Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review: 'Moscow in the 1930s: A Novel from the Archives' by Natalia Gromova, trans. Christopher Culver

Moscow in the 1930s: A Novel from the ArchivesI absolutely love reading translated works. Although preferably I'd like to read everything in its original language, that is simply not an option so the work of translators is invaluable. As I've been trying to expand my literary horizon I have become aware of a very large, Russia-shaped hole in said horizon. However, in recent years Glagoslav Publications has been working on translating previously untranslated Russian, Ukranian and Belarussian authors. My first dip into their works is Gromova's "novel from the archives". Thanks to Glagoslav for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/05/2016
Publisher: Glagoslav
Moscow in the 1930s: A Novel from the Archives reveals Moscow as it was in a bygone age, a city now found only on old maps, but an era that continues to haunt us today. The novel features a wide cast of characters, who are all tied together by the author herself. 
The reader plunges into the remarkable Moscow literary scene of those days, and literature aficionados will encounter within a number of important locations for the history of Russian letters: the Dobrov house, Peredelkino, Lavrushinsky Lane, Borisoglebsky Lane – and also the names of legendary figures such as Olga Bessarabova, Maria Belkina, and Lydia Libedinskaya. 
History is brought to life: the author introduces the reader to Leonid Andreyev, leads us on a tour of the side-streets and alleyways of the Arbat district, and shows us the tattered notebooks of Olga Bessarabova. All this has long since fallen away into history, but now it proves so easily accessible to us. 
The Russian literary scene is one of giants. Authors such as Tolstoy, Pushkin and Bulgakov have left their traces on literature throughout Europe, and even the world. In combination with its authors' brilliance, Russia also experienced a number of cultural changes in the 20th century which only to some extent found an echo elsewhere in the world. The Russian revolution and the following Communist Era had a profound influence upon Russian authors and poets, both male and female, and Moscow in the 1930s introduces the reader to a whole range of these authors and poets. Natalia Gromova, in many ways, stands at the centre of this novel, uniting in her own life experience all the people she describes. History is fascinating, especially in how it influences the lives of people, changes their course irrevocably or unites them again after years and years. As such, Moscow int he 1930s' charm, then, lies in how intimately it opens up the lives of some of Russia's most remarkable people. As someone who is still quite a novice when it comes to Russian literature, this novel feels like a great introduction to the works that sprang from this short yet tumultuous part of Russian history.

Part of this novel's appeal lies in its archival nature. I myself am very interested in archives, what people collect and why, how they keep records of their lives and who finds them. Connecting the various threads of other peoples' lives, finding out something about the past and being able to track its course through history is enormous fun. There is a voyeuristic pleasure in reading someone's love letters, especially if they're written by such lyricists as Gromova reveals. What I greatly appreciated about Moscow in the 1930s was Gromova's express interest in those we haven't heard of, the names that weren't noted down by history, the women  who played a role but never got the credit. As Gromova herself says:
'It always seemed to me that background figures, people who are much more difficult to glimpse or learn anything about, offer the possibility of imagining the world of the past in a much fuller way.'
Her novel subsequently, paints a fuller picture of the 1930s in Russia, and mainly of its literary elite, than I have ever read before. What also makes Gromova's archival research interesting is her awareness of how much of Russian (and Eastern German as well, for example) history was spent with people reporting on each other, telling stories, keeping receipts etc. It adds an extra layer to her writing which strikes a chord.

Gromova writes beautifully. What would have been a dull book in anyone else's hands becomes lyrical in hers. Although she happily moves around between subjects, even between time periods and places, there is a continuous sense of experiencing history which makes Moscow in the 1930s fun and interesting. She begins the novel with the analogy of a key she found as a child and how she never found the door that it fits, but that throughout her life she has repeatedly found both keys and doors in the archives which have led her to a fuller understanding of history. These types of analogies run throughout the book as she moves between different houses and different people. In a novel such as this, which so intensely engages with people who had an awareness of the beauty and power of writing, Gromova had the responsibility to echo some of this language and she does so admirably. That it comes across in translation is a brilliant bonus for people like me, Christopher Culver does an excellent job at translating Natalia Gromova's prose, letting it flow easily as well as beautifully.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I greatly enjoyed Moscow in the 1930s, although I didn't read it all in one go. It's a great novel to read sections of at a time, to dip into as if dipping into history, for an hour here or there. There is always a difficulty when it comes to foreign books because something is always lost in translation, but Moscow in the 1930s is a complete and engaging read for those interested. I'd recommend it to those interested in Russian literature as well as archival work, because it makes the latter sound incredible exciting and fun.

Waiting on Wednesday: 'Hag-Seed' by Margaret Atwood

In the last few years, by which I mean the last six, I have done a complete 180 on Margaret Atwood. When we read The Handmaid's Tale in high school, despite enjoying it, I absolutely hated the way we were taught about it and how we were told to analyse it. Basically, school ruined one of the best pieces of speculative and feminist literature for me for a while. Then, when I get a bit older and university taught me that it's completely fine to ignore what your teachers think, I started to reappreciate not just The Handmaid's Tale but also Margaret Atwood. I've been slowly working my way through her books, emphasis on slowly, and am currently reading The Blind Assassin. So it should come as no surprise that I am going to share a Margaret Atwood book this week!

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and everyone can share an upcoming release that they are anticipating! Hop over to Breaking the Spine to join and leave a link to your post in the comments below! My anticipated read is:

Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)Pub. date:11/10/2016
Publisher: Hogarth
Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.
The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion -- starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.
In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempestthat will change their lives forever.
There’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure…but also a mischief, curiosity and vigour that’s entirely Atwood and is sure to delight her fans. 
Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare and swearing? Sign me the f**k up! I haven't had a chance yet to read any of Hogarth's special Hogarth Shakespeare releases but they're all on the list!

