Friday, 26 February 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #20: V.iii.3 - V.iv.1

So, this post was scheduled to automatically post itself yesterday and that never happened so here it is today! This post is about 10 chapters, rather than the usual twenty because it was an extremely busy week here at Uni! But I simply couldn't not share what happened in these chapters. We've also inched into the last 10% of the book which means it's definitely almost over. And in this week's section there are a number of storylines which are finished up so I wonder what else will happen in the next few chapters.

Chapter Summary:
We finished last week with Jean Valjean and Marius stuck in the sewers of Paris, with the latter unconscious from being shot at the barricade. It should come as no surprise that the sewers were disgusting and that Hugo feels no shame in sharing the complete extent of that with the reader. It becomes something of a final test for Valjean, who is carrying a man he doesn't even really like back to safety, just for Cosette. But of course it's not that simple. Thenardier is being followed by Javert, who was saved by Valjean earlier on, and hides in the sewers, tricking Valjean into going outside where Javert is waiting for him.

Javert and Valjean have something of a stare-down before Javert allows Valjean to bring Marius home to his grandfather. He then allows Valjean a visit to his own house as well and mysteriously leaves him there, walking away from his prisoner. Hugo then flits back to Marius at his grandfather's house who has an emotional awakening towards his grandson when he sees him so close to death. But the real emotional depth falls at the end of this section, which is Javert's suicide. Torn between wanting to arrest Valjean and wanting to honour the fact Valjean saved his life, his view of the world basically breaks down. It's extremely sad.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a real darkness to the chapters set in the sewers, not only because the sewers themselves are dark but also because being stuck in such a small place forms a real challenge for Valjean. He is questioning his strength, his willingness to save Marius, etc. Hugo doesn't share all of this but he makes it clear. The chapter about Marius' grandfather is lovely in how much he changes his behaviour. He is the kind of character that's always been a little bit sketchy but is now actually revealed to have an incredibly emotional core. And then there is Javert, to whom Hugo dedicates a very long chapter. His mind is absolutely torn because his whole world-view turns out to no longer be accurate. It's something that I think most people can recognize and Hugo manages to write it in such a way it hits the reader.

General Thoughts:

  • The portrayal of Javert's mindset is absolutely amazing and was exactly what I was hoping for after seeing the musical! He is so torn between doing what's right and what's right and that's not a typo. He knows what is right legally, but he also knows what is right emotionally and morally. It's beautiful!
  • Marius is largely unconscious for most of this section so you don't really know how he feels post-barricade. Hopefully we'll find out more about him in the next few chapters.
  • I wonder what's going to happen to the Thenardiers! I mean, do they even know that two of their children died at the barricade and that another two are currently wandering around Paris cold and hungry? They are like an example of Bad Parenting 101!
  • The cast of characters has significantly shrunk now, so much so that at a certain point Hugo asked us to remember a character he wrote about in Vol. 1! It took me about a page and a half to actually remember him, but hopefully these last few chapters will focus on potentially creating happy endings for some of the characters!
'They were both caught in the immense and gloomy web of death, and Jean Valjean felt the terrible spider running along those black strands and quivering in the shadows.' p.2184
This is how Hugo was describing Valjean's time in the sewers. As you can see it was quite a dark time in his life and the description of the spider didn't help. It's a great image but it's also slightly terrifying and I had to fight off shivers after reading it!
'He beheld before him two paths, both equally straight, but he beheld two; and that terrified him; him, who had never in all his life known more than one straight line.' p.2217
I think we all know that feeling when you feel like you could always be sure of this one thing, but then it turns out that is actually not true and that there's multiple options, each of which is equally dreadful. Poor Javert!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review: 'Speak' by Louisa Hall

Robots are the kind of topic that can either start or end conversations. They are also the highlights of most sci-fi films. But there is something uncanny about them and as such they remain interesting. When I first read the blurb of Speak was immediately drawn to the idea of the novel and I'm very happy I gave it a try. Thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 25/02/2016
Publisher: Little, Brown

She cannot run. She cannot walk. She cannot even blink. As her batteries run down for the final time, all she can do is speak. Will you listen?
From Alan Turing's conviction in the 1950s to a Silicon Valley Wunderkind imprisoned in 2040 for creating illegally lifelike dolls, from a pilgrim girl writing her diary to a traumatised young girl exchanging messages with a software program: all these lives have shaped and changed a single artificial intelligence - MARY3. In Speak, she tells you their story, and her own. It is the last story she will ever tell, spoken both in celebration and in warning.
When machines learn to speak, who decides what it means to be human?
The question what it means to be human is, in my opinion, at the root of most literature. We're always looking as to what it is that makes us human, why we're different from animals, what our consciousness means. Asking questions, of ourselves, others and the world, is a key part of that. As such, with Speak, Louisa Hall picks up on a crucial part of what it is to be human and that is that ability to ask, to question, to talk at all. It requires a brain and above all a desire to speak and to question. And what if a robot has that ability, or at least seems to? Can we decide when consciousness is faked and when it's real? We all learn to speak by repeating what others say until we can give meaning to the words and phrases ourselves, after all, so why could a robot not?

Speak has to try and address all of these questions and issues somehow, which is a massive task. Hall has cleverly split up into seven different narratives. There's Eva, a robot that's considered too lifelike; Mary Bradford, a Puritan girl on her way to America; Alan Turing, the creator of the famous Turing test for consciousness; Ruth and Karl Dettmann, the "parents" of one of the first AI programmes, MARY; Stephen Chin, the creator of the robots like Eva; and Gaby, a girl who's lost without her robot. Each of these voices has somehow been saved by MARY 3, the programme creating artificial intelligence, and are used by Hall to show how concerned humanity is with its voice, its memories and its thoughts. Each of these voices goes through Eva's head and is a part of her consciousness which means that throughout the novel the questions keeps appearing how she is less human than the reader for having access to these people's thoughts and words. Although it's fascinating to read all these different accounts, they don't necessarily connect very well. Especially Turing feels strangely unconnected to the rest with its highly personal tone, but Hall does make all of the narratives into interesting stories.

Hall has a difficult task in Speak. Each of her different characters has a different tone, a different voice, and it's crucial these are different enough since the whole novel relies on these different voices. Hall manages by giving each character a different medium to speak through, whether it's letters, chats or diary entries. It means that each character is clearly differentiated from the others. What is missing, however, is a head narrator, a character that holds it all together. Eva is perhaps the most suited for this position but her part isn't strong enough to carry it off. It means that although the novel asks all the important and interesting questions, it doesn't necessarily provide an answer of even a clue. Partially it is therein that the charm of the book lies, in that it leaves it up to the reader. It's also, however, what prevents it, in my eyes, from being an book that progresses the genre. Although it contributes interesting ideas, there is still some work that needs to be done on them to make it something fascinating and ground-breaking.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I did really enjoy reading Speak and its different narrators kept me engaged throughout. However, there is a sense that they are all unconnected and that there is no master narrative. I'd recommend this to fans of AI-related stories and of unreliable narratives.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Teaser Post and 'The Epic of Gilgamesh'

The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New TranslationI've decided that there is something significantly missing from my readings of mythology, sagas and legend and that is The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is considered by many to be the first great work of literature but also the earliest. The fact it's on my 100 Classics list for The Classics Club really should've made me pick it up sooner!

