Monday, 27 July 2015

Review: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

When I posted a picture of my recent book haul on Instagram (as I mentioned recently, I've finally jumped on that particular bandwagon!), a user called themreadsbooks commented to say that Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez was an absolutely wonderful book and she highly recommended it. After that, curiosity got the better of me, so I bumped it up my TBR and whizzed through it in a single sitting.

Beneath the deceptively simple writing style, this book is very complex and nuanced. The plot, as far as it exists at all, is minimal, and the main events (or, I should say, event) are revealed very early on. But nonetheless the narrative continues to build, painting a more and more detailed and nuanced image of the 'reality' of what happened.

As it goes on, more and more moral ambiguities are evoked, and there is always a tension between what the characters are morally capable and morally willing to do. Those with the best intentions never seem able to prevent tragedy, and by the end it is clear whether the whole thing is a mess of coincidence or of fate.

The narrator tells the story retrospectively from a point in the future, and the memories, both personal and collective, of those who were there are woven into the story. Somehow, in many cases, the author does this in such a way that it only serves to throw more doubt on the reliability of narrative. Even something as simple as the weather is called into question, with some remembering glorious sunshine and others remembering rain.

There is no real conclusion to the story, and no real point where the themes come to a head or any further meaning is revealed. Instead, everything just hangs in the air and any solid purpose is only hinted at.

There are a great many themes,large and small: the reliability of memory, the individual versus the collective, the nature of moral responsibility in the face of what is (or is perceived to be) inevitable. And all of this against a scorching Caribbean backdrop. This book is not only wonderful and evocative, but incredibly engrossing. Not to mention it's barely over a hundred pages. Pick it up now! You won't be disappointed.

What did you think of Chronicle of a Death Foretold? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Review: The Color Purple

I bought The Color Purple by Alice Walker years and years ago without any inclination of what it was about, how significant it was, or its acclaim. It was only recently that I began to see reviews and anticipate that this novel would be really something.

And I definitely was not disappointed! From the outset, the voice of the main character Celie overwhelms the narrative, and it continues to do so throughout. Celie is not especially strong or smart or even all that likeable at first, but she has her own feelings and motivations, and her own tentative sense of self which develops slowly as the story progresses.

Celie has the worst start in life, and some of the things that have happened to her are really heartbreaking. But, gradually, she is built up by her friendships and interactions with the women around her and her growth as a person is truly heartwarming. The way female friendships are portrayed in this book is really remarkable; they are so full of nuance, balancing moments of fiery confrontation with deep-rooted affection and solidarity.

Not only do the characters feel wonderfully real, but the setting is also brought to life by Alice Walker's writing. In one of the rave reviews inside the front cover of my edition, it talks of 'a whole submerged world', which to me feels like the perfect description of what this novel does. It takes an experience that is completely alien to many of its readers and plunges them in headlong. The use of phonetically-written dialect is instrumental to getting the reader into Celie's head and into her world.

To sum up, The Color Purple is a daring and beautiful exploration of love and life, gender, race, sexuality, identity, family and faith. You don't always identify with or agree with the characters and their choices, but you do end up loving them and rooting for them. Celie is such a wonderful but unusual protagonist! She doesn't seem like anything special, but she loves and is loved, and she grows so much as a character throughout the book. By the end I was so desperate for her to get her happy ending, and when I closed the book it felt like saying goodbye to a friend.

What did you think of The Color Purple? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays - Diverse Books

Uh oh... It's actually Wednesday. Sorry!

Here we are again for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is books or characters that are examples of 'diversity'. I've put inverted commas in there because diversity is often quite difficult to qualify. It seems to be a trending topic lately (for quite a while actually!), but it's not always clear what diversity really means. I guess in this context, I'm talking about books and characters that represent experiences outside of the 'norm' that is usually presented in books: straight, white, from the UK or North America, with a certain type of background or outlook on life.

I initially decided not to do this topic, just because I wasn't sure I actually had enough books to mention (and I'm definitely lacking in some areas of 'diverse' experiences), but having read other people's lists, I realised that I do actually have quite a few books to mentions. So without further ado, let's get on with the list.