So, which upcoming release are you looking forward to? As said, do share a link to your post!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Review: 'The Arrival of Missives' by Aliya Whiteley

The Arrival of MissivesSpeculative Fiction is a genre I have only slowly grown to appreciate as my own taste in fiction has developed over the last few years. Part of my initial confusion at some classics of the genre, such as many Margaret Atwood books, lay in their speculative nature, which simple seemed to lie just outside my grasp. What changed that for me was Aliya Whiteley's The Beauty which became one of my favourite novellas and started some very interesting conversations. So when I saw one of Whiteley's latest novellas within my grasp I, of course, went straight for it. Thanks to Unsung Stories for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 09/05/2016
Publisher: Unsung Stories
The Arrival of Missives is a genre-defying story of fate, free-will and the choices we make in life. In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons. 
The scarred veteran Mr. Tiller, left disfigured by an impossible accident on the battlefields of France, brings with him a message: part prophecy, part warning. Will it prevent her mastering her own destiny?
As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley must choose: change or renewal?

The Arrival of Missives clocks at a 120 pages and is an incredibly engrossing and quick read. Whether a novel reads quickly, as such, has nothing to do with page count. A short story can feel like War and Peace if badly written, while War and Peace can fly by if Tolstoy is your thing. In the case of Whiteley's novella, time flies by while you're reading. It is almost impossible to put it down halfway through, so well-written and thought-provoking is it. It is one of Speculative Fiction's tasks, and opportunities, to shine a light on society, its traditions and customs, and express its dissatisfaction with it. As such, authors of Speculative Fiction have access to a whole range of tools from other genres such as Historical Fiction and Science Fiction in order to create alternate histories in which certain ideas or traditions take centre stage. In the end, however, the world created is always one which is painfully recognizable and that is where the crux of the genre lies. Whiteley is brilliant at creating worlds which are similar enough to our contemporary one but with enough "Other" elements or influences that there is a constant sense of the uncanny about it as well. As a consequence the reader sticks close by her characters as guides through these 'uncomfortably familiar yet not' worlds.

At the heart of The Arrival of Missives is the young Shirley Fearn who grows up in rural England shortly after World War I, a conflict that forever changed Europe. As men died on the battlefields in France, women found themselves in a world which gave them both more responsibilities as well as freedoms, which were promptly curtailed again. Shirley is a fascinating main character who has a set idea of what it is she wants and finds all kinds of other futures laid out for her by those around her. Partly because of her own awakening self, Shirley gives the reader an unflinching insight into the gender-relations of her village and her growing awareness of the social relationships around her. Fascinating especially is her relationship with her mother, a woman she thinks has either never dreamed or immediately conformed, and of whom her opinion slowly changes throughout the novella as Shirley herself is confronted with the latent desires of society regarding women and their lives.

Much of Shirley's journey throughout the novella surrounds her trying to find her own way to live. As she tries to unravel and avoid the strands of other people's plans around her, she becomes more and more tangled in a plan that seems as inevitable as fate. Whiteley astutely asks the reader to think about fate, what it means to have someone to tell you you a destined for one thing and for someone else to present you another fate, seemingly equally destined. It's close to impossible to discuss the novella's arguments more without revealing significant plot spoilers, but Whiteley discusses choice and fate and whether either exists in a way that feels personal rather than academic. Her narrative takes unexpected turns and although some of her choices may seem strange, there is an undeniable sense of truth to what she writes.

First with The Beauty, and now with The Arrival of Missives Aliya Whiteley has established herself as one of my favourite contemporary authors. She has a very strong voice and a fascinating mind and both shine through her prose on the page. There is an immediacy to Shirley's narration throughout, a sense that the reader is right there with her experiencing life in rural England. I'm still convinced that first person narration should only be used when an author knows they will absolutely nail it and thankfully Whiteley does exactly that in The Arrival of Missives. Shirley reads like a teenage girl, attracted to the world and at the same time disgusted by it. She feels intensely, but is also still new to the world. By the end of The Arrival of Missives I absolutely loved her. This novella asks questions to which it doesn't necessarily provide answers but which it asks you to at least think about yourself.

I give this novella...

5 Universes!

The Arrival of Missives is one of the best novellas I have read since I read Whiteley's The Beauty. It keeps readers on their toes and thinking throughout, constantly exciting and engaging. On the one hand I wish for more, and on the other hand Missives is perfect as it is. I'd not only recommend it to fans of Speculative Fiction but also to anyone willing to give something a little bit different a try. It won't disappoint.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Review: 'The Witches: Salem, 1692' by Stacy Schiff

The Witches: Salem, 1692As some of you may know, I am fascinated by witchcraft and everything to do with it. So of course I couldn't resist a book about the infamous Salem Witch Trials, especially not by an author like Stacy Schiff who excels at historical biographies. The Witches tries to cover a wide range of influences on Salem and although at times it lacks focus and cohesion, it does make for interesting reading. Thanks to Orion Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Orion Books; Little, Brown and Company
It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. 
The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.
As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, The Witches is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story-the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.
The Salem Witch Trials are one of those historical events which have never been truly explained and keep playing on in popular culture. Massively popular films and TV shows such as The Craft, Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch play on our interests in witchcraft and women, secrecy and public disaster. This fascination, which is largely an American one since Europe had quite an intense history with witchcraft itself, is in and of itself also interesting. Why does Salem prove so pervasive? Is it the role of women played during the trials that keeps us coming back and has helped feed films and TV shows such as those above? Or is it the fear of the Law not being able to control its public, of outrage outstripping reason? The latter is what inspired the famous The Crucible by Arthur Miller, itself a comment on the Red Scare of the 1950's, McCarthy's hunt for Communists in America. Salem can be many things to many different people, which explains the continuing interest that exists for it. However, this also makes it difficult for an author to bring something new and interesting to the debate. Schiff's The Witches continuously struggles with this difficulty.

Stacy Schiff sets out to complete quite an arduous task. On the one hand she has to describe one of the most illogical moments in American history which still baffles historians and cultural critics alike, and on the other hand there is a whole set of historical facts and details which she has to introduce to the reader to bring some semblance of logic into her book. Walking the fine line between speculation and fact is difficult and although Schiff does her best occasionally the book does veer off this line. Many books have been written about the Salem Witch Trials, as well as about European witch hunts in earlier centuries. Many of these books argue a particular angle, hoping to provide an answer as to why these trials happened, some more outlandish and sensational than others. Schiff's The Witches doesn't necessarily add a new interpretation or explanation, so readers looking for that will be disappointed. Schiff moves freely between discussing the chronology of the trials and discussing past events that carry some relevance to the proceedings. This means both extra and interesting information, but it also causes some confusion at times.

