Mid Month Mini-Reviews – March

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Hello bookworms!

Due to the success of my last post, I’m going to keep going with a few more mini-reviews. Look, I even made a graphic! I had no idea how fun these things were to write so I think they might become a monthly feature. Woo hoo! No more trying to drag out interesting comments about dull 2.5 star books.

Today, I’m focusing on clearing out some of my NetGalley backlog, Marie Kondo style. That “older than three months” tab does not spark joy.

 

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

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I quite liked this book – it was proper old-fashioned science fiction along the lines of Philip K. Dick and reminded me very much of Minority Report. The story centered around Lazlo Ratesic, a citizen of the Golden State and member of the Speculative Service whose job it was to enforce the Objectively So: the criminal offense of lying. The upholding of the truth requires Lazlo’s special sixth sense combined with the constant surveillance of all Golden State citizens but absolute power corrupts absolutely and when he stumbles across previously unknown truths, his reality unravels.

I really enjoyed the Big Brother overtones within the novel and it was interesting to read from the point of view of the enforcers, not the average dissenting citizen. The world building was great, very cohesive for such a bold idea and held together well. I enjoyed the questions that the book raised around morality – is it possible to be completely honest all of the time? Is freedom always such a good thing or should we appreciate the use of CCTV etc. as a protectionist measure? However, as the book went on it became a bit absurd, then a lot absurd, then descended into an ending that came so far out of left field that it could have belonged to another novel entirely. Still, I enjoyed the majority of the book very much so I gave it:

Three and a half “is honesty always the best policy?” out of five.

 

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

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I have to say that I really, really tried with this book but unfortunately I had to DNF it at 60% (see, I told you I gave it a good go). It’s well written but, frankly, dull. Cass is  a singer-songwriter re-launching her career after years of shying away from the public and the book flips between her life now and her back story. I initially enjoyed reading about Cass’ early life and relationship with her family but as the book progressed I felt like the action was sorely missing. Cass has a horrible relationship with her jealous boyfriend (another member of the band) but this point is so laboured and the endless chapters about yet another gig, yet another argument, yet another London flat were so repetitive and dull that I lost interest.

I feel like there’s a good story within the novel but to stretch it out over 400 pages was too much for me. When my Kindle estimated that it would still take over three hours for me to finish I made the decision that life was too short and gave up on it.

Two “MY GOD WHEN WILL IT END” out of five.

 

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

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This book is a collection of personal essays focusing on a number of taboo subjects – the alcohol addiction of Emilie Pine’s father, her own problems with fertility, the loss of children, of miscarriage, of regret and death and guilt. Whilst the book is brutally honest, it’s just… a lot. That doesn’t make it bad exactly but it does make it a difficult read. Everything is laid bare in quite a matter-of-fact way and whilst I was glad that Pine never wallowed in self-pity it was the lack of personal reflection that left me feeling a little cold. I struggled to get a handle on who she was and her lack of empathy for others or consideration of the wider issues that impacted upon her life meant that in turn I struggled to empathise with her.

Whilst I wouldn’t say that this book was enjoyable, it was a powerful read containing beautifully written prose. I appreciated the honesty of the author in tackling such difficult subjects but I struggled to connect emotionally.

Three “check your privilege” out of five

 

So, have you read any of these books? Is 60% a ridiculously long way into a book before DNFing it? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Review – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Genre: Complicated Murder Mystery

Similar to: A gothic version of “Clue”

Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who really wants something to sink their teeth into

Publication date: 8th February 2018

 

Picture the scene…

Publisher (P): Ok, tell me about this idea that you have for a book

Stuart Turton (ST): Well, it’s a Victorian murder mystery. It’s set in a crumbling gothic mansion where there’s a party taking place and the reader knows that one of the guests is the killer.

P: Pretty standard stuff.

ST: Weeeeellll… not really. I added a twist.

P: What kind of twist?

ST: The same day gets lived out over and over again, so that the reader gets to see the murder from different angles.

P: How?

ST: Well, for each day that passes, the protagonist wakes up in a different body.

