Monday, 30 November 2015

Review: 'Numero Zero' by Umberto Eco, tr. Richard Dixon

Eco is a master storyteller. Whether it's his The Name of the Rose or Foucault's Pendulum, Eco has proven that he can weave a story which is fascinating and beautifully told from beginning to end. What makes him so special as well is his in depth knowledge about the subjects he writes about, especially the Middle Ages. So when I saw Eco's new book pop up on Netgalley I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. Thanks to Netgalley and Harvill Secker for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/11/2015
Publisher: Harvill Secker / Vintage Penguin
1945, Lake Como. Mussolini and his mistress are captured and shot by local partisans. The precise circumstances of Il Duce’s death remain shrouded in confusion and controversy.
1992, Milan. Colonna, a depressed hack writer, is offered a fee he can’t refuse to ghost-write a memoir. His subject: a fledgling newspaper financed by a powerful media magnate. As Colonna gets to know the team, he learns the paranoid theories of Braggadocio, who is convinced that Mussolini’s corpse was a body-double and part of a wider Fascist plot. It’s the scoop he desperately needs. The evidence? He’s working on it.
Colonna is sceptical. But when a body is found, stabbed to death in a back alley, and the paper is shut down, even he is jolted out of his complacency. 
Fuelled by conspiracy theories, Mafiosi, love, corruption and murder, Numero Zero reverberates with the clash of forces that have shaped Italy since the Second World War. This gripping novel from the author of The Name of the Rose is told with all the power of a master storyteller.
The great thing about reading books by authors from different parts of the world is that you can't help but learn something about different cultures, histories and languages. As a European it's impossible to avoid learning about the Second Worl War (if that would even be something people want), but that doesn't mean you'll know all the intricacies. Italy dealt with its own Facist government during that time in world history and the name Benito Mussolini should be familiar to most, but since it's not my own history I'm not as in touch with it as with my own history. So it was fascinating reading Numero Zero and seeing an Italian work with his own history so intensely and interestingly.

Conspiracy theories can be a lot of fun but they can also be very dangerous. Nunero Zero works with both of those aspects. Braggadocio, who's name should be a hint as to his character, is beautiful in his madness and suspicions. He goes of on major rants, mentions dozens of people ranging from obscure to famous, and is at times almost understandable. Since Numero Zero is most likely Eco's shortest, ringing in at less than 200 pages, the book is consequently quite dense and the pace is rather intense. With the amount of information and knowledge that Eco put into this book, it might have been better to allow for some more time. Then, on the other hand, the way the book sets itself up as a crime and thriller novel, the high pace definitely helps to set the mood. In the end there might be some storylines that don't feel like they've been concluded properly.

The size of some of his previous books have out readers off Eco who would've otherwise loved his wit and sarcasm. In the case of Numero Zero the media is what suffers most of his ire, but usually in a playful way. Everyone working at the newspaper is taken from a stereotype and is used to drive home a point. Nothing is made more obvious, however, than the terrible work sexism that the only female character, Maia, suffers. Although personally I might feel that Eco isn't critical enough of this, the constant presence of it is enough to show the reader that even its main character can't seem to let go of this attitude. Maia remains the most capable character throughout though, especially when Colonna himself becomes unreliable.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I did really enjoy reading Numero Zero but it was almost a little too fast and dense to make for a comfortable read. It wasn't necessarily as engrossing as some of Eco's other books were but it is very enjoyable. If you love conspiracy theories, fast-paced thrillers and history, Numero Zero is your book!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Friday Memes and 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood

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

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

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

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

So, what are you

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review: 'Of Things Gone Astray' by Janina Matthewson

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this book...

4 Universes!

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

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Weekly Overview

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


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

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

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

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #10: II.vii.4 - III.i.13

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

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

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

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

General Thoughts:

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this book...