Schiff's writing style is what saves The Witches from being purely an academic textbook or becoming boring. She seems to intimately engage with her historical charges, investing time and energy in describing the New England winters or the claustrophobia of a Puritan village in the 17th century. Schiff's Salem feels more real than it does in many other books, not as alienating as it is sometimes described. At times this leads to characters being given an almost anachronistically modern mindset, and some descriptive analogies feel very off due to their modernity. But usually it helps couch the book's straightforward information delivery in an at times engaging narrative. What made The Witches interesting to me was how well-researched it is. Schiff clearly invested herself in the events surrounding Salem, not only in 1692, but also in the surrounding few years. Schiff's focus on the judges, and especially Increase and Cotton Mather, also sets it apart from other books about Salem and I learnt many new things from it. However, this also makes it fall a bit flat at times, the book not proving very engaging because it's not exactly going anywhere.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

The Witches is an interesting addition to the literature around the Salem Witch Trials. Although it doesn't offer a strikingly new interpretation of these events, it does cast a new and interesting light on some of the people involved. I'd recommend it to people interested not only in Salem specifically but also Puritan New England, witch trials and historic non-fiction in general.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review: 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)As usual I am a little bit late to catch up with the world, despite meaning to do so years ago. Miss Peregrine first came out in 2011 and Riggs' novel pretty much became a hit straightaway. A fabulous mix between fantasy and mystery, combining prose with photographs, it was something else. So since 2011 I have been meaning to read Riggs' trilogy and here is me, finally following up on my intention. Thanks to Quirk Books for providing me with the brilliant film tie-in cover edition (see below), in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher: Quirk Books
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
Who isn't fascinated by that which is different and that which is other? Riggs' Miss Peregrine features a whole cast of outcasts, a set of characters who are in some way different and peculiar. They feel taken straight out of fairy tales and myths and storytelling also plays a major part in setting Jacob up on his journey. Miss Peregrine also feels like such a mythical story, a legend which both explains and yet doesn't, which reveals just enough of a fascinating world peopled with fascinating characters to leave the reader desperate for more. Miss Peregrine is immensely helped by its sympathetic main character. It is not often that a teenage boy is written to be so interesting and insightful, shown to be capable of feeling and emoting, taking responsibility for his actions and showing an awareness for others. The fact Jacob struck me as much as he did feels like proof that these kinds of male characters are rarer than they should be. As a Medievalist who specialises in Old English and Old Norse I was also absolutely loving the names for some of the novel's peculiarities such as ymbryne and Syndrigast, all of which can be translated and interpreted in different ways. It's a sign of the attention and care Riggs has dedicated to creating his world and it majorly pays off.

Image result for miss peregrine's home for peculiar children movie novel cover tie inMiss Peregrine combines fantasy and mystery, different time zones and science fiction-elements. And all of this in a novel that is technically Young Adult. Riggs brings all of these different elements together very well, making them work with and for each other to give the reader a very interesting reading experience. While Jacob is your average, everyday American teenage boy, the situations he finds himself in are anything but average and ordinary. This combination of genres with this plot might not have worked for any other author, but in Riggs' hands Miss Peregrine becomes an immensely fun and interesting book. A personal highlight for me was the Historical Fiction side of the novel, which engages with some of the characters' history as well as the general contemporary history of Europe at the time. The Second World War left an indelible mark on Europe and I thought it was very gratifying to see how Riggs dealt with the aftermath of it for some of its characters. WWII doesn't often appear in the background of novels but when handled in the way Miss Peregrine does it can add immensely to the novel.

Riggs used to be a writer for film and TV and it definitely shows throughout Miss Peregrine. The novel is incredibly cinematic, Riggs going the extra mile both with his descriptions as well as by including the photographs which served as inspiration along the way. As he describes himself in the interview accompanying the film tie-in edition, there are moments in the book which feel like close-ups which allow for intimacy, while other moments are wide-angle shots, giving the reader a sense of grandeur and scale. Knowing this novel will appear as a film soon I'm incredibly excited for certain moments and certain sets, which I know will be stunning. The lay-out of the book is another major bonus. Not enough books try to engage the reader through how they're presented, but Miss Peregrine is also a visual reading experience. Not only is the typeface beautiful, but so are the illustrations and chapter designs. In combination with the authentic (!) photographs, it makes for an interactive and pleasurable read.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an absolutely fascinating read and one of the best fantasy books to have come out in recent years. I can't believe I've waited this long to get my hands, and eyes, on it, and I'll be reading the rest of the trilogy, Hollow City and Library of Souls, as soon as possible. I'd recommend this to fans of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery. It's a brilliant novel and you should definitely give it a try before the film comes out on the 30th of September!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Review: 'The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet' by Bernie Su, Kate Rorick

You know that moment when you realise you actually own a book you've been wanting to read forever but that you just... sort of... forgot about it? It makes me want to hit myself violently with said book, but it happens too often for me to be able to attempt that without causing permanent brain damage. In this latest case I am talking about The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet which I requested actual years ago and only ever read the first few chapters of before being distracted. Yes, I can't believe it either that I managed to get distracted from anything Pride & Prejudice either. I am deeply ashamed!

