Thursday, 30 April 2015

Read in April 2015


April was a good reading month and proves to me that escaping into a novel for a little while when life things are a bit difficult is one of the best ways to take care of yourself. With a lot of deadlines to meet I predict that May isn't going to be quite as good reading wise, but that's okay. As far as I know I'm on track with my 'goal' and I've got to admit that feels pretty good. Anyway, these are the thirteen books that I read in April and a little bit about them...

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Soil by Jamie Kornegay | ☆☆☆
Honestly? From page 120ish onwards I skimmed it a little. It felt like I'd been reading forever and not getting anywhere even though I usually like slow books. So I'm sure I missed bits along the way, but it's one I will revisit at some point in the not too distant future. With that being said, it deserves at least three stars. It's strange, a little uncomfortable and structured brilliantly with jumps in time and different points of view. And it's certainly unique, so points for that too!

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Barbarians by Tim Glencross | ☆☆☆
It was strange to come across a book that was difficult to summon the desire to pick up, yet was so utterly engrossing when I did. I won't describe what it's about here because I certainly won't do it justice, but if you're interested in novels that are heavy on art and politics, definitely look this one up. There were a few occasions where the references went totally over my head and most of the characters are really quite vile, which would have been okay with me if they had a little more depth to be able to attempt to tease out any smidgen of sympathy from me. Unfortunately I didn't really care about any of them and wasn't particularly shocked by anything, but I did quite enjoy following them through their various predicaments over the years. An interesting one, I don't think I've ever come across anything quite like it before.    

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Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent | ☆☆
A 'whydunnit' as opposed to a 'whodunnit' which seem to be quite difficult to pull off. The blurb and the front cover make it sound like it is going to be more nuanced and creepy than it actually turns out to be. And it's not a bad book, it just feels like it's perhaps trying a little too hard to shock and in doing so there's really only one explanation for everything, which makes it a little predictable. But I flew through it in one sitting, so it's certainly quite a compelling read.

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Wailing Ghosts by Pu Songling | ☆☆☆
Number 7 in the Penguin Little Black Classics collection, this is a collection of very strange and at times very short tales from ancient China. There is no elaborate language or rich descriptions but I found them so utterly fascinating because they're so stylistically removed from what I'm used to. They're also quite universal in terms of the themes they explore, which adds to their intrigue because they're relatable despite being presented in a slightly more unfamiliar way. 

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On The Road by Jack Kerouac | ☆☆☆☆
So after having it sitting on my shelf for well over a year, I finally picked up On The Road. And I wasn't disappointed. There's something about beat generation writing that draws me in, not because I find anything particularly revelatory within their pages, but because they're so intriguing and self indulgent at times. I once knew someone a bit like Dean Moriarty. The life and soul, the one I turned to when I wanted to have a good time, or feel valued and important. It took me a while to realise this person was exhausting and taking advantage of everyone in some way to get what they wanted. So even within the bizarre escapades and irresponsibility, there was a slice of something I could relate to. Interesting, and one that I'm sure I'll reread over the years.

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Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling with illustrations by Joel Holland | ☆☆☆☆☆
I pre-ordered this as soon as I heard it was going to be a thing and it didn't disappoint. It's just an illustrated version of the commencement speech she gave at Harvard University, but it's so nice to have on my bookshelf. I've listened to the speech countless times and I like to refer to it whenever I need a little bit of a pep talk so I'm certain this copy will be re-read again and again.

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The Infidel Stain by M.J. Carter | ☆☆☆☆
A touch of Holmes & Watson and Poirot & Captain Hastings, with the descriptiveness of Robert Galbraith and the flourish that only Carter could give her novel to make it utterly brilliant. This is the second book in a series but I haven't read the first yet and it definitely didn't stop me from enjoying this one. I also have it on good authority that the third is well and truly in the pipeline, which is very exciting news - I can't wait for more Blake & Avery!