P: Riiiiggghht…

ST: So they collect information from each of their host bodies.

P: Ok. That sounds a bit complicated, but as long as it’s a linear progression…

ST: It’s not a linear progression.

P: But you said…

ST: Each time one of the hosts goes to sleep, or gets knocked out, or killed, the protagonist jumps to a different host. So the timeline kind of moves back and forth.

P: But no-one knows about the hosts, so doing things out of sequence…

ST: No, there’s other characters who are stuck in the same time loop.

P: And presumably they have different host bodies too?

ST: No, I wouldn’t want to make it complicated.

P: Hmmm.

ST: Of course, the hosts know about the hosts so they can give each other information. Oh, and did I mention the plague doctor? And the footman? He’s trying to murder the protagonist by hunting him down. And when I said this was a murder mystery… there’s more than one murder. A lot more. And when I said the same day gets lived out, the hosts do have the ability to alter the timeline for future hosts.

Are you still with me?

P:…

ST…

P: You’d have to a genius to write something that complicated.

ST: BEHOLD MY GENIUS!!!

P: Ok, well as long as you don’t give it a confusing title…

So yes, anyway…

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (not to be confused with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is an entirely different book, or The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which is the same book but with a different title for US audiences) is complicated. As someone who regularly reads multiple books at once, even I had to dedicate myself solely to the novel, reading it in big chunks over a period of a few days (otherwise I kept forgetting who everyone was). Its genius is it’s intricacy though, pulling you into a web of lies, betrayal and secrets that reveal themselves slowly – sometimes even frustratingly slowly – to finally build a picture of the truth.

I loved how the book was written – the sheer scope of the thing, the numerous characters, the plotline that took so many twists and turns I had virtual whiplash. I loved the gothic sensibilities, the utterly unreliable cast of characters and the sense of tension that started on the first page and built momentum as the book progressed. I was utterly engrossed…for about 80% of the novel.

You see, whilst it would be completely honest to say that I got lost in the book, I literally mean that I got lost. The book is so complex, the storyline so fragmented and the characters so unreliable that any sense of playing detective as a reader was utterly pointless. To me, the whole point of a mystery book is to try to work out what’s going on before you’re told by picking up on the clues and red herrings scattered throughout the text. There was none of that here. Even if I wrote the ending here now it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference because not in a million years would you get anywhere close to being able to work it out.

I think that part of the problem was the idea of inhabiting different hosts (all male, all seemingly middle class/upper working class) with little knowledge or memories of who the host actually was. That meant that the protagonist was endlessly jumping between bodies who all seemed pretty similar, but who all had predefined parts to play. You had no idea of what each host knew, where their loyalties lay or even what their relationships were with other characters. Add to that the few breadcrumbs of plot that jumped out as clues/things to remember and it was all just a bit too much. So by the time I was nearing the ending, I realised that I didn’t have any theories as to what might happen and I was passively watching the action.

Ending notwithstanding, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible, absorbing book. I loved how engrossed I became in it, how inventive and original the storyline was and joyously, unashamedly complicated it became. I would have loved a few more clues, a viable chance at guessing the ending and an easier way of telling the characters apart but I still give it:

Four and a half “not a single non-alcoholic drink throughout”s out of five..

Inventive, original and complex – make sure you keep a notebook handy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calendar Girls March: Favourite Book With a Strong Female Lead

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

calendar girls march

…and my top pick is…

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

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Skyward is the story of Spensa who lives on the planet Detritus, which, as the name suggests, is a junk planet abandoned by it’s previous inhabitants. She was born there to a family who were crew members on a fleet of spacecraft that crash landed on the planet following a battle with their enemies, the Krell aliens. The survivors created a subterranean world for themselves but faced aeriel attacks from the Krell. They began building spaceships to fight back and as the daughter of a previously disgraced pilot, all that Spensa wants is to sign up to fight. Those in charge, however, have other ideas.