Pub. Date: 24/06/2014
Publisher: Touchstone

Based on the Emmy Award–winning YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Twenty‑four‑year‑old grad student Lizzie Bennet is saddled with student loan debt and still living at home along with her two sisters—beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. When she records her reflections on life for her thesis project and posts them on YouTube, she has no idea The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will soon take on a life of their own, turning the Bennet sisters into internet celebrities seemingly overnight.
When rich and handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck‑up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennets—and for Lizzie’s viewers. But not everything happens on‑screen. Lucky for us, Lizzie has a secret diary.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet takes readers deep inside Lizzie’s world and well beyond the confines of her camera—from the wedding where she first meets William Darcy to the local hangout of Carter’s bar, and much more. Lizzie’s private musings are filled with revealing details about the Bennet household, including her growing suspicions about her parents’ unstable financial situation, her sister’s budding relationship with Bing Lee, the perils of her unexpected fame, and her uncertainty over her future—and whom she wants to share it with.
Featuring plenty of fresh twists to delight fans and new readers alike, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet expands on the web series phenomenon that captivated a generation and reimagines the Pride and Prejudice story like never before.
After shamefully forgetting about The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden remembering of me owning it while watching the 2005 Pride & Prejudice adaptation last week. That's when I remembered the Youtube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and how funny and clever it was! And then came the recollection of the novel waiting patiently on my Kindle. So I got straight to reading it. First, some background which is quite crucial. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is based upon the above mentioned Youtube series which was crazy popular when it was going. It was a modern reworking of Jane Austen's famous Pride & Prejudice, making the most of Youtube as a creative medium and of Austen's novel. It made P&P fun for those who thought it was stuffy and boring (those are the worst type of people), and made Youtube fun for me. Turning this into a novel could have gone horribly wrong since it is one more step down the adaptation ladder. Make a novel out of a Youtube series based on a novel? Although I still wouldn't recommend this for any other Youtube series, it did work for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Adaptations of my favourite novel are always sketchy for me. Loving the original so much means that any adaptation has to meet a very high standard, one which is practically impossible to meet. (Aside from that I am also one of those "heathens" who prefers the 2005 film over the BBC adaptation.) Whereas some recent adaptations didn't entirely work for me, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet does absolute justice to what lies at the heart of Jane Austen's novel: the Bennet family. Austen was brilliant at showing the different family relationships in all their highs and lows, especially the relationship between the sisters, and this is something that also comes across in Su and Rorick's adaptation. They remain true to how relatable all of Austen's characters, to their humanity, something that always strikes me anew when I read her books. It updates and changes things, changing characters and places etc., but stays true to itself throughout which makes all of these changes feel logical. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is also fun, laugh out loud fun at times, and it will be one of those reads you finish before you even realize it. It is of course also utterly re-readable.

One of the only potentially negative points about The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is that, being something of a tie-in to the Youtube show, it does feel necessary to watch the show as well. The two compliment each other very well, with the novel expanding enormously on things only mentioned casually in the videos, and in reverse the videos giving you a great visual to go with the novel. Thankfully the Youtube series is great so watching it will be no hardship to those who enjoyed the novel, but I did at times feel like I had to abandon the novel at times to rewatch the series and remind myself of things, especially at the beginning. However, the novel is very well-written. This could have been a very lazy writing job, with Su and Rorick depending on readers loving the series and therefore not attempting anything new or appreciating the different medium they're working with. This is not the case, however, and the writing is delightful. Although it doesn't touch Austen's quick wit or biting criticism, it is one of the best re-working of P&P I have ever read.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet is enormous fun and is a very easy and quick read. Su and Rorick have their way with Austen in a way Austen herself would have loved, which makes this something of a must for anyone who loves Lizzie Bennet and Pride & Prejudice. I'd also recommend this of fans who like Romance and YA Fiction.

Review: 'The House Between Tides' by Sarah Maine

The House Between TidesI keep repeating this point but it is a crucial point: blurbs are so important. They are what draws you to a book, truly draws you in, not just attracts you like the cover does. The House Between Tides brought together some stunning things: mystery, ancestral homes, a body, and the Outer Hebrides. Nothing more was needed to make me want to read Sarah Maine's debut novel. Thanks t Netgalley and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/08/2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Fans of Kate Morton will love this atmospheric and immersive debut novel of a woman who returns to her ancestral home in Scotland and discovers a century-old secret buried in the basement.
Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and returns to her ancestral home, a crumbling estate in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, with the intention of renovating and reselling it as a hotel, much to the dismay of the locals. As she dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers human remains beneath a rotting floorboard in the basement, with few physical clues to identify the body. Who was this person? And why the makeshift grave?
Hungry for answers, Hetty sets out to unravel the estate’s secret—and those of its former inhabitants, including Beatrice Blake, a woman who moved there a century ago with her husband Theo, a famous painter who seemed to be more interested in Cameron, a young local man, than his own wife.
Following whispered rumors and a handful of leads, Hetty soon discovers that no one knows exactly what happened to Beatrice, only that her actions have reverberated throughout history, affecting Hetty’s present in startling ways.
As some of you may know, I currently still live in Scotland so I love novels set here. The Scottish landscape is incredibly emotive, stunningly wild and expressive, beautiful and dangerous at the same time. It is the kind of landscape that becomes an extra character, it changes where the story goes, affects the feel of the book overall. Maine's descriptions of the Outer Hebrides are beautiful and are a part of some of the best moments in the book. There is an environmental awareness to this book which is triggered by the role of the landscape. This goes hand in hand with Maine's awareness of the importance of class in the United Kingdom. Although discussions of feminism and race have taken precedence over the discussion of class in recent years, it is becoming a topic again due to how latent class difference is affecting modern day politics. Maine works out the 19th-century tension between the upper class which struggles with its entitlement and the lower class which struggles with their disenfranchisement and shows its repercussions in the modern day. It makes for really interesting reading and is one of the few contemporary novels I've read lately which addresses these topics.

A novel split into two different stories always runs the danger that one of them is more interesting than the other, leaving the reader to dread shifting between them, rushing through one story just to get back to the other. This isn't entirely the case with The House Between Tides. Both Hetty's story in the present and Beatrice Blake story in the past are well-written and interesting, with different things going for them. But it is the latter where the emphasis seems to lie. Beatrice feels realer, more fleshed out, and her part of the novel is also where most of the action and most of the revelations take place. At times Hetty isn't as interesting, too easily swayed by other characters to the point where you want to shout at her. But her story does function very well as a framework for Beatrice's. In a brilliant way, Maine informs her "present day story" with what she reveals in her "past story", which brings out almost thriller-like elements in The House Between Tides. Combining history and mystery together always makes for a fast and engrossing read, and Maine makes sure to keep the reader enticed with little twists and turns.

