Monday, 22 February 2016

Review: American Gods

I read my first Neil Gaiman book this time last year as one of my first reads of 2015, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the second, Neverwhere, that summer. Both of them possessed qualities I'd expected from Gaiman, having read many reviews of his work and having come to expect that he would become a favourite author of mine. They were weird, magical, dark and twisted, completely fantastical but somehow true-to-life, and a whole host of other things besides. Both of those books, however, somehow fell short of my expectations. They were enjoyable, sure, but they weren't quite it

Not so with American Gods. This one, for me, was the climax of the Gaiman books I've read and has (probably) already taken its place on my favourites list for this year, maybe even of all time. It's a big book, much bigger than the other two of his I'd read. But as I said on Instagram (join the party over there if you haven't already :D), this book has cured my fear of chunky reads. Despite what felt like slow progress through the 635 pages of this book, I relished every second and felt like I could keep chewing through the story forever. 

The vast, sprawling plot and the inventive and fantastical cast of characters felt true to what Neil Gaiman was saying about America itself; namely that it is richly diverse, incomprehensible and unique. There's something about Gaiman's passionate ownership of the land, but also his acknowledgement that it is incapable of being possessed, that speaks from the immigrant experience. 

The plot itself builds slowly, gradually increasing tension in a way that was gripping but also made me want to slow down and savour the journey. The twists and turns and final climax were pulled off with finesse, and by the end it had become a story of epic proportions. I also felt like Gaiman achieved a perfect balance of tying up loose plot points, and at the same time leaving things open-ended.

Basically, I just really enjoyed this book. Let me know if you've read it too, and what you thought of it, in the comments below!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Jan-Feb Wrap Up

Hi friends :)

I've made a sort-of mini resolution to stop doing wrap-ups only at the end of months, partly because it's a purely arbitrary division and I should be able to post a wrap-up whenever I want (amirite?), and partly because, let's face it, I'm not that great at doing them on time!

So this is my books-I've-read-this-year-so-far wrap-up as of the third week of February!

Despite the slow blogging start, I've actually been having a really interesting reading year so far.

I started off with Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, which was my first Pratchett in a really long time and I absolutely LOVED it! It was everything I've come to expect from him (and more): humour, complexity, fun and relatable characters, inventiveness, and an ingenious plot. Plus this book had time travel which, as people who've read my blog before will know, is an instant sell for me!


Next up I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I actually only started this book because I'd brought it home with me over Christmas and I wanted to justify having lugged such a big book home with me on the train... But I'm so glad I did! I absolutely loved this book as well. I slightly felt like Neverwhere wasn't everything I wanted it to be, but this book really was. It was complex, inventive, thoughtful and just plain wonderful, as well as making me look at America in a whole new light. Not only that, but it also may well have cured my fear of long books. I normally find them really intimidating and hesitate to pick them up, but this 600+ page tome was just really satisfying. I felt like I could just keep chewing on it forever!


At the end of January, I picked up one that I downloaded onto my Kindle on a whim, which was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I wasn't entirely sure I was going to like this book going in, as I didn't immediately gel with the writing style. As it went on, however, I became more and more invested in the story, especially the perspective of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl who flees Paris with her father during WWII. While I didn't absolutely love every aspect of the story, I did really enjoy reading it and would certainly recommend it.


Finally, I'm currently reading a book that has been in vogue of late thanks to a recent TV adaptation, and that is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I decided to pick this up partly to see what all the fuss is about, and partly to challenge myself and see if my fear of chunky books is cured once and for all. It's a little early to say for sure, but I'm really really enjoying this book. So far, I'm really loving how human all the characters are, with their little quirks and mannerisms, as well as their more serious flaws. I'm so intrigued with how it's all going to pan out. I just wish I was a bit better at remembering all the Russian names.

So there you go! It may not seem like a very good reading year so far to some people, but I've enjoyed every book so far and am learning more and more about my tastes as I go.

Next up, a non-white/non-male author! :P Any recommendations?