Unusually for a sci-fi novel (especially one written by a man) the book is pretty female centric and I loved that the female representation was just…there. There was no political point, no-one in the story told Spensa she couldn’t be a pilot because she was a girl – indeed, the head of the defensive federation is a woman and the pilots seemed to be a 50/50 mix of men and women. The book could do easily have gone down the Handmaid’s Tale route, forcing women to keep popping out babies in order to ensure the survival of a small population against a vast number of enemies but Sanderson clearly chose to make Spensa his rebellious MC for reasons other than her gender. I personally found this a refreshing change (and I say that as a feminist – I just think that trope has been done too many times).

I also really, really loved the fact that there was no bloody romance taking up space in the life of a girl who simply wanted to kill space aliens and avenge the death of her father. It was soooo great not to have to deal with cringey teenage attempts at flirting, although I suspect there might be some of that coming in the next instalment *sigh*.

Overall, I loved Skyward from the first sentence to the last. Some parts should have been boring (protracted battle flights filled with technical detail, endless comments about mushrooms) yet somehow Sanderson absolutely nailed it.

Have you read Skyward? Do you enjoy books with strong female leads? Let me know in the comments! 

 

TL;DR February Review

Hello Bookworms!

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Welcome to spring! Considering I started last month’s review with the word snow, this month has been positively balmy. The bulbs are flowering, the tortoises are wandering around eating everything in sight and we haven’t had the heating on in weeks. I even saw my neighbour going out in shorts and a t-shirt!

February was my birthday month so I went out a fair bit – I even went out out to a nightclub! I felt very old and had a two-day hangover so I’m not doing that again. I also had a few nice meals out and used my National Trust membership to go to Upton House and Gardens where we had fun looking at the renaissance artwork collection, especially as there were some hilarious kids asking brilliant questions like “what’s God?” and “is that a cat?” (It was the 12 apostles) 😂😂😂

Due to my birthday/valentines/hangovers we haven’t done too much to the house – I can’t reach a corner of the ceiling even on ladders so my progress has been somewhat thwarted. Once the non-hubs pulls his finger out and finishes it off for me we’ll be back on track.

I also have some excellent bookish news – I’m going to be a library volunteer! I have mixed feelings about the role – obviously I’m not a librarian and it’s a shame that the local residents are going to receive a reduced service due to our lack of expertise (it’ll be entirely volunteer run) but I’m excited about the opportunity and it’ll keep the place going which I guess is the most important thing.

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I’m still doing well with the 2019 Read Harder Challenge but I’ve fallen behind a bit with my Chapter-a-Day Read-Along – oops. I’ll have to try extra hard in March to get back on track.

This month, I took part in the February Calendar Girls meme where I chose Lullaby by Leila Slimani as my favourite book by a black author. I continued Sorting Out the Shelves, I took part in the Unpopular Opinions Tag and I also did a Valentine’s day post recommending books that feature different types of love.

I posted six reviews (and also some mini reviews!) this month:

The Martian by Andy Weir: Just fantastic, I loved everything about this brilliantly entertaining book – except for the gardening advice! 🌟Five out of five🌟

Lullaby by Leila Slimani: A brilliantly twisted, disturbing novel that kept me engrossed from the first page to the last. Great stuff! Four out of five.

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen: Unexpectedly great, I really enjoyed this super fun, quirky book. A great easy read. Four out of five. 

The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens and Siobhan Dowd: This was such a lovely middle grade read, really fun and with great autism representation. Four out of five.

The Never Dawn by R. E. Palmer: Intriguing and engrossing but I had a few issues with pacing and I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Three and a half out of five. 

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan: Again, I wasn’t expecting a lot from this novella but I was pleasantly surprised by the great writing. If you’re a romance fan I’d definitely check this one out! Three out of five.

So that’s February wrapped up! Do you feel like spring is here? Did you have a good Valentine’s Day? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: The Never Dawn by R. E. Palmer

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Genre: Dystopian sci-fi, YA

Similar to: The Hunger Games mixed with 1984

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of creepy dystopian fiction with a YA feel

Publication date: 5th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #9 Read a book published prior to 1st January 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.