As said above, Maine's nature descriptions are absolutely stunning. Her writing paints beautiful pictures which are recognisable to anyone who has seen even pictures of the Outer Hebrides, let alone been there. For a debut novel, Maine's writing style is very strong. Her characterisations are on point, dialogue believable and there are some really great moments in which she keeps the tension going very well. It's historic elements are well-researched and don't read as antiquated and irrelevant, which is unfortunately frequently the case with historical novels. Although perhaps not quite as intriguing as Rebecca, to which Maine's novel is being compared, The House Between Tides does keep its reader going. It's set up as a puzzle, which means the reader can race through the novel very easily. Although the conclusion isn't a major surprise, but the way there is major fun.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The House Between Tides is a great historical novel which explores different time lines and class tensions. Maine's writing is beautiful and intriguing, even if at times the narrative flags a little bit. I'd recommend this book to fans of Historical Fiction and Suspense!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Friday Memes: '"Keep the Damned Women Out": The Struggle for Coeducation' by Nancy Weiss Malkiel

I love being at university and the last four years have incredibly enriched my life. So the idea that only a generation ago coeducation (the education of men and women together) at university level was still a very contentious topic and that this would've made  my life completely different is quite scary. So when I saw "Keep the Damned Women Out" I knew I wanted to read it.
As the tumultuous decade of the 1960s ended, a number of very traditional, very conservative, highly prestigious colleges and universities in the United States and the United Kingdom decided to go coed, seemingly all at once, in a remarkably brief span of time. Coeducation met with fierce resistance. As one alumnus put it in a letter to his alma mater, “Keep the damned women out.” Focusing on the complexities of institutional decision making, this book tells the story of this momentous era in higher education—revealing how coeducation was achieved not by organized efforts of women activists, but through strategic decisions made by powerful men. 
In America, Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth began to admit women; in Britain, several of the men’s colleges at Cambridge and Oxford did the same. What prompted such fundamental change? How was coeducation accomplished in the face of such strong opposition? How well was it implemented? Nancy Weiss Malkiel explains that elite institutions embarked on coeducation not as a moral imperative but as a self-interested means of maintaining a first-rate applicant pool. She explores the challenges of planning for the academic and non-academic lives of newly admitted women, and shows how, with the exception of Mary Ingraham Bunting at Radcliffe, every decision maker leading the charge for coeducation was male. 
Drawing on unprecedented archival research, “Keep the Damned Women Out” is a breathtaking work of scholarship that is certain to be the definitive book on the subject.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice.

Book Beginning:
The 1960s marked a major turning point in elite higher education in the United States and the United Kingdom. As the decade opened, colleges and universities closely resembled the institutions they had been in the 1950s and earlier. By end of the 1960s, so much had changed. The familiar contours of college and university life had been upended and reshaped in profoundly important ways: in the composition of student bodies and faculties, structures of governance, ways of doing institutional business, and relationships to he public issues of the day.' p.1
This perhaps isn't the most immediately riveting read, but as some of you may know I'm trying to work my way through university after university, degree after degree, so I was immediately interested in this book. As a woman I was expecting to be able to go to University, as long as I got the grades and scrambled the money together, so I wanted to know more about the decade in which women were officially allowed into "elite higher education".

Friday 56:
''The Yale Daily News welcomed Griswold's denial. "Oh save us!" the paper exclaimed: "Oh save us from the giggling crowds, the domestic lecture, an the home economics classes of a female infiltration... We will not spend our 25th reunion drinking with overweight matrons and their husbands who went to Hofstra."' p.56
Oh God, the fear of women and the not even secret sexism and prejudice that runs through that quote fro the Yale Daily News. It is never easy to change the status quo, but it is a shame that it always has to meet with such resistance.

What are you reading this Friday?

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Review: 'Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle 1)' by Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff is one of those authors that everyone seems to have read while I am lingering pathetically behind. But here I am, catching up with the blogosphere at the beginning of Kristoff's new series. With assassins. In an Italian Rennaissance setting. YES! I'm also a part of the blog tour for the release of this novel and got to ask Jay Kristoff some questions about Nevernight earlier this week. Hop over to the Q&A to see what he has to say about footnotes! Thanks to HarperCollins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 11/08/2016
Publisher: HarperCollins UK

The first in a new fantasy series from the New York Times bestselling author.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.
Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.
Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. 
But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.
Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?
Sometimes all a girl wants is a book about a girl who is an assassin and a sass-master. At over 600 pages Nevernight isn't a short book by any means, and as the first book in a new series it has a lot of work to do. Kristoff introduces Mia Corvere in a brilliant first chapter which I simply have to talk about for a second because it's perhaps one of the best contemporary opening chapters I have ever read. Kristoff combines describing Mia at "work" as assassin and Mia as a normal girl. Woven in at the same time is the set-up of Mia's journey. The first chapter is a pretty good indicator for the rest of the book in which Kristoff never forgets its main character. In a strange twist of fate, Young Adult novels are so full of characters who strike you as neither Young nor Adult. There is either not enough fun or there's so much fun there is no story. Mia is one of the best YA characters I have read in a while, even though her situation is definitely not one most readers will be able to recognise. She is also surrounded by a great set of side-characters, who all develop in a really interesting way. There are some typical Fantasy-tropes which Nevernight engages with but in usually in an interesting way. There is violence, gore, sex (not the 'and then we made love but that's all I'm going to say'-type either), some politics and religion, and loads of moments that made me go 'nice!'. The pages do almost fly by.

What I loved most about Nevernight was the world-building. A Fantasy novel simply can't do without and yet so many seem determined to do so anyway. There was/is something of an epidemic of Tolkien-esque fantasy novels which are basically lacking rehashes of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Too often the landscapes are boringly recognizable and no effort is made to create any kind of culture, history or system of religion. Not so in Nevernight. The footnotes may not be for everyone, but Kristoff clearly has ideas about what it is he wants to see in his world. There is a distinct Italian feel to Mia Corvere's world, from her name to the description of the architecture to the set up of the Republic. There are gods and goddesses, street gangs, familias with country estates, and, of course, a school for assassins. It felt different in a way that was really good. I was completely sucked in by Kristoff's world, by Mia's voice and by the Republic's history. This is how world-building should be done, creating something fun and interesting that readers want to sink into, while always letting the reader know there is more, much more. Especially when starting a new series that is exactly what a good author should be doing.

