Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #1: 'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn

You've stuck with me till the end of this top 10, thank you very much for that! And now you're rewarded with finding out what my #1 is! I've chosen this one based on how it's affected me, how I'm still thinking about it and recommending it! For this list I haven't restricted myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will have. Rather, I'm hoping that by today I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #1 is: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

After watching Gone Girl in the cinema I decided I should get on with reading Gillian Flynn and I decided to start with Sharp Objects. And I genuinely couldn't read anything else for the whole time I was reading this one, digesting it, thinking about it, talking about it and rereading it. I genuinely loved it, its portrayal of women and their relationships, as well as Gillian's prose which is bitter, hard and stunning.

Sharp ObjectsPub. Date: 17/09/2007
PublisherW&N; New Ed.
WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.
NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.
HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

From my review:

Sharp Objects is a novel that I won't forget for a long time. It is the kind of novel to which the word 'gritty' actually fits. It is a painful read, making you cringe at times while it also has something cathartic to it. The novel takes you on a roller coaster ride while sticking close to Camille Preaker's side. Sent back to her home town to investigate the murder of two young girls, Camille has to face up to her past, which is dangerously close to seeping into her present and future. Flynn describes the oppressive atmosphere in small towns perfectly, the paranoia of everyone knowing everyone and nothing remaining a secret for long. Aside from Flynn's amazing insights into humans, more on that later, the plot itself is incredibly gripping. Below all the layers of narrative there is a really interesting 'whodunnit' story and although there are definitely clear signs towards who it may be there are plenty of twists and turns to keep even the thriller-pro guessing.
Flynn's writing style is gorgeous, just like her characters are. The sentences flow beautifully one after the other but when you look closer there is something terrible to them. Flynn manages to give her different characters very different voices despite the first person narration which means you really get a sense of who surrounds Camille. There are incredibly witty passages which will have you stifling laughter and then there are passages that will have you outraged in their explicitness or crudeness. As I said, it is a roller coaster ride and in many ways that is what adds to understanding Flynn's main character.
Gillian Flynn writes women that are deliciously and terribly wrong. Wrong in that Flynn allows the reader a peek behind the carefully prepared facade. Her women are not perfect, they don't get everything right and they don't always have the best intentions. Her women are as cruel as her men and even more so. Flynn herself said the following about women:
'I think women like to read about murderous mothers and lost little girls because it’s our only mainstream outlet to even begin discussing female violence on a personal level. Female violence is a specific brand of ferocity. It’s invasive. A girlfight is all teeth and hair, spit and nails — a much more fearsome thing to watch than two dudes clobbering each other. And the mental violence is positively gory. Women entwine. Some of the most disturbing, sick relationships I’ve witnessed are between long-time friends, and especially mothers and daughters. ...  I wanted to write about the violence of women.' Gillian Flynn
Central to the novel is the relationship between Camille, her mother Adora and her younger sister Amma. The manipulation, fight for attention and desperation that is packed into this three-way relationships is fascinating and often struck me as true. Personally I loved the dark tone that Flynn used to describe the women's psyche, especially how she approached the paradox of female puberty where the girls are still just girls and yet find their bodies becoming sexualized, not only by others but also by themselves. Flynn covers women's lives from birth to old age, showing the reader young girls, wild teenagers, bored suburban wives and clingy mothers. Flynn examines all of these stereotypes and hits a tone that is at once revealing, judging and somehow pitying. Towards the end of the novel you will find yourself wondering to what extent women, and men, actually have a say in the people they become. To what extent are we simply formed by our parents, our towns and our societies? This novel isn't for those who prefer their lives organized and "clear".
Check out the rest of my review and please get a copy of your own!

So, that was my list of favourite books! Later today there will be a larger overview of 2015 post but thanks for sticking with me throughout these last 10 days!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #2: 'Anthem' by Ayn Rand

We're down to number two and I've shown you some of my favourite historical fiction, sci-fi, YA and classic books I read this year. Most of my favourites have been by women as well which makes me quite happy. And today I'm sharing a book by one of my favourite authors which I only read this year. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #2: Anthem by Ayn Rand!

As some of you may know, I'm a massive Ayn Rand fan, something which comes as a surprise to many. She is one of those authors who has been enormously politicised and unjustly criticised by everyone who hasn't bothered to read her books. I fell in love with The Fountainhead during my first year at University and have  been working my way through her work since. I'm saving Atlas Shrugged for later but Anthem was the one that really got me this year!