What have you been reading so far this year?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

2016 Goals

Better late than never, eh?

Today I'm here with my slightly (very!) belated goals for 2016. I can't believe we're over halfway through February already! Where is this year going???

I've sort-of been gently working towards these goals anyway, but there's something satisfying about putting them in a concrete list and holding myself accountable to them (or at least trying to!). Who knows!? Maybe I'll even achieve some of them! :P

Anyway, without further ado, here they are!

1. Love Reading

Since this is almost exclusively a bookish blog, I thought I'd start with the most book-related goal of this year. Last year I read a grand total of 28 books (I think... It might've been even less!), and, while I'm excusing myself a little because of doing finals and getting a degree and whatnot, I can't deny the fact that I find that number kinda disappointing.

But I need to keep reminding myself that 2015 brought me some of my new favourite books of all time! I had a blast reading those books and I learned so much about myself and my tastes and just the fact that books that good can exist!

So this year my only goal when it comes to reading is as follows:

I'm jolly well going to enjoy it!

2. Narrow it down

Or, to put it another way: focus focus focus! There are loads of things I'd like to work on this year. Learn Dutch, read the bible more, get better at writing, do more regular blog posts, be better with money, exercise and play Frisbee more, work out what I want to do with my life, etc etc etc.

But, while it would be great to be able to do all those things, it's definitely more realistic and achievable to narrow it down so I don't get overwhelmed. I'm not exactly sure how this will look in practice yet, but I'm working on it!

3. Work on being, not doing

A friend put someone's words of advice to her on Facebook recently, and I'm going to repeat them here:

"It's more important who you are than what you do or what you make."

This year I'm going to take that to heart.

4. Be OK with not knowing

I've already written the beginnings of a whole post dedicated to this, but here it is now anyway. Uncertain has been the key word to describe my life post-graduation, and my capacity to mentally deal with it is next to nil.

This one's gonna take time folks! But I'm going to try and put my thoughts on this to paper. I'm hoping that, over time, I'll be able to see my growth and it'll make me more positive about the future.


So there you have it! My goals for the year. I hope you will forgive the lateness of this post, but hey! Lateness is not one of the things I'm gonna work on this year ;)

What are some of your goals for this year? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 1 January 2016

My Reading Year & Top Ten Reads of 2015

First things first:


I hope everyone had an extremely enjoyable Christmas/festive season filled with food, fun and family. 

Today's post is essentially a 2015 Favourites post, but I thought I'd sum up my reading year quickly first, just in case you're interested! I read a total of 28 books this year, not including re-reading the whole Harry Potter series (another 7 books) and starting two others (A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley) which I didn't finish. I also got so near the end of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz that I could basically count it as 29 books read this year. Seriously, I've got about 6 pages to go... I also got about halfway through a couple of audiobooks, but I'm not really counting those.

So, am I happy with how this reading year has gone? 

My 'Best Nine' bookish photos on Instagram!

Sort of. Probably. I think I would've liked to have reached a slightly higher number (probably at least 50), but I suppose I did have finals this summer so it's kind of understandable. 

What I am super happy about, however, is how many of the following books have become favourites, not just for this year, but for all time too!

Without further ado, here is (in no particular order) my Top 10 list for 2015

1. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The beautiful, honest and enlightening graphic memoir of Marjane Satrapi's life in Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution, and her subsequent departure for Europe. Interesting, thoughtful, considered, heartfelt, open, poignant... Basically I can't find enough adjectives to give it adequate praise! Definitely give this a read if you haven't already.

2. The Beach by Alex Garland

A fun, fast-paced, intriguing read that I (almost literally) could not put down. I read this pretty much in one sitting and was completely hooked from start to finish. One that I will definitely re-read just to see what else I can glean from it.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir

This book probably hasn't escaped anybody's notice this year, what with the blockbuster film with Matt Damon and everything. But I thought I might as well add my recommendation in with all the others. I genuinely loved every minute of the scientific explanations and nerdy research that went into this book. I loved how, despite the plot having potential to be slow and methodical, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, fearing for Mark Watney's survival. Such a fun, entertaining read.

