Sunday, 31 May 2015

Review of "Us"

It took me about four years after "One Day" was published to actually get around to reading it despite the hype ... and that might have been because I wanted to watch the film (pretty much a crime, I know!). I've been similarly slow with this book by David Nicholls, but not quite to the same extent! Despite the raving reviews that I've seen scattered over the interwebs, I was actually a little disappointed. Reading is a chance to escape things, and this book pretty much felt like I was being endlessly slapped around the face with a chipping away of hope over and over again. Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but I usually want to like my protagonists, but let's face it, Douglas is a bit of a dick. I have to say though, this kind of worked in the book's favour - I think we need to be reminded sometimes that we all have a bit of an asshole inside of us that always seems to come out at the worst of times. We all make mistakes, and unlike what the majority of novels suggest, a multitude of "sorrys" and a romantic gesture can't always fix something that's broken.

Douglas Petersen is woken in the middle of the night by his wife of almost twenty years, Connie, stating that she wants a divorce. Not only is Douglas unaware of anything being wrong with their relationship (whoops), the timing is unfortunate as they're about to take their 17-year-old son Albie on a Grand Tour of Europe - something which Connie doesn't want to put off despite their marital dilemma. Douglas is left to consider exactly what he's done wrong, or rather not done right, in the twenty years they've been together, and as they move across Europe he realises that he's perhaps not been the most perfect husband and father. Despite this slow epiphany (oxymoron much, sorry!), he aggressively publicly denounces Albie as an embarrasment, causing Albie to run away across Europe alone. Now Douglas is left with a slightly larger conundrum: how does he get both his wife and son back?!

Author: David Nicholls
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2014

Monday, 25 May 2015

Review of "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves"

A story about story-telling if done right is always going to be an interesting read, and this was done right. Karen Joy Fowler's novel, shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker prize has been the subject of many book blogger reviews over the past few months. This had its benefits and drawbacks for me: on the one hand, it caused me to pick the book up, on the other a massive plot twist was alluded to in so many reviews that I missed the twist whilst looking for one (whoops). SO, from now on I am going to make sure I use reviews to guide my picks, but not alter my expectations. 

Rosemary is a pretty normal college student - apart from the fact that she hardly ever speaks. And never about her family (something which she finds is difficult to do when she moves to college). However, Rosemary hasn't always been like this: as a child no one could get her to stop talking. So what happened? Her twin sister Fern disappeared at the age of five, and Rosemary has never understood why. When her older brother leaves home to find Fern, you realise that this family may have even darker secrets than you had ever considered ...

*Don't read if you're trying to avoid any spoilers*
I'm pretty much a fan of every Planet of the Apes movie ever, so when I found out quite early on that Fern was actually a chimpanzee my interest was spiked. Plus, as someone who is really interested in animal rights, the effort that Fowler put into researching the subject matter she is writing about made it quite an educational read!

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Review of "The Jade Lioness"*

I feel so privileged to be able to read Christina Courtenay's newest release! The Jade Lioness is the third installment to her Japanese trilogy, the Kumashiro series, and despite not having read the first two, I was able to pick this up and get through it with ease. Plus, now I want to go back and read the others! I love love love reading books set in exotic locations - as someone who hasn't travelled much but would like to, the beautiful descriptions of places I've never been to really inspires the nomad in me. 

The quotation I chose for this review felt so potent for me because a book set in the 1600s should not see women faced with some of the same problems as those of our current day. Women are still sold into marriages, or sexual relationships all over the world, and it is something that we really ought to challenge, especially where it is accepted. 

During the throes of civil war in England, Temperance has joined her cousin Nico, an important Dutch trader, and his half Japanese wife Midori, on an incredible trip to Japan. There's only one problem: foreigners are hated, and the traders are confined to a tiny island called Dejima. Foreign women aren't even allowed there, and Midori must pose as a concubine to Nico, whilst Temperance adorns herself in male clothing. 

However, Temperance is soon forced into an impossible situation. Haag, one of Nico's traders, realises she is a woman, and attempts to coerce her hand in marriage. With only two weeks to try and work her way out of this dilemma, the claustrophobia of the island becomes too much for Temperance, and she steals a boat to get to a nearby much larger island. What she expects is to get away from her troubles - she doesn't plan on meeting Kazuo, a rugged outcast seeking to restore his father's name.