Anthem has long been hailed as one of Ayn Rand's classic novels, and a clear predecessor to her later masterpieces, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged
In Anthem, Rand examines a frightening future in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Equality 7-2521 lives in the dark ages of the future where all decisions are made by committee, all people live in collectives, and all traces of individualism have been wiped out. Despite such a restrictive environment, the spark of individual thought and freedom still burns in him - a passion which he has been taught to call sinful.
In a purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521 dares to stand apart from the herd- to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice. Now he has been marked for death for committing the ultimate sin.
From my review:
Part of this novel's genius is Rand's dedication to its ideas in her writing. A novel which is so submerged in a philosophy has to portray that very philosophy on every level and in her narration Rand made sure to emphasize the collective nature of Equality 7-2521's society. He refers to himself and his as 'we' and 'our' and to others as 'them' and 'their'. It is an almost off-putting experience since the reader finds himself desperately searching for the narrator's actual identity. Who is he as an independent person, what makes him special? As such, the reader becomes part of Equality 7-2521's experience and growth. Rand draws you in and you can't help but confront yourself with some of her main ideas when reading any of her novels.
The reason why I love reading Ayn Rand's books so much is because they make me question my own thoughts about society and about the self. On the one hand I believe that we should all work together, that the (socially) stronger should help the (socially) weaker etc. On the other hand I am always tempted to agree with Rand that a lot of the world's evil lies in collectivism, the drowning of the self in the larger community. To be alone, in Anthem, is morally wrong and as a consequence the people gladly accept the councils' rules. If the novel seems far-fetched, only think of all the times you have been told not to sit around at home alone but to go out with your friends, to be social, to join in with activities. The journey from the 'we' to the 'I' in Anthem is beautiful and towards the end the prose almost becomes a soaring song of praise towards the ego which the reader cannot help but be swept up in.
If you're intrigued, check out the rest of my review and then get your Rand on!

Do you know of or like Ayn Rand? And does an author's reputation affect how and if you read their books?

My Favourite Books of 2015 #3: 'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin

We're in the Top Three! How did we get to the end of this year so quickly? So much has changed and yet it's been a whirlwind and I can't even remember what exactly happened! I do remember reading some absolutely brilliant books this year and I've really enjoyed sharing these with you!  For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #3 is: The Awakening by Kate Chopin!

This is one of those classics which you have to read if you're hunting down feminist literature and it was simply one of the best books I've ever read. It was genuinely a bit heart-breaking and Chopin's prose was absolutely beautiful. Also, the cover was stunning and I read the whole book in a single train journey, that's how much it gripped me.

Pub. Date: 2014
Publisher: Canongate
First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, "The Awakening" has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threatened to consumer her. 
Originally entitled "A Solitary Soul, " this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here, a woman in search of self-discovery turns away from convention and society, and toward the primal, from convention and society, and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses.
From my review:

The Awakening is recognized as one of the earliest landmarks for feminist literature. Part of what made it special for its time was that it describes women's issues without being condescending about them. Chopin gets right to the heart of the issues for many women in her time and does so through beautiful prose. Even nowadays, a novel completely dedicated to a woman's spiritual growth, without it being a guide book or a 'how to be happy'-kind of manual, is rare. With The Awakening Chopin unconsciously opened the way for a lot of female authors to express themselves and express women's problems in their own right. Chopin was raised in a house with three generations of independent women: her widowed mother, her grand-mother and a great grand-mother. Herself widowed early in life with six children depending on her, it seems fate that Chopin wrote a novel such as The Awakening
Although the basic plot of The Awakening seems relatively straight-forward, there is a lot of intricacy in it. The idea of a woman awakening, realizing how restrained she is and how free she could be is hard to explain without sounding either over the top or melodramatic. The beauty of The Awakening lies in the fact that Edna's awakening is completely natural. The awareness that she gains of herself as an independent human being is one which most people nowadays can easily relate to. However, for her time it was something unusual to dedicate a whole novel to. I thought I'd share a beautiful passage with you which showcases Chopin's brilliant writing style:

'There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day.' p.144

If you like the sound of it, check out the rest of my review and find your own copy!

So, what do you think? Do you purposefully seek out classics as well?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Weekly Round-Up

It's that time of the week again and I'm wondering who's up after yesterday's Christmas-palooza. It's been a busy week here at my end as well but I think I'm slowly but surely starting to cope with everything in a more helpful and useful way. So yay for real life character-development!

A Thousand Nights

I hope you all had a happy week of Christmas festivities!

My Favourite Books of 2015 #4: 'The Girl in the Road' by Monica Byrne

We're getting so close to finishing this list and as I'm going through it I'm realizing that there is only one man on this list. This year has very much been a year in which I've discovered some brilliant female authors and I'm incredibly grateful for that. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #4 is The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne!

God this book was a challenge but a rewarding and amazing one. Byrne does amazingly at combining different genres and moods, creating a narrative that is highly complex and yet, at the heart of it, emotionally simple. It wasn't for everyone but it's the kind of book where the more you put into it, the more you get back.