The earliest surviving version of the "complete" tale (the combination of independent earlier stories) is from the 18th century BC! That is a long time ago and way before the creation of any of the West's most celebrated works of literature. Also interesting, some of the best kept versions of this tale were found in the ruins of the ancient library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal from the 7th century BC. I'm a big fan of ancient libraries and still slightly bitter over the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, despite that being a good few centuries ago.

Now, back to The Epic of Gilgamesh!
Originally the work of an anonymous Babylonian poet, who lived over 3700 years ago, this is the tale of one man's struggle against death. Not content with the immortal renown won by reckless deeds, the hero of the epic seeks immortality itself and journeys to the end of the earth and beyond.

Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and MizB over at A Daily Rhythm! Some editorial notes, any word between square brackets is implied but not actually written down and elipses refer to words that are either too damaged to read or unknown.

(from 'The Standard Version of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: 'He who saw the Deep')
'He who saw the Deep, the country's foundation,  [who] knew ..., was wise in all matters!  [Gilgamesh, who] saw the Deep, the country's foundation, [who] knew..., was wise in all matters! 
[He] ... everywhere ...and [learnt] of everything the sum of wisdom. He saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden, he brought back a tale of before the Deluge.
He came from a far road, was weary, found peace, and set all his labours on a tablet of stone. He built the rampart of Uruk-the-Sheepfold, of holy Eanna, the sacred storehouse.' p.1
I thought I'd share a little bit more than just the first stanza so you got a bit more of a sense of what Gilgamesh is like.  I personally love legendary texts and the grand way in which they speak. It sounds so epic and grand! Also interesting, almost every civilization has a story of a great flood, i.e. the Deluge. I really like the sound of Gilgamesh so far, it's fascinating how engrossing most of it is despite being so old.

'"My friend, fixed [is my destiny,] people go to their doom before their time". At the very first glimmer of brightening dawn, Enkidu lifted his head, lamenting to Shamash.
Under the rays of the sun his tears were flowing: "I appeal to you, Shamash, for my life so precious: [as for] the hunter, the trapper-man, who let me be not as great as my friend:' p.57
Yup, I'm going to enjoy reading Gilgamesh! I mean, the line 'Under the rays of the sun his tears were flowing' is just absolutely beautiful, don't you think? Apparently Enkidu is Gilgamesh's friend and Shamash is the sun deity in the Assyrian pantheon.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Friday Memes and 'The Book of Margery Kempe'

The Book of Margery KempeI thought that today I'd share an upcoming University read with you. As some of you may know, I study Mediaeval English so most of my reads are in Middle English and, if I'm lucky, Old English! To get the difference between the two, Middle English is Chaucer, everything written roughly between the years 1000 and 1500. Old English, my personal favourite, has beauties like Beowulf in its corpus and was spoken and writen between the years 500 and 1000, roughly. Today's book, The Book of Margery Kempe is written in Middle English and I have a week to read it. Wish me luck!
The Book of Margery Kempe is a medieval text attributed to Margery Kempe, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim who lived at the turn of the fifteenth century. It details Kempe's life, her travels, her alleged experiences of divine revelation (including her visions of interacting with Jesus as well as other biblical figures), and her presence at key biblical events such as the Nativity and the Crucifixion.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda from Freda's Voice, respectively! Hop over there to join in on the meme fun!

'Here begynnyth a schort tretys and a comfortabyl for synful wrecchys, wherin thei may have gret solas and comfort to hem and undyrstondyn the hy and unspecabyl mercy of ower sovereyn Savyowr Chryst Jhesu, whos name be worschepd and magnyfyed wythwoten ende, that now in ower days to us unworthy deyneth to exercysen hys nobeley and hys goodnesse. Alle the werkys of ower Saviowr ben for ower exampyl and instruccyon, and what grace that he werkyth in any creatur is ower profyth, yf lak of charyte be not ower hynderawnce.' p.41 (previous 40 are Introduction)
If this is your first introduction to Middle English then I apologize. Key to understanding it if it doesn't make a lot of sense is read it out loud because most of the words simply have a strange spelling but are still used nowadays. This is basically Kempe introducing her work, saying it will give comforting to sinners and show them all of God's work for their instruction. I can just feel that this will be a hoot of a read...

'And anoon, as he had seyd thes wordys, she saw veryly how the eyr openyd as bryght as ony levyn, and he stey up into the eyr, not ryght hastyli and qwykly, but fayr and esly, that sche myght wel beholdyn hym in the eyr til it was closyd ageyn.' p.56
Kempe here describes a wife that has abandoned the "right path" but then Jesus comes to her and calls her back to his side. As he returns to heaven, the 'eyr', her eyes are opened again and become bright once more.

So, do you think you would give The Book of Margery Kempe a try? It's one of the first books we know was written by a woman in the Middle Ages, so I'm quite interested to see how it develops although I can feel I'll struggle with it.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #19: V.i.12 - V.ii.2

Well... this week's section was the one I've been dreading basically since I started reading Les Misérables. Even if you haven't already seen a movie adaptation of a book, quite often you're already slightly aware of some of its more intense moments. So there's an apprehension when you start reading and then finally getting to that moment is both exciting but also a bit sad. I'm now in the final 12% of the book, which still covers about 300 pages! I can't believe I'm so close to finishing another read for my The Classics Club 100 Classics list!

Chapter Summary:
So... everyone's dead. That is really the only way to put it really. Last week I left you with the barricade gearing up to stopping the next attack. To sketch the scene, Jean Valjean and Marius had independently joined the Friends of the ABC at the barricade. Javert had tried to sneak in as well but was found out and is being kept for execution at the last moment. Last week Eponine died, saving Marius in the process, and this week's first victim was Gavroche. It was really sad and from then on the novel becomes quite sad and dejected in tone. The revolutionaries, and especially Enjolras, are very aware of the fact that they will not survive this revolt and it makes every small victory incredibly bittersweet. Jean Valjean claims the honour of executing Javert, but then lets him go when no one is looking. No one is more surprised at that than Javert himself.

And then the new attack is launched and it is officially over. Despite resisting, the barricade is overrun, loads of people die and Marius is wounded. Jean Valjean grabs Marius just in time and disappears with him. Enjolras and the few surviving revolutionaries stage a final stand in the pub but it's all for naught. Just before Enjolras is shot, Grantaire wakes up from his drunk stupor and joins him in a noble death. And then, for some reason, there is a massive digression about the human waste Paris creates and how its clogging up the sewers. It was rather strange, but to a certain extent interesting because that's exactly where Valjean ends up carrying Marius to in an attempt to escape.