4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This (along with another on this list) is my favourite read of the year. So poignant and heartfelt and tragic but also full of hope, this story is filled with female friendships and everything I could want from literary characters. I can't recommend this book enough!

5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 

I'd forgotten how much I loved Amy Tan's writing, so this book took me off guard and I loved it way more than I thought I would (which was still a lot). Her stories are just so magical but heartbreaking, like punch-to-the-gut heartbreaking. The last book I read by her must have been over 3 years ago and it still haunts me. And this one is even better. Read it now!

6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A classic that I'd been meaning to read for so long... And it didn't disappoint! Not a lot I can say about this that hasn't already been said, but hey. I really liked it. 

7. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

I'm still chewing over what I really thought of this, but I do know that I loved it! It's such a weird reading experience, as the narration is so manipulative and the main character so intriguing. You feel like she's in control the whole time and only reveals to you what she wants you to see. Plus it's a great story and Charlotte Bronte's writing is flawless.

8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is another, like To Kill a Mockingbird that I'd intended to read for such a long time but just never got round to it. I'll definitely be reading more by Fitzgerald - his writing is wonderfully atmospheric. This book reminded me a lot of Breakfast at Tiffany's, in the best possible way. I probably don't need to recommend this one either but I'm going to anyway!

9. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

This is the book, tied with The Color Purple, that takes the top spot for 2015. The writing is so wonderful, the story so poignant, and the characters so real, that I'll be thinking of this book for years to come. I didn't know a book could make me feel this way. Seriously, go and read this book now!

10. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

As I mentioned in the intro, I haven't actually finished this book yet (awkward)... But I've read enough of it to know how truly unique and different this book it. It has such a strong voice, and it's unlike anything I've experienced in literature before. I can't wait to read This is How You Lose Her (which I now own) sometime soon. Honestly, though, this was another book that took me by surprise. I hope you give it a try and love it as much as I did!

 So there you have it! My top ten reads of 2015! I truly loved this reading year, though I just wish I could've fit more in! :P

What was your favourite read(s) of 2015?  

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Typical. Probably the most famous Sherlock Holmes story there is, and I'd read basically all of them except this one. I, as a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, should hang my head in shame.

But no more! Last month, I finally picked up this book after years of wanting to, which kinda what my Classics Catch-Up month was all about! Sure, this one wasn't actually on my TBR for the month, but I never stick to TBRs, and who am I to break the tradition now? ;)

Besides, as I said above, this is almost certainly the most famous Sherlock Holmes story, and I've seen quite a few adaptations of it. So I thought it was high time I read the real thing for myself!

Having read and loved all of the short stories, I found the longer ones I've read (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four) to be a little disappointing. The stories themselves felt a bit like overlong short stories with a giant rambling explanation on the end, which is not exactly what I wanted from a novel.

But The Hound of the Baskervilles is much more of a fleshed out story, and has more of a novel-like feel to it. The tension builds much more slowly as the threads of the mystery are woven together. I loved the spooky atmosphere of the Dartmoor setting and the lurking threat of the Grimpen Mire, capable of swallowing up anyone who makes one false step.

As far as the mystery goes, I deduced who the villain was fairly quickly. But there were still plenty of satisfying loose ends to tie up after that. All in all, a highly worthwhile read. And it didn't take very long either!

Have you read The Hound of the Baskervilles?

What are you reading over the holidays?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

5 Fave "New to Me" Author Discoveries This Year

Hello! And welcome back to another post for #AMonthofFaves (check out the intro post for the details, including links to the hosts' blogs!).

Today's post is another one from last week (oops), and the topic is '5 favourite new-to-me authors of the year'. I read loads of authors this year that I'd never read before, so it'll be tricky to narrow it down!

Oh well, here goes nothing:

1.Thomas Hardy

"But Rachel, you didn't read a Thomas Hardy book this year!"