Pub. Date: 09/09/2015
Publisher: Little, Brown

Stunningly original and wildly inventive, The Girl in the Road melds the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern for a dazzling debut.
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.
Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.
As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.
From my review:
The Girl on the Road is a novel that not everyone will enjoy. There are a number of scenes and moments throughout the story which will stroke people the wrong way, largely because Byrne doesn't shy away from showing the violence of humanity. It is precisely for this reason, however, that Byrne's novel can rightly be said to belong next to Margaret Atwood's work. Some of the passages in this novel are shocking, yes. Things happen that shouldn't be happening but because they do in our world they happen in our literature. Whenever people argue in favour of "realistic literature" this is not what they mean. Sometimes we just want to read stories in which everything will be allright, where the world is seen through rose-tinted glasses. But every once in a while a book has to come around to confront you a little bit, shake you up so you put the glasses down and have another look at our world. Byrne's characters aren't necessarily loveable, rather they are understandable. They are girls and women who do things wrong, who make serious mistakes and deceive themselves. Byrne is one of a number of female authors in the last few years who seem to have purposefully left behind the "pure and innocent girl"-stereotype. Byrne's women are as complex and confused as her men and in her exploration of them she makes statements about all humans. 
Monica Byrne's writing style in The Girl in the Road is beautiful. Imagining a global society only a few decades beyond ours, Byrne creates a world in which technology has advances but along a natural path. Culturally, Byrne imagines a multicultural world which means her narrative is infused with words from other languages which one slowly starts understanding throughout the novel. Nothing that happens in Byrne's world feels completely impossible or out of place and yet there is an eerie sense of other-worldliness to it as well. The world that Meena and Mariama move through is described very vividly, whether it's descriptions of emotions or of the African landscape the latter travels through.The shift in pacing throughout the novel works really well, never letting the reader completely settle in. As said above, the novel very much feels like the Trail itself, constantly presenting you with new challenges and obstacles. The end is ever so worth it though!
Check out the rest of my review and let me know if this is one for you!

Are you into novels told in a non-linear way or with multiple narrators? And what is your favourite utopian/dystopian novel?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #5: 'Girl at War' by Sara Nović

We've had Christmas, been there, done that, and I'm currently finding myself at an airport. Now the countdown can start for New Year's Eve which means this list is coming to an end. We're officially come halfway, having covered YA, fantasy and sci-fi. I've got some absolutely amazing books for you in the top 5 though. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

I read Girl at War for Little, Brown in May this year and was just blown away by it. Nović's writing is amazing and I was happy to see historical events such as the Yugoslav War getting the literary attention they deserve. I gave it 5 Universes and I have recommended it to a lot of people since.

Pub. Date: 21/05/2015
Publisher: Little, Brown

Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. 
The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana's life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.
Girl At War is a haunting, compelling debut from a brilliant young writer, rooted in historical fact and personal experience. Sara has lived in the States and Croatia, and her novel bears witness to the haunting stories of her family and friends who lived through the height of the conflict, and reflects her own attempts to come to terms with her relationship to Croatia and its history. It is an extraordinary achievement for a novelist of any age, let alone age 26.
From my review:
Sara Nović's novel is an absolutely enthralling read. Nović writes on relentlessly, no matter what she is discussing and how it might make her readers feel. It is incredibly important to have novels like Girl at War that tackle periods of history that aren't often discussed and do so in an open and honest way. Ana is a really interesting character, both an unreliable narrator and incredibly emphatic. The narrative doesn't move chronologically, meaning that the reader, at times, feels equally disjointed as Ana. Nović also doesn't shy away from not always giving an answer to the questions that she asks. How does one move on from spending their childhood seeing their country torn apart? How does moving away change your feelings about your home country? Having a child be her main character, Nović is able to both give the novel the sense of potential redemption while also having it be strangely depressing.
For the fact that this is a debut novel, Nović has an incredibly strong writing style which really gives her a voice throughout the novel. She manages to find a way to fluidly move between time periods and from horrendous war crimes to family memories. Nović tells Ana's tale in a way that is almost understated without censoring herself. She doesn't employ overly sentimental language in order to draw the reader in but rather lets the gravity of her story do that which makes it a very mature novel. Girl at War is not only a novel about war, but also about a girl. Ana is not only a survivor, but also a sister, daughter and friend. Nović doesn't let war consume her novel, which means that throughout her novel there is a ray of hope that not only Ana will be fine, but that her whole country will be.
Doesn't that sound good? Drop by my review for the rest and see if this is one for you!

Have you ever read a book about the Yugoslav War? And do you like reading historical fiction?

Friday, 25 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #6: 'The Walls Around Us' by Nova Ren Suma

First things first: Merry Christmas everybody! I hope you all have wonderful Christmas days with loads of food and presents! Now, let's get back to the listing! For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #6 is: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma!

This book and Suma completely changed  my mind about what YA fiction can do or be. It was told in such an interesting, non-linear way, the story itself was simple yet incredibly intense and the characterisation was amazingly detailed. I pretty much raced through this book and gave it 5 Universes!