Feel of the Chapters:
I guess it should come as no surprise that the mood throughout these chapters is rather grim. Even Hugo seems to not be sure how to actually write about what is going to happen. At times he lingers on descriptions of action and then he very quickly reveals the human cost of those moments by listing the dead. Hugo clearly loves the revolutionaries, even if he has doomed them and doesn't agree with everything he makes them do, and it bleeds through into the narrative that he doesn't want it to end.

There is something very hectic about the final few moments of the barricade, in that the action feels both scattered and chaotic. It might not be to everyone's tastes but it does really put the reader into the situation of his characters. You're never quite sure of what'll happen next and after those long breaks of waiting and moralising there are intense bursts of action, followed by more waiting. But it works.

General Thoughts:
  • The huge digression on manure is probably the strangest digression in the whole book so far. It just feels strangely out of place. On the one hand you can imagine that after the intensity of the end of the barricade he felt the need to distract himself and his reader, but it's still a bit odd.
  • Gavroche became quite a favourite of mine in these last two weeks. He's just such a representation of freedom but also such a hopeless character. There's no way that his story wouldn't end tragically, but it's still so sad.
  • It seems to be quite a big topic for Hugo when revolutions are justified and when they're not, when the good become bad and how the people and government interact. He keeps returning to it throughout the book and although he has ideas about it I'm not quite sure he's come to a final answer even though he tries hard to convince his readership.
  • Now that this major part of the action is over I wonder if Hugo will be able to sustain the tension for the rest of the novel. Of course there is still the storyline between Marius and Cosette and the tension between Jean Valjean and Javert will still need to be resolved, but is that as exciting as what has just gone down?
Something Extra:
As Hugo started describing the end of the barricade he kept making references to The Battle of Thermopylae. Many of you may already know of this battle because of the (in-)famous Gerard Butler film 300. The Battle of Thermopylae happened in 480 BC and was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, famously led by the Spartan Leonidas, and the army of Xerxes I. Although the film went out of its way to convince the audience that the Greeks were all Spartans and only 300, they numbered about 700o of varied city-states. Ancient sources said that Xerxes' army numbered a million, but it was probably more like 100,000 to 150,000.  They held the Persians off for 7 days due to the perfectly chosen location. At the end, a force led by Leonidas managed to block the only possible road for the Persians for two full days of fighting until they were betrayed.

'Now, no sword is simple. Every blade has two edges; he who wounds with the one is wounded with the other.' p.2080
I loved this line because it's so true. The way it's set in the book Hugo is describing how even the good can turn bad when they reach for weapons and violence.
'The grandeur and beauty of France lies in this, that she takes less from the stomach than other nations: she more easily knots the rope about her loins. She is the first awake, the last asleep. She marches forwards. She is a seeker. This arises from the fact that she is an artist.' p.2084
Although Americans seem to feel they own the copyright on patriotism, it often feels to me that no one is as in love with their country as the French.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Review: 'The Same Sky' by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same SkyAs the Syrian refugee crisis gets worse and worse, the question of how to "deal" with refugees, who they are and why they want to come to the West, The Same Sky hit me as an incredibly topical book. I was excited to start it and Ward captured me right away. Thanks to Blackfriars for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 04/02/2016
Publisher: Blackfriars

In this heart-rending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.
Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.
Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy
I somehow have managed to attract a number of reads which have fascinating narrative structures. In The Same Sky Ward combines the stories of Alice, a Texan middle-aged woman, and Carla, a Honduran thirteen-year old girl. Rather than divide the book into chapters, it is simply split into short narrative bursts, Carla and Alice alternating as the main character. Ward makes this shift seem almost effortless despite the major differences between her characters' lives and identities, but this ease is deceiving. Not until halfway through the novel did I realise that one of the voices was "present" whereas the other was "past". I'm being purposefully vague because it's part of the wonder of the book to figure out where the characters are. But as often what isn't being said is as important as what is spelt out.

Motherhood is a major theme in this novel, both the absence of it and active desire for it. Alice is desperate to be a mother, having tried often and failed. Almost every girl will, in her life, be both a daughter and a mother. It feels like a natural progression, to go from one to the other, and much of society expects women to take their life in that direction. The fallout of not "full-filling" that expectation is very difficult and Ward captures it very well in both Alice and how the people around her act. For Carla the question about motherhood is almost opposite. Desperate for her mother to be near, she puts herself in incredibly danger while taking on a motherly role towards her brother Junior. The importance of parenting and nurturing really comes out in this book and in a way also reflects upon the countries that receive refugees. Shouldn't those countries who are better off open their arms to those in need?

As I hinted at above, Ward's writing is deceivingly clever while remaining straightforward. Especially Clara's story is told relatively simply while incredibly eloquent. Her struggles as a refugee, trying to cross into America, are hard enough without requiring embellishing. Even Clara, at times, seems to shy away from accepting the full experience while unflinchingly sharing it with us. Next to the two main characters Ward creates a variety of fascinating side characters, each of which seems taken straight from life. Whether it's Colorado, Texas, Mexico or Honduras, Ward sketches believable portraits of these places and transports the reader into a world that is completely opposite to their own.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I absolutely loved reading The Same Sky! Ward introduces the reader to two amazing characters, each of which will keep the reader gripped until the end. The way she unites the two diverging narratives is also beautiful. I'd recommend this to fans of General Fiction and Women's Fiction.

Teasers and 'The Same Sky' by Amanda Eyre Ward

The Same SkyThis week I'm sharing a really interesting book with you, which is also a new Blackfriars release! An incredibly topical and relevant book, I've just reviewed it and really enjoyed it, if that's the fitting word for its subject matter.
In this heart-rending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.
Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.
Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy.

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

'My mother left when I was five years old. I have a photo of the two of us, standing in our yard. In the picture, my mother is nineteen and bone-thin. The glass shards on the top of our fence glittr in the afternoon sun and our smiles are the same: lopsided, without fear. Her teeth are white as American sugar. I lean into my mother. My arms reach around her waist. I am wearing a cotton dress, a dress I wore every day until it split along the back seam. When the dress fell apart, my grandmother, Ana, stitched it back together with a needle and thread. Finally, my stomach pushed against the fabric uncomfortably and the garment was just too short. By that time, my mother was in Texas, and for my sixth birthday she sent three new dresses from a store called Old Navy.' p.1
This is the beginning of Carla's story and I like how Ward has managed to capture the simplicity of a child's voice without losing its complexity. Because children see and notice a lot and you don't want to miss that when writing from a child's perspective. I especially liked how she keeps revealing little details so that by the end of the paragraph you have an idea of what the picture looks like but also who the people in it are.


'I took a cup of hot tea outside and curled up in a chair. I remembered sitting on my mother's lap in this same place.' p.48-9
This is from one of Alice's chapters and I picked it because I wanted to show how the 'mothers and daughters' theme runs throughout the book. As I said in my review, most women will be both mothers and daughters in their lives and it's one of the most complex relationships we have in our lives, I think. Ward's book is a beautiful take on it!

