Dilemma of the ‘Did Not Finish’ | Book Blogger Problems!

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,

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Review (not) Wednesday | ARC Review – How to Stop Time

**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,

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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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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.

Radium Girls.jpg

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 – 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.

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