Category: favourites

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify her killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath…

I don’t even know where to start with talking about this book.  I don’t know how to convey just how much I *LOVED* this book without just writing “I LOVED THIS – READ IT” over and over again.  It’s strange to have read a book in February and to be absolutely certain that I’ve finished one of my favourite books of 2018.

On the face of it, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (which we’ll now call Seven Deaths) is a classic, ‘Golden Age’ style mystery with a twist. It’s been published beautifully, with a stunning art deco cover and end papers that map out Blackheath in the style of a Cluedo board.  Right from the off, it sounded good and looked even better. I know that it’s a cliché but it really is so much more than it seems.  It is the story of Aiden Bishop trying to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle but it’s also the story of a relationship between Aiden and the mysterious Anna and it’s about sacrifice and whether it’s worth treading on others to succeed.  It’s truly, truly astonishingly good.

I can sense my memories just out of reach. They have weight and shape, like shrouded furniture in a darkened room. I’ve simply misplaced the light to see them by

I am an absolute sucker for time travel stories but they can be really hit and miss.  Some authors try to dodge the complexities of characters coming across themselves in the past by having them go to any lengths to avoid their earlier selves while others clumsily smush plotlines together, requiring a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief.  Seven Deaths manages to properly take on time travel and win.  As Aiden moves between “hosts”, he encounters future hosts and past ones and the weaving together is so deftly done, I was basically in awe of Stuart Turton the whole time I was reading. There are small oddities that are later revealed to be pivotal moments, all tucked around the tangents of the central mystery that slowly but surely come together.  It’s complicated but I never found it confusing, a wonder in itself with eight versions of Aiden Bishop walking around and crossing paths with each other.

To add some slight balance, I wasn’t 100% convinced by part of the very ending.  Not so much that it in any way detracted from how much I adored this book (which is, of course, wholly and completely) but in a way that did give me a slight pause.  The main elements of the ending are perfect (obviously), there’s just a small bit that wasn’t a little less so compared to everything else. There isn’t a lot more that I can say without spoiling things for you. There were so many twists, moments that genuinely unnerved me and moments that completely blew my mind.  Pure genius.

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

Overall:  What else can I say? The plotting is impeccable, the writing is flawless and it’s a beautiful book to own. It’s an absolute masterpiece that I can’t wait to read again one day.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time and I can’t imagine reading anything better than it for quite some time. Apparently Turton is currently writing his second book and I will be preordering that as soon as physically possible.  If it’s even half as good as Seven Deaths, I’ll be a happy reader.

Review: ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed 


A world at stake. 
A quest for the ultimate prize. 

Are you ready?

Review

I don’t even know where to start with this.  Maybe with the reason I even picked up Ready Player One?  I’d heard of it maybe a couple of years ago when everybody started reading it, mentally noted it as something to pick up one day if I happened across it and then forgot all about it.  I was reminded every now and then when I saw it on the occasional list of favourites but it was never something I felt like I had to go out and buy.  Until Hanna texted me in January at nearly midnight on a Sunday with much upper case enthusiasm and said that I HAD TO READ READY PLAYER ONE.  So I did.  Because I am nothing if not easily led by Hanna into reading pretty much anything.

I was promised that it would be amazing.  And it is.  Absolutely, unrelentingly, unputdownably amazing.  Reading it was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in years and I didn’t ever want it to stop.  It manages to be both completely niche in its unashamed geekiness but also completely accessible.  I was born in the late 80s (ok, fine, 1986 is probably “mid-80s” but whatever) so I’m really more au fait with 90s popular culture and missed a few of the computer game references but I knew enough about the music and films of the time that I could still feel connected.  Even if I hadn’t got those references, I honestly believe that I would still have loved it because Cline just writes with such an obvious love for all things “nerdy” that it’s infectious.

The text is quite small and there’s a lot on a page so when I opened it on the 10th of January, I thought it would maybe take a couple of weeks.  I finished it on the 12th.  I was travelling quite a lot in that couple of days, sure, but I was obsessed with it.  And not in a general “oh, this is a good book” way.  The kind of all-encompassing obsession with a book that means that you eat reading it, read it when you’re stood waiting for anything that will take any longer than 2 minutes and just generally ignore everybody else in your life until you’ve finished and can look to them for consolation over the gaping hole the book has left.

Ready Player One may well be an homage to 80s pop culture but it’s also a gripping science fiction adventure story that’s grounded just well enough in reality that it doesn’t take long to lose yourself in.  I don’t read a lot of science fiction because I don’t like reading long descriptions of technological advance or political background or, heaven forbid, actual science.  Cline has managed to write something that is both undeniably science fiction but without the tedium.  Somehow, you completely understand both the real and virtual world that Wade lives in without having to suffer through any dry explanations.  It’s impeccable and not really all that much of a stretch of imagination.  I remember when Second Life was launched about 10 years ago and the media was filled with tales of women leaving their husbands for men they’d met while building their perfect life.  You don’t have to read the news for too long to see endless stories about bankruptcy, environmental disaster and how badly we’re damaging the world.  Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine a world where everybody is crowded into small spaces without any money or natural resources, seeking refuge online?  Add in an adventure story and you’ve got something golden.

