Recently I’ve read a lot, but I haven’t reviewed a lot, so I thought to remedy that I’d just do one big post to sum up everything I’ve read (but not reviewed) this summer. I hope you’re ready.
You know the feeling. You’re on Amazon and put a book in your basket. Just one. Your recommendations show another one that sounds interesting… plus one you’ve been meaning to read for ages is on sale, and….the next day a large box turns up at your door bursting at the seams with new reads.
So this isn’t really supermassive, I just liked the word play. I got 9 books recently; a few at a charity shop, and the rest on Amazon (I’m not wading in on that debate, of course I support indies but I don’t have any independent bookshops near me. It would be the dream to open one, though). I got some that I know will be absolutely brilliant, and some I’ve never heard of; some classics and some contemporary. I think I got a pretty good mix and I’m excited to get to reading!
So far I’ve only read one of them. Seeing them all in front of me made it so hard to choose which one to read first, so I did the only logical thing… numbered them all and used a random number generator to make the choice for me.
That choice was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. You have no idea how many people have nagged me to read this. Published in 2003, I’ve been told to read this since about 2006. I spotted this in a charity shop and knew I had to finally pick it up. I’ll review it at a later date, but I certainly don’t regret reading it.
My current read is the first in Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings depicts Angelou’s early years in 1930s/40s Arkansas. I’m about half way through and am really enjoying learning about such a remarkable, strong woman. Again, I don’t want to review it right now (especially as I haven’t finished it) but it’s a winner so far.
Several books I bought are classics. They’re books I’ve meant to read and should have read before but haven’t. If you’re looking to get into some classics I would recommend looking on Amazon around now; they seem to be selling them cheap around this time, presumably for students. Be warned that your recs will include GCSE/A level study books for the popular ones, though!
I’ve been told to read Virginia Woolf for years. Several people have been surprised that I’ve never read any of her work, so when I found this gorgeous copy of Mrs Dalloway in Oxfam I knew I had to pick it up.
The Great Gatsby
Okay, confession time. I did start to read it as a teenager, but I didn’t really engage with it. We’d watched a film adaptation in my GCSE English class but didn’t actually study it. When I say we watched the film adaptation, not that anyone at that age paid a whole lot of attention. I had very little idea of what it was /actually/ about, so when I tried reading it I got distracted easily and I don’t think I actually finished. That is to say, I don’t actually remember. I know how important the book is though, and adult me is ready to give it a second chance. I’m also loving retro fashion at the moment so some 20s vibes would be cool.
Of Mice and Men
I feel like this and Gatsby are both texts everyone in the country seems to have studied at school…except me. I don’t really know what this is about but I know that I’m bored of getting funny looks for being the English grad who’s never read Steinbeck!
One classic (or, modern classic at least) I have read is Animal Farm. I’ve wanted to read Nineteen Eighty-Four for a long time and so seeing it on my recommendations and on sale felt like a bit of a sign.
Now, The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t exactly a classic yet, but I have a feeling that’s where it’s heading. Another I’ve been nagged and nagged to read, this was another on sale that I had to get. I can’t wait to read it (then binge the TV show). I loved Atwood’s narrative voice in The Blind Assassin and it’s almost certain I’ll love The Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps even more.
The last two books I got recently are ones I’d not actually heard of.
The Blue Manuscript is a book surrounding an Islamic treasure of the same name, a fictionalised version of the Blue Qu’ran – an ancient text from the 9th/10th century, likely created in North Africa. As we all know, I’m a bit of a history buff, but I don’t know much about Islamic history. This is fiction, but I’m excited to learn about the truth behind the novel as much as I am about reading the novel itself.
The Lost Dog is a novel set in both present-day Australia and mid-20C India. The protagonist Tom Loxley is writing a book on Henry James (AKA my first Victorian Literature love) when his dog goes missing. Historical setting, Henry James AND dogs? It’s like this book was made for me.
That’s my haul, y’all! What’s on your TBR? Done any big book buys lately? Any recommendations for the next time I go on a binge?