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Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig | ☆☆☆
An incredibly honest and eloquently written account of such a personal experience, it's brave to bare your soul in such a raw way and I hope that it might provide some comfort along its journey. I have heard more than one person describe this as a book for everyone, and I think I agree. It's for those who perhaps sometimes struggle to understand. It's for anyone who hasn't thought much about depression before. It's for anyone who sometimes feels like nobody quite gets it. And it's for anyone who might sometimes need an extra couple of reasons to stay alive.

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There but for the by Ali Smith | ☆☆☆☆
My first Ali Smith novel and it most certainly will not be my last; there's so much brilliant word play in there that was a delight to read. Between the main course and the dessert at a dinner party, Miles goes upstairs, locks himself in one of the bedrooms and doesn't come out. It's about the connections we make, the memories that stay with us and those we let go somewhere along the way. There's only so much room in our marvellous brains and sometimes really good memories are pushed aside whilst some things we'd really prefer to forget remain engrained in there forever. Curious. Each character is beautiful and tragic; they have so much depth and I love that. And I think that sometimes we all have those times when locking ourselves into a small room is preferable to staying outside and facing life.

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The Hundred Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson | ☆
Oh gosh. So this took me about a year to get through and in the end I just resorted to skimming it because I was so determined to finish it. Sometimes a book, no matter how much praise and critical acclaim it has received, just doesn't draw you in and this was one of those for me. It just felt a bit like a sub-par Forrest Gump that was more tedious than enjoyable.

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Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett | ☆☆☆☆☆
I'm currently attempting to compile an essay on this play, which is proving to be quite the task. I'm knee deep in notes with no real sense of where to start. Oh dear. Regardless of that though, I love the absurdity and convention challenging within the piece. Without the guidance of my trusty text book there's no way I would have understood all the nuances. Although understood is the wrong word because I'm not sure that I do understand everything. And that's okay because I still think it's brilliant and I really like how it gives up more of itself upon each subsequent reading. 

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New Selected Poems 1966 - 1987 by Seamus Heaney | ☆☆☆☆
This is a fairly extensive collection of Heaney's poetry and I must confess that I haven't given this the amount of attention it deserves so I shall revisit it in the future. It has been part of my University module so I also have a lot of background information and critical essays to go through, which I'm certain will only add to the experience because often these extra readings really do illuminate Heaney's work, some of which can be a little complicated or ellusive.

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On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman | ☆☆☆
My first experience of Walt Whitman's poetry and I'm quite glad it was with one of these little Penguin Little Black Classics editions because it meant it wasn't too overwhelming. I had no real idea what Whitman's style would be like but I suppose in many ways it wasn't what I was expecting. It's quite different from the poetry I've read from around the same time period, but I'm quite keen to explore more very soon.

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Was April a good reading month for you?

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Friday, 17 April 2015

The Infidel Stain | Reading This Weekend #3


The Infidel Stain by M.J. Carter | Published April 30th 2015

If you have clicked the subscribe button over the last week or so, hello and welcome! Apologies for the slight radio silence, my Grandfather passed away last week and I have been having a little bit of internet-free time reminiscing with family. This book dropped through my letterbox a couple of days ago and I had another one of those moments where I thought I'd been buying books in my sleep because I wasn't expecting it. I started reading almost immediately (sometimes it's nice to escape real life for a while when things feel a little heavy, I'm sure you'll agree - and that's the magic of books right there!) and it seems to be a case of finding the right book at just the right time - so whichever kind soul over at Fig Tree/Penguin sent this my way, eternal thank you's are in order!  

Typically books within any part of the 'historical' genre aren't something I gravitate towards but I couldn't even begin to tell you why because I have no idea, and I'm starting to think I've been missing out. Perhaps I'm letting my deep dislike for period dramas cloud my judgement and I shouldn't let it anymore. Or perhaps it's because this is a good old murder mystery novel and they're always a lot of fun when they're well written. And oh how well written this is! A Victorian murder mystery, what could be better?!