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God last year, and was completely engrossed by the story and blown away by how much it opened my eyes to people's different experiences. Janie, the protagonist, not only has a completely different experience to my own in that she is black and lives in the American south in the early 20th century, but she also has a totally different outlook on life and love. Even the use of dialect plunges you into a completely different world. This is a type of experience that is ridiculously under-represented in literature.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

I spotted this on Katie from Words for Worms's list yesterday and just had to include it. Christopher has autism and therefore processes the world and interacts with people differently. This book is great for understanding people with autism and helping people know how to interact with them better, most importantly it leads us to empathise with Christopher and helps us to see his point of view.

3. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

This slightly unexpected book (or is it a collection of novellas?) addresses grief and love in its different forms. But the reason it made it onto this list is because it features a transgender character, which is exceptionally rare in books! And the character is interesting and well-rounded. Besides, the book is great! Well worth a read even without it's 'diversity' bonus points.

4. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The stories of four mothers and four daughters, all of Chinese immigrant families, intertwine in this novel about what it means to straddle two cultures and feel like an outsider in both. I think the most powerful part, for me, was the struggle of these families to understand and love each other across cultural barriers. An amazing book!

5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I don't think I can recommend this book enough. The experiences represented here are not only diverse in the sense that they take place in Africa (a continent that is wildly under-represented in my reading and, I suspect, in many other people's too), but the two main characters also both go on to experience different continents themselves and go through changes, both in themselves and in their perception of the world. It's also a really interesting look at race in America and the experiences of an illegal immigrant in the UK.

6. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

This is probably the most famous of Schlink's books, but he also wrote a brilliant detective series about Gerhard Selb ('Self' in English!). This offers an interesting look at post-war Germany and people's complex motivations for doing what they do.

7. The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

Shoutout to Susie from Girl with her Head in a Book who hates Jacqueline Wilson (sorry! :P), and who was very scathing about her novel The Suitcase Kid in her Top Ten Tuesday this week. But I vividly remember being really challenged by Jacqueline Wilson's novels when I was reading them as a child and young teenager. The Illustrated Mum is the example that comes most readily to mind; it's the story of a woman with bipolar disorder, told from the perspective of her young daughter. Throughout the book, we see the main character struggling to balance her fierce protective love for her mum on the one hand with her frustration and fear on the other. I remember discussing this one with my own mum afterwards.

8. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Another one inspired by Susie's list (she disliked this one too! :P). I found this book to be a highly complex and nuanced look at race relations in colonial India, with Forster's trademark subtlety and understanding of human interaction. This book is so interesting, particularly in that all the characters are so flawed; even the 'good guy' is only free from prejudice (or at least relatively so) because of circumstance.

9. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

This book offers the perspective of an unrepresented and misunderstood character from Jane Eyre, which addresses the wider issue of white stories being given more page-space and importance than those of people of colour. I didn't actually love this book all that much, but it was really interesting and thought-provoking, and it's definitely worth a read as it offers a really important perspective.

10. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I almost just put this as an honourable mention on the end of #1, but I just couldn't do it! This book (more than) merits a space of its own. It encompasses so many issues such as racism, the experiences of women in black communities, sexuality, abuse, faith, the nature of love, and the complex relationship between Africans and black Americans. Plus it's beautiful and heartbreaking. What more could you want?

So there you have it! I'm aware there are some massive gaps in my reading and there are still loads of types of people that aren't represented, but I still wanted to share a couple of book recommendations nonetheless.

As usual (but perhaps especially in this case), if you have any recommendations of your own, let me know in the comments! Feel free to share your own lists too :)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Post/mid-exam Book Haul

So I bought me some books. Lots and lots of books. And since I just opened a funky new instagram account (disclaimer: may not actually be that funky), I have some lovely pics of said books with pretty filters on them. Mmm filters.

As you can see, I've gone for a pretty eclectic mix of genres. 

These first four were the ones I bought on my first attempt to spend my Amazon voucher:

I've heard loads of people talk about these books on YouTube and have had them all on my mental wishlist for a really long time, so when I finally had the excuse to buy them I jumped at the chance.

