Review Wednesday | September Reads Round Up!

This month I have read a LOT. As of yesterday I’ve read 10 books, not including re-reading The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl (we all need ‘chick-lit’ sometimes. God I hate that term.) – while this may not be out of the ordinary for some, especially not in the book blogosphere, during my degree I think I struggled to read even 1 book a month for pleasure! Some of the books I’ve read this month I’ve already reviewed (Reasons to Stay Alive, The Red Tent and The Hidden People), but most are just stored in my brain, getting slowly forgotten. I have books that I read two weeks ago waiting to be reviewed, but at the rate I’m reading I can feel myself forgetting details about the earlier ones! A more organised blogger would get in the habit of writing down some initial thoughts as soon as they finished reading; I didn’t have that much foresight. I have decided, therefore, to give you a round-up of almost all of the books I’ve read this month, excluding those I’ve already reviewed.

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

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The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce Evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find out that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

White people going to a foreign land to ‘save the natives’ usually means trouble, and The Poisonwood Bible is no exception. The Prices are wildly unprepared and privileged, shocked by a society that they consider primitive. The book is incredibly well researched and sensitively written, however I would have liked to hear more of the Congolese voice as well as the white family’s perspectives. I feel like the narrative has become somewhat overdone now – white people learning about community spirit and love from a foreign, ‘simpler’ community is a trope that I have personally seen a lot of. I liked the book, and the setting was certainly interesting, but it was predictable.

The Past – Tessa Hadley

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Three adult sisters and their brother meet up at their grandparents’ country home for their annual family holiday–three long, hot summer weeks. The beloved but crumbling house is full of memories of their childhood–of when their mother took them to stay with her parents when she left their father–but this could be their last summer in the house, now they may have to sell it. And under the idyllic pastoral surface, there are tensions.

I saw this novel in the window of Waterstones, with a lot of positive reviews. While it was a good book, with well developed characters, I was slightly disappointed. I feel like it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. Hadley introduces flashbacks quite far into the book, and while they do provide some extra insights into the siblings’ characters much of the content doesn’t really do much for the present day plot, causing a disconnect between the two periods.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education – Raphaelle Frier (ARC)

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Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years-old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world.

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a childrens’ biography of Malala Yousafzai. The book explains Malala’s run-ins with the Taliban and the situation in Pakistan honestly and plainly, managing to find a good balance between being truthful and child-friendly. Malala is an incredibly important figure and role model for children all over the world, and I imagine that this book would be an excellent way to introduce her story to young children. The one issue I have is that reading this book on Kindle meant that the pictures were in black and white and often in the wrong place.

These next three are books I got free in the Kindle Store. Finding books for free on Kindle can be quite hit and miss, and this was certainly the case with these!

Silence – Natasha Preston

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For eleven years, Oakley Farrell has been silent. At the age of five, she stopped talking, and no one seems to know why. Refusing to communicate beyond a few physical actions, Oakley remains in her own little world. Bullied at school, she has just one friend, Cole Benson. Cole stands by her, refusing to believe that she is not perfect the way she is. Over the years, they have developed their own version of a normal friendship. However, will it still work as they start to grow even closer? When Oakley is forced to face someone from her past, can she hold her secret in any longer?

This book sounded interesting to me, however was largely disappointing. I feel like this was one of those books with a really strong idea that was destroyed by a poorly developed love story. It actually started off quite strong before the romance aspect came into play, however quickly became predictable and dull.

Honeymoon For One – Lily Zante

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When her fiancé dumps her, Ava cancels her wedding — but decides to go on her Italian honeymoon solo. Alone in Verona, the City of Love, Ava hopes to find inner peace and a clarity of mind but she is surprised to find herself drawn into yet another romantic encounter with the mysterious Nico.


Is she ready to handle even more heartbreak so soon?   

I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from this book. I downloaded it as a kind of filler between other books – I wasn’t able to buy more and was waiting on some ARC requests. While it wasn’t badly written, it was a typical cheap romance novel. I feel like it could have easily been improved by better scenic descriptions and a more realistic timeframe.