Sound like a book you might enjoy? Check out my review if you have the time and let me know what you think!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Review: 'Salt to the Sea' by Ruta Sepetys

Every once in a while I stumble across a book which really gets to me and makes me pause. Although I thought Salt to the Sea might be one of those books I still wasn't expecting the force with which it hit me. Thanks to Penguin Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 04/02/2016
Publisher: Penguin Random House
It's early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories. Fans of The Book Thief or Helen Dunmore's The Siege will be totally absorbed. This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.
One of the most fascinating things about Salt to the Sea is its structure. Sepetys follows a group of refugees trekking across Germany and from that group chooses her six main characters and her four narrators. These four are Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish girl; Florian, a Prussian youngster; and Alfred, a young Nazi sailor. Each of these has a voice and a story which Sepetys brings to the reader. But rather than dedicate separate chapters to each of them, Sepetys lets their different voices take over almost randomly. When they're all in a room together the narration will switch between them, depending on where the narrative emphasis lies at that moment. It may sound like it could be confusing, but it actually makes the narrative incredibly deep and allows it to actually resonate. Any given moment will impact a number of characters and give the reader a true sense of the intensity of the moment.

With Salt to the Sea Sepetys has managed to take one of the biggest forgotten events of the Second World War and make it into a story everyone can empathise with. The torpedoing and subsequent sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a major tragedy, killing over 9000 people and therefore vastly eclipsing the sinking of the Titanic. And yet it's practically forgotten. The fact it was a Nazi ship has added to that, creating a debate over whether one can call it a war crime if it was technically the "bad guys" that suffered. Sepetys takes the event away from this debate and makes it about the people, turning something historical into something personal. Historical Fiction can be a difficult genre to successfully write in because an author has to find a balance between representing history accurately and allowing a fictional narrative to develop. Sepetys finds that balance perfectly in Salt to the Sea. Her novel is also strangely relevant to the modern day. The horror of the Syrian refugee crisis is one that many of us only experience indirectly, hearing about it on the news or reading about it in a newspaper. Only every once in a while does an image filter through which hits all of us and brings home how serious this problem is. Last year an estimated 2,600 died, that we know of, crossing the Mediterranean. It would do well for us, as Europeans, to remember times when we ourselves were victims of war, suffered maritime catastrophe and forced to flee our homes.

The horror of the Second World War may be both the backdrop and the subject matter of Salt to the Sea, but at its heart are the people. Major props are also due to the enormous research Sepetys has done for this novel. Europe, especially Eastern Europe, towards the end of the Second World War was a mess, with people from all over Europe making their way, either as refugees or as armies. By having such a varied cast of characters Sepetys is able to actually show the complexity of the situation, the way in which all of Europe was involved and affected. Every character is also on a different side, wavering between protecting themselves and helping others. There will be characters you utterly despise, rightfully so, and those who you understand despite agreeing with. And then there are those who's portrayal by Sepetys will hit you right where it hurts. And that is how I ended up crying over this book at 2AM. But it was a good cry, one of those cathartic ones that allows you to appreciate the intensity of the novel in a different way.

Part of the strength of this novel lies in Sepetys ability to get into the minds of her characters and make the reader care for them. This largely comes down to her writing style, which finds a balance between being sensitive, brutally honest and deceivingly simple. You see, it's easy to show off while writing by constructing really complex sentences and using multiple syllable words, all in the hopes to impress a reader with the author's supposed intelligence. But true talent likes in choosing precisely those words that you know will hit the reader right where you want to, and often those words are the simplest ones. Part of Salt to the Sea is truly heart-breaking and Sepetys doesn't cover this up either by glossing over it or emphasising it for sensationalism. With Salt to the Sea Sepetys has won me as a major fan of her writing.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Sepetys combines great historical research with insightful emotional writing and produces an amazing novel. Salt to the Sea has to be my favourite novel I've read this year, also topping some of my favourites from last year. I'll definitely be rereading and recommending it, while holding my breath for Sepetys' next book.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Weekly Overview

I don't know how it's happening but I've had another amazing review week! I have most definitely got my reading mojo back and I'm loving almost everything I'm reading at the moment. I'm sure that soon I will stumble across one which I won't enjoy as much, but for now all the ones I have lined up are pretty brilliant!

I've got some amazing books coming up next week, such as The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Both stunning reads! 

How has your week been? Anything exciting happen? I've mainly been doing University work, looking into what to do after University and hopped over to Edinburgh to pick up my German passport! And last night I went to see Deadpool which was absolutely hilarious!! And I received a physical ARC of Girls on Fire from Little, Brown yesterday and I'm so excited! Genuinely too excited to start it almost!

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

Friday, 12 February 2016

Review: 'The High Mountains of Portugal' by Yann Martel

Life of Pi became a major hit upon its publication, triggering a boatload of new enthusiasm Yann Martel's writing. He now returns with The High Mountains of Portugal but in a way very different from what most would expect. If you're looking for Life of Pi 2.0 then this may not be the book for you. Thanks to Canongate and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/02/2016
Publisher: Canongate
The long-awaited new novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of the worldwide phenomenon Life of Pi.To suffer and do nothing is to be nothing, while to suffer and do something is to become someone. He must strike onwards to the High Mountains of Portugal!
In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that - if it exists - would redefine history. Travelling in one of Europe's earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this treasure. Some thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery.
Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee.
Three stories. Three broken hearts. One exploration: what is a life without stories?
The High Mountains of Portugal takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century - and through the human soul.
Yann Martel is a masterful writer, capable of transporting his readers into his characters' mindsets with relative easy. What makes the novel both intriguing and complex is the fact Martel has split it into three seemingly unrelated stories, called 'Homeless', 'Homeward' and 'Home' respectively. Throughout the three stories, each featuring different main characters and set in different time periods, little hints are dropped as to how they're all tangentially linked to each other. But the big theme that seems to unite all three is the quest of each of the characters to explain their own lives, find meaning where there may be none and moving towards somewhere or something that can make them feel one and whole.

Loss is the grey cloud hanging over this novel, which makes it at once relatable to many people although the shape it takes and the way it affects the characters is something else. Martel interestingly develops how the loss of a loved one leaves a gap in the lives of people which needs to be filled by any means possible. That is why Tomás sets out in an automobile which hardly represents the cars we drive nowadays. It is also what leads Eusebio to be in his practice until late after closing hours and in the middle of the strangest of mysteries. And finally Martel gives us Peter, who copes with his loss by finding a new companion. Although each of Martel's three stories have a man at their centre, his narrative is never that straightforward. Each story is suffused by the presence and noted absence of others, of the things they leave behind. The interplay between the characters is largely what made The High Mountains of Portugal so interesting to me, as the switching between narrators occasionally even within stories revealed a lot about both the characters and the readers.