I really enjoyed Jay Kristoff's writing style, more so than I was perhaps expecting. On the one hand his writing is very descriptive and atmospheric, but on the other hand there is this historic edge to it with footnotes full of background information, random dates, and characters you'll probably never hear about again. It works very well for me but that is because I'm a nerd for world-building. There is a dark moodiness to Nevernight as well which fits perfectly with the book's topic. However, I don't think it will be for everyone. There is a lot of unnecessary information, at times the description is very heavy and the prose a little bit dense. The beginning of the plot, after a great first chapter, takes quite some time to get underway, to get to what most readers want to read about, i.e. the assassin boot camp. However, if you're willing to stick with it then Nevernight definitely rewards your patience and determination.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed Nevernight, it was a great introduction to Kristoff for me but also a great beginning to a new series. He creates a fascinating world in this novel, one which at times almost overshadows the story he is telling, which is grittier than what you're usually served in the YA Fantasy genre. I'd recommend this not just to fans of Jay Kristoff but also to Fantasy and even maybe Historical Fiction fans.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Q&A with Jay Kristoff for 'Nevernight'

Yup, you read that right! Not only did I get the chance to devour Nevernight last month, HarperCollins was also fabulous enough to let me ask Jay Kristoff a few questions about his book! My review for Nevernight will be up on the release date, i.e. the 11th, so keep your eyes peeled for that. But for now, let's see what Mr. Kristoff had to say for himself when grilled by adoring me.

Q. In Nevernight you address a lot of common worries teenagers have regarding sex, looks, etc. through some of Mia's experiences. Was it important for you to make Mia feel like a "normal" girl and for the world she lives in to feel recognisable to readers?

Most definitely. Readers fall in love with characters, not worlds. Mia is the heart and soul of NEVERNIGHT, and if she didn’t work as a character, the book simply wouldn’t work. Even though there are some distinctly earth-shattering events going down the pages, even though she’s driven by her quest for revenge, first and foremost, I wanted Mia to be relatable. That’s the real challenge of writing a compelling assassin character—nobody wants to read a story about an inhuman killing machine, and keeping a cold-blooded killer likeable is a tricky dance.

Q. Something that fascinated me about the book were the footnotes, interjecting the narrative withhistorical trivia, and it reminded me a little bit of Ivanhoe and Walter Scott's desire for it to come across as a historical and edited text. Were you going for a similar impression or was it a way for you to bring in extra story material?

The footnotes really serve three purposes:
  1.      I’m the kind of author who likes to build complex worlds, and I love reading books with ultra-granular settings. But, I understand not everyone enjoys those same kinds of books. So the footnotes are a way for me to delve into some intensive world building without troubling people who don’t like that level of detail—they can just skip the notes.
  2.     Nevernight could have been a really bleak, depressing book if I let it, and so much epic fantasy these days is almost unrelentingly grim. One of the reasons I loved Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora was that it made me laugh. So the notes are a tool I can use to lighten the mood, and hopefully bring a smile to the face of readers who’re delving into what is ultimately a very dark, gory tale.
  3.     Breaking the fourth wall. The narrator is a character, and he’s talking to you, the reader. Footnotes are a handy way to do that without breaking wall in the narrative itself.
Q. The  structure of the Republic has a very medieval Italian feel to it, especially with the familias. What were the historical and literary influences on this new series?

First off, I love Italy. I’ve been there six or seven times. I lived in a restored monastery in Venice (no fear, I didn’t have to take any vows) and and my wife and I also lived in and got married in Rome. I’m also a huge history nerd, and two of my favourite periods are Merchant Prince Venice and the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Caesars. I’ve been studying both those periods for over twenty years, so you could honestly say there’s 20 years of research in this book.

The entire setting really began as a thought experiment for me—trying to imagine what might have happened if Julius Caesar’s march on Rome failed, and the Republic endured until the medieval period. 

Q. Nevernight, as well as your other works, are very much about family bonds, about struggling in order to achieve something and about sacrifice. What about these themes attracts you so much? And do you think Fantasy is the genre that best allows you to write about it?

Sacrifice is essential to victory, imo. Stories where the heroes never lose anything, never fail, never get hurt or even perish bore me to tears. I want my reader to be afraid that the characters they love won’t come through the book alive. As for family, battles against our parents and siblings are really the first true conflicts we fight—we find out who we are and what our limits are by clashing with our families. If we’re lucky, the bonds we form there will endure the rest of our lives, and bonds that strong make a wonderful playground for storytelling. There aren’t many people you can love or hate so much as your own blood.
I’m not sure if fantasy is the best genre for these kinds of stories, but for me, fantasy is always a genre I’ll love. I grew up reading it, so I can’t help but want to write it now that I’m lucky enough to get to do this for a living.
And thank you, by the way, to all you amazing readers who let me do that.

Q. And finally, if you could go back to any historical period, which one would it be?

You know, history seems very romantic and dramatic from behind the safety of a history book. But truth is, even in periods as amazing as the Rome of the Caesars or the courts of the doges, life for regular people was often short and brutal. Imagine a world without penicillin or functional sewers or toothpaste. Imagine a world where slavery was an everyday part of life. Imagine no electricity or running water.
We live in an amazing time. We carry the entirety of human knowledge in our pockets, we send people into space, we unlock the building blocks of the universe.
Still, hanging out in the court of Augustus would be pretty kickass.

Nevernight comes out on the 12th of August and I highly recommend it! Check it out on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Friday, 5 August 2016

War and Peace #12: II.x.24 - III.xi.18

Yup, I decided to speed up the process a little bit which was a partly tragic decision since I've been told off by my dissertation supervisor that I need to refocus my attention... but how can I when Napoleon and the French army are at the gates of Moscow and my dissertation only leads to nervous breakdowns in the middle of the night? This isn't the biggest and most complex of posts because I've been busy. Naturally there is quite a lot to get through so let's get started!