The Tinkerer’s Daughter – Jamie Sedgwick

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Breeze is an outcast, a half-breed orphan born into a world torn apart by a thousand years of war. Breeze never knew her elven mother, and when her human father is recalled to the war, he leaves her in the safest place he knows: in the care of a reclusive tinker. The tinkerman’s inventions are frightening at first – noisy, smelly, dangerous machines with no practical use – but when the war comes home, Breeze sees an opportunity. If she can pull it off, she’ll change the world forever. If she fails, she’ll be considered a traitor by both lands and will be hunted to her death.

Again, I wasn’t expecting much from this. I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised. The plot was actually largely very good, with mostly good writing. There were some continuity errors and aspects of the plot that were jarring, but it was a fairly well-written steampunk fantasy novel and I was impressed considering that it was free.

That pretty much sums up most of what I’ve been reading this month and what I’ve thought. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you like the round-up format or prefer full reviews?

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Radium Girls (ARC)

I was given this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is a narrative non-fiction depicting the struggles of a group of women known as ‘Radium Girls’. These women painted luminous watch dials during World War One and the 20s – using paint with radium in it. They were taught that in order to produce the best quality and quickest work they should use the ‘lip, dip, paint’ method – put the brushes in their mouths to get the sharpest point.

The result of consuming so much radium, and in many cases for several years, was shocking. These women began to quite literally fall apart – radium hit hard and fast, attacking women around my age; women who should have been starting their lives, not facing the idea that they could be at the end.

This book was incredibly difficult to read, but completely worth it. I don’t think I’ve read anyone this hard to get through in a long time; these girls’ stories are so important but emotional. I ended up taking breaks between chapters in order to ground myself and process everything properly. The actions of the USRC were deplorable and seemingly never-ending; even with Catherine Donohue on the brink of death the radium company continued to appeal her court case. What started as simple denial, and even ignorance as to the actual effects of radium, turned into vicious and dangerous practices, knowingly putting more and more girls’ lives at risk for the sake of the business.

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A scene described in the book, I found this photo on Google Images [x] while looking for the cover image. Catherine Donohue lies on her sofa – Charlotte Purcell is by her feet, identifiable by her missing arm. Pearl Payne holds Catherine’s hand. All of these women were suffering from radium poisoning.
In terms of the writing, the book starts with a disclaimer from Moore, discussing her need to accurately depict the girls and do them justice. I believe that this was done very well, however it doesn’t always read smoothly – Moore has clearly done her research, and that can be difficult to weave into a narrative; particularly a non-fiction one. For the most part though, the ‘cast’ as it were –I’m reluctant to call them characters, as they were very real people and this should be remembered in reading the book – are written very sympathetically and certainly had me hooked. The facts can get heavy, but this is necessary. I can’t push enough the fact that this isn’t a story; this really happened, and the facts and figures make the emotional aspects all the more shocking – think of this as a documentary on paper.

I am in mourning for these girls. The work they did aided so many soldiers, but their pain and suffering was horrific and largely unnoticed or even ignored at the time. It can be said that they did not struggle in vain, however – they paved the way for so much progress. As Moore discusses at the end of the book, the dial painters changed workers’ rights, provided a starting point for research on other occupational hazards and dangerous substances and even potentially influencing legislation on nuclear warfare. This book brings their story to the world again and gives them a voice almost 100 years after the events began. I certainly won’t forget it any time soon.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Museum Guard

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1938. Orphaned at the age of nine by a zeppelin crash, DeFoe Russet grew up in a hotel under the care of his magnetic uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax’s three-room Glace Museum. By day, he and his uncle break the silence of the museum with heated conversations that show them to be ‘opposites at life’. By night, DeFoe spends his time trying to keep the affection of Imogen Linny.

[…]

When the Dutch painting ‘Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam’ arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her life in favour of the ennobled one she imagines for its subject – even though being a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of World War 2 begin to gather.

I’ll say it now – this is not a happy book. While there are certainly many warm, happy and even funny moments, the book is overall actually quite unsettling. Much of it is relatable and familiar, and yet as the novel (and time) progresses the threat of war and the larger events of the novel itself loom over the residents of Halifax. Listening to the radio late at night, for example, turns into religious following of Ovid Lamartine, a Canadian reporter in Europe, as he discusses the increasingly dangerous situation in Europe.