I might have been a little bit too harsh before when I said that those readers looking for a new Life of Pi might not find what they're searching for in this book. Where Life of Pi had loads of different layers of narrative, many of the initial layers weren't hard to grasp. Martel excels at using imagery to get the reader where he wants them, emotionally, and his use of Magical Realism is beautiful. The different layers of The High Mountains of Portugal are a bit harder to grasp. There is no simple straightforward storyline to follow, so there's a lot more trust in Martel required from the reader. In return, however, he delivers a beautiful, if strange, novel that is bound to surprise but also enchant you.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

The High Mountains of Portugal is a fascinating and beautiful book, but it does, at times, require work and determination. Martel doesn't make it easy for his readers, but then the novel is discussing hard topics itself. I'd recommend this to fans of Magical Realism and Literary Fiction.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #18: IV.xiv.3 - V.i.11

I gave out a general Spoiler warning when I started this series of posts since I'd be discussing the plot as I went forward without avoiding spoilers. Now that we're reaching the end of the book I'd like to hand out another warning since, well, the characters are going to be dropping like flies. Anyone who's seen the musical knows what I'm talking about, but since the book differs significantly there may still be things that are new and surprising. Last week we had poor M. Mabeuf who came as a surprise to me, and potentially you, so remember that I warned you of spoilers in the post below and the few remaining posts of this series.

Chapter Summary:
Last week we were all left hanging by Hugo as he kept stretching out the waiting at the barricade. By the end of this week's section we've reached the second attack on the barricade but not before we've encountered our second victim of the plot: poor Eponine. Initially I was very surprised at Eponine in the book but I've grown to love her characterization so seeing her go was bittersweet. Her last line, which I'm not going to share with you because I'm cruel, almost had me in tears. In her last minutes Eponine gives Marius a letter she had been keeping from him from Cosette, telling him where she and Jean Valjean are hiding. Marius sends Gavroche off with a message to Cosette which is intercepted by Valjean, who then makes his way to the barricade.

At the barricade the assault start again and this time there's a canon involved. There's some surprisingly technical talk about the curve of the cannon ball in relation to the distance of the canon to the barricade which seemed like exactly the kind of thing you'd distract yourself with when faced with a canon. We leave the barricade mid-assault, in the hope that maybe this time the book changes its mind and everything ends well.

Feel of the Chapters:
The mood of these chapters fluctuates a lot. First everyone is heroically strengthening the barricade and then there is a solemn speech about all those they'll leave behind. The Gavroche brings back some humour before the canon kills three men. Valjean appears as a saviour but then we are reminded of Cosette who will be all alone if neither him nor Marius return. This up and down can either work on your nerves or keep you on the edge of your seat and in my case it's the latter. I love the fact that Hugo is taking his time to describe this moment which is so momentous to his characters.

General Points:
  • At a certain point Enjolras makes it clear that no one will survive the barricade and tells those with families to leave, which makes for a beautiful moment. Combeferre has a beautiful speech about how their death may be heroic but it will cause the despair of their loved ones. It was a great show of Hugo's ability to never lose sight of the reality of the situation he's describing.
  • Both Marius and Valjean are surprisingly good shots, which is a fun parallel. But while they're showing off, Javert has spent the last 40 or 50 chapters tied to a pole, growing rather laconic. 
  • Hugo seems to be stretching this assault on the barricade for as long as he can. Admittedly I can't blame him because I love everything that's happening but there's still the question of how much he still has to write about before the end.
  • With Eponine gone and Cosette so far removed from the action, the novel is taking on a very masculine tone. Although Cosette feels less sidelined in the book than she does in the musical, it is still strange that she is so completely out of the loop. Hopefully Hugo will give some kind of reason for that later on!
Amphictyonic Law of Delphi, 4th ct. BC
Something Extra:
At a certain point Enjolras grows a little bit rapturous and dreams up a future for Europe where it will be united. He brings up the example of the Amphictyonic League which had too interesting a name for me not to look into it. This is a term from the Archaic period of Greek history before its famous city-states existed. The term amphictyony literally means 'league of neighbours'. Quite often these leagues or alliances would also be religious in nature, most noticeably in the most famous example of amphictyony, the Delphic Amphictyonic League which was apparently founded shortly after the Trojan War in support of the temples of Apollo and Demeter. It is exactly this League which Hugo refers to when he says:
'The amphictyons had two sittings a year, one at Delphos the seat of the gods, the other at Thermopylaem the place of heroes.' p.2002
'The spirit of revolution covered with its cloud this summit where rumbled that voice of the people which resembles the voice of God; a strange majesty was emitted by this titanic basked of rubbish. It was a heap of filth and it was Sinai.' p.1976
This quote describes the Saint-Antoine barricade set up during the June revolt by others. I loved the description of how this heap of rubbish is still a sign of hope and faith and that it belongs to the people.
'Equality, citizens, is not wholly a surface vegetation, a society of great blades of grass and tiny oaks; a proximity of jealousies which render each other null and void; legally speaking, it is all aptitudes possessed of the same opportunity; politically, it is all votes possessed of the same weight; religiously, it is all consciences possessed of the same right. Equality has an organ: gratuitous and obligatory instruction.' p.2003-4
I loved Enjolras' speech about equality and how instruction, i.e. education, is crucial to it. Most revolutions occur due to gross inequality and we ourselves are living in societies where the gaps between the rich and the poor are enormous, squashing the notion of equality under wads of cash.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Review: 'Spellcasting: Beyond the Basics' by Michael Furie

Ever since I didn't get my Hogwarts letter I've been looking for different types of magic in the world, whether it's Wicca (of which I'm not a very big fan), Celtic druism or something else. So when I saw Spellcasting on Netgalley I knew I had to get in there. Since then I've become slightly addicted to Llewellyn's output, although I'm still waiting on some of the magic!

Pub. Date: 08/02/2016
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.

Spellcasting is an exploration of magical theory and practice, natural techniques that utilize spiritual forces. Join author Michael Furie as he provides lessons on manifestation work, self-awareness and meditation techniques, altered states of consciousness, connecting to the natural world, planetary and stellar information, and information on the Hermetic laws. Discover practical techniques, spells, and rituals for different magical goals, as well as special spells such as the "Princess and the Pea Ritual" and the "Elements of Self-Esteem."
Now, for this review I'm largely putting aside the debate on whether magic exists and, if it does, what it is and how it works. Personally I think the idea of magic is a very open and diverse one which can be interpreted by every one differently. Different societies have opposing concepts of it, even different generations look at it differently. To completely deny the possibility based on the fact you've never seen someone flying a broomstick would be a bit too harsh, especially if there's so many interesting books about magic out there in the world. It's a subject that's always fascinated me and as such I am always glad to jump into books such as Spellcasting to find out more. And I have to say that the magic discussed in Spellcasting is one I found very interesting, while its advice on meditation is very useful as well.