The online contest and the bedlam that ensues when Wade happens across the first clue is so, so much fun.  Like everything else about this book.  The pace is pretty hectic but not so much that it seem rushed or overwhelming.  When I could feel that the story was starting to wrap up, I was genuinely sad.  I could still be reading about Wade and about his friends two months later and I’m pretty sure I’d still be happy.

The story is amazing.  The characters are amazing.  The writing is amazing.  The whole damn thing from start to finish is AMAZING.  Consider this your midnight text.

Overall:  My biggest problem with Ready Player One is that finishing it and knowing that I’d read one of the best books I was going to read all year.  Nothing since has even been close to being as good.  Just read it, already.

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Date finished: 12 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre: Science fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in June 2012 by Broadway Books

Ernest Cline’s next book, Armada is out on the 16th of July this year and I’ll be reading it as soon as I physically can (you can pre-order too HERE).  I never pre-order books but there’s no way I can do anything but pre-order this.  If it’s as good as Ready Plater One, I’ve got myself a new favourite author.

Wheel of Time Re-Read #1: The Eye of the World

It’s impossible for me to be objective about this series.  I first read The Eye of the World when I was in high school, I think when I was about 13.  It was my first real brush with epic fantasy and I completely loved it.  For a long time, every time I had a voucher or it was my birthday or whatever, I’d dodge into the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of the local Waterstones (because I was an awkward teen and was embarrassed about reading fantasy) and snatch up the next Wheel of Time instalment.  Eventually, I’d read all of the books that were published and I had to wait with everybody else for the next book to be released.  And therein lies the reason for my re-read.  Eventually, the gap between me picking up each book became so long that I felt as though I was losing track of the plot and I read a couple of the books without really appreciating what was going on.  So I kept on buying them, intending to catch up one day and see the series through but never got round to it.  2015 is where that changes.  I really want to see where the story ends and I own them all so there’s no excuse.

Book One: The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: I love this series.

I’d actually forgotten just how much and, in particular, how damn much I loved the first book in particular.  As the series goes on, it introduces far more political wrangling but The Eye of the World is more about establishing the main characters and the overarching story with hefty doses of peril, narrow escapes, revelations and general adventuring goodness.

In short: Rand al’Thor, Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon are minding their own business in their village, Emond’s Field, when their peace is rudely interrupted by a marauding bunch of trollocs (which are as disgusting and troll-like as they sound) that seem to be intent on kidnapping the three for no apparent reason.  In their bid for safety, the three flee the terror with Moiraine, an aloof Aes Sedai (able to wield the One Power, the series’ brand of magic), her Warder, Lan, and Egwene al’Vere, another villager who sort of tags along because she fancies a bit of adventure.  Mayhem, magic and world-threatening chaos ensues.

The writing isn’t perfect, I’ll grant you, and it can feel a bit repetitive when it comes to character descriptions (you may gather that those from Emond’s Field are known to be stubborn, unless you’re stupid and miss the hundred or so references) but what it lacks in finesse, it more than makes up for in excitement.  Even though I sort of knew what was coming, I was hooked.  From the moment the trollocs turn up, the characters are bumped from one impending disaster to another, sometimes all together, sometimes not.

And the WORLD!  There’s so much world-building in these books.  Each town the characters visits has a background and feels different to the ones that went before it.  There’s a rich history hinted at in The Eye of the World that is built on in later books.  The Aes Sedai is full of factions and mysteries and secrets and the One Power is just plain cool (I was a teenager when I first read this book, allow me to regress!).  Some might criticise them for being a little heavy-handed with the fantasy tropes but I just don’t care.  I don’t 100% agree but even if I did, I still wouldn’t care.  Those things are classic for a reason.

Have I impressed on you how much I loved this book yet?!  Just in case I haven’t, I’ll try another angle:  I almost never re-read and I was wary of embarking on this particular re-read “project” in case I wound up hating a series that has held a dear spot in my heart for 15 years and that takes up a significant amount of shelf (or box, if we’re being accurate) space.  I’m an idiot.  I adored re-reading it.  I loved seeing cameos from characters that I knew would later have an important role to play and seeing hints at future plotlines, which I obviously didn’t appreciate the first time around.  I still found the story completely addictive and even a decade and a half after my unwitting induction into fantasy, the series remains my favourite epic fantasy series.  There, I said it.  I’ve read a lot of series since I first picked this book up and I still love Wheel of Time the most.  If you’ve got staying power, get it, read it and love it too.