True. But I did listen to about half of the audiobook for Far from the Madding Crowd and absolutely loved it. I don't think audiobooks are for me (at least at the moment), but I did fall in love with Hardy's writing and I'm so so keen to pick this up in physical form soon.

2. Junot Diaz

"But Rachel, isn't this the first time you're mentioning Junot Diaz on this blog?"

Why yes, astute reader, I believe it is. This is a slightly embarrassing story... I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao earlier in the summer, but I stopped about 6 pages from the end and still haven't finished it. Why? Not a clue!

I really loved the book though, and I can't wait to pick up This is How You Lose Her, which I bought recently with my birthday money.

3. Alice Walker

I LOVED The Color Purple when I read it this summer, and according to my sister the rest are just as good.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I think my strategy for narrowing down this list is, rather than necessarily trying to choose my favourite (way too many!), to choose authors that have really made me want to delve deeper into their writing and read more of what they've got to offer. This kind of excludes writers like Harper Lee (I'm not that fussed about her new book) and Andy Weir, simply because it was their book as a standalone rather than their whole body of work which interested me. Hopefully that makes sense :P

Anyway, my absolutely favourite part of The Great Gatsby was Fitzgerald's writing style, and that's definitely something I'm keen to explore in his other works. I can't believe it took me so long to get to him, but I'm glad I finally did this year!

5. George R.R. Martin

Though he may not be my favourite author of the year, this guy has really made me want to read the rest of his books! I've been told they're not all as good as the first one, but that some of them are great. I can't wait to discover them!

So there you have it! My top 5 new-to-me authors of the year.

Who were your favourites?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things in 2015

Plot twist: the bottom of this post is stuck on blue and it won't let me change it! 

Today's #AMonthofFaves topic is fun!!!

(Hop on over to Estella's Revenge or check out my announcement post for deets on what #AMonthofFaves actually is if you're not sure.)

Today's post is a list of favourite things from 2015, [Edit: I forgot to post this! It's the theme from December 3rd!] whether that's book-related or not. This is so great to reflect on - I've got so much to be thankful for, but I do such a bad job at remembering that. It's so good to be reminded once in a while of the good things in your life.

Favourite film of the year:

The Martian. Hands down. Loved the film just as much as the book and can't wait till it comes out on DVD.


My year of music listening has consisted very heavily of the Wicked soundtrack and (especially lately) Christmas music by Pentatonix. Judge all you like ;)


This year I was introduced by my housemate to the wonders of peanut butter and soy sauce and I've never looked back.


In my old flat we had a whole shelving unit filled with different teas, and it was wonderful. Clipper do an amazing blend called Snore and Peace (also, great name!), which is camomile and other loveliness. That was probably my favourite of the teas, but the rest were great too.

Item of clothing:

I got given a Ravenclaw scarf for my birthday last year and it got worn for a significant proportion of 2015. No regrets.


A pair of brown brogues. Great shoes = happiness :)

Internet decision:

Making a bookish Instagram. Best decision ever.


Honey Blossom scented candle from Yankee Candle. Closely followed by Cranberry Ice and Pink Sands. Not obsessed at all ;)

TV show:

Merlin. (Forever and always.)

Thanks buddy :')


Graduation! Actually quite a boring event in itself but it means I HAVE A DEGREE so that's always a good thing.

Outdoor activity:

Frisbee. Closely followed by cycling to work. (I also like Frisbee indoors)


Edinburgh. I went with a couple of friends in the summer and adored every second.

Animal encounter:

The elusive neighbour's cat (the cat is elusive, not the neighbour). But it's also the most adorable cat ever and I want it for my own.

Book-related gift:

This mug.

Thing to do:

Go for walks with my mum.

Biggest change:

Leaving education. Becoming an adult. Realising that I have to actively decide now what happens to me otherwise I'll stay in limbo in the same job forever and ever.

But I also get paid so... 

That's it for now! Let me know your faves of 2015 in the comments :) 
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