Blog Tour – Kingshold by D. P. Wooliscroft

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Part of #TheWriteReads Blog Tour!

Genre: Fantasy (possibly high fantasy? I’m not knowledgeable enough about the sub-genres)

Similar to: A bit Assassin’s Apprentice with occasional Terry Pratchett overtones

Could be enjoyed by: People who like multiple POV, political fantasy

Publication date: 17th April 2018

I haven’t written a book review in months, so I think the first thing that I should do is apologise for how rusty I am. As always, life has gotten in the way etc. etc. I’ll try my hardest not to ramble but after the week I’ve had even this opening paragraph is a bit of a stretch!

Soooo, Kingshold. To summarise: the King and Queen get assassinated, there’s a city wide search for someone to run the newly-founded republic.

Chaos ensues.

(This is easier than I thought! Oh no, wait…)

To start with the positives – I thought the book was well written. There was the occasional repetition of a more unusual word and the inclusion of some more modern phrases which sometimes felt a little incongruous but overall the tone was refreshingly light, especially for something as serious as a political fantasy. In particular, I loved how I don’t have a single bad thing to say about sexism – the female characters were likeable, had autonomy and didn’t act as “sexy lamps” (standing around in the background waiting to be turned on by men). One of them even got introduced as Ms! I don’t know a single thing about any of their breasts and there were no bad sex scenes so kudos to the author for not writing like a misogynistic dickbiscuit.

On to the not-so-good bits…

I thought that the characters needed a little more fleshing out as a lot of the time they were somewhat interchangeable. Alana and Petra? Motega, Trypp and Florian? I’m still not exactly sure who was who and I struggled to picture them in my head. I also had some issues with some of the names; Neenahwi… Neena-h-wi? Nee-nah-wi? Neenah-wi? Who knows. I did find that every time that character was mentioned, the pronunciation of her name pulled me right out of the story.

I also couldn’t help but notice some of the – ahem – similarities between certain other books. Now clearly Kingshold is a genre novel so you’d expect certain tropes but in the absence of clear character definitions my mind started to default to, well, mostly the Discworld. We had Rincewind a dodgy wizard, Gimli bearded dwarves, Great A’Tuin a draco-turtle with a town on his back, Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini a group of three marauding brothers-in-arms and The Luggage some floating luggage. 

There was a large cast of characters and plenty of interaction between them all but in terms of action I found it all a bit, well, admin based. I guess the thing about writing a political fantasy is that there’s quite a lot of tedious going-to-curry-favour-with-Lady-such-and-such and although there were plenty of diversions and random events, I found the plot quite slow overall. The events happened in a kind of “oh look, fire!” or “who is that unknown assassin?” type way, with very little tension or build up. There were also some interesting hooks thrown in that weren’t followed up – was Mareth’s singing actual magic? Where on earth did that demon come from – is she banished? I guess we will find out more in subsequent books in the series.

Overall, I liked Kingshold but I didn’t love it. For me, the pacing was too slow, the characters and setting needed better descriptions and I would have like to see a bit more build up and tension to the events that unfolded. I imagine that if you read a lot of fantasy then you’d probably really enjoy this book (after all, I am the woman who found Assassin’s Apprentice quite tedious) but it wasn’t really for me.

 

Three “Is her name Need-A-Wee?”s out of five.

Good writing, an interesting premise but overall just not for me.

 

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

The Gilded King – Sovereign Book One

Genre: Paranormal romance

Similar to: Well, it’s a romance about gentle vampires… (DON’T SAY TWILIGHT!)

Could be enjoyed by: People who have read the prequel

Publication date: 25th June 2018

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to Dave and everyone in The Write Reads gang for all of the love and support and for including me on this tour. It’s been AAAGGGEEESSS since I’ve published anything on here so being forced to post asked to participate in a blog tour has been a great way to get me back into the swing of things!