Next up:  The Great Hunt

Ok, if you’ve made it through to the end of my over-enthusiastic gushing over The Eye of the World, I really feel as though I should share the Wheel of Time love.  If you fancy getting in at the ground level, you can enter below to win a copy of the first book.  Open to entrants from anywhere that Book Depository will ship for free – good luck!  If you don’t want to lug around an 800 page paperback and are more electronically inclined, I’ll try and gift a Kindle copy to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Top Ten Books of 2014

How has Christmas been and gone?! I adore Christmas and all of its sparkly, gift-giving fabulousness and the last few days have been a run of family, friends, too much food, plenty of prosecco and, perhaps most importantly, no work.  I hope you all had the most wonderful of wonderful Christmas times and received enough books to sink a ship.
There’ll be a Christmas goodies post over the next few days but for now I’m feeling ponderous so I’m rolling out my Top Ten Books of 2014!  Although I actually have read more new releases this year than I normally read, this will still just be a list of the books that I’ve read this year.  And they won’t be in any particular order because if I try to rank them, I’ll be here all night.
1)  NOS4R2 by Joe Hill
There’s no bad time to read this book – it might actually be the perfect antidote to all of the turkey dozes and hangovers that seem prevalent at this time of year.  I expected to like this but I don’t think I expected to love it.  Shows how wrong I can be!
2)  Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

I ran a really well-supported half marathon in September and it was such an uplifting and exhilarating event.  This book keyed me up and kept me at my training programme even when it was cold/wet/I ached.  It even made me want to run a marathon just once, just for the experience.  (Hopefully by the time I’m 30 because that seems like an appropriately arbitrary milestone.  I’m not sure if it’ll be 2015 because I know that the first quarter will be insanely busy at work but maybe by August 2016).  If you want to achieve anything, this is the book for you.
3)  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
This book is the epitome of heart-warming.  It manages to be warm and comforting while being painfully sad by weaving in anecdotes from the society members’ experience of the Second World War. I listened to the Books on Tape audio version and it was perfection.  Every single one of the actors sounded completely right and I felt genuinely sad when I’d finished it.
4)   Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I, along with the rest of the world, adore Rainbow Rowell.  She does bitter-sweet like no author I can think of and her books just make me want to stop the world and read.  This one captures everything that is first love and had me sobbing all over the pages.  It scored extra points for not having a completely predictable ending.  I have Fangirl to read and Landline still to acquire and read and I’m sure that both of them will live up to my lofty expectations.

5)  The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I may be cheating by lumping three books into one but I can’t distinguish from them so cheat I shall.  I love everything about this series.  I love that it has romance threads that I care about it.  That it has a main character who doesn’t always do what you expect.  That it has a tangent of a storyline that had me rooting for a runt of a wyvern and a blood-thirsty witch.  It has everything that you could possibly want from a YA fantasy series and if you haven’t already read it, you’re crazy.  I am unbelievably glad that it isn’t just a trilogy.

6)  Wake by Anna Hope

This was my first five star rating of the year.  It’s quieter than a lot of World War I novels but is just as impactive.  More so, actually.  I read it way back in January and it remains one of the best books of the year so I guess that says enough.
7)  The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I started reading this as part of the RIP read-along but by that time I was so far behind on posts and so busy at work that I never got round to praising it properly.  It’s a short book but it’s clever and the writing is stellar.  It’s probably the best haunted house novel that I’ve read.  The fact that the horrendous adaptation featuring Catherine Zeta Jones exists is a travesty.
8)  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I had an excellent run in January, it would seem!  I loved the idea of getting to try again and again but it’s the execution that makes this a great book.  It also manages to look at both World War I and World War II without being clumsy or heavy-handed.  
9)  The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I’m going to try to squeeze a review of this in over the next week or so but in the meantime – this book was the most surprising of the year for me.  I kind of expected a coming of age type historical fiction story but The Miniaturist was a lot darker.  It might not be for everybody and it isn’t perfect but it’s distinctive and great if you want something different (and gloomy) to kick off 2015.
10)  Villette by Charlotte Bronte

I’ve read more classics this year than in previous years but this one was my favourite, edging out The Count of Monte Cristo.  Lucy Snowe is among the most unreliable of unreliable narrators.  I enjoyed it at the time but I don’t think I thought it would make my top books for 2014 but the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve realised how brilliant it is.  It’s not quite Jane Eyre but it’s bloody good.

Review: ‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


“In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope – wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy – is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and – curiously – twelve of her maids.” 

In a contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing.

Review

I kind of hate it when I come across a synopsis that so perfectly describes a book because I then try in vain for ages trying to come up with something better.  Or even as good.  Wise, compassionate, haunting, wildly entertaining and disturbing.  The Penelopiad really is all of those things at the same time and it’s a heady mix.