The book is split up into three sections and is very much a kind of guide book, meant to help you on your way towards casting spells. As such the first part focuses on Magical Theory, exploring how knowing yourself, nature and the world around you can help you know your craft and strength. I found the discussions herein very interesting as the idea of working together with nature to realise your goals is a very attractive one. The second section focuses on Magical Practice, discussing different types of magic such as divination and providing in help in taking spells to the next level. The more skeptical you are, the more you'll have to push yourself to take this text seriously. But if you approach it with an open mind there are some really interesting concepts here. The final section focuses on recipes for oils and incense to work your spells with. The including of different herbs is something I liked about this type of magic since, medically speaking, certain herbs do indeed, for example, calm you down and allow you to focus more. By being partially rooted in reality, the actual "working" of the spells is up to your own spirituality.

Michael Furie's writing is very clear and precise. Spellcasting is clearly a book meant for instruction and as a reference book, allowing people to practise their own skills while reading or, like me, take a dip into the water and see what it's all about. His language is clear and he goes out of his way to explain concepts which may be unfamiliar to beginners, even if Spellcasting is a follow up to an earlier book called Spellcasting for Beginners. Even for those who go into this book with a mind set against its topic will find that Furie at least manages to enlighten them on something they question even exists. These kinds of books are a great example of how trying something out can lead to learning about how different people approach life. Even if this type of magic, or any magic at all, isn't something you want to try, there's nothing wrong with finding out more about it.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Although I enjoyed reading Spellcasting I'm giving it 3 Universes simply due to how niche it is. If magic isn't something you're interested in this book simply won't hold very much interest for you. If, however, like me you're curious and have an open mind, I'd definitely recommend giving Furie's book, and Llewellyn Worldwide's other books, a try.

Review: 'UnCommon Bodies: A Collection of Oddities, Survivors, and Other Impossibilities' by

Story collections can be brilliant, as long as all the stories come together to support a cohesive theme or message. That's exactly what happens in UnCommon Bodies and it makes it a great collection of stories, each of which has something to add. Thanks to Fighting Monkey Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 28/11/2015
Publisher: Fighting Monkey Press
Step right up to the modern freakshow — We have mermaids, monsters, and more. You won't be disappointed, but you may not get out alive.
UnCommon Bodies presents a collection of 20 beautifully irreverent stories which blend the surreal and the mundane. Together, the authors explore the lives of the odd, the unbelievable, and the impossible. Imagine a world where magic exists, where the physical form has the power to heal or repulse, where a deal with the devil means losing so much more than your soul.

As the title might suggest, UnCommon Bodies is all about the physical, about how our bodies determine our reality and our fantasy. Each of the characters and each of their stories tries to deal with what it's like to have a body that is "out of the ordinary" or "weird". It's incredibly inspirational to read stories about characters working with what makes them unique or trying to overcome the problems they have with themselves. The body is incredibly central to a lot of modern day popular culture and social media. Everything is sold by being displayed next to or on a body, from make-up to cars, and as a consequence there are some pretty strict ideas out there about what makes a "good body". It's a skinny beach body or a muscular gym body, but any other shape seemingly doesn't exist according to the billboards. As such it's important that literature becomes more diverse and opens itself up to a whole variety of characters.

I wouldn't consider these stories straightforward Fantasy because there's a lot of different genres which flow through the stories; amongst others erotica, suspense, magical realism and poetry pop up. As such, this collection may not be for everyone though. The authors are let loose, allowed to write about who and what they please. These uncommon bodies belong to people all sexual orientations, all history periods and all walks of life. The language varies between different authors, how graphic it is, how descriptive or how minimalist. It's a beautiful thing, to be able to combine all of these different things into one collection and make it work. Occasionally you may choose not to read a certain story or you might find yourself rereading others.

This collection includes stories by a whole variety of authors which all deserve to be listed. They are: Michael Harris Cohen, Vasil Tuchkov, Bey Deckard, Brent Meskehor, Laxmi Hariharan, Robert Pope, Keira Michelle Telford, Jordanne Fuller, P.K. Tyler, Kim Wells, Rebecca Poole, Philip Harris, Sessha Batto, Robb Grindstaff, Sally Basmajian, Deanne Charlton, Samantha Warren, Daniel Arthur Smith, S.M. Johnson, Christopher Godsoe and Bob Williams. Amongst my favourites are probably Cohen's We is We which I loved for his experimental writing. Skin by Brent Meske is an amazing portrayal of the pressures of weight and body-image, while Deanne Charlton's Three Poems are a beautiful break from the constant fiction while also providing the title for the collection. One of the most inspired, however, in my eyes, was Daedalus' Daughter by B.K. Tyler, which is absolutely stunning.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

Although not each of the stories in UnCommon Bodies was to my taste, I loved the collection overall. I raced through it and loved the originality of each of the stories. I'd recommend this to fans of Magical Realism and Surrealism, because then you know exactly what kind of reading you're in for.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Short Review: 'The Story Without an End' by Sarah Austin, Eleanor Vere Boyle

Everyone has a childhood classic, the book that you're never going to forget about, no matter how much you grow up. The Story Without an End was that kind of book for Austin's daughter, which resulted in its translation from the original German. As a German myself I'd love for more childhood classics to cross international borders so we can all share our favourites. Thanks to Dover Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 16/12/2016
Publisher: Dover Publications
In this classic of children's literature, a child takes an idyllic journey of discovery through the natural world. Awakened by birdsong and the rays of the sun, the child listens to stories of the butterfly and the ocean's waves, dines on strawberries, gossips with fireflies, and sleeps on a couch of moss. Generations of readers have joined the youngster in these dreamlike adventures amid blooming gardens and on a golden boat under starry skies.  
Author Sarah Austin translated this timeless tale from the German original by Friedrich Wilhelm Carové. This version, reproduced from a magnificent Victorian-era edition, features all fifteen of the original full-color plates. 
The Story Without an End is, in simple terms, an old school fairy tale of the middle 19th century. The author of the German original, Friedrich Wilhelm Carové, very much believed in the ideal of humanity and the church and, as such, the fairy tale is full of nature imagery and the wholesomeness of the beauty of nature. It can come across as a little bit overly sweet if the original Grimms' fairytales are what you're expecting, but that is because, as a literary product, this tale is significantly younger than the original versions of any of the old fairy tales. It's written with the intense purpose to make the natural world and natural order seem perfect in and of itself. As long as you can accept the purpose behind the story it's a lovely read.

