knew, and yet she saved me anyway, when I lay weak and dying in front of her.'
This part of the text is in italics which I assume means it's from a different narrator's perspective and I have a very strong feeling that I know whose. I also thought for a moment whether this is a spoiler or no but decided it's not since clearly the narrator is still doing dandy enough to narrate.

So, that's me for today! I'll be castle-hopping today so I won't be able to blog-hop until I get to my hotel tonight but at that point I'll be sure to stop by everywhere. They better have wi-fi...

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #6: I.vii.7 - II.i.10

As you may or may not have noticed, I missed a post last week. It turned out to be a ridiculously busy week and although I'd done half the reading and could've just done a post for 10 chapters I couldn't even find the time to quietly sit down and think about Les Misérables for a bit. But here I am, happy to be back to reading Les Misérables since I left myself at an incredible cliff-hanger last time. Or rather, with as much of a cliff-hanger as you can get in a book like this. As the title of this post gives away, I have now passed into the second Book of Les Misérables, leaving Fantine and the eponymous first Book behind. And there's definitely a reason for why we've moved on. Also, if you're wondering why we've got a fancy Napoleon on our left just keep reading. It'll make sense.

Plot Summary:
Where do I even start?! There was a lot of introspection going on for Jean Valjean in the last post, all of which is now translated into action. He arrives in Arras and almost surprises himself into owning up to his real identity. This is quite a moving event because Hugo writes beautifully about Valjean's despair at having to give up the position in life he's achieved. And by that is not meant the money and power as mayor, but the basic kindness and respect with which he is now treated, something completely missing from his earlier life and the life now in his future again. His return to Fantine is also a tragic one since he brings no Cosette and only comes in time to see her die. He is subsequently arrested by an angry Javert but manages to escape.

Book II, named Cosette, starts with a 10 chapter-strong description of the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon and everyone else involved. As before, I quite enjoy Hugo's diversions because they're always at least slightly relevant and it takes you away from the above misery for a while. Not that the Battle of Waterloo comes across as a good time. 

Feel of the Chapters:
As such the end of Book I is quite a tragic one. All of our major characters have seen severe ups and downs but, up until 4 or 5 chapters before the end, seemed to do quite well until it all came crashing down. But the pace and suspense is so high that it all reads a little bit like a thriller. Will Valjean reveal himself or won't he? Will Fantine live? And what will Javert do? And wait a minute, whatever happened to Cosette? There are a lot of questions which really drive the plot and reader forward. It's so much more exciting to read than to watch the film people! And there is an amazing feel of 'destiny' to the description of the Battle of Waterloo which could actually give you chills!

General Thoughts:
  • Fantine's story really is a sad one and I really liked that the whole first book is dedicated to her, as such, through its name. Hugo seems to be very aware of society's pressures and the fact that he doesn't judge Fantine when he easily could've gives him brownie points in my book!
  • The more I read the more annoyed I get at the musical/film. They really chose the wrong moments for Jean Valjean's character exposition. As such his beginning is hardly interesting. What makes him fascinating is his decision to once again become "bad" in the eyes of others, rather than his decision to become "good". *angrily shakes fist*
  • Hugo's description of the Battle at Waterloo was stunning. He manages to hit a balance between joking about the whole thing, making the reader feel the intensity of the fighting and describing Napoleon in a way that makes him feel very close.
  • I love how Hugo is setting up the contrast between Valjean and Javert, and how he gives us glimpses at each of their mindsets in any given confrontation. He makes it feel like you're there and as if two powers truly are meeting.
Something Interesting:
Of course I was going to pick the Battle of Waterloo this week. As if I could avoid it, with half of this week's reading dedicated to it! The Battle of Waterloo was fought on the 18th of June, 1815 near Waterloo which is now in Belgium but was then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. This battle isn't just remembered for a great ABBA song but also for being the battle in which Napoleon was finally defeated by a Anglo-allied and a Prussian army. Until the First World War the Battle of Waterloo was seen as the decisive moment that changed European History. It also ushered in a period of relative peace and quiet in Europe.

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG

'The peculiarity of sublime spectacles is, that they capture all souls and turn witnesses into spectators.' 
This quote appears at the moment when Jean Valjean tells a court who he really is. It's described in such a way that it truly does become a spectacle, almost in the way that martyrs do. You can't help but be captured by the sight before you of someone sacrificing themselves for someone else, but there is also something horrible to it.
'These narrations seemed to belong to another ago. Something parallel to this vision appeared, no doubt, in the ancient Orphic epics, which told of the centaurs, the old philanthropes, those Titans with human heads and equestrian chests who scaled Olympus at a gallop, horrible, invulnerable, sublime - gods and beasts.'
I'm sure you can guess that this is a description of the Battle of Waterloo. Maybe now you get why I love Hugo's account of it so much. He lifts this battle out of its stuffy, historic confines and makes it something vivid and heroic. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Blog Tour & Review: 'Brutal Youth' by Anthony Breznican