The Walls Around Us
 Pub. Date: 25/03/2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.
We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.
Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.
Here are some of my thoughts on it:
What made The Walls Around Us different from other novels about girls that I have read lately is the unmitigated way in which Suma allows the violence, beauty and cruelty of life as a young girl. There were descriptions in this book, moments, phrases, words, which absolutely took my breath away. Sometimes a book comes at a time that is exactly right and it hits close to home. Here's a little preview. Please remember this is an ARC and the finished book may therefore be different:
'Some of us had been running all our lives. We ran because we could and because we couldn't not. We ran for our lives. We still thought they were worth running for. p.7 

Although in experience I am incredibly far removed from the girls in The Walls Around Us, there are experiences shared between all girls that are defining moments and Suma managed to capture those in language in a way that is utterly beautiful. I had to occasionally pause during my reading because I wanted to take in and savour a twist in the plot or a turn of phrase and this all made for an amazing reading experience.
The Walls Around Us is a strange mix of genres and themes that somehow come together and work. It feels like a psychological thriller and like a revenge movie, it's a story about young girls and a story about violent murderers, and it's about love and about treason. There is a lot of emotion in this novel and yet it is incredibly tight. Each chapter and each page is crucial to the development of the plot and the feelings worked into the story are important to the development of the book. Similarly, though a lot of the book is set "inside" of the characters, there is none of that inane, sentimental first-person narration that is typical for a lot of YA fiction. Each of the characters is absolutely fascinating in her own way and the way that Suma manages to bring each of their narratives together is really interesting.
If it sounds like something you'd enjoy drop by my review and then get your own copy!

So, what do you think of The Walls Around Us? And has it ever happened to you that you completely changed your mind about a genre because of one book?

Merry Christmas: A Universe of Christmas Quotes

It is Christmas, those few days in which we all either surround ourselves with or think of family, good and festive cheer! Christmas has been a major part of many literary classics, who can forget A Christmas Carol? And nothing feels more like Christmas than Little Women (movie and book, for once)! So below I've collected a few Christmas quotes, some fun, some beautiful, and I hope you enjoy them!

I wish you all a very merry Christmas and that you get loads of books for next year!

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” 
Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box 

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

"One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly." 
Andy Rooney
“Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart...filled it, too, with melody that would last forever.” 
Bess Streeter Aldrich, Song of Years

“Of course, my Christmas is (so much more) gorgeous and romantic (than Germany's)!! And unlike the rest of the world, we leave wine behind for Santa Claus!"

"So Santa-san is delivering gifts to children while driving under the influence . . . ?”
Hidekaz Himaruya, Hetalia: Axis Powers, Vol.2

“Pray, dear madam, another glass; it is Christmas time, it will do you no harm.”
William Makepeace Thackeray, The Kickleburrys on the Rhine

“Fine old Christmas, with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and color with all the heightening contrast of frost and snow.”

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

"Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more...."
Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I wish you all the best of Christmases!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #7: 'The Gracekeepers' by Kirsty Logan

I'm counting down my top 10 favourite books of 2015 and it'll probably be a surprise to me as well what finds itself at number 1 by the end of the year. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months!  I've had a variety of genres so far, but this'll be the first proper Fantasy entry to the list.

My #7 is: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

I knew I wanted to read this book from the moment I read the blurb. Then it was all about praying that I'd be approved on Netgalley and then in June this year I finally got my shot and just absolutely fell in love. Logan's word in The Gracekeepers is a fascinating one and her characters are so rich and complex. The only flaw of this novel was that it ended so soon. Also, that cover... to die for.

Pub. Date: 23/04/2015
Publisher: Random House UK/ Harvill Secker

The magical story of a floating circus and two young women in search of a home. 
The sea has flooded the earth. North lives on a circus boat, floating between the scattered islands that remain. She dances with her beloved bear, while the rest of the crew trade dazzling and death-defying feats for food from the islanders. However, North has a secret that could capsize her life with the circus.
Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, with only the birds and the fish for company. As penance for a terrible mistake, she works as a gracekeeper, tending the graves of those who die at sea. What drove her from home is also what pulls her towards North.
When a storm creates a chance meeting between the two girls, their worlds change. They are magnetically drawn to one another, and the promise of a new life. But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them.
From my review:

