Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Review: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson


Date Finished: 19/1/2016
2013 • 544 pages  Rating: 

I'm calling it a day. I hate to do this but I'm 200 pages in and absolutely nothing has happened beyond Ursula dying and being reborn again about fifteen times. I know this is kind of the whole premise of the book but it's so repetitive and quite frankly, dull. The story sounds interesting, sure I'll give it that, but good God it doesn't seem to go anywhere. Ursula is born, dies, and is born again. Over and over and over and let me tell you, it's hell'a boring.  Maybe it gets better but I've read a decent chunk of this and 200 pages later I'm still not convinced because by this point, I don't really care.

Most of the reviews for this book are glowing and everyone seems to really like it, but alas I'm not one of them. Sorry Kate Atkinson, maybe our relationship will hit it off again another time, but for now I need to move on.
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Saturday, 9 January 2016

Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray



2003 • 403 pages • Simon and Schuster

I wasn’t really sure what to think of A Great and Terrible Beauty when I went in to reading it. If I were to categorise it, it would fall under historical fiction/fantasy/mystery/young adult – and maybe comedy? But I guess that’s down to Libba Bray’s writing style rather than the actual premise of the book. Historical and Gothic fiction are two of my favourite genres and I love novels set in Victorian England, so bonus points straight away. With the novel being made up from so many elements of different genres I was worried this might come off a bit slapdash for me, but as it turns out I really enjoyed it.

I feel like quite a lot of people have heard of/read this book already, but I’ll kick this off with a basic summary. The story is set in 1895 and follows Gemma Doyle, a sixteen-year-old who has come to England from India after her mother’s death. She’s sent to Spence, a finishing school for young ladies where all hell starts to break lose when Gemma experiences clairvoyant visions – visions that started when she was still living in India and foretold her of her mother’s death. Anyway, these visions are freaking Gemma the hell out, and she ends up teaming up with three other girls to explore her new-found power and what it all means. There are realms, and magic, and the supernatural, and I know it all sounds a bit weird, but it’s really good. What better way to make boring old finishing school more interesting than by practising magic?

The one thing that I perhaps thought might grate on me with this book wasn’t the elements of fantasy and supernatural in a late Victorian setting - after all, that’s what fiction is all about and it’s fun. No, what actually nearly bordered on the irritating was the finishing school setting that so closely resembled the modern-day high school, it even came with its own group of Mean Girls that nearly made me groan out loud. If there’s one thing I cannot stand its self-righteous, cliquey school girls who are bitches for the sake of being bitches. I mean let’s face it, we’ve all been to high school and the last thing I want to do is be reminded of how petty teenagers can be.

So, when I realised that our two resident Queen Bees Felicity and Pippa were going to be consistent and central characters in the plot I thought to myself, “Really? Am I going to have to put up with 400 pages of school girl rivalry and bad pranks? Ugh”.  But, Bray saved herself by having a protagonist who wasn’t a pushover and even though the plot follows teenagers in a boarding school and yes it has its fair share of catty behaviour, it didn’t bother me once the plot got going.

The plot actually has a good flow to it. There’s a lot going on and not a lot of explanation but that’s part of the story – you figure it out along the way as Gemma goes in search of answers. And it’s not all painting pretty pictures of fruit and learning the waltz (which they do, but it is a late nineteenth century finishing school), because there is a steady pace of action and intrigue throughout with a good bunch of interesting characters.

I’ll openly admit I didn’t understand everything that went on: I don’t quite understand how and why the magic exists or why Gemma is being pursued for her powers. I know she clearly has some kind of advantage in her abilities and she’s much more powerful than she thinks, but to know the history of everything more and why it’s all happening would be cool. This is the first in a trilogy so everything clearly unravels a bit more in the following two books, and I know this review sounds a bit hit-and-miss, but I really did enjoy this. It wasn’t quite what I expected but more than I thought it would be at the same time. Plus, Libba Bray’s writing is really funny and her humour is kind of dry and witty which was surprising but enjoyable. A solid three stars.

Overall rating: 3 stars

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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Books to be Read 2016

Like most readers, I’m guilty of buying and accumulating a great number of books. The result is those books that I purchased long ago get put on the back burner. I do this all the time. I’ll buy a book on my TBR list, put it on my shelves only to then buy more books and then prioritise new reads over old ones. The end result is I end up staring at my bookshelves thinking “yeah, I’ll totally get around to reading The Pillars of the Earth one day, but right now I’m in the mood for some trashy Jane Austen fan fiction.”

It’ll go round and round like that for months. So I’ve decided that this year will be the year I finally read the novels I have neglected for so long. In no particular order, here we go:




THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson

I’m about seven years behind everybody else with this one, and to be honest, this is most probably why I’ve put off reading it for so long. Silly, I know, but there’s something about reading a book a ridiculous amount of time after everyone else that makes me feel a bit stupid. Damn Hollywood and its international film industry. I’m determined however to finally sit down and read this so I can see what I’ve been missing out on all this time.

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CLOUD ATLAS, by David Mitchell

This has been on my TBR list since before the film came out, but I’ve always felt a little bit put off by the premise of the story. Not that it doesn’t sound interesting, but I’ve either read glowing reviews of this novel or heard it be described as a steaming pile of crap. The fear that I’ll fall in to the latter has kept me from reading it, however I’m going to try and go in to this with an open mind.
 

ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith

I attempted to read Zadie Smith’s White Teeth twice before finally admitting defeat and casting it off. A bad experience with an author doesn’t exactly set you up to go bounding off to read more of their work, but I shouldn’t let it put me off. On Beauty is a book like any other and it must be read.


TINKER, TAYLOR, SOLDIER, SPY by John le Carre

What is it with all of these book-to-film novels I just can’t get around to reading? I don’t think I know myself anymore. I’m not really a reader of spy books or any kind of crime novel, truth be told. It’s just not a genre I’ve ever gotten in to, but I’ve heard some pretty good stuff about this so I feel like it’s a good place to start.


THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE by Michel Faber

This actually sounds like it could be my jam. Historical fiction set in gloomy Victorian London is a recipe for a book that could be right up my street. I’m not normally intimidated by lengthy books, but this book is pretty sizeable with all its 835 pages. Plus, the edition I own is so fucking heavy I feel like I’d need a fork lift to carry this around with me. Reading this in bed would be just as troublesome and would be the equivalent of dropping a bowling ball on my face if I were to read this lying down.



THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett

I bought this when I found it in a charity shop knowing that my friend had read it previously. Our book tastes are pretty similar, and so if she liked it I thought I’d give it a whirl. And I will. I will read this. I am bound and determined, and Follett baby, I think this will be your year.


LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse

This is another book I’ve heard mixed things about, which makes me slightly apprehensive about it. Again, this has been sitting on my shelves for a long time, and so it needs to be read STAT so I can form my own opinion.

So, this a little goal of mine for 2016. There are of course tones of other books I want to read this year, and as ever I plan to read as many as possible. So, here we go.
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