Synopsis…

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well. Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside. But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained. Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight. One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

My thoughts…

My initial reaction to this novel was “is this self published? Wow!” Now, I don’t mean to have a go at any of the excellent authors out there who have published their own amazing stories BUT The Gilded King feels… professional. It reads like it’s been edited by someone who isn’t a family friend. The narrative flowed well and I was soon hooked into the story. Most importantly… no typo’s.

Unfortunately, as I began to get deeper into the story, I started to get a little confused. I was expecting some kind of world building or backstory… anything to explain all the things going on like The Fall or the location of The Blue or the link between the vaccine, Silvers and the Weepers. However – nada. In fairness to the author, there is a prequel novella (which I haven’t read) which I guess would explain things in a bit more detail but as a stand alone novel I felt that there should have been more explanation. Plus, every time The Fall was mentioned I pictured this:

 

I quite liked all of the characters, even if Claudia was a bit wet and Cameron was often utterly clueless. There was some good, slow building m/m queer representation and I loved Felix – I think his character will really develop in book two. I liked Julia too and thought it was fantastic to have a self-described “plain” looking girl as the main heroine – what a refreshing change!

As far as the storyline went, I really got into the book and read it in only a couple of days. I have to say though, I did get a bit confused by the three different names for vampires, plus the elite vampire guard and I sometimes struggled to work out who the characters were and what side they were on.

Overall, I liked The Gilded King and now that I’ve got my head around the setting I think books two and three will be really interesting. The novel wasn’t without it’s faults but it was a good narrative  – I could just have done with reading the prequel novella beforehand!

Three and a half “they’re VAMPIRES???”s out of five.

Well written, exciting stuff from a genre that I don’t normally read. The scene is set nicely for book two!

 

*PSSSSSST The Gilded King is FREE right now on Kindle! Links here:

Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

About Josie Jaffrey…

I live in Oxford, UK, with my husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for me to wear black, which is largely why I gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, I still miss my old wardrobe.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Monthly Wrap-Up Mini Reviews – April

Hello bookworms!

Since my mini-reviews have been such a hit (and I have a massive backlog to get through) I thought I’d attempt them twice a month – ooooh! So, welcome to my monthly wrap-up mini-reviews!

Today, I’m focusing on my recent forays into the world of novellas and short essays – tiny reviews for tiny manuscripts!

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

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I LOVED everything about this essay/novella that was adapted from Chimamanda’s Tedx talk of the same name. Considering how short it is (60 pages) she does an absolutely brilliant job of defining modern feminism in an eloquent and engaging way. I completely agreed with all of her points about why a patriarchal society is bad for everyone (not just women) and the ways that we can all work together to combat systematic inequalities that hold everyone back.

Many books about feminism are written by white, middle class women with a limited experience of the world outside of Europe/the US/Australia so it was interesting to read about the viewpoint of someone with a completely different background. I thought that all of the author’s points were well reasoned and that her unique perspective brought something genuinely new to the debate.

Overall, I loved the passionate, informative way that the essay was written and think it should be required reading!

Five “It’s not as boring as it sounds!” out of five.

 

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler

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WHY have I never read Octavia E Butler before? Bloodchild is a tiny little novella that took me about half an hour to read but it was A-MA-ZING. The basic premise (from what I could tell – the writing is s p a r s e) is that there’s a planet occupied by both space aliens and people. The space aliens need human hosts to incubate their eggs which the humans submit to sort-of willingly (presumably for peace? I’m sure this is explained better in subsequent books).

I loved everything about the story – how old school sci-fi it felt, how exacting the prose was, how original the idea was…also, it was free download from the Kindle store (yay!) It really reminded me of something written by Philip K Dick (a personal favourite of mine) but with more – I don’t know – emotion? Humanity? (Tries desperately to avoid gender stereotypes when thinking about how this might relate to the author).

In short (literally) Bloodchild was a fabulous taster of the world that Octavia E Butler has built. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series.