I originally ‘picked up’ (i.e. loaded up on my eReader) The Penelopiad because it combined two of my favourite bookish things of 2013 so far:  Margaret Atwood and twists on Greek mythology.  It turned out to be a riot of literary forms, styles and techniques and has firmly cemented Margaret Atwood onto my list of favourite authors.

Telling the story of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, this glorious novel moves from verse to prose, Ancient Greece to the modern day and from comedy to pathos without ever feeling scattered or disjointed.  In some ways, it’s more like a collection of short works of fiction on a common theme, tied together by a single voice.  There were styles and sections that I preferred to others (as with any collection of short stories and the like) – generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of poetry so, although I actually did find the verse/song sections more enjoyable than I expected, I still preferred the prose.

Penelope’s perspective of Odysseus’ questing and Helen of Troy’s beauty is witty, self-deprecating and really very entertaining.  After years spent in her cousin’s shadow and playing second fiddle to her husband’s love of a good war, she’s wryly bitter:

“If you were a magician, messing around in the dark arts and risking your soul, would you want to conjur up a plain but smart wife who’d been good at weaving and had never transgressed, instead of a woman who’d driven hundreds of men mad with lust and had cause a great city to go up in flames?

Neither would I”

[Page 21 of 119 of my eBook edition]

Still suffering from unfavourable comparisons in the underworld, Penelope is sarcastic, biting and funny.  I really loved her and was dying to drag her off the pages, listen to her rant about her wayward husband and the nastiness of men in general and then give her a big hug. I know that it’s supposed to be the ‘lowest form of wit’ and all but I will always love characters who are liberal with the sarcasm.  The sarkier the better, to be honest.

There’s really not much more to say really.  A feminist view on a classic myth with a hefty dose of snark.  I’ve read some reviews that dismiss the book as too much of a mish-mash of styles or as somehow unfaithful to the myth on which it is based.  I couldn’t disagree more; The Penelopiad is almost a companion to the original, breathing life into those that were left behind while their husbands were off battling for a golden fleece or trying to outsmart a cyclops or two.  Cracking stuff.
Overall:  I know it’s a cliché but here it’s true – there really is something for everyone.  It’s a quick read (the eBook is 119 pages) but has plenty to keep you interested with a plethora of clever turns of phrase and creative spins on a familiar story that make it prime for re-reading.  Highly, highly recommended and part of a set of twists on myths (Canongate myths) that I can’t wait to explore more.
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Date finished:  12 February 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Literary fiction; Fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Canongate books in 2006

Top Ten Favourite Books I Read Before I Was A Blogger

I *love* this week’s topic.  I’ve spent pretty much all of my time as a book blogger getting caught up in what books everybody’s reading RIGHT NOW and posting about the books I’ve just read and cooing over the books that I’ve bought and am excited about reading that I’ve completely neglected the terrific books that I read before Lit Addicted Brit was born.

Want to reminisce along with me?  Head over to The Broke and the Bookish

And I’m not even close to being organised or ruthless enough to actually rank these so these are in no particular order whatsoever!

1)  The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

When I started this tome at the beginning of January 2010, I admit that I was intimidated. Over 1,000 pages about the building of a cathedral in the twelfth century? I don’t know what I expected when I bought it but I never expected it to be so full of emotion.  One of my favourite books, without a doubt.

If you’re a historical fiction fan, I can’t imagine you finding better.  There’s tragedy and heartache against a soaring triumph of architecture.  I actually do own World Without End (the next in the series) but these books are killer to carry around so I’m saving it for a time when I can race through it within my own home.


2)  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

When I was in high school, I was a student librarian.  I know, not exactly the coolest but some of the best half-hours I spent at that school were in that library.  What can I say?  All girls comprehensives can be pretty bitchy and libraries are never bitchy.  So anyway, while in that library, I met a girl who was one of the only people that read as much as I do.  After some time spent sizing each other, she put herself out on a limb and leant me this book.

It isn’t flawless and I know that but it was my first experience with epic fantasy and I will always love it.  Whenever I got the chance to race through the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of our local Waterstones (which I was too shy to dawdle in), I would grab the next in this series.  If you’re even remotely an epic fantasy fan, please read this series.  Just don’t tell me if you hate it, because I am way too fond of it to hear your criticisms!

3)  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I know, big surprise!  I’m pretty sure that this one doesn’t need an explanation…I could have included any one of the Harry Potter books really but this one is the one that I always remember as my favourite so it wins the spot.

4)  Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

I have absolutely no idea when or where or why I picked this book up.  No idea at all.  What I *do* know, however, is that this whole series is incredible.  Set in Feudal Japan against breathtakingly exotic scenery with a dash of fantasy, it is so completely unique and utterly completely.  I read this, the following two in the trilogy, the follow-up and the prequel in quick succession and I would love to do it all over again for the first time.  