*Disclaimer: I was approached by the author who gave me a free e-copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review*

Noah lives on the Arc – but not that one. This Noah is stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare, where the Arc is actually some kind of vast underground bunker which houses both the factory where he works and his sleeping quarters. Noah has to spend his days in servitude to the omnipresent Mother, toiling away at his menial job in preperation for the promised New Dawn – the day that his people can walk free again upon the Earth. However, Noah begins to notice certain…inconsistencies with Mother’s doctrine. When he meets Rebekah, Noah learns that there’s more going on than he could have ever dreamed possible and together, they attempt to discover the full truth.

The Never Dawn is a very atmospheric book. The world of the Arc is depicted in minute detail and the daily tasks that the workers have to carry out are written about extremely thoroughly. The writing evokes the sheer level of drudgery that Noah and his friends have to go through every day – however, that’s at the expense of the pacing of the storyline. Some parts of the book are quite laborious to get through and I did get a bit bored in the earlier stages of the text.

There are obvious religious themes at play within the novel and I felt that this added to the creepiness and sense of unease that builds as the story goes along. There are quite a lot of odd things left unsaid for the reader to pick up on – the changing reports about the situation on the surface, the lack of adults, the degree of control that Mother had over the worker’s daily lives. As an innocent character, Noah was utterly naive to his surroundings which felt completely authentic and also gave me as a reader the ability to start to form my own opinions about what was really going on.

As the book went on, the tension built beautifully and I had some genuine heart-in-mouth moments where certain rules were being broken. I was utterly on Noah’s side and despite the book being set in a tiny microcosm I liked the way that this added to the sense of claustrophobia.

The ending was something that I struggled with, however. I really couldn’t visualise the situation that the character’s found themselves in – for once the descriptions of the scenery were somewhat lacking. It’s a shame because up until that point I’d been enjoying myself but I couldn’t quite immerse myself in the final scenes.

Despite this, I liked The Never Dawn and would be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Three and a half “Who built the Arc… NOAH, NOAH”s out of five.

Intriguing and exciting but with a few issues around pacing and world building.

 


Thank you once again to the author for giving me a free copy of The Never Dawn.

 

Mid-Month Mini Reviews!

Hello bookworms!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I seem to have created somewhat of a backlog of books to review recently and rather than drown in their vortex I’ve decided I’m going to try a few mini-reviews! This is something I’ve never done before and as someone who does like to waffle on a bit I’m not sure how well they’re going to turn out… but I’m giving them a go anyway.

This month, I’m focusing on three books that I’ve read for the 2019 Read Harder Challenge for Book Riot. They are:

#4 Read a Humour Book

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen

I wasn’t really looking forwards to this book – to be honest, I thought it would be frothy crap – but I was pleasantly surprised at much I enjoyed it. Aisling is a small town, sensible girl-next-door; the kind of woman with a french manicure, comfortable ballet flats and a swipe of brown mascara. She’s the dependable friend who plans the itinerary, books the tickets and packs a cardigan in her handbag “in case it turns chilly later”. Aisling has her whole life mapped out (steady job, marriage, kids, house, pension, retirement plot) but when her boyfriend refuses to fit in she shocks everyone by ditching him and building a new life for herself – one that’s totally off plan.

I loved seeing the character of Aisling develop and even though at times she was utterly clueless she always remained resolutely herself. I loved how Irish the text was too – the slightly unfamiliar words and cadence added a real authenticity to the characters.  The book reminded me a bit of Bridget Jones’ Diary – it had all the same humour and warmth and it was really good fun.

Four “what on earth are presses?” out of five.

 

#14 Read a cozy mystery

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The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens and Siobhan Dowd

This was more of a middle grade mystery than a cozy mystery (which I hate with a passion) so again, I cheated a bit – whatcha gonna do? I really enjoyed this book with diverse representation, an autistic mc and some Mums who actually did stuff (even if that was getting arrested and disappearing for a large chunk of the book). The story follows Ted, a twelve year old boy with Aspergers who has to solve the mystery of a missing painting taken from The Guggenheim Museum on the day that he happens to be visiting. I loved how Ted (along with his sister and cousin) worked methodically through their list of suspects, piecing together information and drawing logical conclusions to arrive at the correct answer.