 

Four “I’ve been missing out!”s out of five

 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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I picked this novella up in a charity shop while waiting for my car to be fixed purely because it had been previously nominated for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was a lovely sunny day, I was sitting in a delightful cafe on the high street with a nice big pot of tea and… this was totally the wrong book to be reading. It is dark and depressing and has absolutely no redemptive arc.

The main character is called Neve and the book focuses on her emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her horrible bellend of a husband. It also moves back and forth through key parts of her life, showing the toxic relationships she has had with other people – her grotesque father, her unreliable mother, her unloving ex. I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the book was – were these depressing little vignettes meant to offer an explanation as to why Neve didn’t just up sticks and leave? Were they to garner sympathy for the character? Was I meant to be apportioning blame for the choices that Neve had made? I didn’t get it.

In saying that, I thought that the writing was very good. It gave a very realistic portrayal of several abusive relationships and all of the characters were complicated individuals, despite the brevity of the prose and the sparseness of their descriptions. Overall though I felt that the book was too unbalanced, too wayward and too bloody depressing to warrant anything more than an average rating.

 

Two and a half “RED FLAG!”s out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of the above novellas? Do you enjoy shorter books? Am I still allowed to count them towards my Goodreads challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls April: Favourite Book with a Surprise Ending

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…

…and my top pick is…

Behind Her Eyes by Sara Pinborough

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As soon as I saw the theme for this month’s Calendar Girls, I knew straightaway that there was one book whose surprise ending completely blew me away – and that was Behind Her Eyes. The publishers even started the hashtag #WTFthatending because so many people were talking about it!

The book is about a psychopathic wife, an edge-of-breakdown husband and a nice-but-slightly-dim friend/colleague who gets embroiled in their dysfunctional marriage. As we explore the web of lies that the couple have created, the nice-but-slightly-dim friend/colleague uncovers more and more of the truth until things eventually come to a head. However, instead of the expected showdown you get a completely left-field ending that’s so unnerving I’m still thinking about it two years later. Seriously, this is quite a long book and although it trails off a bit in the middle (the wife is mentally ill, we get it) it is so worth it to get to the ending. Trust me.

Although on paper the book does sound a bit like Gone Girl, there is nowhere near the level of creeping tension where each scene in the book is relevant, the next scene builds upon it and everything is tied up in a neat bow at the end. This is more like you have a fair idea that the wife is psychopathic, you’re not sure about the husband, you uncover bits of the past and have an idea of what’s going on and then out of nowhere comes the ending.

There were a couple of weird ideas introduced in the novel that I initially struggled to get to grips with (lucid dreaming anyone?) but after reading the whole book I think the concept actually worked really well – even if it did seem a little incongruous at first.

Minor negatives aside, Behind Her Eyes is a fabulous read and thoroughly deserves all the buzz that was created – WTF that ending indeed!!!

 

Have you read Behind Her Eyes? Do you enjoy books with twists that you don’t see coming? Let me know in the comments! 

 

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!

 

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: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Genre: Fiction

Similar to: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone apart from me

Publication date: 15th August 2017

After seeing the rave reviews of this book aaaand having it personally recommended to me aaaand seeing it win the Wome’s Prize for Fiction I knew I just had to read this book. 

After reading the first few chapters I was thinking “hmmm, slow start but ok…” . Then after a few more chapters I was thinking “woah, majorly disjointed storyline but ok…” . Then after reading a bit more I seriously began to doubt whether I’d picked up the right book. Was this really the new novel that everyone’s talking about? 

Home Fire is the story of a British Muslim family struggling to come to terms with the legacy of their Jihadist father. The son, Parvaiz, becomes a member of ISIS and it’s left to his two sisters to pick up the pieces and get him home. The story is a reimagining of Sophocles’s Antigone which frankly went way over my head so please bear in mind that there might be lots of clever references used that I simply didn’t pick up on. 

Anyway…

The story felt extremely clunky to me. The novel was set in five different locations and frankly the first location (and character) seemed entirely superfluous to the rest of the book. It felt like the author was trying to be faithful to the original Greek Tragedy and in doing so had to shoehorn in bits of text that would otherwise have been cut. This made the book meander about to the extent that it felt like a good short story surrounded with a lot of filler. 