If you haven’t read these and fancy something a little bit different, The Tales of the Otori series should be at the top of your list.


5)  The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

The final instalment of The Black Magician trilogy and, for once, the last was my favourite.  Usually I love meeting all of the new characters and getting caught up in their stories but with this series, it was the resolution of those stories that became my hands down favourite.  Maybe because there are plenty of hints at action still to come in the Traitor Spy trilogy.  Or *maybe* because I had a mega literary crush on a character whose name I don’t want to give away so that I don’t get spoiler-y.  

Love yourself a strong heroine?  Go and find this series – it’s just fantastic.  A few grown-up moments mean this is probably more sensible for a recommendation at the top end of the YA spectrum. 

6)  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I remember finding a lovely copy of this in a charity shop (although I can’t remember where that charity shop was…) and then I remember leaving it on my shelf for a criminally long time.  

Extravagant, inventive, emotionally sweeping, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is the story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history”  I couldn’t put it better myself.  Set on the beautiful Greek island of Cephallonia while under occupation by part of an Italian regiment, it is just awe-inspiringly terrific and I fell in love with the setting as much as the characters.  And the ending!  The ending is one of the best (and perhaps least expected) in fiction.  I haven’t ever seen the film adaptation but I’m led to believe that it is massively inferior – read it instead.  Right now.

7)  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I read this back when I was at university and was completely floored by how incredible it was.  It is a source of much consternation that I didn’t read more while I didn’t have to work for a living but I suppose spending my days reading musty law books probably made reading in the evenings a little less appealing.  

Regardless, this story of friendship, guilt and atonement is harrowing and so hard to just walk away from.  Set part in Kabul, Afghanistan and part in America, the blend of cultures and language appears effortless and is so wonderful.  A Thousand Splendid Suns would also be on this list but I read it a couple of weeks after I started the blog so close but no cigar…Hosseini’s writing is incredibly powerful and you should do yourself a favour and read one of his books.  There’s a new one coming out soon too so you have no excuse!

8)  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Not the most sophisticated on the list, I’ll grant you but still a book I loved.  And then leant to my entire family for them to love.  I know that it’s been criticised heavily in the media for flaws in how it portrays a child with Asperger’s syndrome.  It might not be accurate and it might never be quoted in a science journal but it is a charming, funny and touching story about a boy that it is impossible not to root for.  

Looking for something short and snappy with a narrator that you’ll love unreservedly?  Look no further!

9)  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

There’s an antiquarian book dealer of a main character, a mysterious book, Barcelona and a Cemetery of Forgotten Books – what more could you want?!  Nothing, book-loving friends.  You could want nothing more!

Seriously, though, I really do love Ruiz Zafon’s writing in a way that is impossible to describe in a couple of sentences.  The Angel’s Game is a pretty strange follow-up but The Shadow of the Wind is pretty much the best mystery ever.

10)  The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams

Ok, so a quick scan of Goodreads has awakened me to the fact that this isn’t exactly a popular book.  But I loved it so it’s staying on the list.  It’s a standalone fantasy novel that boasts a hefty page count but I tore through it.  Either my mum read it and loved it and then leant it to me or it was the other way around…I can’t remember (which seems to be a common theme for this post!).  ANYway, I do know that I leant it to a friend that I used to work with and she read it and loved it too, so I’m calling it a hit.

About a man that stumbles into the eerie world of Faerie and finds himself at the centre of a war, it’s a really kooky story that remains my favourite book featuring any variation of fairies.  Think warring nobles and fast-paced action but with a sprinkle of fairy dust.  Want to read an urban fantasy but don’t want to get embroiled in another series?  The War of the Flowers is a winner.

So there they are! The top ten books I read before I started blogging.  If nothing else, highlighting these has shown me how little I remember about the way books come into my life!  It does show, though, that I need to spend a little more time remembering the treasures I discovered before I carved out this teeny tiny space on the internet.  Tell me all about your pre-blog favourites now, please 🙂

Literary Fiction Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

Synopsis courtesy of GoodReads


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate ‘Handmaids’ under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the ‘time before’ and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. 


Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.



Review

I wish this story were different.  I wish it were more civilized.  I wish it showed me in a better light , if not happier, then at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia.  I wish it had more shape.  I wish it were about love, or about sudden realizations important to one’s life, or even about sunsets, birds, rainstorms, or snow” [Page 279 of the Vintage Books edition]

Offred, I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree; there is nothing that I would change about this story.  I haven’t a clue where to start with reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale because I loved it so much.  Even if you don’t make it all the way through my ramblings, know this: every time I am asked in the future to name my favourite book, this will be high up on the list I garble as a response.