The smaller details make this novel what it is. There is a huge amount of drama, heartbreak, betrayal and moral uncertainty in the book – all of which is countered by Norman’s incredible ability to bring the banal to the forefront. DeFoe’s coping mechanism is ironing – scenes of great drama are softened by piles of crumpled laundry. The Museum Guard paints the picture of a world dangerously close to destruction, and yet this isn’t the focus; in fact the novel ends before the war starts. There’s something poetic in this – we are left with the same sense of impending doom that the characters experience throughout the novel.

The way the novel ends and the setting leaves the reader in a very strange position – we cannot feel much hope for the characters, and the novel doesn’t give us any reason to have any; we know what is about to happen to the world in general, and any predictions we can make about the characters are not positive ones.

This is a very short review, I know, but this book really does speak for itself. The plot is incredibly odd, and yet remains real and raw. Norman has honestly left me speechless, and that’s definitely a good thing.

See you soon,

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Last Post: Review Wednesday | Book Review – Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather

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I couldn’t think of (or be bothered to find) a good gif for this, so I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the book instead;

Life is full of dramas of the soul’s estrangement and reconciliation.

 

Review Wednesday | Book Review – Fish Change Direction In Cold Weather

When his parents split up, and his dad leaves home, a ten year old boy begs the sky to help him. The next day an ice storm covers his city. Then the power goes out, the temperature drops and people must turn to each other to survive.

Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather is a novel by Pierre Szalowski, translated into English by Alison Anderson. It is set in the infamous Montreal ice storm in 1998, and centres around several people in one small area. The format is quite Love Actually esque; the characters’ stories slowly and improbably intertwine as the narrative unfolds.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary book. It’s been done and it’ll be done again. The ending was quite predictable, and not just because we know the facts about the ice storm. Despite this, however, it was a very enjoyable book. The story played out well and although the characters weren’t massively developed, this almost added to the feel within the book that this fleeting event not only has the characters thrust into each others’ private lives, but it has thrown the reader in there too. We know bits about the characters’ back stories, but for the most part we are only shown what happens during the ice storm; this often leads to a sort of awkward intimacy that is reflected in the characters’ interactions with each other. We don’t know them, they don’t know each other, and yet we’re all forced into each others’ lives for a short period.

There are 9 main characters in the book (and 4 fish). This seems like a lot, but like most narratives of this nature they can be split into groups;

The Narrator and his parents – The narrator is a 10 year old boy, coming to terms with (or rather, denying entirely) his parents splitting up. He asks the sky for help the day before the ice storm hits, and spends much of the novel believing that he is controlling the storm.

Alex and Alexis – Alex is the narrator’s best friend and kind of a jerk. He pushes the narrator around and misbehaves at school, however we are encouraged to sympathise with him due to his living conditions; his father is an alcoholic and sleeps much of the day away, while his mother is nowhere to be seen.

Simon and Michel – An older gay couple, Simon and Michel were both previously married to women before finding each other. They are often mistaken for brothers in the street and are scared to ‘out’ themselves; they tend not to leave the house together if they can help it, much less show affection in public.

Julie – A stripper with 3 cats, Julie leads a relatively unknown life before the storm. We see very little of her and unfortunately I wasn’t satisfied with her character; it felt as though she was left behind because ‘stripper’ was enough explanation for her.

Boris – the character behind the title of the book, Boris is a Russian mathematician. He has been working on a dissertation for years about the affects of temperature on the trajectory of his four fish’s paths.

I don’t want to say much more about the characters for fear of spoiling the whole book, but they are all generally easy to read and even the less savoury do have likeability. Overall, I enjoyed this book and although it might not be the most original or surprising, it’s a heart-warming and lovely little read. The message of the book is basically that everything falls to shit sometimes, but there’s always hope and good – I personally think that it never hurts to be reminded of that.

See you soon,

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Literally me at the pool. [x]

Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Hidden People (ARC Review)

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Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away . . .

 I received this book free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The blurb sounded interesting, and didn’t quite occur to me until after I was approved to read it that it was classed by Amazon as a horror. I am not good at scary books, so I did approach it tentatively after that. I feel like my own nervousness made getting into the book difficult; however I was soon hooked despite my cowardice!