The other problem that I had was that not a lot happened – especially in the first half of the novel. Let’s not forget, this book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and yet weirdly, the two main female characters in it felt woefully underwritten. Isma was the stereotypical ” dutiful daughter”, taking care of the family finances by working abroad.I didn’t get a feel for any personality beyond that. Aneeka felt like an utter missed opportunity of a character. Her behaviour in the first half of the book was entirely based around having sex and yet I was never sure of her motivations. Was she in love? Lust? Or was she using her lover to get to his influential father? There didn’t seem to be any scheming, plotting or tactics employed except for the occasional bit of acting distant and again I had no idea why. In contrast, their brother, Parvaiz, was far more well rounded and had a much more interesting storyline. I definitely enjoyed the parts of the novel that focused on him the most.

There are a number of different ideas explored within the text about identity, belonging and sacrifice and in fairness, this is done rather well. The clash between what you feel you should be doing, what you want to do and what it would benefit you to do is replicated numerous times throughout the narrative, often so subtly that you almost don’t notice it. For example, one of the characters who we meet later on (called Karamat Lone) is a British Muslim politician trying to balance his public persona with his private beliefs. This manifests itself in big, obvious ways (he talks about his tough stance on immigration and the prosecution of individuals who go to fight for ISIS – to the extent that the Muslim community have openly criticised him) but also almost invisibly – his son is called Eamonn spelled the traditional Irish way rather than the Pakistani Ayman.I loved the way that these complexities were woven so deftly throughout the text without feeling obvious or unnatural.

I’m going to guess that the ending of the book is somewhat faithful to the original Antigone text but let’s think about that for a second. I’m woefully under-educated when it comes to classic literature but I’d stick a fiver on my guess that the Greek Tragedies are all about the high drama. Now imagine that being played out by an ordinary girl from suburban London. It doesn’t quite fit, does it? And using the good old she’s gone crazy trope didn’t work for me at all.

Overall, I have completely mixed feeling about this book. The Antigone reference went over my head, the storyline felt clunky and I felt like the female characters in particular needed fleshing out. However, the writing in parts was brilliant, the depiction of a radicalized young British man was really interesting and the overall narrative was, on the whole, compelling. That ending was a step too far for me though.

Rating: Three out of five stars

Great writing but trying to fit the modern storyline around an ancient Greek Tragedy didn’t work for me. I’m clearly in the minority though

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #9 Read a book of colonial or post-colonial literature.

Calendar Girls November: Favourite Middle Book in a Series

Hello friends!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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 favorite 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…

Despite not having finished the trilogy (I’ve just been turned down for the final ARC 😢) I had to choose one of my favourite books of recent years…The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.


I absolutely adored the first installment of the Winternight trilogy (The Bear and the Nightingale – terrible review from years ago here) but the sequel is where Katherine Arden really hits her stride as an author. 
The Winternight Trilogy is the story of Vasilisa, a young girl living in medieval Russia. She has a quiet life in a rural village, despite the fact that she’s inherited her mother’s gift to see the spirits that protect their agricultural way of life. As Christianity begins to make the villagers forget their old gods, the power of the good spirits weakens and the village becomes threatened. Vasilisa has to flee her home and immediately stumbles into trouble, being dragged ever deeper into the battle between good and evil. Is she strong enough to protect her people?

There’s a bit of everything in this story. Intrigue, romance, magic…The Girl in the Tower has it all. I think that one of the best things about the book is the usage of language. It is just so. beautifully. written. You could turn to any page and get at least one exquisite quote. I loved how descriptive the storytelling was, and because the novel is set in Russia the dark, snowy environment leant itself perfectly to such a magical, dark fairytale. It was incredibly atmospheric and evocative, and I loved how Katherine Arden wove Russian words into the narrative in such a way that you understood their meaning even though they bore no resemblance to their English counterparts. So clever.