See you soon,
So lately I’ve not been having the best luck with books. Over the last few weeks I have picked up two books that I’ve not been able to get into, which poses somewhat of a problem for me. The first book was an ARC, requested via NetGalley. I haven’t reviewed this for one simple reason – I haven’t finished it.
The plot sounded brilliant, right up my street – a museum setting, a powerful female protagonist, a mystery to be solved. On trying to read the book, however, I just couldn’t get into it. The writing was difficult to engage with and the characters just turned out to be annoying. I put it down and instead picked up Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; at 110 pages long I figured I could finish it in a few days and try again with the other book. Here I am two weeks later still struggling with it. (I must admit that I did put it down to read How to Stop Time before publication day.) It’s an important classic and shows imperialist British views wonderfully, but Christ is the protagonist boring. He drones on and on and on about nothing, with some racism thrown in for good measure, in long rambling paragraphs leading nowhere. Now I’m a lover and writer of literary realism, so long rambling paragraphs leading nowhere are kind of my thing, but must be engaging. I find myself opening the book and being unsure if I’m on the right page because it feels like I’ve read it all already.
As a reviewer, I feel like I have a duty to finish these books even though I’m not enjoying them. I can’t only post good reviews to have a well-rounded blog. As a writer, I feel as though it is insulting to accept an ARC from a writer who has clearly worked so hard on their book only to not even finish it, even if my review wouldn’t be great. As a person who unfortunately doesn’t get paid to read books all day (the dream!), though, I don’t feel like have enough time to put energy into books I’m not getting on with. So the question is:
Do I stay or do I go now?
What do you think – do I have a duty as a reviewer to stick it out and finish these books, or should I just move on to the next one on the pile? Help!
See you soon,
**I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
Okay, first things first, HOW EXCITING IS THIS?? If you’ve been around a while you’ll know that I adore Haig’s work. In fact, he’s the only author I’ve reviewed more than once on here. Saying that, there’s a kind of fear in reading a book you’ve been looking forward to –and even more so when you have to put your thoughts on the internet for the whole world to see. It’s very easy to be disappointed by an author you’ve read a lot of, because you expect certain things from that author, but luckily that wasn’t the case here.
How to Stop Time is centred around Tom Hazard, a man with a rare condition – at the age of 13 the aging process slowed down for him completely, leaving him to age 15 times slower than the average human. At 439, he’s lived a lot of life. Determined to feel normal, Tom decides to become a history teacher – he’s certainly qualified for it.
The book is what I expected from Haig. In a lot of ways it was like The Humans, which I haven’t reviewed here but read recently – watch this space. The protagonists are similar in a lot of ways, though technically no one is more human than Tom Hazard and no one less so than the nameless alien entity now occupying the body of Professor Andrew Martin. This is a bit of a negative – some aspects felt a little like I’d seen it before (and not just because of the historical throwbacks). Despite this, I thought that overall the book was brilliant. Haig has a strong voice that engages the reader, the story was well paced and I was gripped by the plot. It was that wonderful blend of serious, thought provoking, emotional and funny that Matt Haig combines into the social commentaries I adore reading so much. The plot could have been incredibly convoluted and difficult to follow, but it was actually an easy read and a lot of fun – while still pulling on your heartstrings.
Without spoiling too much, the book does include some flashbacks, but the plot is generally pretty linear. There are a few name drops in said flashbacks, some of which I felt worked and moved the plot along (Tom is given work by a famous playwright), and some I felt didn’t really add anything to the plot (Tom meets a famous couple in a bar). They were entertaining and I like the concept, but it did sort of feel like some famous names were there for the sake of a famous name.
I really enjoyed the book. It was what I wanted and expected from Haig, but at the same time I felt that it could have gone just a little further. We are introduced to a few institutions who are linked to or interested in Anageria, Tom’s condition, but aren’t shown much of them – I’d love to know more about them and perhaps see more of their influence first hand. We hear about their previous actions and understand that there’s always the threat of being tracked down by these groups (think E.T) but don’t really see a whole lot of the actual groups. I can’t believe I of all people would’ve liked more action, but it was a little jarring that we’re warned about all these people and then they don’t really show up when everything else is being tied up.