This second bunch of books were bought when I actually spent the aforementioned Amazon voucher (fail) (or win, depending on how you look at it):

I bought The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke on a total whim, based solely on my random sci-fi cravings, the beautiful cover, and some pretty impressive rave reviews (which are pretty good reasons to buy a book in my opinion). Amazon also recommended the Penguin mini classics edition of The Machine Stops, as well as these little black classics. And who was I to say no?

These next books were spontaneous purchases from a café in Bristol where I live, which has a 2 for  £5 deal (yes please!) on its books. Despite not actually being a bookshop, it does have a pretty good selection, and I managed to pick up a mixture of magical realism, memoir and sci-fi (which apparently has some philosophy thrown in). Can't wait to get to these! :D

So there you have it! I hope you enjoy ogling my beautiful purchases. Do follow me on instagram if you fancy, and meanwhile I'll work on getting a follow button put somewhere more accessible on the blog (I should probably redesign a bit while I'm at it... Any suggestions, let me know!).

What do you think of the books I bought? Have you read any? Or are there any there that you want to read? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Review: Station Eleven

Like Burial Rites, this book was one that just kept cropping up on people's favourites lists at the end of last year. And for that reason I was compelled to pick it up while supposedly spending the day at the library to write an essay. (Woops.) I actually read this back in January, but the review in this form took a long time to materialise. I hope it's worth the wait! Do let me know if you've read the book and what you think in the comments.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a novel about a flu epidemic, which wipes out the vast majority of the earth's population, and how civilisation picks itself up and starts over again. I'm really not one for apocalyptic novels as a rule, and I would normally avoid books that sound that depressing when in the middle of a stressful uni term. (Reading during term time is normally reserved for fun and comforting books only...) But this one had such intriguing reviews that I just had to pick it up and give it a go.

There certainly are many unique and fascinating ideas in this book. The narration hops backwards and forwards in time between the outbreak and immediate aftermath of the epidemic, the time leading up to that point, and twenty years later, when civilisation is seemingly getting itself back on track. During this third point in time, the story follows a woman who performs with the Travelling Symphony, a nomadic troupe of actors and musicians who traverse the country putting on Shakespeare plays. The idea of the Symphony really appealed to me, and from what I've gathered from reviews, it really appealed to a lot of other people too.

I found the flow of the storytelling itself very smooth and well done, with the constant jumping through time adding a certain element of fatalism, especially in the pre-apocalypse sections. In fact, I much preferred these pre-apocalypse parts; they were perhaps less inventive from a sci-fi/fantasy point of view, but I felt they had more heart and I cared much more about the characters.

There were a couple of points, which I found extremely irritating, where the writing switched suddenly to the present tense. There weren't too many sections like this, but when they did happen, I found them unnecessarily jarring and there didn't seem to be any point to it beyond novelty value.

Another point that didn't sit so well with me was the 'prophet' storyline. It had potential to be an interesting idea, but I found it unconvincing and underdeveloped. It felt a little bizarre that no one else seemed to be grappling with the theological implications of the epidemic, Perhaps this was an attempt to be diplomatic on the part of the author, but you'd think the religious questioning would go beyond the cultish and twisted interpretation of the book of Revelation by one psychopath. It just seemed like a bit of an unfinished thought, seeming to open a discussion about religion's role in a world going through an 'apocalypse', but then it didn't explore it at all. I appreciate the author was probably trying to avoid that can of worms, but not having any real exploration of the theme made the whole idea just fall a bit flat for me. Similarly, I could have done with more development on the idea of the symphony using theatre and music to go beyond mere 'existence'.

Mostly, however, I found the story thoroughly gripping and poignant. The writing was lyrical and interesting, but not so overdone as to detract from my absorption in the story, and there were some really beautiful and bittersweet passages. The pre-apocalypse parts, describing the life of a famous actor who died on stage the night the flu touched down in North America, were my favourite sections.

I would certainly recommend this book, perhaps not quite so highly as other people seem to, but highly nonetheless. As a fresh take on the 'end of the world' concept, this book works really well and I can see it appealing to a wide range of people.