I really noticed the development of the characters from book one and I loved how we got to find out more about each of them now that they had grown up a bit. I was initially worried that this novel would be the awkward middle bit, where everything is set up for a big finale but not much happens, but it isn’t at all like that. Instead, The Girl in the Tower could almost be read as a stand alone novel as it has a proper beginning, middle and end and a narrative arc all of it’s own.

There are so many other brilliant things about this story that I could go on for hours – the use of “real” Russian mythology, the family dynamics, the relationship between Vasya and her horse Solovey…but I would literally be here for days. You should probably just go and read it for yourselves 😜

So, have you read The Girl in the Tower? What would be your Calendar Girls pick? Let me know in the comments! 


Review: Codename:Villanelle by Luke Jennings

Genre: Thriller

Similar to: Something by John Le Carre or Ian Fleming (IDK, I’m not a thriller fan)

Could be enjoyed by: People who’ve watched the TV series and would like to know what the hell’s going on

Publication date: 6th September 2018

To clear up any confusion: yes, this is the novel that inspired the Killing Eve TV series. However, the show deviates wildly from the book so if you’re a fan of the programme, be prepared. For those of you who haven’t seen it I’d highly recommend doing so because it’s bloody brilliant and one of those rare occasions where the adaptation is better than the source material (that’s something I’ve literally never said before). 

I digress…

Codename: Villanelle is a super sexy spy thriller, set in various glamorous locations all over the world. It’s your usual fare: a good cop character (Eve Polastri) is recruited to catch a sociopathic assassin (Oxana Vorontsova AKA Villanelle) who is working for a top secret consortium hell bent on creating a new world order. What’s different is that both the MI6 agent and the assassin are women. A bit one dimensional, yes and not brilliantly written but still, it’s nice to see female characters taking centre stage for a change. To be honest, their depictions could have been a lot worse (I don’t know anything about their breasts, for example) but I think that says more about the low bar that’s been set by other authors than the quality of the writing here.

Whereas the TV series elevates the (slightly generic) story from good to brilliant with the use of clever dark humour and a complex storyline, the book is far less amusing and has a more obvious narrative. The only positive is that the book does provide more of a back story for anyone who has watched Killing Eve and got a bit lost. You get to find out more about the consortium (The Twelve) and their ideas for the world which helps to place Villanelle’s actions within more of a logical setup. You also get to understand a bit more of her back story so there’s less of the “she’s just a sociopath, go with it” which seemed to be the image that the TV series presented.

On the plus side, the book is extremely fast paced and is a real page turner. It’s fairly short so easy to rip through and despite being a bit generic there’s something about the two main characters that’s utterly compelling. Villanelle is a ruthless killer utterly without remorse and although the book has softened her a bit, the things she got up to provided a great big dash of voyeuristic escapism. The cat and mouse games that she plays with Eve were creepy/enthralling in equal measure but I did find Eve’s leaps of logic a tiny bit wearing. From a multitude of options she seemed to guess correctly every single time, leading her in a direct line towards Villanelle. Hmmmmm.

Apart from the occasional need for the reader to suspend their disbelief, the only other thing that let the book down was the writing itself. I found the text somewhat clunky and as the book is four novellas smushed together the narrative flow is a bit start-stop. This can be jarring at times but the action ramps up quickly, helping to smooth out the obviously bumpy plot.

Overall, I found Codename: Villanelle to be exciting and fast paced but also kinda generic and dare I say it – a tiny bit trashy. Pheobe Waller-Bridge has done an absolutely terrific job in adapting the text for TV and if I were you, I’d definitely watch that first then read the books if you have a burning desire to get a bit more background info.

Rating: Two and a half “please put down the champers and drink some water” out of five.

Sexy, fast paced escapism – just don’t expect the brilliance of the TV series.