The concept is fantastic as ever and I am always astounded by Haig’s voice and narrative. I feel like this review is quite critical but I really did love the book – I just felt like a few things could have been cleaner. I would absolutely recommend, even if you haven’t read anything by Matt Haig. This would be a wonderful place to start.
See you soon,
Last Post : Super Quick Life Update!
It’s been a while since I posted a non-review post (shockingly long actually and I can only apologise), so I thought I’d just write a quick update to prove I’m still here and haven’t abandoned the blog.
It’s been kind of crazy over the last month at work. I’m a temp at a bank and my first contract ended at the end of May. I went for a permanent position that had opened up doing that role but wasn’t successful which was a little bit embarrassing considering I’d been doing the job, BUT I did change to a different contract within the bank which I’m really enjoying.
My new role is basically to prove that our customers aren’t linked to any crimes mentioned in the media, and to refer any that are & could pose a risk to the bank. A system goes through all of our customers and scans the internet to see if anything mentioning criminal offences, disqualifications, sanctions etc. matches our customers’ names. It’s then my job to take the articles/pages that are flagged up and prove that it’s not our customer based on the information I have for them and any I can find about the subject of the article. It’s interesting but it can be a bit same-y if the batch has a lot of people with the same name on – if you get an article on John Smith you’re going to get a lot of customers with the same article having to be worked! It’s a research job really, so I’m using my degree, and everyone seems nice so I’m quite happy. I’m getting good feedback which is always nice, too!
I’ve been listening to Welcome to Night Vale a LOT at work and I’m now caught up… so I have nothing to listen to – please send podcast recommendations my way! I like the Night Vale format because it’s not so intrusive that I’m distracted but I can pay attention to it while I work.
Still learning to drive, I’m getting there! My test is SOON so I’m working really hard to get it to all sink in properly! I’ve booked a few days off so I can cram extra lessons in and try to perfect everything as best I can. I really want to pass & get out and about in my little red Up – I still don’t have a name for her though so any suggestions are welcome!
I completely cleared my room out recently which was really therapeutic, and I’ve bought some wall storage and new boxes from Ikea that I’m far too excited about. Expect a room tour soon!
I’ve been writing bits and bobs but nothing big – a few poems, not much prose. It’s surprising really, considering I’ve always been a prose writer I’ve been writing more poetry lately. I’ve written a couple of poems that I’d love to turn into a series/collection but I don’t have any more ideas for them lately. They work best with a visual (see the first here) so translating that to here is something I’m trying to work out.
That’s about it for me really. Still reading, still writing, still looking for a creative job, still being a super cheapskate and saving all my money. Time for you to update me now – what’s been going on with you? Anything exciting in the works?
See you soon,
Last Post : Review Wednesday | The Night Brother (ARC Review)
I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I know that I give a big spoiler in the first paragraph but it would be very difficult to talk about without giving it away! You do find out in the first couple of chapters!! -R
The Night Brother follows Edie and Gnome, siblings who in many ways couldn’t be more different. Edie is introverted, intelligent and resolutely hated by her mother. Gnome is outgoing, adventurous and uncouth – not to mention hero-worshipped and spoilt rotten by the mother he deems stupid. They are linked, quite literally, by one slightly inconvenient fact; they live in the same body. Edie is in control during the day, and Gnome at night. The start of the novel shows Edie unaware of what is happening – she believes Gnome to be a friend, a Peter Pan like figure who takes her on adventures while her mother and grandmother are sleeping. Her grandmother eventually reveals the truth in an attempt to help her find her peace with the situation.
I’ve spoken before about how difficult it can be to get historical fiction right, and this is possibly magnified in making LGBT+ characters and themes take centre stage. I was so glad to read LGBT+ characters that are realistic and proud (if that pride is strictly confined to their own friendship groups and secret gay bars), and the theme of gender fluidity is certainly explored in different ways here.
The premise of “one body, two souls” could have gone many ways, particularly considering how this is dealt with in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which is obviously an actual Fin de Siecle period novel with a similar theme. The plot borders on ridiculous at times due to the nature of this, but I felt that for the most part it brought it back quite well. I would have liked a better explanation of the “family curse” and more of a back story for the whole thing though.