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t “just” a compelling story of one woman struggling to reconcile herself with a new life and survive but manages to make some clever socio-political points without beating readers over the head with A Message.  The writing style is disjointed but wholly consistent with the Offred’s experiences.  Her memories, for example, use more colourful language while her day-to-day experiences are gut-wrenchingly bleak as Offred uses a whole host of techniques to avoid dwelling on her new position.  I loved her completely and read her story with a mixture of pity and horror, through moments that left  me feeling queasy, through happier moments and through moments that made me well up with tears.

Having studied at a single sex high school, I’m surprised that we didn’t study this, or at the very least parts of it.  The Republic of Gilead has restricted the roles of women to Wives (of the higher classes) and their Daughters, Handmaids (whose duty is to procreate) and Marthas (women who are no longer able to have children but are useful for fulfilling domestic duties, such as cooking and cleaning).  Worst of all, though, are the Aunts.  The novel is set at a time when the Republic of Gilead is in its infancy and the government (such as it is) is straining to impose its ideals on those that remain within its control.  The Aunts are older women responsible for ‘training’ young women for their new role as baby-makers and enforcing corporal punishment against women that dare to break any of the new rules.  Reading, for example, is a great sin – no good can come from an educated woman, after all.  There’s something horrific about women grooming other women for slavery and their motivations and the relish with which they undertake their new role are…well, horrific.

Even the names of the Handmaids are sinister.  It took me a good two thirds of the book before I twigged but each woman is named after the man to whom she belongs: Of Fred.  I think that in some editions it’s actually written somewhat less subtly as OfFred.  When I did understand it, it’s a perfect example of the type of detail that made me stop for a moment and think, one small way in which the Republic of Gilead removes women’s identities and freedoms and transforms them into property.  And yes, it is terribly, terribly sad.

I think that deep down what made this novel have such an impact on me was that, even reading in the 21st century, stories of women struggling under oppression and against legal systems in which they remain second-class citizens remain regular features in international news.  I’m lucky enough to live a reasonably progressive society where I haven’t been restricted in my career and life opportunities because of my gender but Offred’s story serves as an at times very emotional reminder that many women aren’t as fortunate.  In an interview included in an earlier edition of the book, Ms Atwood said, “This is a book about what happens when certain casually held attitudes about women are taken to their logical conclusions“.  In some ways, that’s all you really need to know.

Overall:  Without question, a new favourite.  There are few books that I would genuinely say that I intend to re-read at some point; this is one.  I was so invested in Offred’s story that I no doubt missed countless political references or ideas that are there to be mulled over.  I would love to spend the time one day re-discovering The Handmaid’s Tale – most highly recommended.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 10 January 2013
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Literary fiction
Published (pictured edition): by Vintage Books USA in October 2010

Book v. Film: ‘The Princess Bride’ by William Goldman

I’d had the book of this on my wishlist for *ages* when both Ellie and Hanna kindly bought me it for my birthday last year.  The obvious problem with having two people whose opinions you respect send you the same book is that it doubles the pressure that the poor book is labouring under.

I never actually got to telling you how much I loved it last year because I read it just before I decided to cut my losses on the backlog of reviews and just finish up 2012 and start again in 2013.  But I really did love it!  Last weekend, when a horrendous cold/chest infection arrived, I tucked myself up in a duvet and settled down to watch the film based on the wonderful novel, which makes now the perfect time to have a bit of a chat about both.

Just as a warning, this is a hybrid review/comparison between the book and the film and there may well be a few minor spoilers if you either haven’t read the book or watched the film!  Careful as we go, folks!

Book

Buy your own copy at the
Book Depository here
I was promised “a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes ,lies, truths, passion and miracles“.  And blimey, does Goldman deliver.
I loved the story-within-a-story part.  There’s something so…beautiful about the parts of the novel where “Goldman’s” father reads him the story while he’s poorly, even though he can only just about read.  A then grown up William Goldman sets out to re-capture the magic for his son by re-writing what he learns is actually a rather unwieldy original.  Little asides from the author pepper the story and make it more than “just” a fairytale. That moment where a story completely catches the young narrator’s imagination is one that most readers will remember from their childhood and the fact that it’s read by a parent is just all the more lovely.


The fairytale part of the story plays with your mind like the best kind of fairy tale and is utterly magical.  Funny, yes, but also delightfully whimsical and so very charming.  There are despicable baddies and loveable minions that are on the wrong track but deep-down are really just sort of rakish.  And, of course, there’s true love, which may or may not triumph in the face of mild peril…The quote up there says it all, really.  What more could you want?!

My mum currently has my extra copy and when she’s read it, I’ll be inflicting it upon my younger sister (Mum, if you see this, get reading!).  A five-star, favourite read of 2012, easily.

Film

So the book turned out to be fabulous and it was the film’s turn to labour under the weight of lofty expectations.  I’d had the DVD for a while but had neglected it until germs compelled me to scour our collection for something fun.  I’m always sceptical about adaptations because, really, when do they ever meet up to our expectations as readers?

