Reader vs Book: The Very Hard Book™

 

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Like with ‘If on a Winter’s Night’, I’ll always come crawling back to this little blog. Eventually. 

If you’re a big reader, like me, then you’ll know this feeling. You pick up the book, only to put it down unfinished after a few chapters. You pick it up again a while later, determined to finish this time…only to put it down yet again. A third time, this time you’ll do it. Then you remember why you put it down twice before.

That book for me is Italo Calvino’s ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’. I like metafiction. I like the concept, and the plot. Much of the book has me reading along happily, but I am still finding it a challenge to get through. It could be me, it could be Calvino – or maybe it’s a bit of both.

Personally, I don’t have much time for reading; I try to do it on my lunch breaks, but I am exhausted lately so that doesn’t happen as frequently as I’d like. As for Calvino, he’s a man of many words. Many, many, many words. He could be describing putting his socks on and make it last 6 pages. His prose is good, don’t get me wrong, but the superfluous rambling narrative voice isn’t the most engaging while you’re just trying to eat your sandwich and have some time away from screens.

This book is a big challenge. I have an English degree and review books on here for fun (admittedly very erratically!) and it’s a challenge, but I will finish it. I am coming for you and your needlessly long prose, Calvino! Look out for the review – even if it takes 6000 years.

See you soon,

Ro x

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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,

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Can Monkmania Change Views On Academia?

If you’re in the UK, you may have heard a new craze in the lead up to the University Challenge Final. I am, of course, talking about Monkmania – the love of Eric Monkman; Economics student, head of Wolfson College, Cambridge’s UC team and all-round genius. His eager attitude, facial expressions and sheer brainpower have won over the country.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all the attention Monkman has garnered is positive; in fact, most probably like him “ironically”. They love to mock him, rather than genuinely love him. He’s a novelty that they’re probably already bored of at the time of publishing this. I put it to you, however, that this sudden wave of attention for University Challenge, Monkman himself and academia in general, could be good.

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Wormwood

It is London, 1756. In his Bloomsbury attic sits Dr Sabian Blake – astronomer, scientist, and master of the Kabbalah. Dr Blake is in possession of the Nemorensis, an ancient leather-bound book that holds the secrets of the universe. Scribbled into one of its margins is a mysterious prophecy and deciphering it could prove the key to saving London from a catastrophic fate. But there are others interested in the Nemorensis too, for more sinister reasons . . .

Wormwood is an allegorical fantasy novel, with strong Christian imagery throughout. The story centres around a book called the Nemorensis, seen by some as a fount of knowledge and others the Devil’s work. Dr Sabian Blake, owner of Nemorensis at the beginning of the book, finds a prediction in the book of a comet, Wormwood, falling to Earth and destroying London.

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – Devil’s Playground

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Devil’s Playground is an action-packed novel centred around Mia Sawan, American-Lebanese spy for mysterious company The Firm. A Christian banker is crucified in Beirut, then the 10-year old daughter of a powerful mayor in Azerbaijan is kidnapped. Both crime scenes have tags linked to a known criminal, but Mia isn’t so sure it is an open-shut case – or of what the link between the two actually is.

The idea for this novel is incredibly strong. This has been well thought out, researched and it is clear that the author knows his stuff. The start of the novel, for example, is shocking and incredibly powerful. Mia’s character is a strong willed, intelligent, sex positive woman of colour and I wish we could see more of these, especially coming from white male writers like Kidson.

I love the concept, and was looking forward to reading the book. Unfortunately for me the writing didn’t quite match the strength of the ideas. The text tells an awful lot, and is very open – considering this is a book about covert investigation, this isn’t the best match. It is difficult to find a good balance between getting your intentions across and over-explaining, and in Devil’s Playground this hasn’t been perfected.  I also found that while some things were over-explained, such as what Mia wore, others weren’t discussed enough. I would have liked to have seen more of “The Firm”, and some more scenic description – it may not be as exciting as the action packed scenes we saw so much of, but I believe it would’ve added more depth and realism to the book. It is set somewhere that for many Western readers is a mystery, so it would’ve been nice to have had a better picture painted of the settings. It may be that I don’t read action often, but I find that scene after scene of action gets tiring rather than having the desired effect. When every page is written to shock or excite I find that I desensitise and lose interest. Of course there are rest breaks, but the text is very fast paced.