What did you think of Station Eleven? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for such a long time but never quite got around to it (does that sound familiar to all you other booklovers???). It's my flatmate's favourite book of all time, and she's normally very reticent with her opinions, so I knew she must REALLY love it in order to praise it so highly.

I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the beginning of this year (in fact, I think it might have been my first book of 2015), which was the first Neil Gaiman book I'd ever read. When I started Neverwhere, I thought I liked it a lot more than Ocean, but after finishing I'm not sure I still do. But I think Neverwhere felt more grounded and together as a story, and somehow more realistic (which is a bit bizarre, considering the subject matter).

From the outset, there are many threads of narrative woven together, which gave the impression of a complex and well-built storyline. Though, actually, it did take some mental gymnastics to work out how everything fitted together. And at some points I felt like I was sort of just taking the author's word for it that it all made sense. But, saying that, I also felt that about parts of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and that's one of my favourite series of all time, so it's not necessarily a deal-breaker for me.

The strongest element of the book, by far, was the world building. There were so many cool ideas on the go at once, and we got just enough of a glimpse into each aspect of this London 'below' to create just the right level of intrigue. I could possibly have done with a bit more explanation of some bits though.

The mysterious Croup and Vandemar were my personal favourites. Gaiman's descriptions hinted at their sinister capabilities so as to gradually build up a sense of dread. I also really enjoyed the writing style, which followed the likes of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in its mixture of light and serious, finding a balance between the humorous and the sinister.

In summary, the writing style and world building were, for me, top notch. The other elements were still good, just slightly less so. Throughout, I had the distinct impression that it would've been better on screen as a TV series, just because of the visual nature of the world building, which I felt was slightly wasted on a standalone book. That said, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend! It would be especially fun, I imagine, for people with some knowledge of London.

What did you think of Neverwhere? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Hyped Books I've Never Read

Hello and welcome back to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as always by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is top ten hyped books that I've never read, of which there are MANY. Some of these I don't ever intend to read, some of them I might get to eventually, and some of them I'm actually pretty embarrassed to never have read them... Oh well, that's what summers are for, ain't it!?

Anyway, let's get on with the list!

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This one is particularly shameful because not only do I own TWO copies of it (and have done for several years...), but it's also super short, AND Harper Lee's other book is coming out this month. I really really really have no excuse for this one! Hopefully I'll get to it this week while I'm on holiday though.

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

This has been hyped by some as the next Hunger Games,but I'm just not fussed about it. I haven't read it and I don't intend to. Sorry Veronica!

3. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

This might not be such a hyped read for some, but I'm a massive Agatha Christie fan, and I'm slightly ashamed not to have read what is probably the most well-known book by the queen of crime.

4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I haven't actually read anything by Margaret Atwood, and I'm not sure if I'll get to anything of hers any time soon. She's an extremely popular author though, and The Handmaid's Tale is the book that I've heard mentioned the most, so maybe I should give it a try..?

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry

This one has cropped up a lot lately in videos and blog posts about books everyone has (or should have) read. So it's possibly a little embarrassing that I haven't. I think it's better known among Americans though, so I possibly shouldn't feel too bad. I do own it though and I imagine it'll be a quick read, so I should probably get to it soon.

6. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I've read The Hunger Games. I enjoyed The Hunger Games. But I never quite got round to reading the second book (or the third for that matter). Do I want to read it? Kinda. Will I ever get round to it? Probably not.

7. Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell

This book is super famous and I really want to read it. So why haven't I? Who knows.

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

As a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, I really don't know why I haven't picked up what is probably his most famous work. I also own this one, so maybe I'll get to it this summer.

9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I know this book has received a lot of hype in the last couple of years (hence why it's on this list!), but to be honest it really doesn't appeal to me. On top of that, my flatmate read it and was underwhelmed, so I think I probably won't ever pick this up. 

10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

And finally, we come to another very famous, very popular book that I'm sure deserves all its hype and that I really really want to read, but I just haven't! Life, eh?

So there you have it! My top ten hyped books that I haven't read. Any surprises on that list???

Let me know in the comments what you think of my list. What hyped books have you not read (yet)?