The adaptation was released in 1987 and has dated in a way that the book obviously hasn’t.  For the most part, the version I watched has been updated so that the wobbly edges that normally give away older films aren’t there.  It’s only when special effects come into play that the age becomes more apparent.  The R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size) (which seemingly have quite the cult following, incidentally) are an entertaining aside in the book but are a little jarring in the film…

See?  80s creatures at their best!
My favourite thing about the book to film shift is the casting: Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are perfect as Wesley and Buttercup respectively.  Wesley was just the right amount of dashing and his EYES are just so pretty…*swoon*.  Buttercup was actually a little less feisty than I imagined her to be and there was a bit more sitting around and waiting to be saved than there was in the book but she has just enough attitude to carry it off without being insipid.  You do kind of have to take their life-altering true love at face value because the beginning scenes fly by very quickly but the actors play it very well and I was sold 🙂

The dialogue was still sharp and snappy but it didn’t sparkle quite as much as it did tucked amongst some equally sharp and snappy narration.  Without the characters’ back stories, some of the recurring features of the film don’t have quite the resonance that they do in the book.  In the book, as each of the characters is introduced, you get a potted life story and it makes the remainder of the novel flow so much better.  Inigo Montoya, for example, is played wonderfully and my *favourite* scene in the whole film is where he faces off against the man that killed his father – it’s funny but also kind of heart-warming (you know, so much as a sword fight can be!) and it’s almost exactly how I imagined it when I read it but I would imagine that it isn’t quite as much so if you aren’t as attached to Inigo to begin with…I can’t resist including the clip but PLEASE REMEMBER that if you haven’t seen the film or read the book, this is towards the end!


The Verdict?  As always, I’d recommend reading the book first – there’s so much more detail, wit and swashbuckling in the literary version than there is in the film.  The film is entertaining but a little unfulfilling in isolation.  Need a pick-me-up when you’re missing Goldman’s quirky style and characters, though?  Get the film and settle down for a really jolly good version of the cult classic novel.

Literary Fiction Review: ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt



Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis (Courtesy of GoodReads)

 misfit at an exclusive New England college, Richard finds kindred spirits in the five eccentric students of his ancient Greek class. But his new friends have a horrific secret. When blackmail and violence threaten to blow their privileged lives apart, they drag Richard into the nightmare that engulfs them. And soon they enter a terrifying heart of darkness from which they may never return….


Review

There is no way that I will be able to convey how beautifully and devilishly complex The Secret History is in this review.  Instead, just trust me when I say that whatever positive impression you take away from reading this, the book is better.  Much better.

The opening chapter sets out pretty clearly where Richard Papen’s story is heading.  There are some surprises along the way but this book is mostly about the journey.  Tartt’s writing is elegant, verging upon the poetic.  Every turn in the weather and every shift in the atmosphere is perfectly evoked, to the extent that getting wrapped up in the story actually had the power to affect my own temperament.  The pace varies wildly but the writing is such a pleasure to read that I was as happy when I was tangled up in pages of descriptions dedicated to one day as I was when weeks were flying by in the same space.

When I read the first few chapters, I just couldn’t see how the story could move convincingly from Richard’s first shy days at college to murder.  By the time the narrative spiralled around to the crucial moment, I was almost disturbed to find that I wasn’t as repulsed as I probably should have been.  Bunny isn’t a character that inspires affection, true, but does that really mean that his murder is acceptable?  Ordinarily, I’d say absolutely not.  It’s further testament to the strength of Tartt as an author that I wasn’t shocked and appalled but teetering upon understanding, submerged as I was in Richard’s concepts of morality and justice and wanton disregard for much beyond his idolatry of Henry and his fellow Greek scholars.

Points that I might have criticised as oversights in other works here just added to the intrigue.  Take Richard’s parents, for example.  Richard seems to harbour an irrational almost-hatred of them, to the extent that freezing to death is more appealing than spending winter with them.  There isn’t any real reason given for the disdain, beyond a difference in outlook and priorities for life.  My initial reaction was that, for all of the time that I spent in Richard’s mind, there were still parts of his character that were under-developed.  On reflection, however, I am more inclined to think that this is owing instead to the framing of the novel as Richard’s recollection of his past.  Since it seems that Richard’s character is determined more by the events of his college career than his earlier childhood, it actually starts to make a twisted sort of sense that his parents pale into insignificance.

As an extension of the same idea, I suppose, it also makes sense that Henry, Francis and Camilla and Charles are hard to get a handle on, viewed as they are from Richard’s sycophantic viewpoint.  Although I will admit to wanting to know more about Henry’s Machiavellian genius and being a little disappointed that Camilla remained almost entirely a mystery, it’s clear that the story isn’t really about them; their mystique is what Richard just can’t let go of and what pulls him beyond his comfort zone and into the sinister.  I alternated between wanting to hug him and help him through his pervasive feelings of inferiority and wanting to punch him for being so malleable.  There are some of his actions that can still infuriate me over a week after reading the closing paragraphs. This is just that haunting a book.  Read it.