Overall, the novel had a controversial but gripping plotline, however I felt that this was let down by poor editing and a mismatched writing style. This is very easy to do and I admire the clear amount of knowledge and thought put into the concept, but the writing distracted from the story too much for me to fully enjoy it.

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Night Circus

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.

The Night Circus is, as you might have guessed, about a circus that opens at night. Le Cirque du Rêves (the circus of dreams) travels around the world, appearing in unknown places at unknown times. The main story, however, starts long before the circus’ inception. Prospero the Enchanter, a magician, and a man known only as A. H-, pit their students against each other regularly in competitions that can last over 30 years. As the story opens they are beginning a new contest with much higher stakes for Prospero than ever before – his contestant is his only daughter, Celia. The story starts years before the competition, with the circus proving to be a worthy arena for such a contest.

The book is written beautifully, with the incredible attention to detail needed to bring such an extraordinary setting to life. I did however find the timeline confusing at times – the story jumps around a lot. As well as Celia and her opponent Marco, the main story also follows twins Poppet and Widget, who are born on the circus’ opening night, and their friend Bailey. Because of this the narrative also jumps perspectives, and does follow other characters for shorter periods, but it manages to flow wonderfully and still make sense even if you’re not sure when you are in the timeline of the circus or the competition.

From the description of the novel, it sounds almost like a children’s book, but this is not the case – it is a novel that, much like the circus itself, I believe would be mesmerising to anyone who picked it up. The world is sophisticated and multifaceted, and Morgenstern clearly put a huge amount of thought and work into creating such a world; this definitely paid off.

**~SPOILERS START HERE~**

For me personally, the only thing I really disliked about the book were the inevitable romantic subplots. I mean, how oblivious did Celia and Marco have to be? Of course the competition was a fight to the death, of course they’d be star-cross’d lovers and of course they would have to go through the Hunger Games style “we both eat the berries so no one wins” trope. I think I’m just tired of star-crossed lovers and romantic subplots that just don’t feel entirely necessary. I didn’t mind the ending, but the romantic aspect did feel slightly rushed and tacked on. I felt the same with the implication of romance between Bailey and Poppet, in fairness. Maybe it’s just me. Also, can we talk about Tara please?! A woman dies suspiciously and this is just forgotten about after a while?? I want to know more about why this happened, as while at the time it felt like a nice twist, now that I’ve finished the book and it hasn’t been resolved it feels like it was only intended to be something to shake the plot up, not a story in itself – which it was set up to be.

**~ SPOILERS END HERE~**

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The end wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, but it did tie most things up. I was completely sucked into the world of the circus and its occupants. The book has been hyped up a lot, but I can see why. This is a wonderful example of magical realism/fantasy, and you can certainly consider me a newly converted “rêveur”.

See you soon,

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(PS Get me getting two posts out on time in a row!!)

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DA DA DADADADA AFRO CIRCUS. [x]


Review Wednesday | Book Review – Alora’s Tear Volume 1: Fragments (Blog Tour)

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is no magic in Vladvir…

Tucked away in a quiet valley, the community of Tolarenz offers a refuge and safe haven for its people, keeping persecution at bay. One young citizen—Askon son of Teral—is destined to lead them, but first he must leave them behind: one final mission, in service of the king.

In the north, leering nightmare creatures known as the Norill gather. Their armor is bone and skin; their weapons are black and crude and cold. They strike in the night, allies to the darkness. It is to them Askon marches, his men a bulwark against the threat.

For there is no magic in Vladvir.

What Askon finds when he arrives seems impossible: smoke and fire, death and defeat, and all around a suffocating sense of dread. The Norill seek something they call ‘the Stone of Mountain,’ but in the half-remembered stories from Askon’s childhood, it was always ‘Alora’s Tear’: a gem with powers great and terrible. A gem that cannot exist.

Unless there is magic in Vladvir…

 

‘Fragments’ is the first book in the Alora’s Tear trilogy. I must admit that I was wary of this book at first – fantasy is a vast and densely populated genre, with a lot of tropes and clichés that just get boring. High fantasy in particular is one that I often struggle to get into – there’s only so many times you can read the same story over and over, just with different names; and none compare to The Hobbit. I was relieved, then, that ‘Fragments’ proved me wrong – I was drawn into the story very quickly; although this may be in part because it is established early on that Askon, our hero, is left handed!