Friday, 3 July 2015

Books I'm Taking on Holiday 2015

So I really should be in bed as I'm going on holiday with my family tomorrow and I'm normally the one frantically still packing my bag while everyone else is getting in the car and tutting at my lack of organisation.

But I really wanted to share a quick holiday TBR with you all to let you know what I'll be taking with me. I have quite an ambitious stack of books, so it's a good job we're only driving to Norfolk again and there's no weight limit on my luggage!

The books shown are:
  • A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  • The Secret by Charlotte Bronte
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Number one priority is To Kill a Mockingbird (for obvious reasons), but I'm super excited to get to all of these (or as many as humanly possible). I'm also bringing my kindle and two audiobooks from the library because, ya know, I might finish all of these (well it could happen...)!

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - 2015 Favourites So Far!

Hello again blogosphere! So, I know I'm a little late on the Top Ten Tuesday front (only by one day!). but I have been reading other people's lists and enjoying reading about their favourite books of the year, so I just couldn't resist getting involved.

Of course, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted as always by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week's theme - as you can probably tell from the above paragraph and the title of the post! - is top ten books from the year so far.

My year of reading so far has been very stop-start, interrupted by uni stress and finals and post-final slumps where all I wanted to do was knit and watch YouTube videos... I haven't actually counted, but I'm pretty sure I haven't even read ten books in total this year yet (woops!). I certainly haven't put out that many reviews! I do have reviews lined up for all the books I read, I just haven't got round to polishing them and making them publish-worthy. Anyway, I'm still going to do the list, but I'm cutting it down to Top Four, otherwise it'd just be a list of the books I've read, and that's not quite so interesting ;) (also, I couldn't think of a fifth one to make it a Top Five!)

So let's just get down to the list then shall we?

(In no particular order...)

1. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I didn't actually get as far as actually writing a review for this one, just because I really didn't know what to say about it, apart from that I LOVED it! This is a graphic memoir about Marjane Satrapi's life growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, and her then moving to Austria (I think that's actually in the second book, but I got a bind-up of the two). I whizzed through this book in one train journey, and I just found it so so interesting. It's a very hyped book but it's absolutely worth it! It was heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time, and also taught me a lot about the history of a country and time period with which I was wholly unfamiliar. Highly recommended!

3. The Martian by Andy Weir

This one was a very recent read, and one that I picked up because of all the hype that it's received. I thought the premise sounded really interesting, and had heard that it was really funny too! And I was absolutely not disappointed! At first, I did think the writing style might not be for me, but as I got into it I found it really engaging and I struggled to put the book down to carry out day-to-day tasks like eating and talking to people. In the end, I finished the book in almost one sitting and was gripped from start to finish. It perfectly balances nerdy scienciness with humour and action-adventure type shenanigans. And it feels really believable right to the end! Top stuff! :D

2. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

So I know everyone loves this book so it's kind of redundant to put it on a favourites list, but it's significant to me because I was sort of unconvinced that I would like it as much as everyone else. My brother got it for me for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I'd just kept putting it off, partly for that reason. But I'm glad to say that I absolutely loved it! Though it does come with the downside that I now care if I read spoilers, and there is no corner of the internet that is safe from GoT spoilers (cry).

3. The Beach by Alex Garland

This is probably vying for the top spot on this list. I absolutely LOVED this book! It was recommended by a friend who just told me that it was really clever and that it was her favourite book. And then she pressed it into my hands in the bookshop where we were browsing and coerced me into buying it (not that I really need much persuading when it comes to book buying). I won't say too much about it, just because I think it's one of those books where it's best to go in blind (besides, I have a full review coming soon! Be sure to stay tuned for that one!). But I will say that I couldn't stop talking about it when I'd finished it, and I kept making other people read it so I could discuss it with them. Just read this book! It's great! :D

Hmm... So I think I've exhausted my favourites for this year so far! 

Honourable mentions go to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (both re-reads), the former because it changed my opinion, and the latter because it confirmed it.

Let me know in the comments what your favourite books of the year so far have been! And feel free to link your TTT post :) 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...