This book is a sequel to The London Eye Mystery (which I now really want to read) but worked fine as a stand-alone. It must have been really difficult for Robin Stevens to take Siobhan Dowd’s idea and turn it into a full novel but I thought she did a great job.

Four “how did I not see that?” out of five

 

#16 Read a historical romance by an author of colour

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The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

So I thought that OMG What a Complete Aisling was out of my comfort zone but The Governess Affair REALLY wasn’t something that I would ever pick up out of choice (hence why I cheated a tiny bit and chose a novella for this category). The story is somewhat predictable – an uptight, no-time-for-romance, I’ve-been-damaged-by-my-upbringing type falls in love with a headstrong woman and the usual enemies-to-lovers storyline plays out. Despite much eye-rolling from me the writing was actually very good and as a novella I quite enjoyed dipping into it for a bit of escapism. In fact, the only thing that I didn’t enjoy was the description of the tea that they drank. From a hip flask. Urgh. It reminded me of the time that I saw an American couple tip the milk into the teapot before pouring *shudders*. Sort it out Americans!

Three “that sounds like cold tea and a spam sandwich” out of five

 

So, how do you like the mini-review format? Have you read any of these books? Are you doing Read Harder 2019? Let me know in the comments!

 

Love in all its Forms…

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Photo by Rahul Pandit on Pexels.com

Happy Valentines Day, Bookworms!

Now, I know today isn’t for everyone (me included) so I’ve put together a little list of books that take a more alternative approach to love – everything from queer interest to to platonic friendships – so hopefully there’s something for everyone. Forget going on a date and snuggle up with a novel instead!

For people who think they’re too gay for all this boy-meets-girl rubbish

There is SO MUCH excellent stuff being published about queer romance at the moment. A lot of it is YA based (which is not my thing) so if you’re looking for something featuring slightly older protagonists, I’ve got a couple of recommendations. For m/m romance I love anything by Nick Alexander, especially his earlier books like Fifty Reasons to Say Goodbye. They’re funny, sweet and often eye-opening and I loved the entire series. For f/f relationships I really liked Women by Chloe Caldwell which is less romance and more breakup driven but still an excellent piece of writing. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, which I have spent the last twenty minutes trying to describe; it’s a love story, it’s a coming of age novel, it’s a terrifying and sad exploration of the intersection between faith and homosexuality, it’s hilarious and charming and warm and yet completely disturbing.

For people who think they’re too nerdily awkward for relationships

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls ed. by Hope Nicholson is a really interesting compendium of the niche loves of women who self -identify as geeks – everything from random fandoms to cosplay relationships. The content is really varied, champions the whole of the LGBTQ+ spectrum and celebrates alternative love stories in a really cool and creative way.

For people who prefer Galentines to Valentines

I love reading about female friendships and there are some fantastic books out there that represent women getting stuff done with the help of other women. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a personal favourite of mine – I love the different personality types of the the four March sisters and the fact that they’re all so different and yet they all pull together when needed. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a more modern take on the theme (and is a cracking good mystery at the same time) and The Lido by Libby Page is a brilliant example of women from different age groups finding commonality and friendship across the generations.

…or who just want to see platonic friendships

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a fantastic book featuring neurodiverse representation, as well as a lovely platonic m/f friendship. It has some difficult themes but they’re handled really well and there’s a good dose of humour to stop things from getting too dark. If you want to read something with more of a sci-fi/fantasy feel, Skyward by Brandon Sanderson has a really strong m/f friendship at it’s core, features a number of young male and female characters but crucially contains ABSOLUTELY NO SNOGGING – hallelujah!

For people who love their pets more than anything or anyone

There’s loads of really heartwarming tales of people who love their animals – think A Cat Called Norton by Peter Gethers, A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen or Marley and Me by John Grogan. For a broader take on one woman’s love for her dog, Spectacles by Sue Perkins is an autobiography that hits every theme I’ve just mentioned above but it’s her love for her dog Pickle that really stands out. I defy anyone to read the letter that she wrote to her without bursting into uncontrollable tears.