The story flows very well, and although it is clear that it was always intended to be part of a series, it doesn’t feel like a sort of “build up book” – it is a book in its own right, not mostly filler as many first parts appear to be. I don’t want to spoil, as I feel that it may put some people off, but the book does twist at the end; you know the book is building up to something that you may have to wait until the next book for, but what that thing is changes entirely towards the end of the story. I found this very effective and as a writer I can appreciate the tactic; Barham drew me in and left me wanting so much more.

The characterisation is largely very good, and any minor aspects of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ were easy to overlook – as an English graduate and now a reviewer I find that I’m in the very annoying habit of nitpicking and this can get in the way of the story, but this wasn’t an issue here. The characters spoke realistically and Barham’s writing really did them justice. He brought them to life and his attention to detail is great. There were a lot of opportunities for cliché and I half expected medieval, confusing language but the novel manages to avoid this, which I personally am very glad of!

I think my main complaint is actually not with the text itself but the blurb (in italics above). It sets out a premise that doesn’t seem entirely accurate to the text – the magic (or lack thereof) in Vladvir isn’t really mentioned at all. The magical aspects are met by Askon sceptically, but I didn’t feel that it was really laid out in the text that there was no magic in this world; in fact as someone in a non-magical world elves and Norill seem like magical beings to me! I would assume there is magic in the world if not for the blurb, and I don’t feel like making the “magical state” of the world clear would really make a difference to my reading of the text – the events that occur are clearly unnatural for the world by the characters’ reactions to them, whether magic is present in the world or not. This was a great book and if you ask me this blurb doesn’t do it justice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. It was a great way to get back into a genre I rarely seem to read any more (and to while away my new long commute to work!). I don’t tend to do star ratings on here, but that is the way of this blog tour so for the purposes of that I’ll rate it 4/5 stars. I definitely intend to read the sequels, The Elf and the Arrow and The Voice Like Water, so perhaps it’ll be bumped up to 5/5 once it’s in context – watch this space!

Buy the Alora’s Tear Trilogy:

Amazon (Paperback or Kindle)

UK

USA

Kobo

Kobo Store

iBooks

UK

USA

See you soon,

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Not this kind of elf. 


Fandom Friday | Costumes on a Budget!

I am a big advocate of the budget costume. For the past few Halloweens I’ve been a poor student, and this year I’m a poor graduate – I have budget costumes down to a T, and by now I think I have enough tips to write at least a post about it!

1) Don’t buy a costume!

Okay, hear me out – of course you’ll have to buy a few things, that’s obvious, but don’t buy a full costume. They may be quick and easy, but they’re also generally speaking cheaply made, overpriced and nothing you can’t do yourself! Unless you’re really pressed for time or intend to wear it several times, they aren’t worth the expense.

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I had to buy the apron & headband for this Magenta costume because I ran out of time & don’t have the sewing talent! I only got one wear out of them – not worth it. 

2) Come up with an idea based on what you already own.

I must admit that most of my wardrobe is black. This makes Halloween pretty easy – just add a few accessories and some face paint to an LBD and I’m good to go! A lot of costumes can be based around normal clothing, and don’t forget any unwanted clothes that still even vaguely fit – they could be zombified! My costume in first year was a zombie look based on a dress with a hole by the waistband; add some more rips and holes and some brown/black eye shadow & it looked great.

zombie-costume

If in doubt, coat yourself in fake blood.

3) Things that are worth buying: face paint, coloured paper, glue, fake blood.

Last year I was a scary clown. As a crafty person I already had things like card and glue, so it was a no brainer to make my own accessories – a ruff, hat and buttons. I already had the dress, so all I spent money on was a face paint set (on sale at a toy shop before I went back to uni), tights and some neon orange paper. If you have a good stash of craft things you’re probably set – if not, there are plenty of places that sell the basics pretty cheap. Unless it’s something you really, really can’t make, I’d say try DIY!

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I was so proud of this costume tbh. Getting blackout drunk was an appropriate way to show it off. 

4) Not crafty? Not a problem.