“Some things are too terrible to grasp at once.  Other things – naked, spluttering, indelible in their horror – are too terrible to really ever grasp at all.  It is only later, in solitude, in memory, that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself – quite to one’s surprise – in an entirely different world” 
[Page 312]


Overall:  Don’t go into this expecting a short, sharp hit; be ready to spend some of the long dark evenings that seem so plentiful at the moment curled up, absorbed in some delicious writing.  I borrowed the copy that I read from the local library and will be buying my own copy very soon so that I can be reminded on a regular basis of what truly great fiction is all about.  Take a trip to the dark side with this book and I promise that you won’t regret it.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  25 October 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Penguin in 1993

Resolutions: 2011 catch-up and 2012 promises

Gosh, it doesn’t seem like any time at all since I was last posting some resolutions! 2011 has just flown by.  It saw me turn 25 (bleugh) and LitAddictedBrit turn 1 (yey).  It also saw me start using Twitter (@LitAddictedBrit) and read the following…


Complete books read:  51

Pages read:  18, 309

I’ve already covered off my favourites, disappointments and general bookish thoughts for the year in The Perpetual Page Turner’s 2011 bookish survey post here but, in case you missed it, among my favourites were:  



In general, I’m pretty pleased with my reading in 2011.  51 isn’t a huge total in itself but it does include a couple of pretty hefty tomes (with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell easily the chunkiest at 1,006 pages) that I’ve been meaning to read for a while so it’s not too shabby.  I’ve read over 1,000 pages a month on average and I can tolerate that in light of how busy this year has been for me at work.


Throughout the year, I’ve also been looking at some aspects of the books I’ve chosen, including format, author gender and release date.  

eBooks v. ‘Real’ books:  Of my 51 books, 28 were eBooks.  So that’s 56%.  I’m not surprised by that, really, and this year I’m not going to keep track of format.  Well, it’s still included on my horribly nerdy bookish spreadsheet but I won’t keep on boring you by commenting on it.  I’m an eBook convert, that much is clear.  Colin (the eReader) and I will certainly be reading more together in 2012.  

Female v. Male authors:  It appeared early on in 2011/at the end of 2010 that I subconsciously favoured authors of a female persuasion.  3 of my 4 favourite books of the year were written by women and, overall,  31 of the 51 books I read were written by women.  Not the imbalance I was expecting.  Again, possibly not one to keep track of for 2012 (publicly…).  

Contemporary v. Classic:  Broken down by century, my reading from 2011 looks like this:  

21st century:  39 books
20th century:  8 books
19th century:  4 books

Oh dear.  Well, on the plus side, I’ve signed up for two challenges this year that will be calling for the reading of classics.  Lets hope 2012 is the year of more classics, I guess!

So yes, that was 2011!

Resolutions for 2012

I’m not so great at new year’s resolutions, it has to be said.  I love the excitement of creating them and looking forward to a new year.  I do not love reaching Spring, remembering that I made them and feeling bad for not following through :-s

Anyway, it’s still early on in 2012 so here goes…

1.  Stop using Google Reader so much and VISIT and COMMENT on blogs properly

I love my iPhone unreservedly and rely on it heavily.  I realised how much earlier in the year when I broke it and had to send it away to get it fixed.  Oops indeed.  Anyway, I use it’s nifty WiFi/3G business to browse Google Reader while I’m travelling about and/or doing something inactive like queuing, for example.  It means that I read a heck of a lot of posts while I’m out and about and when I don’t have the opportunity to comment.  It also means that I read bloggers’ posts against a dull stark white background and can’t enjoy all of the time and effort that I know goes into getting and keeping your blogs looking lovely (and, if you’re me, the hours that are spent faffing about and trying to avoid wonky text formatting).    

I have been reading your posts, I promise.  This year, I will do better at making sure you know that!  

2.  Be more consistent with posting and start up a new feature

I’ve been toying with an idea of somehow integrating my other love in life (cooking) into LitAddictedBrit.  I have a ton of cookbooks and love reading about, cooking and eating great food.  Somehow, I’d like to share that but I’m ironing out my thoughts on how that will look or even whether it would work. It may well smudge the boundaries of this blog and I’m not sure I want that.  And I don’t have time to maintain two blogs so…we’ll see!  

Being more consistent is self-explanatory, I hope.  Being more organised in general would help!

3.  Read 75 books in 2012

This would of course mean reading what I read this year and then half again next year.  That’s a tall order, I know so I’m not going to be too hard on myself.  I’d just like to see how I get on and have a goal.  

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!  I hope 2011 was a wonderful year for you and that 2012 is even better!  x