4 Universes!

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

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 November 2015

Review: 'A Banquet of Consequences' by Elizabeth George

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

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

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

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

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

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

Friday, 13 November 2015

Friday Memes and 'Of Things Gone Astray' by Janina Matthewson

I have a bad habit of getting really excited by books and then getting distracted. It's not good and I'm working on it. Of Things Gone Astray is the kind of book that I was really excited about and wanted to get started with straight away. Then life happened and now I'm finally starting it. And just look at that cover, isn't it stunning? This is Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson.
Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight … 
On a seemingly normal morning in London, a group of people all lose something dear to them, something dear but peculiar: the front of their house, their piano keys, their sense of direction, their place of work.
Meanwhile, Jake, a young boy whose father brings him to London following his mother’s sudden death in an earthquake, finds himself strangely attracted to other people’s lost things. But little does he realise that his most valuable possession is slipping away from him.
Of Things Gone Astray is a magical fable about modern life and values. Perfect for fans of Andrew Kaufman and Cecelia Ahern.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

Book Beginnings:
'Mrs. Featherby.
Mrs. Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight. 
They had been dreams of when she was younger and more energetic, dreams of a time when she had full use of her knees. She had saved someone in one of them, someone helpless, she thought, but once awake she couldn't remember who or why or what had happened next.' 1%
I like the beginning because the first line is just so beautifully ridiculous, but then Matthewson just moves on. I like it when books have absurdness in them but don't go 'Oh my God, we're being so edgt and abstract, look at us'. Basically I really wish I'd started this sooner!

Friday 56:
'"OK, number one, princess, we stopped believing in the loves of our lives when we were seventeen; number two, I didn't not like her, I just thought you were too much of a different person because of her; and number three, I'm allowed to be blasé about your having lost her if you're going to be blasé bout the tree you're turning into."' 56%
Erm, what?! That's one way to have me desperate to get to 56% straightaway! I mean, we've lost people, people are turning into trees... this is definitely my type of book!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Weekly Overview

I've officially handed in my first ever MA essay. It almost went completely wrong with me running the danger of missing my deadline by stupid bad luck but then it all turned out fine in the end! Phew, one down, two more to go before the end of this month! I've also decided to invest in a new pair of glasses and that I'm going to pick up reading tarot cards. You can never learn to many different types of skills and I quite like trying to get in touch with my more mystical side. So, mixed week, not entirely successful in the sense of blogging but good enough that I don't have to beat myself up over it! I was incredibly happy and proud, however, to review I Call Myself A Feminist this Friday, which I recommend every young woman to pick up!
I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty
There was also a new Star Wars trailer which was discussed over at Clone Corridor, in case you want to get your Star Wars fix of the day!

So, how was your week? Get as much done as you hoped? And what was your favourite book this week?

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

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Tolkien, 'The Wanderer' and the Ubi Sunt-tradition

When I first saw The Two Towers there was one moment which really stood out to me, a scene that set a mood that lingered throughout the rest of the film and has remained with me ever since. I'm speaking of the moment in which Theoden is armed before the Battle of the Hornburg. Have a look at it below:

It's a stunning scene, with beautiful cinematography and perfect acting on Bernard Hill's part. However, what truly makes this scene as powerful as it does is the words spoken by Theoden which set the mood I was referring to before. The context to this poem is crucial to understanding the importance of the words. Theoden and his people have been forced to flee their homeland, abandoning their houses and their hall, and seek safety in the Hornburg where they are now preparing to face the hordes of orcs sent by Saruman with a single purpose, to wipe them out. Theoden expects to have to witness the end of his people, of his culture. And this is how he laments this, in his eyes inevitable, end.