I was quite sceptical of this book. Garland’s descriptions are beautiful, and the first chapter certainly draws you in, but I did begin to get disillusioned with the whole thing at times. I felt some attempts at adding ‘darkness’ were a little lost on me – the mother comes off quite pantomime-y, and a certain scene with a certain doctor just seemed far too fast and confusing – though on doing further research I did find out that his practices weren’t unheard of, which was somewhat of a shock to me (though it really shouldn’t have been).
The characters were very strong, though, and this compared with the descriptive language kept me hooked. There are some striking scenes that I really connected with, though I wasn’t convinced by it all – particularly the ending, I must admit. In all though it was an enjoyable book with some wonderful LGBT+ characters, who are well worth meeting.
See you soon,
Last Post (this was embarrassingly long ago I’m so sorry): Review Wednesday | The Muse
Like most artists, everything I produced was connected to who I was – and so I suffered according to how my work was received. The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary.
The Muse had a lot to live up to. Jessie Burton’s first debut novel, The Miniaturist was a bestseller and as such her second novel was hotly anticipated. As a bit of a historical fiction fan I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist and was looking forward to reading more of Burton’s work.
The Muse is set in two time periods and locations – Andalucia 1936, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and London 1967. The narratives follow four women and the painting that connects them.
In Spain, Olive Schloss and her family arrive at their new home, a villa near Andalucia. Teresa Robles and her brother Isaac introduce themselves and Teresa is soon hired as the Schloss’ maid. On learning that Isaac paints, Olive’s mother commissions him to paint a portrait of the two of them for her husband. The results are unexpected and lead to a series of events culminating in Isaac Robles gaining popularity 30 years later as a forgotten voice of war.
Odelle Bastien meets the charming Lawrie Scott, who she encourages to bring a painting of his to the gallery she works at. On seeing the painting her employer, Marjorie Quick looks as though she’s seen a ghost. It is a shock to Scott that his painting turns out to be an original Robles – he inherited it off his mother, but how did she get it?
Writing two time periods is really hard, trust me on this. Not only are there two narratives and two stories, but having them in different time periods is basically setting yourself up for anachronisms. Everything from the clothing to the technology to the food is different. Despite a few linguistic issues Burton seems to do well at avoiding anachronisms. She does, however, write in a very flowery manner which can be distracting. Flowery can be good (I just spent three years with other pretentious literature nerds remember) but there are times where the dialogue is jarring – Isaac and Teresa speak limited English and ask what some simple words mean, while simultaneously understanding long, rambling sentences. In terms of plot I found the pacing a little off; the story is slow to begin with, but once it gets interesting moves very quickly. The idea is brilliant and I did enjoy it, but there were times when my interest was waning and times I felt it could have been slowed down.
The Muse is a lovely second novel, and while I preferred The Miniaturist it certainly lives up to expectations. I love Burton’s work and will be eagerly waiting to see what she does next.
See you soon,
Last Post: A Bookshelf For… A Year Later
A few days ago Always in the Write turned one and yes, I’m still celebrating. I’m truly amazed that I haven’t quit yet if I’m honest – I don’t like being a quitter but I know what I’m like and didn’t have high expectations of myself! What better way to celebrate than the first in that one series I mentioned ages ago and haven’t touched since my A Bookshelf For…series! Here are my top books I’ve reviewed for each month, along with links to the full reviews if you’re interested. It’s been quite the year, with some damn good books taking centre stage.
I mean, this is pretty self-explanatory really. I figured that as I post reviews for all the books I read, why not dedicate some space to music, film & television as well – so here it is. Lists of my recent loves, hates* and looking forward-to watching/listenings.
*Hate is a strong word but in the interests of contrast – dislike doesn’t have the same ring!
“‘You were meant to be more than a common beggar, our Bess. You could be a blesser. Next time you see a sick cow, bless it. Say three Ave Marias and sprinkle some water on the beast. Folks will pay you for such things’ […] What nonsense. The Church Warden would have me whipped and fined for saying the Ave Maria – and that was but mild chastisement. Catholics were still hanged in these parts”
**Real events that happened 400 years ago can’t have spoilers but I won’t spoil anything non-factual**