The language of the story is beautiful, incredibly sumptuous and full of visual writing. It's no surprise that this would be a child's favourite book, with talking dragon-flies and a child hearing stories about mountains and clouds from a water drop. It creates a magical world for its readers and this edition is a large part of making that possible. In this edition of The Story Without an End Dover Publications reproduces the 1834, Victorian-era translation of the German Das Märchen Ohne Ende by Sarah Austin. It's a stunning translation, capturing the eloquence and ease of the German original. Vere Boyle's illustrations are beautiful renditions of different story elements and really add to the overall atmosphere of the book.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

The Story Without an End is a beautiful story, rich in detail and descriptions. It would be perfect for parents with young children or fans of fairy tales. Dover Publications edition is definitely stunning and would make a great addition to any fairytale shelf.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Weekly Overview

Practical MagicIt's been a good week here, I've read some amazing novels which I can't wait to share with you guys next week! Aside from that my lectures have been going really well and I have been enjoying them as well, which always helps. I am absolutely exhausted though, for some reason, so I might take today off and just stay in bed with my Netflix.


So yes, that's me done! Next week's instalment will come from Edinburgh because I have to head down to pick up my German passport! How was your week? Happy with what you read?

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

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Review: 'The Faithful Couple' by A.D. Miller

The Faithful CoupleI'm really excited to be one of today's stops for the blog tour for The Faithful Couple. I love me some reads that combine different genre elements, whether it's suspense, mystery and drama. The Faithful Couple brings loads of different themes together but unfortunately not all of them always go together as easily as they should. Thanks to Abacus and Little, Brown for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/02/2016
Publisher: Abacus
Turn a betrayal inside out and you found its opposite, a secret and a bond. Perhaps that was what friendship came down to: a lifelong, affectionate mutual blackmail.
Neil and Adam, two young men on the cusp of adulthood, meet one golden summer in California and, despite their different backgrounds, soon become best friends. Buton a camping trip in Yosemite they lead each other into wrongdoing that, years later, both will desperately regret.
Their connection holds through love affairs, fatherhood, the wild successes and unforeseen failures of booming London, as power and guilt ebb between them.
Then the truth of that long-ago night emerges.
What happens when you discover that the friendship you can't live without was always built on a lie? 

At the heart of The Faithful Couple is a very intense male friendship, one that spans decades and classes. It's no wonder that the Independent called The Faithful Couple right up Patricia Highsmith alley, and they were right in that. The connection between Neil and Adam is one that, from the beginning of the novel, seems to be centred on both competitiveness, admiration and the very definite hints of homo-eroticism. Whereas more and more TV shows and films seem to include female friendships, popular culture doesn't have a lot of representations of male friendship. So seeing a whole novel dedicated to it is very interesting. Unfortunately the more Highsmith-esque elements of the book don't necessarily portray male friendship in the best of lights.

However, it was interesting to read and to see how A.D. Miller didn't shy away from giving his male characters emotions. This may sound strange, but by moving between the different characters and showing us their thought process and their feelings regarding the other, The Faithful Couple actually gives the reader male characters that are complex and complicated. Too often male portrayals in novels slip into cliche representations of what is "male" and as such male characters often fall flat for me. With Adam and Neil you get to two male characters who are not necessarily likeable but who have a human edge to them.

The novel spans over a number of years and each chapter/section heading is a different year. This approach means that at times the story may feel a little disjoined as the reader loses track of where which of the characters was. On the other hand it means that within each new section the reader gets a fresh new glance at these characters and at London, at how the relationship has grown outside of the narrative. But then throughout the novel it can become quite a problem to happily distinguish between Adam and Neil. Especially at the beginning the characterization isn't distinct enough that one can easily separate them or even pick a side in the plot. Although they are interesting characters they are a little bit too equal at times.

One of the problems I had with The Faithful Couple was that the horrific event that both binds Neil and Adam closer together but also tears them apart isn't actually as horrific or shocking as I was expecting from the blurb. When it happened I wasn't quite sure whether this was "the big event", but it felt too early within the story for it to make a real impact. What redeemed the original event for me was the fact that A.D. Miller quite nicely showed the impact of the knowledge of the event upon his characters. In the end it is things like guilt and and betrayal which can end friendships and A.D. Miller does show that, at times the original event just feels slightly anti-climactic.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I enjoyed reading The Faithful Couple although it at times lacked tension for me. Although the plot could have maybe been pushed a little bit further, I believe it's a great kind of suspense read for a weekend! I'd recommend it to fans of suspense and mystery. Check out the rest of the blog tour stops!
Displaying Faithful_Couple_Blog_Tour_Banner (3).jpg

Displaying Faithful_Couple_Blog_Tour_Banner (3).jpg

Friday, 5 February 2016

Friday Memes and 'The High Mountains of Portugal'

Today I'm using The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. I'm reviewing this book today as well and it's an absolutely mind-shifting read, moving between different stories and different characters quite abruptly. But despite not being an easy read I definitely enjoyed it. So I figures why not share it with you?
The long-awaited new novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of the worldwide phenomenon Life of Pi.To suffer and do nothing is to be nothing, while to suffer and do something is to become someone. He must strike onwards to the High Mountains of Portugal!
In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that - if it exists - would redefine history. Travelling in one of Europe's earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this treasure. Some thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery. 
Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. 
Three stories. Three broken hearts. One exploration: what is a life without stories?
The High Mountains of Portugal takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century - and through the human soul.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively.

The quotes below are from an ARC and may appear differently in the finalized product.

'Tomas decides to walk.From his modest flat on Rua Sao Miguel in the ill-famed Alfama district to his uncle's stately estate in leafy Lapa, it is a good walk across much of Lisbon. It will likely take him an hour. But the morning has broken bright and mild, and the walk will soothe him.' 1%
Tomas is a fascinating character and I'm just going to give you a slight tease here, he walks in a very interesting way. And the reason why is rather tragic.

'There is a forceful finality to her last sentence, the words of a woman who has so few wants left that the ones she still has are filled to the brim with her will.' 56%
I really liked this description! Sometimes when you only have one thing you want, you want that with all your soul. It's beautifully tragic and powerful at the same time.

So, this is me done for today. Do check out my review of The High Mountains of Portugal if it sounds like something you'd enjoy!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #17: IV.x.5 - IV.xiv.2

We have gotten to the last 20% of the book and it's all truly coming together now. Everything that is happening is either the continuation of or the ending of a storyline and I imagine this will only get worse as the ending gets closer and closer. We have officially reached the June revolution. Tensions are high and the stakes are even higher. Almost all the characters pop up and Hugo is cutting down on his digressions. It's play time!

Chapter Summary:
In the last section of chapters we got to actual start of the revolt during Lamarque's funeral. The new chapters are basically a discussion of the events that are leading up the the final confrontation. We see first how part of the Friends of ABC weren't as interested in actually starting anything so they got drunk first before realizing that pub made the perfect position for a barricade. And then there is the fact Hugo takes the time to let every single character arrive at the barricade or be conspicuous by their absence. Pretty much everyone, including Javert who was pretending to be someone else, is there now.

There is a quite significant moment with M. Mabeuf, who is an elderly gentleman who is sort of friends with Marius but has become poorer and poorer and has basically lost the will to try. He calmly joins up with the Friends of ABC and everyone else at the barricade and is sort of out of place. But then, when there's a moment of crisis, he steps up and it's just a beautiful moment that Hugo manages to describe in such a dramatic way you can just see it!