I hope you’ve had a good Valentines Day! Do you have any suggestions for alternative takes on love/romance? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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Genre: Sci-fi, dark comedy

Similar to: A tiny bit like Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, or The Revenant but set in space

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone, even people who don’t think sci-fi is for them

Publication date: 27th December 2012

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6

I’m wandering round Poundland (gotta love a bargain) looking for a cheap notebook to, well, make notes in when I come across the “re:cover” section of books. Basically: secondhand books for a quid. And The Martian was there. So I picked it up because of the hype I’d seen surrounding it and bought it because of the blurb – essentially a man (Mark Watney) gets stranded on Mars after he has an accident evacuating the planet and his crew think he’s dead. He has to survive on his own with broken equipment, broken comms and a limited stock of food. No wonder the first line is

“I’m pretty much fucked”.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 14

I start reading.

Mark you really are fucked, you absolute spanner. There is NO WAY that potatoes would grow in such shallow soil PLUS I’m pretty sure that “compost” would need to have well rotted manure in it. Trust me, I’m a gardener.

Trusted Amazon review:

 Incorrect advice

Read book about potato growing. Potatoes don’t grow in shallow soil, even on Mars. 0/10.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 57

Ok so I’ve suspended my disbelief and now I’m hooked on the story. Like, totally hooked. I could do without some of those massive number info dumps but that’s a minor criticism. Thank god for the black humour because without it this book would be pretty dry.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 134

LOVING how pacey this storyline is. Every page is:

“I’m probably going to die!”

“So I thought about it and…science!”

“I’ll just try to use radiation/deadly gasses/fire/duct tape”

“I nearly died but it sort of worked so I did some more science and now it really works! I’ll live to fight another chapter!”

Yay duct tape indeed.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 254

Mark is such a juvenile idiot but I can’t help but love him. I’ve suspended my knowledge of plants, I may as well suspend my feminist principals too.

Hehe, boobs (.Y.)

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 345

The scientific research in this book is astounding. I mean, I have literally no idea if any of it checks out but it seems totally plausible so I’m going with it. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. It’s making up one hell of a story.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 405

Speaking of feminist principals, there’s pretty good representation of women working in science (as you would hope for a book set in the future). I feel better now about the 80085 thing earlier.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 467

Mark Watney, why aren’t you just a tiny bit depressed about what’s going on? There’s no way you can survive this. I love how chipper you’re being but you’re not really that believable as a character. Then again, it’s a lot more fun reading about an upbeat engineering genius than Marvin the Paranoid Android.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 504

I am so excited about the conclusion to Mark’s little issuettes. Yes it’s far fetched and yes I’m sure that in real life NASA would have to cut the funding but I love how this has all panned out. Brilliant stuff.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 549

I guess this is the end. What a ride! I loved every second of reading this book.

Premise: Go!

Pacing: Go!

Characters: Go!

Representation: Go!

Humour: Go!

Research: Go!

Gardening advice: Houston, we have a problem.

 

Five inconceivably home grown potatoes out of five.

Compelling, engaging, funny and ingenious; I loved everything about this book!

 

Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

 

Genre: Literary fiction

Similar to: A slower version of The Essex Serpent

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a dash of magical realism

Publication date: 17th January 2018

 

This is an awkward post to write. Initially, I LOVED Once Upon A River – like, sent out a tweet that the author liked about how much I was enjoying it – but once I got into the book…well… I got a little bogged down.

Let me explain…

It’s midwinter in England, in the old Swan Inn on the banks of the Thames. Stories are being told by candlelight by the village locals. Suddenly, a man bursts through the doors, heavily beaten and holding what appears to be a doll. But when the villagers try to help him, they realise that he’s holding the body of a drowned girl. They lay her to rest in a room on her own but hours later – a miracle! – she stirs and seems to come back to life. So starts a tale of intrigue, deception and magic, heavily laden with folklore.