The Gracekeepers feels like a fairy tale, which is a major compliment, considering my passion for fairy tales, myths and legends. This category of literature exists through the sharing of strong story elements and through the passing down of these elements to the next generation of story-tellers. In a different blurb for this novel, it is said that Logan was inspired by Scottish myths and legends such as The Isle of Pabaidh and The Dracae. As mentioned above, the world building in this novel is interesting and that is definitely down to Logan's willingness to be inspired by myths. You see, in mythology and legend the world is recognizable. It is farmers farming, hills rolling and kings ruling.What is extraordinary are the people: it is them who make these stories fascinating and move the plot forward. They surprise you by being secretly magic or by being smarter than you expected.  The Gracekeepers seems to work along similar lines. The characters populating Logan's world are incredibly interesting and their actions make her world come alive. It is Callanish's respect for her role and its traditions that makes it interesting and makes it feel real, It is a sign of great characterization, but it also means that Logan's whole world is slightly clouded. The outlines are visible but not a lot is clear.
One of the things I loved about this story was that it centred around two female characters. Often, if a narrative is shared between two characters, it tends to be a man and a woman, or two men. Callanish and North have two very different stories that yet intertwine and together they cover a lot of different female roles. One of my literary pet peeves are characters restricted to a single role, to being "just a father", "just a mother" or "just the gay best friend". People are always different things to different people. To some North is a colleague , to others a friend and to a few a nuisance. She was someone's daughter, she will be someone's lover and someone's mother. The same goes for Callanish. They are strong female characters. Not stereotypical ones who wield guns, who get into fights and who always speak up. Callanish and North work with the hands they have been dealt by life and don't complain. They work hard and take responsibility for their actions. They make choices and stick with them and in the end, they are simply trying to survive in their world. Callanish and North are surrounded by a cast of incredibly interesting side-characters, some of which are granted their own chapters as well. The variety of characters and the subtle character development is what makes The Gracekeepers captivating. These characters all have a twist to them, especially those of the circus.
If you like the sound of it, read the rest of my review and then get your own copy!

Does The Gracekeepers sound like your kind of book? How do you feel about world-building?

Les Misérables Read-Through #14: III.viii.21 - IV.ii.2

'Tis the merry week of Christmas and hence I haven't had the amount of free time I could've wished for. Hence I'm only covering 10 chapters this week, rather than the 20 I've started doing. I'm more than halfway through Les Misérables now and I'm starting to realize that not only am I reading an intriguing story, I'm also earning about the history of France. There's a lot to be said for a book that can give you both of those, considering there are plenty of books that give you neither!

Plot Summary:
The first two chapters covered the play-out of what happened last week. Javert storm into Thenardier's little get-together to blackmail Jean Valjean and tries to arrest everyone. Before he can get to identifying Valjean, however, that athlete has already taken a jump out of the window. Marius witnesses all of this through a hole in the wall and, despite being the one who alerted the police to the crime occuring at his neighbour's, moves out the next day.

Hugo then goes on one of his lovely digressions. This might be one of my favourite ones although I found it incredibly hard to read. I will have to read it again but in it Hugo describes the mood of the July Revolution, what happened after and the difficulties of being socialist. Then we return to the Friends of ABC for a while before seeing Marius suffer from a broken heart. The second book is called 'Eponine' and I am really looking forward to learning more about her.

Feel of the Chapters:
Whenever Hugo starts on a digression the mood of the novel generally tends to get really dense. He crams so much information and conviction into a small portion of text (relatively to the book) that it's almost overwhelming. I definitely felt overwhelmed at times during these chapters, few as they were, because some of Hugo's sentences of socialism stretched across half a page. The conviction that the chapters are suffused with, though, is absolutely beautiful. It bring something to the book that makes it stand out from other classics. Hugo is such a passionate author that you can't help but feel for his characters and their state, as long as he does.

General Thoughts:
  • I'm worried about myself loving Eponine a little too much. I've hardly seen her but I already feel bad for her and considering what I know already will happen, Hugo's actual narrative will only make it ten times worse.
  • Javert has been a very active/passive character so far, by which I mean that on the one hand he's crucial to driving the plot, i.e. Valjean, forward, but on the other hand he does nothing.
  • Hugo's prose is astounding at times. I'm not quite sure basic grammar or scribal decency apply to this man. He doesn't care that you're breath might run out, he will continue this thought and sentence until he can be asked to finish it.
  • I am wondering why it seems that Hugo's male characters tend to torture themselves while it is his female characters who suffer the most from outside influences. It's an interesting dynamic I can't quite justify or explain yet.
Something Interesting:
Bourbon Coat of Arms
This week I'll be introducing you to the Bourbon Restoration. A Restoration is a historical period in which a king is reinstituted to a throne previously emptied, usually by a revolution. In the case of the French, the family of the Bourbons took to the French throne for 16 years between the fall of Napoleon in 1814 and the July Revolution in 1830. The Bourbons didn't really manage to make an impact, unfortunately, but they form an interesting part of France's history. And Hugo wasn't actually completely negative about them.

During their short reign they had to cope with the '100 Days', which is the name for Napoleon's sudden return from his banishment on Elba and his march to Paris. This, of course, concluded in the Battle of Waterloo, which Hugo also dedicated a significant digression to.

There's three quotes for you today!
'Revolutions spring not from an accident, but from necessity. A revolution is a return from the fictitious to the real. It is because it mut be that it is.' p.1421
I love this quote because I whole-heartedly believe that revolutions do indeed spring from necessity. Look at the Arab Spring, it was highly necessary for those countries to start to free themselves from their own oppressors.
'And the world will allow to die and fall al that is merely selfishness, all that does not represent for the human race either a virtue or an idea.' p.1426
Well isn't this just beautiful? Although I don't believe in karma, per se, I do believe that the world finds a way of punishing that which is pointless and that's either by letting it disappear or by making it infamous.
'They were savages, yes; but the savages of civilization.' p.1445
I would love to be a civilized savage, fighting for that which is high and cultural. This is what Hugo does to me!