Returning to the island a week later, Temperance expects to meet him again, though her Puritan conscience wants her to remain away from the temptation he poses. However, she meets a group of outcasts who kidnap her and drag her through the island until she is sold is a concubine. From there, Temperance must make her own fate. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x

Sunday, 17 May 2015

TBR Pile

As of Wednesday, I have officially completed all the work for my degree (cue cheers and presumably copious alcohol!) aka I can read things I want as well as things that will probably educate me. So, in order to motivate myself to push through this last week of intense work I downloaded a couple of books I've wanted to read for ages on to my kindle. I've heard loads about these in the blogosphere over the past couple of months, so I'm hoping they live up to scratch!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Steph x

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Review of Elizabeth is Missing

I think we're all a bit guilty of getting aggravated in our busy modern lives at people that can't quite keep up, but this book has thrown a whole new light onto my perspective. To say it tugged on the heartstrings is a bit of an understatement. I have read novels before which deal with the issue of dementia, but never from the perspective of the person suffering themselves. Getting into the mindset of Maud was incredibly eye opening, and you can rest assured that once you've read this, you won't roll your eyes at an elderly relative when they forget your name again!

Maud can't quite seem to keep a hold on all of her thoughts. They seem to come and go before she can grab a hold of them or verbalise them. So, she starts to write ideas down on notes. When she continues to come across ones she has written stating that "Elizabeth is missing", she becomes increasingly concerned about the whereabouts of her dear friend Elizabeth. With her daughter Helen, granddaughter Katy and Elizabeth's son Peter ignoring her concern she becomes more and more desperate to discover what happened.

However, old memories mingle with new, and Maud begins to think more and more about the disappearance of her sister Sukey. As she reminisces over her teenage years growing up in post-war Britain, the reader is introduced to the idea that there may be more than one mystery contained in this novel ...

I have read a few good reviews of Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing from fellow book bloggers, so I was expecting to be impressed. I was not disappointed either. The narrative of this text was so impressive and believable that I came away feeling as though I had an understanding of what it is to be so utterly lost inside one's own head, and how terrifying that can be. As well as mixing non-sense with sense in Maud's life, Healey effortlessly combined past with present through Maud's recollection of the mystery surrounding her sister's disappearance. 

Have you read it? What did you think?

Steph x 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Review of "Shifting Colours" + Summer Reading Goal

I've been looking for books with a little more depth behind them than the generic chick flick I always come back to (hey, everyone has their own guilty pleasures right?). As I'm almost at the end of my English lit degree, I'm no longer forced to read things I wouldn't necessarily pick up, and what's more, I don't have the time to read ones I've missed because of the impending doom that is finals. So, over summer I'm going to try and read one that I didn't get around to every couple of weeks so that I make sure I keep my reaching schedule varied! Plus, it'll be great to read without a deadline.

Celia, mother of three, must work as a maid in South Africa in order to sustain herself and her children, two of which live with their grandmother. Miriam, her youngest child, lives with her in the white family's house and Celia must care for this young girl whilst performing all of the duties expected of her. 

However, once Michael and Rita, Celia's employers, have a stillborn baby and realise that child bearing may not be a thing in their future, they begin to look at Miriam in a new light. Informed that they will take Miriam to England, and bring her up in an economically stable environment, or she be forced to find a new job and care for Miriam, Celia does what she feels is best for her child. Breaking her own heart, she hopes that Miriam will be happy. But, living in a predominantly white area and being outcast as an outsider at school in England, Miriam longs for home. As she grows older, Miriam realises she needs to find out more about her real identity, and begins a journey back to Africa. But, will there be more surprises than anticipated in Miriam's journey to self-awareness?

This wasn't the quickest page-turner for me, but as I said, it was good to read something with a little more depth to it. However, I'm someone who is oddly affected by the mood of a book, and so much of this was an endless depressing battering of any hope. This personally made it harder for me to want to come back to. And yes, I do get that books can't always be happy-go-lucky, but when the 17th thing in a row went wrong and smacked Celia or Miriam in the face I felt like flinging my kindle across the room. But, that's a miniscule percentage of the frustration that being in Celia or Miriam's position would have produced!

Have you read it? What did you think?
Steph x