So far so good.

But when the entire book is based around who is the girl  in an age when no-one could tell for sure, I felt like I was literally getting caught in the weeds.

Luckily, Once Upon A River is beautifully, magically written. The prose is lyrical, flowing, well… like a river. However, it also meanders about, with a huge cast of characters forming a number of slower moving tributaries that feed into the main narrative flow. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me but it took a while to understand. It also made the pace of the book s-l-o-w… really slow. Occasionally, the storyline was so stagnant I thought we’d veered off course into an oxbow lake. The gorgeous writing just about managed to pull me through the silt though.

The book is also incredibly atmospheric. I could literally see the characters (there’s pages and pages of descriptive text) even though they’re numerous and somewhat similar. Combined with the writing style this made the novel far more engaging but after a while, instead of gliding effortlessly through the prose I felt like I was drowning in it. I got somewhat swamped by the side stories and exhausted by the sense that I was treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Oddly, the narrative picked up pace towards the end – to the point of feeling a little rushed – which I found quite jarring. I didn’t fully understand the ending (I sensed some kind of moral message but couldn’t quite decipher it) although I appreciated how the author tied all of the narrative threads together. I hated the idea that getting married and having a baby would make everything better though.

Overall, this was a very difficult book to review. I can completely see why some people (a lot of people) have given it five stars – it’s an easy book to immerse yourself in. However, I struggled with the slow pace and the lack of action. Whilst I quite enjoyed reading Once Upon A River, I didn’t love it – but I’m sure plenty of other people will.

Three “the words LITERALLY washed over me”s out of five.

Beautifully written and highly original but a little slow for my taste.

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: Of Women by Shami Chakrabarti

Genre: Non-fiction, feminist literature

Similar to: A Good Time to be a Girl

Could be enjoyed by: People looking for a broad overview of feminist issues

Publication date: 26th October 2017 

*puffs out cheeks, blows out through pursed lips* 

Yeah.

This book was so close to being a DNF multiple times but I was just about interested enough to keep going. 

JUST.

Of Women in the 21st Century (to give it it’s full title) is a series of essay-like chapters regarding the treatment of women in various different areas of life (education, faith, healthcare etc.) highlighting the myriad of injustices that they face. Light bedtime reading it ain’t.

As the description suggests, the book is, well…it’s pretty depressing. There are SO MANY issues facing women and Shami Chakrabarti has detailed them all, with credible stats and references, eleventy billion times throughout the text. My main takeaway is that women are basically f*cked.

And that’s my problem, because I’m generally a positive little sunflower and I like to think that the world is ever so slowly changing for the better. I know that all these problems exist but there are lots of people working very hard to tackle them. It would have been great if they had got a mention – or if Chakrabarti has proposed her own solutions in a more concrete fashion.

I’m not knocking the inclusion of facts and figures in the book – far from it, Of Women is impeccably researched – but that doesn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience. The endless stats became meaningless when read as large chunks of text and the whole thing felt highly impersonal. I didn’t disagree with anything that she said but I wasn’t fired up by her arguments either.

I also felt that the book was highly, highly biased. There was no interrogation of the data presented and no consideration for any counter-arguments. I also got the impression (even though it’s not overtly stated) that it’s those bloody Conservatives who have caused/failed to solve some of the problems detailed – remembering of course that Chakrabarti is a Labour Party politician. Again, I didn’t necessarily disagree with what she was saying but it was all very one sided.

However, there were some parts of the book that were genuinely enjoyable. In particular, the section on faith was really interesting and well researched. I think this area is often overlooked in feminist discussions so it felt like Chakrabarti was bringing something new to the table, instead of summarising the main points of old ground.

Overall, I felt like the book was a fantastic overview, a starting point, an introduction to some of these issues but the tone of the piece was so dry and heavygoing that I could only really recommend it as a reference book for the basics of gender studies.

Rating: Two and a half stars out of five.

A good overview of the main issues facing women but written in such a dry, uninspiring fashion that what should be a hard-hitting account became meaningless.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!