Summary of Chapters:
With Pierre having well and truly arrived at the front, Tolstoy takes us into the preparations for the Battle of Borodino. Prince Andrew is frustrated at the constant arguing by generals about positions and plans, when it is not them or their plans which will determine the outcome of the battle. Tolstoy then switches to Napoleon and gives us a fascinating insight into what he imagines his mind to be like. Convinced of his own magnanimity, he cannot imagine anything but a French victory. This allows Tolstoy another chance to talk about how unimportant he thinks a single person, even if that person is Napoleon, is to the course of history. When the actual Battle starts Tolstoy manages to shift perspectives in such ways the reader truly feels they get an understanding of what happens. Pierre's initial amazement turns into slow horror at the bloodshed, Napoleon's initial pride turns into shock, and Prince Andrew is shook out of his reverie by a mortar shell. Wounded, he is carried to a medic tent where he witnesses Anatole Kuragin's leg being amputated. The Battle of Borodino falls onto these characters like a bomb, shaking up how they look at the world and themselves. The Battle ends with a moral victory for Russia but with the certainty that Moscow will still have to be surrendered.

Meanwhile Helene in Petersburg has decided she can do better and converses to Catholicism and plans to remarry. Pierre makes his way back to Moscow, still shocked, and has once again been told that Prince Andrew is presumed dead. It's becoming a habit with that man. In Moscow the Rostovs are finally packing up their possessions for an escape to the countryside, while wounded soldiers start streaming into the city, the French army hot on their heels. Still adorably self-involved, they don't seem to notice until it awakens something in Natasha who has recovered from her illness, post-Anatole. She reorganises the packing, until she decides to fill the carriages with the wounded rather than the china. One of these happens to be Prince Andrew, who is in fact not dead, but the two don't meet. Pierre meanwhile needs an escape from the world and hides at the house of his deceased Masonry-tutor.

Feel of the Chapters:
Most of the chapters for this week centre around the Battle of Borodino. Tolstoy definitely has a knack for describing battle scenes. By switching between different characters' perspectives the reader definitely gets a more complete view of the Battle and how it can affect different types of people. While those in charge get to walk around and make decisions without actually putting themselves in danger, Tolstoy also shows us how the soldiers themselves actually cope with the fighting. There is real humanity in those chapters as well as some beautiful moments of camaraderie.

The switch from the Battle to Moscow at times felt a bit jarring but I think that was the purpose as well. To see the upper classes taking their casual time fleeing when people are dying only a few miles away is off-putting but that is exactly the point.

General Points:

  • Natasha has slowly become a really interesting character. On the one hand she feels very child-like and easily excited, but she has an incredibly good heart. Easily distracted, but usually dedicated to the right cause.
  • It's so interesting how important Napoleon is to European narratives. He had a major impact on European culture, from a sense of nationality to seemingly random yet crucial things like registration of civilians. 
  • Pierre still rubs me the wrong way. His insistence at being at the Battle and his subsequent lack of, well, action just doesn't work for me. On the one hand he provides an amateur window into the Battle, but he is also so full of prejudices from his own class that I can't accept his opinions.
'War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game.' 64%
I very much agreed with Prince Andrew's opinions about war, his annoyance at those in charge as well as the concept of heroism.
'But Helene, like a really great man who can do whatever he pleases, at once assumed her own position to be correct, as she sincerely believed it to be, and that everyone else was to blame.' 69%
After so long of Tolstoy talking down about Helene I was very pleased to see him sort of crediting her as well as pointing out the double standard regarding genders.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Review: 'Leading the Blind: A Century of Guide Book Travel' by Alan Sillitoe

As some of you may know, I absolutely love travelling. And although I love travelling to faraway places, there is simply something about travelling around Europe which I simply love. Perhaps because the cultures feel so close to home and yet so different, the beautiful architectures and landscapes which, as a European, feel like they were made for me... basically I'm a Europhile. And as a non-Brit living in Britain I've grown increasingly intrigued at how us Europeans are viewed by the islanders. So when I saw Alan Sillitoe's Leading the Blind I was immediately interested. Thanks to Netgalley and Open Road Media for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 12/07/2016
Publisher: Open Road Media

A journey into nineteenth-century travel guides to the UK, Europe, and Soviet Union as researched and written by one of England’s most distinguished authors.
In this quirky and illuminating social history, bestselling British author Alan Sillitoe culls fascinating details from Victorian-era guidebooks and travelogues in order to recount the pleasures, dangers, traps, and delights of travel in the century leading up to World War I. For instance, in Switzerland, an English officer once fell into a bears’ den and was “torn in pieces.” In Paris, the outdoor seating at cafés was in “unpleasant proximity to the gutters.” In Germany and the Rhine, the denominations marked on coins did not necessarily indicate their value. And in Northern Italy, a traveler could look forward to a paradise of citron and myrtle, palms and cyclamen.
For the armchair traveler journeying into a bygone era, Sillitoe begins with the essential practicalities relevant to any tourist: the price of passports and visas, how best to clear customs, and how many bags to pack. He includes timeless advice, such as: Board a boat on an empty stomach if you are prone to seasickness, and always break in your boots before embarking on a trip. Anachronistic recommendations abound as well: It is best to leave your servant at home, carry your milk with you when traveling to small Italian villages, and not pay children and “donkey women” for flowers.
From convalescent hotels in the South of France to malaria-ridden marshes between Rome and Naples, and from the chaos of Sicily and southern Italy to the dazzling bullfights and rampant thieves of sunny Spain, Sillitoe guides readers through the minutiae of the Mediterranean with wit and historical insight. Then he takes an anecdote-filled road east into Greece, Egypt, the Holy Lands, Turkey, and Russia. Of course, the Grand Tour would not be complete without a thorough account of his home turf of England, with her idiosyncratic hamlets, smoke-filled skies, and working-class townsfolk in high-buckled shoes.
At once a fascinating history of travel books from 1815 to 1914 and an entertaining ode to wanderlust, Leading the Blind brings to life the absurd and profound wonders of Victorian globetrotting. With simple but captivating prose, Sillitoe also shows how the way we view foreign lands can reveal a lot about what is happening at home.
Travel has been a crucial part of British culture, for the upper classes that is, since the Napoleonic wars. Once relative peace arrived in Europe, the Brits started venturing out. And for that, they needed guide books. Some of the most famous British novels, such as A Room with a View for example, not only show protagonists on these travels but even make reference to such famous guide books as Baedeker's ones. Initially this took the form of the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuury, during which young heirs, and sometimes heiresses, were let loose on the Continent to soak up as much culture and learning before settling down in their country manors. Sillitoe gives his readers access to a more commercialised type of travelling, sharing excerpts from different types of guidebooks which he humorously surrounds with his own thoughts, bringing together the process of going travelling as well as different locations. I loved reading some of the thoughts Victorian Brits had about France and Spain, or how different European countries were compared.