Despite my own inability to focus, this novel was very good and definitely had an interesting premise. I feel like it was very realistic as a piece set in Victorian Britain; the language was largely convincing, although I wasn’t as sold by the Yorkshire accents. The story had the feel of a Victorian novel; I often found that I’d have to remind myself that it is a contemporary piece – I’m someone who’s read an awful lot of Victorian fiction, so I’d say that’s effective writing!

I personally wouldn’t have classified this as horror. While there was a lot of suspense, and there was certainly some horrific imagery, I was never really scared by it. As a massive wimp, I’m honestly quite glad of this! It works very well as a historical suspense or even a crime novel.  While the story was mostly uneventful, with the main events occurring before the main story begins and towards the end, it was very enjoyable and certainly worth reading for the sheer amount of detail and work put into it – it is obvious from the start that Littlewood’s story is the result of huge amounts of research, and is clearly a labour of love. I love a novel that clearly has a huge amount of background work behind it, especially when it is executed as well as this.

Overall, I found that The Hidden People was an engaging and detailed read, with plenty of twists and suspense. It made for a great read, and although I imagine for many the ending could be unfulfilling, I found it satisfying and very Victorian. The story cuts through the pastoral Victorian country life, showing an incredibly dark side to the simple, peaceful existence of the people of Halfoak and by extension many rural areas in the 19th century. The version I was sent, which will presumably be the same as the eBook edition when it’s published, includes author’s notes at the end describing the very real cases and folklore the story came from – most notably the case of Bridget Cleary. As I’ve mentioned before, Alison Littlewood uses this history and information very well, and I would definitely recommend this book.

The Hidden People is set to be published on the 6th of October. Pre-order here (UK).

See you soon,

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Fandom Friday | How Should We Read?

I feel like this post is an inevitable one for all book bloggers. The physical book vs eReader vs audiobook debate is one that’s been long raging and surprisingly devisive amongst many readers. I know people who refuse to use eReaders, I know people who have abandoned physical books. All mediums have their benefits, and all mediums have their issues. Is there really a ‘best’ way to read?

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Physical Books

I don’t think there’s a single reader out there who doesn’t want to bottle the scent of real physical books. Old books, new books, they all have this incredible smell that can’t be beaten. Paper books feel good to read – it feels like you own the book in a way that you can’t get with a Kindle, and I find it much easier to tell my progress; percentages mean nothing to me when I can easily see how much of the book I’ve read and how far I’ve got to go with a physical copy. This was never much of an issue when I solely read for pleasure, but it was definitely important during my degree and now that I have Review Wednesdays to think about!

I love physical books and there is definitely something about flicking through the softened pages of a well loved favourite that other formats simply can’t simulate.  Despite this, they take up a lot of space and often cost considerably more than electronic books and audiobooks.

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eReaders/Reading on Electronic Devices

If you’ve seen my Instagram lately you’ll have seen that while I’ve posted a lot of photos of physical books, I’ve also posted a photo of my Kindle Paperwhite. I have been using my Kindle a lot lately, having bought 4 books and received two via NetGalley on there. Electronic reading means that publishers can use websites such as NetGalley to easily send ARCs to reviewers such as myself. For the reader, it means that you can carry a huge amount of books around on a device much smaller and lighter than even one novel. It also means that you don’t even have to get up to start reading something else once finishing a book, and can instantly download the next one in a series.  While it’s an art that I think most readers have mastered, stuffing a 600 page novel into an already full bag is definitely not an easy feat! Reading on a phone makes books even more portable, eliminating the need to pack anything extra – however I find that this strains my eyes, so I don’t tend to do it. eReaders also provide more accessibility for many people; those with visual impairments can make the text as large as they need, making many books that wouldn’t be physically printed in large text much more accessible.

Another point worth mentioning for electronic reading is that there’s much more access to independent authors via eBooks – a lot of people self publish eBooks, and publishers often start publishing independent authors on eBook before physical copies. If you want to read more independent titles I would say that the Kindle Store has a much larger, more varied selection of independent writers than most physical book shops.