Have you heard of the Bourbons before?

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Review: 'Station Eleven' by Emily St. John Mandel

Station ElevenHas it ever happened to you that you read a book, love it, talk about it and then forget to review it? Yeah, same. That happened with Station Eleven and I'm beyond embarrassed since I was actually there when it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Fiction novel! But now that I've realized my tremendous error I am here to fix it! Thanks to Pan MacMillan and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/09/2014
Publisher: Pan MacMillan, Picador
Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
As I said above, I actually loved this book and hence it's ridiculous that I managed to forget to write a review for it. Perhaps one of the reasons was the enormous buzz that Mandel's book created for a while. You could see Station Eleven everywhere and seemingly everyone either had read it or was in the process of doing so. Hyped books are always at danger of being either made out to be better than they are (everyone is looking at you, Fifty Shades and Twilight) or getting ignored by many. When a book becomes too much of a hype people start not reading it simply for that very fact that it's already all around them. I was almost in the latter camp until a friend of mine convinced me to just give it a try. The fact that Shakespeare is in there as well is only a massive bonus, since who doesn't love Shakespeare?

Post-apocalyptic books are always a difficult one for me because frequently the author demands a major leap of faith from the reader, promising that this will all make sense at the end of the book, and then simply doesn't deliver at the end. Word-building, which is such a key aspect of anything dystopian, apocalyptic of Fantastical, also becomes an issue when it's simply lacking or not developed enough. Station Eleven is set in a world where almost 99% of the whole world population has been eradicated by a virus, which created an isolation no one nowadays can really imagine. Mandel did really well in presenting her version of the world in a realistic way, making it so much more easy for her readers to sink into her story and not be constantly disturbed by errors. Mandel's writing style in and of itself is a joy, working really well in describing her characters and their surroundings, as well as keeping all the story threads together.

As frequent readers may know, novels which are told in a non-linear way or have interesting structures are a favourite of mine. When done well, this type of story telling is incredibly rewarding because it requires much more interaction and dedication from the reader to stay alert and involved. For Station Eleven it really worked as well. It means you don't just get a single perspective on this world and how it became what it is, but rather a whole range of different points of view which make for a much richer picture. The only let down is that at times the balance between Arthur Leander's story and that of the troop of actors post-virus is off, with most of the interest definitely lying with the latter and the former hence being a distraction. But this in no way affects the overall enjoyment of the book.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Station Eleven is the book that changed my mind, and many others, about the post-apocalyptic genre. Mandel offers something new and interesting and does it masterly. I'd recommend this to fans of post-apocalyptic and non-linear novels. It may not be for everyone but it's a rewarding book!

My Favourite Books of 2015 #8: 'The Book of Gold Leaves' by Mirza Waheed

We've been going strong in this countdown of my favourite books of 2015. For this list I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months!  In the last two days I've covered Dark Disciple and The Undergroud Girls of Kabul and I'm taking you into new territory today with a historical fiction book.

My #8 is The Book of Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed!

The blurb of this book grabbed my attention right away along with its stunning cover. There was just something about it that made me want to read it and I lost myself in Waheed's amazing prose style. I eventually gave it 4 Universes because the plot develops rather slowly, but it was actually something I really enjoyed. I also love learning about new cultures and The Book of Gold Leaves really made me feel like I got a taste of Kashmir.

Pub. Date: 30/10/2014
Publisher: Penguin Books
Mirza Waheed's extraordinary new novel The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking love story set in war-torn Kashmir. In an ancient house in the city of Srinagar, Faiz paints exquisite Papier Mache pencil boxes for tourists. Evening is beginning to slip into night when he sets off for the shrine. There he finds the woman with the long black hair. Roohi is prostrate before her God. She begs for the boy of her dreams to come and take her away. Roohi wants a love story. An age-old tale of love, war, temptation, duty and choice, The Book of Gold Leaves is a heartbreaking tale of a what might have been, what could have been, if only. ' 
I loved it. The voice is lyrical, to match the beauty of Kashmir, and yet it is tinged with melancholy and grief, as is the story it tells' - Nadeem Aslam (on The Collaborator) 
'Waheed's prose burns with the fever of anger and despair; the scenes in the valley are exceptional, conveying, a hallucinatory living nightmare that has become an everyday reality for Kashmiris.' - Metro (on The Collaborator) 
Here are some of my thoughts from my review:
Waheed's novel is one that is infused with sentimentality, in a good way. Each page holds a beautiful description of flowers, smells, little streets, whispers exchanged by lovers in the dark, etc. As such, The Book of Gold Leaves really takes the reader on a visual and emotional journey. This is largely done through the perspective of Waheed's two main characters, Faiz and Roohi. Their love story is the heart of the novel and very much keeps it going the way a heart keeps a body going. It is at the centre of the narrative and at the same time is key to holding the novel together. The hope, love and despair that surrounds these two characters is developed beautifully by Waheed and his description of Kashmir and the surrounding areas only adds to making them and their story come to live.
There are a number of shifts within The Book of Gold Leaves which happen on different levels. On the one hand there is a constant shift between narrators between the different chapters, but on the other hand there is a continuing shift in atmosphere and tone. The decision to shift between narrators is always a tricky one since it can very easily go wrong. Not every character is equally interesting to readers and a narrative can easily run out of steam if the wrong character is narrating a crucial scene. In The Book of Gold Leaves, none of this happened. All scenes were narrated by the right people, making sure that each narrator added something unique and definitive to their narration. It's a similar story with the shifts in atmosphere which occur throughout the novel. As Kashmir becomes more dangerous there is a sense of nostalgia to the simpler, earlier parts of the novel. As the characters find themselves in danger, the mood of the novel becomes darker. It must be a conscious choice on the side of the author, but the reader will find himself only recognizing the shift later on which makes for a very interesting reading experience.
Check out the rest of my review of The Book of Gold Leaves tickles your fancy! Then run to your nearest bookstore to get it for yourself ;)