The UK and Europe have a fascinating history, one that has been trademarked by a slight hesitation on one side and a slight apprehension on the other. Naturallly what interested me the most about Leading the Blind, and what makes it also quite a contemporary and important novel, is, to bring it up again, the relationship between the UK and the rest of the world, but especially Europe. Leading the Blind contains both interesting trivia as well as space for contemplation. For example, I did not know passports and visas were already required in the 19th century, and am slightly mad over how cheap they were. At the same time Sillitoe pays attention to the British idea that they improved the continent through its attention, the proud fact that their money spawned so many guesthouses for the specific British presence, and that of course this could only be good. There is a sense of superiority in these excerpts which feels almost awkward, as if it is at least partially forced. Also interesting was the growth of the middle class which has made possible the society we currently try to enjoy.

Sillitoe makes Leading the Blind a very entertaining book when it could have been a very boring one. Social history doesn't exactly scream excitement to most readers, but there is something beautifully innocent about these guidebooks and how much they reveal. Whether it's astonishment over the behaviour of some Brits abroad or the constant reminders that of course some areas simply were not suited for women's sentiments, the guidebook excerpts chosen by Sillitoe reveal an incredibly amount of information about British sentiments and how they have changed. Because that's an added factor of interest as well. Leading the Blind covers guide books from the Victorian Era to the First World War, covering one of the calmest and yet most revolutionary centuries in European history. The world changed a lot between 1815 and 1914, and I enjoyed seeing this century through different glasses. I wasn't familiar with Alan Sillitoe or his writing before Leading the Blind. His writing is incredibly enjoyable and I will definitely be looking out for more of his work. Apparently he was one of the "angry young men" of the 50s, which is something I'm immediately going to investigate.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Leading the Blind is an incredibly fun and interesting read. Those two things don't often fit together as nicely as Sillitoe makes them fit in Leading the Blind. It's a perfect holiday read, especially if you're visiting Europe, but also great for those of us who have to remain at home. I'd recommend this to people interested in social history.

Review: 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Part I and Part II' by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Harry Potter, #8)Let me start this review with the fact that I am a massive Harry Potter fan and that there aren't going to be many things J.K. Rowling could do that I wouldn't enjoy at least a little bit. There was such an elation in relation with reading The Cursed Child that this review and my thoughts of it are bound to be at least slightly rose-coloured. So this is not the most coherent of reviews because I'm feeling incredibly conscious about not spoiling anything for the next few weeks. So check back soon and I will probably have some big spoiler-filled discussion post up.

Pub. Date: 30/07/2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.
Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
Aah, it's been a long, long time! Something felt intrinsically right about reading a new Harry Potter book, even if it is not technically a novel but a "Special Rehearsal Edition Script". It would be impossible to write this review with some nostalgia so let's get into it immediately. A whole generation has grown up with Harry Potter, has loved it as their light in the dark and still bonds over it. Going back to it now as an adult is both an interesting and a strange experience. Here we are, reading about Harry, Hermione and Ron again but it is not really them. We're reading a Harry Potter book but it's not really a book and it's not written by J.K. Rowling either. It may cause some confused feelings for some fans, but for me the nostalgia was still there. This is a new story, new kids on the Hogwarts Express and in all honesty that is what I as a fan like to see. I absolutely adore some of the new characters and I'm definitely intrigued by some of the others. A fandom shouldn't become stagnant, a canon of texts should be able to develop and grow as well. But there has been both a lot of speculation and even anger about some of the ways in which the plot unravels.

I think J.K. Rowling and her co-writers were quite brave to make certain choices. In order to not discus spoilers I will simply talk about another franchise which I believe has made similar brave choices. I'm talking about Star Wars and the Prequels. Depending on which fan you talk to this might fill you with fear, but I personally love the Prequels. In the Star Wars prequels George Lucas made the choice to revisit one of his most iconic characters and show his audience another side of him. Darth Vader, that dark and terrible yet inspiring villain, was now a young boy, hopeful and kind. It threw some people because they preferred seeing their characters only in one light, unwilling to accept that good characters can turn bad and that bad characters can have good sides. People change over time and making mistakes is a part of that. No, how does this apply to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Rowling also makes a time jump and shows us some of her most beloved characters from a new angle. They live a different life, they make different choices and fans will have to accept that. For me personally it was fine, with some of the things others are thinking of as "unforgiveable" being simply interesting or sloppy to me.

What both works for The Cursed Child and doesn't is that it is a screenplay. We are used to J.K. Rowling's amazing descriptions and characterisations, which very much is the meat that makes Harry Potter so delicious. That is completely missing in the play, since most screenplays simply do not have descriptions but only stage notes. It means that the plot moves along incredibly fast, the twists and turns perhaps coming a little bit too rapidly and some characters not getting enough time. If this screenplay was meant to make me curious about seeing the play it definitely succeeded. This play is a revisit, and if J.K. Rowling is to be understood, the final revisit. Part of the purpose of this play is fan-service, it simply is. All the known locations are visited, most of the favourite characters appear (there are some glaring gaps though) and, as such, we learn nothing fundamentally knew about the Wizarding World. If you're looking for something new then Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them will be the thing for you, truly departing from what we know. To me reading The Cursed Child simply felt like a return to my childhood for a few hours, something slightly new and yet recognizably familiar.

I give this screenplay...

4 Universes!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is for the Harry Potter fans who just want to go back one last time. It will be something of a disappointment to them though because they have changed and their favourite characters have changed. There will probably be a lot of debate about The Cursed Child for a while, but the new characters that have been introduced are worth it, I think.