This is an abridged version of the poem Tolkien wrote for The Two Towers. I assume that for pacing etc. it had to be shortened and Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh did a good job in keeping the tone. However, for the sake of this discussion I want to show you Tolkien's "original" poem as well:

Friday, 6 November 2015

Review : 'I Call Myself a Feminist', ed. by Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Annette, Martha Mosse and Alice Stride

I Call Myself A Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under ThirtyDuring my Bachelor I was, in certain circles, known as 'the Feminist one' of my friend group. As I've gotten older I've become more and more aware of how strong the label of Feminist actually makes me feel. When Virago approached me with the idea of a blog tour for I Call Myself A Feminist I knew I wanted to be a part of it and when I found out who was a part of this collection of essays I knew it was something that belonged on my blog! Thanks to Virago for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/11/2015
Publisher: Virago
Is feminism still a dirty word? We asked twenty-five of the brightest, funniest, bravest young women what being a feminist in 2015 means to them.
We hear from Laura Bates (of the Everyday Sexism Project), Reni Eddo-Lodge (award-winning journalist and author), Yas Necati (an eighteen-year-old activist), Laura Pankhurst, great-great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and an activist in her own right, comedian Sofie Hagen, engineer Naomi Mitchison and Louise O'Neill, author of the award-winning feminist Young Adult novel Only Ever Yours. Writing about a huge variety of subjects, we have Martha Mosse and Alice Stride on how they became feminists, Amy Annette addressing the body politic, Samira Shackle on having her eyes opened in a hostel for survivors of acid attacks in Islamabad, while Maysa Haque thinks about the way Islam has informed her feminism and Isabel Adomakoh Young insists that women don't have to be perfect. There are twelve other performers, politicians and writers who include Jade Anouka, Emily Benn, Abigail Matson-Phippard, Hajar Wright and Jinan Younis.
Is the word feminist still to be shunned? Is feminism still thought of as anti-men rather than pro-human? Is this generation of feminists - outspoken, funny and focused - the best we've had for long while? Has the internet given them a voice and power previously unknown?
Feminism seems to be on the rise in a way that it has never been. Women (and men!) all across the world are proudly claiming the label for themselves, forming a united front against sexism on all levels of life. On the other hand there seems to be an outrage about feminism every single day, with women being pitted against each other by the media and negative body images still being predominant. I believe the whole movement is very much at a crossroads where this new wave of Feminism has to decide which way it will go. We as a group have never been more intersectional and aware of each other (although I grant a lot still has to happen on the former) and I Call Myself A Feminist couldn't be a better example of which road we should all be taking. The editors have done their best to bring together voices from all over the world, from different backgrounds and convictions. Although the essays address topics which could potentially be triggering for some, each topic is treated with kindness by its respective author. Rather than the 'preaching and aggressive'-stereotype of feminism that the media likes to portray, this collection shows feminism from its engaging and even funny side.

This collection of essays gives a voice to a generation of feminists that are both ridiculed by the media while also having major expectations loaded upon them. On the one hand young girls nowadays are so loud, have too many opinions and expect too much, but on the other hand they never do enough, aren't radical enough or strong enough. What these essays show is that across the world there are strong, young women who have their own story to add and their own voice to add to the general cry. As a young twenty-two year old it is incredibly empowering to read people of my age, my generation, be so eloquent and convinced about their beliefs. On the other hand, as a white and middle-class woman it is my responsibility to realize how different life is for women different parts of the world. While I rage about catcalls, black women are still facing increased sexual danger because of their race, while transsexual women are denied some of their most basic rights.

This collection covers a great number of topics, about how (and if) religion and feminism go together, how it's our inner misogynist we have to conquer and the rightful place of transgender women in the ranks of feminists. All of the authors are under thirty, showing that within thirty years (and in many cases in less) women face a lot of issues that can show them the importance of equality. Amongst my favourite essays were 'My journey to Feminism' by Louise O'Neill, who wrote the brilliant Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, 'Roti kamana: stories of survival' by Samira Shackle about acid attack survivors in India and Pakistan and 'Women should get to be rubbish too' by Isabel Adomakoh Young. But every essay in this collection has a unique view to offer, a voice that makes you reconsider what you believed and thoughts. It's a collection I see myself rereading frequently, as it becomes relevant for me to remind myself who is out there with me.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved I Call Myself A Feminist. This is the kind of collection that can introduce young girls to the new voices of feminism, the women who will be pushing this until men and women are equal on all fronts. This collection shows how varied we are, how different we are and yet how we all have a common goal. I will be giving this one to everyone who questions whether this new generation of feminist has anything to offer!