Brutal YouthI'm honoured to be a part of the blog tour for Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican today! I spotted this book even before I was approached for the blog tour and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and read it. It's a fascinating novel, one which is brutally honest as well both in style and in content. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 2/06/2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that's even worse in Anthony Breznican's Brutal Youth 
With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.
To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.
Sometimes you read a book that grips you way faster than you expected. Breznican's Brutal Youth does exactly that. The 'brutal' in the novel's title doesn't just refer to the youth that populates its pages but also to the tone with which it addresses the reader. There truly is no way of escaping the brutality and cruelty of Saint Michael's except closing the book but that very quickly stops being a possibility. Breznican's prose doesn't shy away from being brutally honest, but that is exactly what makes this novel so gripping. It has snappy dialogue, great descriptions and a diverse catalogue of characters which are both great inventions but also very recognizable. To a certain extent this novel is reminiscent of some of the great 80s high-school movies such as Heathers and The Breakfast Club, both in its seeming ridiculousness and in its serious undertone.

The novel also picks up on a tradition which has always seemed slightly terrifying to me: hazing. Whether it's at high-school or at university, I have managed to avoid hazing which just seems another word for sanctified bullying. Bringing together the genuinely blind eye that school administrators turn towards this "tradition" and the paradoxical victim-perpetrator role that most people involved with it fill, Brutal Youth offers a great look at hazing.

A lot of books in the last few years have taken struggling high-schoolers as its topic, relying on the recognizability of their struggles to cover up the fact that they've forgotten those exact struggles. Breznican manages to actually bring back memories of this strange phase between childhood and young adulthood, in which friendship is both the safest and the most dangerous thing, where a crush can make or break a reputation which is built on almost innocent lies. Whether it's the vindictive nature of school-generations that makes one year take out all their frustration on another, or the seeming endless gap between school-life and home-life, Breznican has put it all in his novel. Brutal Youth will remind you of the less fun moments of your own high-school career, but you'll want to keep going.

Breznican switches between two of his main characters, giving the reader their own unique points of view and own inability to rationalize their actions. At times it can be confusing to have more than one narrator, especially when the switching doesn't truly add anything to the story. In the case of Brutal Youth, however, with its secretive and confused main characters, the moving between houses, families and lives really enhances the story. It also allows the story to not just focus on the younglings, who it's so easy to blame for everything. The parents in this novel are as genuinely messed up humans as their children are turning into, both to blame for so much and yet the victim of so much as well. It's exactly that balance between guilt and innocence that every character in Brutal Youth keeps finding, making it impossible for the reader to ever truly come to a final judgement on any of the characters.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

Brutal Youth is an absolutely stunning novel which grabbed me by the throat straight from the start and didn't really let me go till the very last page. This novel has to be one of my favourites published so far this year and I definitely won't be forgetting about it any time soon. I'd recommend this to pretty much everyone since it's one of those books that you simply should read.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Intros and Teasers - 'Ideal' by Ayn Rand

IdealToday I'm using a book which I reviewed yesterday. It's Ideal by Ayn Rand. As some of you may know I have a massive literary crush on Ayn Rand which I simply can't really explain so I'm just going to keep sharing her work and my random thoughts on it with you in the hope that clarifies things!
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.
It was interesting to first read the novel and then the play, but I have to say I preferred it as the former. Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm respectively.

'"If it's murder - why don't we hear more about it? If it's not - why do we hear so much? When interviewed on the subject, Miss Frederica Sayers didn't say yes, and she didn't say no. She has refused to give out the slightest hint as to the manner of her brother's sudden death. Granton sayers died in his Santa Barbara mansion two days ago, on the night of May 3rd. On the evening of May 3rd Granton Sayers had dinner with a famous - oh, very famous - screen star. That is all we know."'p.13 (first page of novel)
As far as opening paragraphs go it doesn't give you a lot to work with, but it sets up the kick-starter of the action quite well. The scandalous gossiping-tone that this opening has fits with the novel's seeming message that what people say is often not what they think, want or do.

TeaserTuesdays2014e'She walked toward him. She stood, looking at him her eyes pleading; she stood in the midst of paintings that were a dozen of mirrors tearing her body into dozens of splinters of reflections, throwing back at her her pale eyes, her white arms, her lips, her breasts, her bluish shoulders, mirrors playing with her body, coloring it in drapes of flaming scarlet, in tunics of luminous blue, while she stood, black and slender, only her hair alike all through the room, like dozens of pale gold stars scattered around them, filling the studio, rising from their feet to above their heads.' p. 76-77

I know this is a really long teaser but I simply had to share all of it. At this point in the story Kay Gonda has tried to find shelter with a fan who's an artist and says he knows her. She is surrounded by his painting which are all of her and yet he doesn't seem to know her. It's quite heartbreaking, really. Also, this is just a brilliant example of how beautifully descriptive Rand's writing can be. So vivid and clear.