Is historical fiction a genre you enjoy? And have you read books set in India/Kashmir?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Teasers on Tuesday - 'Cat's Cradle' by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle
I haven't done this meme in so long because work has me freaking out every day or so, but I've missed it a lot. So I simply decided to let work be for an afternoon and get back to bog hopping! I absolutely love Vonnegut's writing style so I decided one of his classics would be a great way to get back into Tuesdays.

I haven't actually read Cat's Cradle yet either, so the teasers definitely helped to get me excited for it as well!
Cat's Cradle, one of Vonnegut's most entertaining novels, is filled with scientists and G-men and even ordinary folks caught up in the game. These assorted characters chase each other around in search of the world's most important and dangerous substance, a new form of ice that freezes at room temperature. At one time, this novel could probably be found on the bookshelf of every college kid in America; it's still a fabulous read and a great place to start if you're young enough to have missed the first Vonnegut craze. 

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

'Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. The called me John.
Jonah - John - if I had been a Sam, I would have been a Jonah still, not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyance and motives both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.' p.1
I love how Vonnegut both refers to the opening of Moby Dick as well as pulling in the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. There is a lot of whale-symbolism here which I'm wondering is just a little joke or if it's going to be a theme throughout.

'I became so absorbed in Phillip Castle's book that I didn't even look up from it when we put down for ten minutes in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I didn't even loop up when somebody behind me whispered, thrilled, that a midget had come aboard.' p.60

Well this is something very recognizable to anyone who loves reading. Especially during travelling I genuinely get completely and utterly sucked in. And then I absolutely love the sort of absurdness that Vonnegut brings to the moment!

So, have you read any Vonnegut? Did you enjoy it? Leave a link to your Teaser post in the comments :)

My Favourite Books of 2015 #9: 'The Underground Girls of Kabul' by Jenny Nordberg

I'm counting down the days to New Year's by counting down by favourite books that I read this year. I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! 

My #9 is: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance by Jenny Nordberg.

I saw this book floating around the blogosphere for a while, always praised, until I decided in May to pick it up myself. I was so incredibly glad I did because it was a book that fundamentally changed my perceptions of Afganistani culture. I've always refused to make generalisations about how other cultures function so being given such an insight into Afghanistan was amazing. Nordberg is a great non-fiction writer and I gave this 5 Universes.

Pub. Date: 16/09/2014
Publisher: Crown Publishing
An investigative journalist uncovers a hidden custom that will transform your understanding of what it means to grow up as a girl
In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh(literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. 
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. 
At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
This book could not be to everyone's taste, but it's such a worthwhile read. This is from my review:
The organisation and structure of the novel is very good. Nordberg moves from childhood to teenagers to adulthood which means that the progression of the novel is very natural. As Nordberg moves through her discoveries and findings, so the stories of her "characters" develops. As a reader, you meet young girls at the beginning of the book who are being raised as boys. This seems as an initially quite innocent start, but as Nordberg adds more complexity to her narrative the reader really comes to understand the implications and the consequences of this tradition. Nordberg also links it to different traditions in other countries, showing that rather than 'girls being dressed as boys' being an Afghan custom it is a sign of the patriarchy.
Gender identity is a topic very much in discussion right now. People are beginning to acknowledge that physical birth sex may not necessarily be the gender people identify as. On the other hand, there is also the growing awareness that gender is performative. This idea was first mentioned by Judith Butler in 1990, arguing that what defines us as 'male' and 'female' is actually just agreed upon behaviour. Humans who wear dresses and speak with a higher voice are women, whereas humans who play sports and speak with a lower voice are men. Once people start crossing these boundaries, the very existence of these boundaries has to be questioned as well. At times Nordberg loses herself a bit over the fact that the term bacha posh, which literally means 'dressed as a boy' in the Dari languages, means different things for different people. There are no absolutes in this discussion, and, as Nordberg herself rightly argues, as long as sexuality, gender and sex aren't free choices there won't be clarity on the subject either.
If you're intrigued check out the rest of my review and then get it yourself!