There are plenty of easy peasy costumes that require little to no crafting ability while still looking good. As previously mentioned, zombie costumes are so easy – just scruff up some clothes you don’t care about using scissors and some dark eyeshadow – you can’t go wrong because they’re supposed to look messy and ripped (although if you don’t want to flash I would suggest tactical ripping!). Another easy one is a mad scientist – you’d have to get hold of a lab coat, but what you wear underneath is up to you; as crazy or normal as you’d like. Mess your hair up, put some blobs of odd coloured eyeshadow on the coat/your face et voila! I did this one for a SciFi social, basing my look on Steam Powered Giraffe’s Walter Workers, and won best costume! If you’re really last minute and stuck, don’t doubt the power of some pound shop/dollar store fake blood – turn dark clothing into a vampire look with a few dots on your neck and some drops on your chin. There’s no excuse not to make even that little bit of effort!

walter-girl-costume

5) Have fun & get creative!

Halloween is a great excuse to explore your crazy, wacky, fun side and express yourself in any way you want – so go for it! Don’t be scared of having a ‘Mean Girls Moment’ – I have before and while it was a little bit embarrassing at first, I had the most fun putting my costume together and I think I probably felt the best.

Just have fun & so long as you feel good in your costume, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks! These last two are two of my favourite costumes from uni (the other favourite being my clown costume) – in the first I was a gothic loli girl & wore a lacy black dress, ripped tights and boots, all of which I already owned. The second is my Megara cosplay – I did spend money on this, buying a stretchy lilac dress, a violet scarf for her waist and a long, grecian style skirt; but I’ve worn it several times and definitely got my money’s worth, as well as wearing the individual parts for other costumes.

I unfortunately only have pictures of my full body in the costumes with other people and most are pretty messy (read: drunken) so unfortunately shoulders up shots will have to do! I think they illustrate my point well enough though! What are you going as for Halloween? Have you got your costume together yet?

See you soon,

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Sweet ‘stume. [x]


Fandom Friday | The Problematic Fave

Problematic favourites – we all have them, whether they’re TV shows, musicians, characters or books. I think everyone has something or someone they love but feel reluctant to discuss or recommend. Personally I worry that if I mention liking something problematic I run the risk of appearing to agree with that thing entirely, when this simply isn’t the case.

The term “problematic fave” has become somewhat of a joke, but I feel like the topic is actually something that is worth discussing seriously. Is it possible to like something problematic without being problematic yourself? How?

Of course it’s possible to like something problematic while still trying to not be problematic yourself – if it wasn’t we would be very limited as to what we could actually like. I believe that the most important thing about liking something problematic is realising and understanding that that thing is problematic – if you’re asking this question you’re probably already there. You can enjoy something while still recognising the bad aspects. Watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s as much as you like, so long as you understand the problem with Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi.

An example of one of my problematic favourites is It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This differs from examples such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s in that the characters are intended to be terrible people – they are offensive and non- PC, and often get their comeuppance. The show often gets incredibly close to the bone, and although I enjoy it there are often moments that are incredibly problematic. Yes, this is the point, but it makes it very difficult to explain the show to people who haven’t seen it without sounding like a horrible person. I think what the show does well when you do watch it, however, is having a character step back and acknowledge how problematic the gang’s antics are.

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Found here.

It’s important to remember as well that characters are just characters, and that they don’t reflect writers or audience’s opinions. On the same lines, it’s important to remember that you can separate art and the creator – you don’t have to like an artist/writer as a person to appreciate their work. Justin Bieber’s behaviour is often deplorable, but I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t sing along to Sorry if it comes on in a bar.

Bunny

Photo by Beth at GeekShot Photography, found on her blog.

Another example of one of my “problematic faves” is Isabella (Bunny) Bennett. Bunny is a member of Steam Powered Giraffe, a band who perform as steampunk robots. A while back she caused quite a stir online after making several jokes about eating disorders and self harm. It became important for the band to emphasise that their work isn’t directly connected to the people – fans don’t have to like them as people in order to like the music and surrounding art (Bunny and fellow band member Sam often sell prints and band merchandise that they have drawn themselves). Further still, you don’t have to agree with everything Bunny says/does to like her in general. I like Bunny and connect with her in many ways, but these jokes were shocking and not something I support at all. I find it important if “Saladgate” comes up to reiterate that I don’t agree with the joke at all, but that I still like the band and the people.

SPG

I mean look at that costuming. Found on the Steam Powered Giraffe website.

While you don’t have to like a creator or even the whole piece of work, it’s incredibly important to recognise and address problems with them. We cannot ignore problematic aspects of film, music, literature etc, or this adds to the problem. We have to say “I like this, but I don’t condone [offensive aspect]”, in order to send a message to creators about what is and isn’t acceptable.

What are some of your “problematic faves”? How do you describe them to people?

See you soon,

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