Audiobooks

Audio books have never really been something I’ve gotten into. My family like them, including my brother and dad, who don’t enjoy reading. Personally I’d rather read, as I find that I can’t fully put all my attention into audio books. I also find that the person reading them definitely affects my ability to engage with the story. I listened to the original dramatised radio show of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and while I loved that and still listen to Welcome To Night Vale, a serialised story told through podcasts, overall I prefer to read stories rather than listen to them. Despite not being my read or just want something other than music to listen to while travelling or nodding off to sleep, I’d definitely say that audio books could be for you. Audio books also make books much more accessible to those with visual impairments.

So there’s my view on it. I don’t really see the need to be so purist about one medium over another – they all have good and bad points, and I feel like judging someone’s personal preferences breeds an attitude that just puts people off reading. We should aim to encourage literacy and reading, not judge people if they’d rather read on their phone than get a physical book! I don’t believe that physical books are threatened by the electronic publishing industry, and I don’t believe that eReaders can ever fully replace the feel of a physical book. For me the most important thing in reading is that the story is good; whatever format it’s in.

What’s your favourite method of reading? Have I forgotten anything?

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Heartborn (ARC Review)

Her guardian angel was pushed.

Keiron was never meant to be anything other than a hero. Born high above in a place of war and deception, he is Heartborn, a being of purity and goodness in a place where violence and deceit are just around every corner.

His disappearance will spark a war he cannot see, for Keiron has pierced the light of days to save a girl he has never met, for reasons he cannot understand. Livvy Foster is seventeen, brave, and broken. With half a heart, she bears the scars of a lifetime of pain and little hope of survival.

Until Keiron arrives.

Continue reading Review Wednesday | Book Review – Heartborn (ARC Review)

Fandom Friday | How Girls Grow Up In Fiction: George Eliot to Winona Ryder

Portrayals of girls in the media can be…interesting. Particularly when those girls are growing up. These plotlines are widely explored and range from weird to downright oppressive. Here are some of my favourite/least favourite examples:

Continue reading Fandom Friday | How Girls Grow Up In Fiction: George Eliot to Winona Ryder

Fandom Friday – HELP, I’M STUCK IN A BOOK! (and not in the fun way!)

So if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me complain about struggling to get through Dune by Frank Herbert. I’ve described the book as ‘Space Game of Thrones’ to several people, and incidentally I had the same problem while trying to tackle the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Dune

 

It’s not that I’m not enjoying the book – the premise is interesting and it’s very well written, but it’s so long and so heavy. I could quite happily read a 1000 page novel, but the pacing has to be right. For me, a large amount of action for long periods of time just doesn’t work; I need breaks, slower moments. I’m about 320 pages in, and this enough for me – I can only handle so much of the heavily detailed, jam-packed writing Herbert uses.

So what do I do? I don’t like putting down books and reading others, as I find that I give up on the first one too easily (just ask A Storm of Swords, it’s been left half finished on my Kindle for at least a year), but I’m not reading because if I do I’m getting nowhere. Maybe in the future I should have a page limit on books I intend to review. I read the last three books I’ve reviewed (The House I Loved, The Book of Other People and Junk) in about two weeks, so I thought I’d tackle a longer book – and one that I’ve been meaning to read since I got it 3 years ago.

Have you ever been in this situation? How do you tackle it – do you plough through or take a break; or give up entirely?

See you soon,

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Last Post: Review Wednesday – Junk

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600 PAGES, MAN. 600.

Review Wednesday – Book Review: Junk

 

 

Tar loves Gemma, but Gemma doesn’t want to be tied down – not to anyone or anything. Gemma wants to fly. But no one can fly forever. One day, somehow, finally, you have to come down.

I picked this book up absolutely clueless as to what it was – it sounded familiar, but I had no idea just how significant it is. Melvin Burgess’ Junk was the first YA novel of its kind, and certainly unlike any other YA novel I’ve ever read.

Junk celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and as such Melvin Burgess was awarded the Andersen Press Young Adult Book Prize Special Achievement Award. Andersen Press are also releasing a 20th anniversary edition of the novel. So what makes it so special?

Continue reading Review Wednesday – Book Review: Junk