Do you enjoy reading non-fiction? And do you like reading about different cultures?

Monday, 21 December 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015 #10: 'Dark Disciple' by Christie Golden

It's only 10 more days until this year officially ends and if that isn't a shocking thought I don't know what is. There is so much I'm supposed to do till then but instead I'm going to think about what my favourite books were this year! It's been a year full of amazing fiction and non-fiction and, especially for me, some amazing female-written or female-centred books. So you'll be seeing a lot of that in the next ten days!

I'm not restricting myself to books that came out this year, although many of the ones featured on this list will probably have. Rather, I'm hoping that by the 31st I've been able to show you what has happened in my life, book-wise, the last twelve months! I'm looking at my favourites rather than the best because sometimes you love a book while knowing it's not going to win any prizes anytime soon. So they're ranked according to which one I feel has influenced and given me most. Each choice will also be accompanied by an honourable mention because picking just 10 books out of the ones I've read is ridiculously hard

So, without any further ado, let's get on to Book #10!

My #10 is Dark Disciple by Christie Golden! Yes, I decided to start our nerdy, but I can't help it. How could I not put this one on the list if as a massive Star Wars fangirl from birth, Golden drops a book into my lap that makes me cry during a family vacation? Exactly! I gave this 4 Universes in August because I know it's quite a niche book, but I still recommend it to everyone who loved The Clone Wars!

Pub. Date: 07/07/2015
Publisher: Random House, Del Rey

Based on unproduced episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, this new novel features Asajj Ventress, former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter and one of the great antiheroines in Star Wars history. 
The only way to bring down the Sith's most dangerous warrior may be to join forces with the dark side.
In the war for control of the galaxy between the armies of the dark side and the Republic, former Jedi Master turned ruthless Sith Lord Count Dooku has grown ever more brutal in his tactics. Despite the powers of the Jedi and the military prowess of their clone army, the sheer number of fatalities is taking a terrible toll. And when Dooku orders the massacre of a flotilla of helpless refugees, the Jedi Council feels it has no choice but to take drastic action: targeting the man responsible for so many war atrocities, Count Dooku himself.
But the ever-elusive Dooku is dangerous prey for even the most skilled hunter. So the Council makes the bold decision to bring both sides of the Force's power to bear—pairing brash Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos with infamous one-time Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress. Though Jedi distrust for the cunning killer who once served at Dooku's side still runs deep, Ventress's hatred for her former master runs deeper. She's more than willing to lend her copious talents as a bounty hunter—and assassin—to Vos's quest.
Together, Ventress and Vos are the best hope for eliminating Dooku—as long as the emerging feelings between them don't compromise their mission. But Ventress is determined to have her retribution and at last let go of her dark Sith past. Balancing the complicated emotions she feels for Vos with the fury of her warrior's spirit, she resolves to claim victory on all fronts—a vow that will be mercilessly tested by her deadly enemy . . . and her own doubt.
Not even equally enjoyed this book but I absolutely loved it. From my review:
Dark Disciple made me cry. Not a lot of novels manage to actually get to me in that way but as I neared the final few chapters and pages I was hit by sudden emotion. Christie Golden really got into the story of the novel which can't have been easy considering the characters aren't hers and the story line was already roughly sketched out. Golden develops the tensions between the characters very well, continuing what is set up in The Clone Wars but also adding something new to it. The focus of the novel is split between a number of characters but mainly focuses on Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress. As their stories intertwine and separate again and again the reader gets a real understanding of their motives and feelings. Asajj is, however, the shining star of this novel. She is at the very centre of the story and although Quinlan Vos is a very interesting character, Asajj carries the novel from beginning to end.
Asajj Ventress is one of my favourite characters in all of Star Wars. She is a strong female character that is more than just physically strong. The problem with the "strong female character" trope is that these are too often women that can punch and be punched, but who are still incredibly emotionally dependent on the mainly male characters around her. The beauty of Asajj Ventress' story lines throughout TCW and Dark Disciple is that emotional independence and co-dependence is  always a major theme. Her whole relationship with Dooku is based on her seeking his approval and then lashing out when she doesn't get it, whereas her link to her origins, the Nightsisters, is one of strength. Asajj's story is one of growing emotionally, discovering your own worth for yourself and being vulnerable without being "weak". She is an inspirational character and I believe that Dark Disciple continues her story perfectly and is, hence, worthy of her.
Check out the rest of my review if you're intrigued!

Do you like reading novels based on your favourite TV shows or films? And had you heard if Dark Disciple already?