I'm going to end this poem with the brilliant late Maya Angelou and her poem 'Phenomenal Woman'! 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #9: - II.vii.3

I missed out on posting a Les Misérables post last week because everything else in my life sort of pushed it aside, but I'm back now! At times it can be quite good to take a break from a book just so you build up a bit of a suspense and desire to get back to it. And I was desperate to get back to this book, even if Hugo still had me read chapters upon chapters about nuns first! However, as you might've gathered by now, Hugo's major interpolations always add something to the text, whether it's societal criticism or just fun background information about the Battle of Waterloo. I'm now closely but surely coming to the halfway point of the book and with that my 'Oh no the book is ending'-feeling is already kicking in. Expect me to be sad when I make it to the end of Les Misérables.

Plot Summary:
As said, there is a lot of talk about nuns. It was actually fascinating to get a description of the insides of a nunnery, of some descriptions of their practices etc. It's such a different path of life, one which not many people choose to take nowadays, so to see an author go into it so deeply is actually quite rewarding. Hugo also uses it to amuse and horrify us with a number of character stories which lighten the dark convent days.

At the beginning of Book VIII Hugo puts an end to his digression and brings the actual plot back, although still firmly within the walls of the convent. Valjean and Cosette may have escaped Javert but Benedictine nuns aren't necessarily any better. With the help of an old acquaintance it may all work out, though. This is something that doesn't happen in the book so I actually, for once, don't know what's happening!

Feel of the Chapters:
Hugo uses his convent-digression to really dig into the monastery life, but not necessarily in a mean way. He questions why people would lock themselves so far away from the rest of the world, whether it's an outdated practice (he already thought this in 1862 so I can be forgiven for thinking so now) and whether especially nunneries aren't extremely damaging to women. His prose also flourishes at this point, so convinced and desperate to get his point across. This makes me really excited for the revolutionaries still to come!

General Thoughts:

  • Not going to lie, after this nuns sound both more scary and more badass than I had considered them before.
  • Hugo is so self-aware of himself as the author, constantly making references to himself and to the novel as a novel. It's both very meta but it also makes the novel quite intimate, as if he is actually talking to you.
  • Despite being a 19th century text is translates surprisingly well to modern day sensibilities. Hugo hasn't offended me so far, which is quite special because when it comes to social issues I can be angered quite quickly. 
  • These chapters were a bit empty of actual plot development which, after fifteen chapters, definitely stars dragging a bit.
'There is that which it is necessary to destroy, and there is that which it is simply necessary to elucidate and examine. What a force is kindly and serious examination! Let us not apply a flame where only a light is required.'
I really liked Hugo's dedication to this. There is that which is so damaging it has to be fought but often the anger that people dedicate towards something is exaggerated. Some causes only need some enlightening, not eradication. 
'There is no such thing as nothingness. Zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing.'
I absolutely love this quote! Hugo was referring to religion, as such, at this moment but it actually applies to everything. I've already written it down repeatedly in different places just to remind myself that indeed everything is something and no one is no one. 

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Teasers and 'My Life on the Road' by Gloria Steinem

My Life on the RoadI haven't done one of these in a while but I'm back with a great book! Today I'm featuring a book which came out last month: My Life on the Road by the iconic Gloria Steinem! I wanted to read this one as soon as I saw it on Netgalley and I was so excited to be approved for it. My review is coming up in the next two weeks or so, but I thought I'd share a couple of tasters from it with you guys anyway.
Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB at A Daily Rhythm respectively.