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

Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

“From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail”

Genre: Memoir, Travelogue, Bereavement Help

Similar to: A mix of Eat, Pray, Love and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Could be enjoyed by: I think people experiencing bereavement could find it helpful

Publication date: 20th March 2012

If you asked me to sum up Wild in one sentence it would be “a woman goes for a very long walk wearing incorrect footwear”. I really did find it that dull as it felt like the book plodded along at a snail’s pace. It’s a shame because I expected far better things from the novel, especially after reading all of the rave reviews. My overarching feeling was “meh”.

To expand on that one sentence description of the book, Cheryl Strayed is a young American woman whose life has been seriously derailed by the death of her mother and the subsequent break up of her marriage. After quitting University in her final term to help with her mother’s end of life care, Cheryl struggles to cope and a series of bad decisions leads to her decision to do something drastic – spending a few months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail completely solo. She has to carry all of her food, water and belongings on her back and camp each night out in the open. It’s an incredibly brave decision to make but ultimately I just didn’t find it that engaging.

Now, before you all jump into the comments section and call me a monster for trashing a book about a young woman who has just watched her mother die, I’m not saying that the book wasn’t emotional. On the contrary, it was harrowingly, viscerally grief ridden – to the point where I struggled to read some of the parts about Cheryl’s Mum’s last few days. It was just…depressing. Obviously, death is an incredibly upsetting topic but I wanted more of a redemptive arc – a sense of letting go of the grief and moving forwards but instead this is how the book went: 

walking, shoe problems, flashback: traumatic illness 

walking, bag too heavy, flashback: traumatic childhood

walking, hungry, flashback: harrowing death

walking, got lost, flashback: drug problems

walking, more shoe problems, flashback: divorce

walking, cold and wet, flashback: family drifts apart

walking, finally some sex, flashback: traumatic horse death

walking, money problems, flashback: more traumatic childhood

walking, anger 

The End.

I had complicated emotions about Cheryl. On the one hand I felt incredibly sorry for her as she seemed to be totally adrift in her life. Her Dad was abusive, her stepdad disinterested, her brother and sister were distant after the death of her mother. But whilst that provided a background for some of the situations that Cheryl got herself into, I did feel like some of her problems were entirely her own fault. Some of the things she had done to other people, whilst clearly a reflection of her own lack of self esteem/depression, were downright shitty. I felt bad that no-one had tried to help her but then would you help your wife if she’d cheated on you multiple times? 

Probably not.

On the plus side, although Cheryl was woefully inexperienced and naive (she doesn’t test the weight of her pack until the day she begins walking and finds she can’t lift it; she doesn’t have enough money; she doesn’t read the guidebook; she has the wrong size shoes) she perseveres and muddles through. In that way I had a lot of respect for her but I did find her lack of preparation infuriating. I mean, people die every year doing that hike. You’d have thought she’d at least have done a few overnight camping trips beforehand. Or, you know, checked she could pick up the bag that she’s be hauling round for the next few months (let along carry the bloody thing).

The journey itself is pretty epic and I will grudgingly admit that Cheryl’s tenacity and no-nonsense attitude was inspiring. I felt like her decision to  hike the Pacific Crest Trail was her attempt to come to terms with everything and although this was a book about “finding yourself” it managed to do so in a way that wasn’t too self indulgent. Unfortunately, this meant pages and pages of just…walking. Lots of flowery descriptions, lots of info dumps, quite a few transitory characters who were so briefly in and out of the story that I couldn’t remember who any of them were when they popped up later on – and it was all interspersed with the depressing details of Cheryl’s life. Then there was a rushed ending where she reached the finish point…and that was it.

Sadly, Wild just wasn’t the book for me – although I’m well aware that my views are seriously in the minority. I thought that the novel literally plodded along and although it was genuinely inspiring I also found it pretty depressing – and I hate to say it but also pretty boring. Imagine Lord of the Rings without any magic. 

Yeah.

Rating: Two and a half “why the hell didn’t you read the guidebook?!?” out of five.

As inspiring as it is infuriating, I found Wild a real slog to get through. Everyone else seems to love it but I can’t for the life of me see why.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #13 Read an Oprah book club selection.