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a lot of waiting and tenseness in these chapters which is definitely on purposes. There is a lot of preparation and all the characters are constantly moving and interacting, but it's quite clearly just the deep breath before the plunge. Gavroche adds some lightness to it, clearly in his element, but everything feels potentially dangerous. The fact that the whole action happens within most of an evening and a night also adds to the feeling of anticipation. As I mentioned above, Hugo's writing has become very dramatic in a good way. It feels like a stage play, with the reader getting to look at everything but being actively outside of it. I personally cannot wait to continue reading.

General Points:
  • Now, almost 80% into the book, it's all really coming together. Once the barricade was built more and more characters came together, appearing and interacting. It's pretty much what we've been waiting for, but it was worth it.
  • Hugo is a very good geographical writer. When he wants you to know the exact layout of the barricade and the surrounding streets he will make sure that you do. And he even manages to not make it boring.
  • Gavroche provides an amazing insight into what's happening. Because he's so young and yet so confident and capable of interacting, he gets into every single situation. Knowing where his story is going, it's great to see him getting in there.
  • It's interesting to me how much the musical gripped onto the tension between Jean Valjean and Javert, despite the fact it doesn't feature that much in the novel. Yes, it is in there, but I'd say Marius is much more of a central character, for example. I understand that you need to choose a central story line but I still feel they lost the balance.
'Great perils have this fine characteristic, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.' p.1854
I love this line because it's one of the things that always gets me about such moments of crisis. No matter who's standing next to you, you're both there for the same reason and you can reply on each other even if you don't know each other.
'"The day will come, citizens, when all wil be concord, harmony, light, joy and life; it will come, and it is in order that it may come that we are about to die."' p.1879
This is a part of a speech by Enjolras about their revolutionary zeal. I liked that he is not deceiving himself at all about what's going to happen and I'm a sucker for a mix between heroism and tragedy.
'"Where are the rest of you going?"
"We are going to fling the government to the earth."

"That is good."' p.1817
This is just an amazing bit of dialogue because it's so calm and yet it's all about revolution so I thought I'd share it as a sneaky third quote!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Teasers and 'Practical Magic' by Alice Hoffman

Practical MagicI've decided I'm in a mighty need of reading the book upon which my favourite witchy film is based. By that I of course mean Practical Magic!! Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors and I absolutely love this film. But I've never read it so I'm going to have to rectify that now.
The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night andTurtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet -- a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman's reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America's most captivating storytellers.
When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts' mysterious and sometimes frightening powers -- and as their own powers begin to surface -- the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into "normal" society.
But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes -- in the form of a menacing backyard ghost -- the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift -- and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment -- Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best. 

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

'For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. If a damp spring arrived, if cows in the pasture gave milk that was runny with blood, if a colt died of colic or a baby was born with a red birthmark stamped onto his cheek, everyone believed that fate must have been twisted, at least a little, by those women over on Magnolia Street. It didn't matter what the problem was - lightning, or locusts, or a death by drowning. It didn't matter if the situation could be explained by logic, or science, or plain bad luck. As soon as there was a hint of trouble or the slightest misfortune, people began pointing their fingers and placing blame. Before long they'd convinced themselves that it wasn't safe to walk past the Owens house after dark, and only the most foolish neighbours would dare to peer over the black wrought-iron fence that circled the yard like a snake.' p.1
The Practical Magic film is such a favourite of mine and the way that this opening is shown there is amazing. But I love it in the book.

'After she found several pairs of handcuffs in Ben's closet - which he often uses in his magical act - ice cubes weren't enough.' p.210
Wait, what?! I can't wait to get to this point because who uses handcuffs in magical acts? This sounds like it could be in 50 Shades although if Alice Hoffman had written 50 Shades it would probably be a masterpiece.

So, that's me done for today! Have you read Practical Magic or have you seen the film?

Monday, 1 February 2016

Review: 'The Secrets of Lizzie Borden' by Brandy Purdy

The Secrets of Lizzie BordenLizzie Borden is one of those people who has moved into popular culture and about whom we actually don't know that much. Everyone knows what she did but not who she is and I think that's part of what has contributed to her legend so much. So seeing her reimagined by a 21st century female author is really interesting.
Thanks to Kensington Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 26/01/2016
Publisher: Kensington Books
In her enthralling, richly imagined new novel, Brandy Purdy, author of The Ripper’s Wife, creates a compelling portrait of the real, complex woman behind an unthinkable crime.
Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentleman callers as fortune hunters. 
Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes…
Vividly written and thought-provoking, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden explores the fascinating events behind a crime that continues to grip the public imagination—a story of how thwarted desires and desperate rage could turn a dutiful daughter into a notorious killer.
As mentioned, not that much is really known about Lizzie Borden 'the woman'. Some of her circumstances are well-known but those can be interpreted by any author in whichever way they want. Whether Purdy went into writing The Secrets of Lizzie Borden with a set agenda in her mind or not, she gives Lizzie a personality and a history that at least attempts to offer an explanation for her actions. From the outset Purdy does this by putting the reader straight inside Lizzie's head via first person-narration. Whether this is a good thing comes down to a reader's personal preference, but it can make it more difficult for the author to give a proper overview of all the characters without breaking the first person-narration. Purdy manages to both give an idea of Lizzie's character and her hopes and dreams early on in the book, without losing track of where her story is heading and who she's talking about.

Purdy does not shy away from describing the intimate details of a woman's life, whether it comes down to menstruation, sexuality or raging anger. That won't necessarily be for everyone but it is refreshing to not see an author try to hint without being explicit, but rather just tell the story as she sees it. At times I felt that perhaps too many freedoms had been taken but then, everything fit within the story itself. The other main characters in the book don't come away very well, except perhaps for step-mother Abby. Both Lizzie's father, Andrew, and sister, Emma, seem to be characters full of spite and anger. Although sometimes especially Emma feels a little bit too dark, when Lizzie is being painted in such shades of moral grey, but she still makes for an interesting character.

One of the few times I've read a story about Lizzie Borden was Angela Carter's spin on her in her short story 'The Fall River Axe Murders'. Carter worked her magic on the popular tale and came out with something that seems equally aware of itself as The Secrets of Lizzie Borden is, but perhaps stays a bit more distant. Purdy gets straight into Lizzie and her thoughts and there is no way for the reader to escape where her story is going. Purdy's writing is at once very descriptive while managing to capture how stifling Lizzie's life was. This novel reminded me why I enjoy unreliable narrators so much. You know, as the reader, you're getting one character's point of view but because it's the main point of view of the novel you have to constantly question and consider what you read. It makes for a very engaging book.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

The Secrets of Lizzie Borden makes for a great introduction to the popular mystery that is Lizzie Borden. Purdy dives right into her story and drags the reader right along with her. I found myself curious throughout how she would handle the end of the story and wasn't disappointed. I'd recommend this to fans of Suspense and Women's Fiction.