Prologue: 'I board a plane for Rapid City, South Dakota, and see a lot of people in black leather, chains and tattoos. Airline passengers usually look like where they're going - business suits to Washington, D.C., jeans to L.A. - but I can't imagine a conventions of sadomasochists in Rapid City. It's the kind of town where people still angle-park their cars in front of the movie palace. My bearded seatmate is asleep in his studded jacket and nose ring, so I just accept one more mystery of the road.' 1%
I really liked this beginning because Steinem sort of sets you up to judge the bikers with her but then by the end of the first chapter, really, she has shown you how wrong your prejudices were. And from my own experiences bikers are amongst the nicest people ever!
First Line: 'When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel.'
I couldn't not share this first line because I just love it so much. I myself get a lot of energy and comfort out of travelling so I totally see where Steinem is coming from here.

'He thinks that power over our own bodies means power over our own voices, and he wants to speak up for this family. I tell him that he just took that power. Now no one can ever take it away.' 80%
Steinem is here talking about a Hmong refugee from Laos. My Life on the Road is suffused with a massive variety of people's stories and it's what makes the book so great. Unlike other biographies, Steinem's story isn't just about herself but rather about how others have shaped and affected her. It's a very nice approach.

So, does My Life on the Road sound something like you? Steinem is an icon, but her writing is never intimidating or pedantic!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Short Review: 'Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories' ed. by Audrey Niffenegger

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost StoriesHalloween has come and gone again. So if you're also having scare-withdrawals then a collection of beautifully creepy and scary ghost stories is rather appropriate. Ghostly does the job beautifully, giving us some good classics and also some relatively unknown, contemporary short stories. Thanks to Scribner and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/10/2015
Publisher: Scribner
Collected and introduced by the bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry--including Audrey Niffenegger's own fabulous new illustrations for each piece, and a new story by her--this is a unique and haunting anthology of some of the best ghost stories of all time.      
From Edgar Allan Poe to Kelly Link, M.R. James to Neil Gaiman, H.H. Munro to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly reveals the evolution of the ghost story genre with tales going back to the eighteenth century and into the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic Horror to Victorian, stories about haunting--haunted children, animals, houses. Every story is introduced by Audrey Niffenegger, an acclaimed master of the craft, with some words on its background and why she chose to include it. Audrey's own story is "A Secret Life With Cats."  
Perfect for the classic and contemporary ghost story aficionado, this is a delightful volume, beautifully illustrated by Audrey, who is a graphic artist with great vision. Ghostly showcases the best of the best in the field, including Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, A.S. Byatt, Ray Bradbury, and so many more.
As the title of the collection may suggest Niffenegger didn't go out of her way to pick utterly terrifying stories, but rather ones that are 'uncanny'. "The uncanny" is this fascinating term that can apply to a lot of different things and yet means something quite specific. It derives from the German term 'unheimlich', which literally means 'not like home' i.e. something unusual. What is so great about this term is that anything and everything can be uncanny under the right circumstances. A man putting out his trash? That's quite normal, we all do that. When it happens in the middle of the night that's a bit different. Personally I love it when stories tap into this because it's so much easier to unsettle a reader when they can't put their finger on what exactly feels wrong. If you're looking for a collection full of terrifying stories, Ghostly is probably not for you. If you want to be just a little terrified, this is it for you.

Something I wasn't expecting was the chronological structure of Ghostly. A key part of a good anthology is how it is organized, what it is that connects one story to the next. Often it will be either theme or time and when it comes to a genre like ghost stories the latter is a brilliant choice. Poe was one of the first people to truly do write horror or ghost stories. Part of his revolutionary writing was that his victim were female, something that wasn't done in those times. It was shocking and new and the genre has never looked back since. As Ghostly progresses it is really fun to see what each new generation of writers picks up, how social change also means literary change. Each of the chosen authors has something new and unique to offer, which makes each new story a revelation. Niffenegger precedes each story with a short introduction, telling the reader about her own personal connection to it and the author. Her drawings are stunning and fit perfectly with the stories.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

Ghostly is a short and fun collection of great stories, each playing beautifully with the uncanny and the reader's sense of unease. Whether it's classics such as Poe or more modern stories by Neil Gaiman, there will be something in this collection for everyone. I'd recommend it to those looking for ghost stories that won't terrify but thrill.