It seems to be the second in a series, the first being The Strangler Vine, but not having read the first hasn't had any impact on my enjoyment thus far. I'm just over half way in and so far it's really great. The attention given to the tiny details give an incredibly rich understanding of location, not too far removed from the kind of detail that a certain Robert Galbraith gives. The dynamic between the two central characters, Blake & Avery, is somewhat akin to that of Poirot & Captain Hastings; one is a little aloof, spending time working through clues methodically and the other wanders around a little haphazardly. Those two aspects combined seem to yield a cracking novel and I can't wait to see what happens. I shall have to track down a copy of the first very soon and I think I'll be keeping my fingers firmly crossed for more Blake & Avery novels in the future!  

What will you be reading this weekend?

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Monday, 6 April 2015

Book Tag | Elements Book Covers


Jessica from foolishoats tagged me to do the elements book cover tag and although it took me about err... four weeks to get my act together and answer the questions, it's better late than never, right?! I love tags because it gives me an excuse to destroy my shelves looking for books that answer the questions. And I mostly only love that because it means I get to organise them all back after I've taken the pictures. There's something therapeutic about organising book shelves...


Water.


  • Find a book with water on it
  • Find a book with blue on it 
Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner 
There are raindrops on the cover so that counts, right?! At the top of a rundown block of flats Llewellyn and Cunningham sit hard at work on their words of brilliance that they think will cement their future as stars of the literary scene in between poorly paid jobs writing captions for trashy novels and cat calendars. A truly darkly comic tale of humanity and hope, set against the grim political backdrop of Thatcher's Britain.

With a definite touch of Withnail & I about it and pepperings of literary references, this is a smart novel. It was a fleeting reference but I find myself frequently thinking of 'Brideshead re-wallpapered' and smiling to myself - and I don't know why. It amused me greatly, testament to the wit within the pages that is often so difficult to pull off.  

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel 
Bit of a naff cover, but the story inside is wonderful. Mandel has a real gift for storytelling. Lilia has been leaving people behind for her entire life and she doesn't know how to stop. She is haunted by the missing pieces of her memory from early childhood as she moves from city to city, still possibly followed by the private detective who has been pursuing her for years. But what I like most about this novel is that it's almost not about Lilia at all. It's about Eli, Michaela and Christopher who in their own unique ways are also looking for their answers and their missing pieces. It's a story of love, loss, abandonment, disconnect and fitting together all the little pieces of life that eventually show you where you're supposed to be and what will make you happy.

Fire. 


  • Find a book with fire on it 
  • Find a book with red on it 
Music For Torching by A.M. Holmes 
So I had to cheat a little with this one. The only book I could find with fire on it on my shelf was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I figured that was a little obvious. So I've gone with Music for Torching instead because it has a fire extinguisher on it. So no fire. But close enough, right? I also haven't read this novel yet so not only have I cheated a bit, but I can't even really describe what it's about.

On the outside Paul and Elaine are a conventional middle-class middle-aged couple with two sons. Their neighbours Pat and George are similar, although when she's alone with Elaine, Pat drops the Stepford Wife mask and stages loveless orgies and Paul is having an affair. The nice old man down the street isn't as nice as he appears, and nor are the local children. And I'm assuming that the novel is an exploration of character, which tends to be the theme with Holmes' work.

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles 
Oh this is strange novel, and I mean strange in the best possible way. Oskar is a composer and is very particular about things. He's married to an art dealer named Laura, they have two cats named after composers and and they live in an Eastern European City. While Oskar is in Los Angeles arranging his divorce he has entrusted an old University friend to look after his cats and take care of his perfect apartment. Although Oskar has left many detailed notes that cover every aspect of looking after the place, things really don't go very well at all.

Earth.


  • Find a book with something related to earth on it 
  • Find a book with green on it 
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
This book was part of a children's literature class I took at University and reminded me how much I adore picture books. I think books for children can be so smart and the pictures here are so full of depth with lots of hidden things to look out for. Here four different characters tell their own version of a walk in the park. The differences are fascinating and explore feelings of alienation and friendship. It's just lovely and heartwarming and beautiful.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence 
Oh gosh, if heartwarming stories are your thing this is the book for you. It's so lovely. When Alex, a kid who hasn't had the easiest childhood, meets Mr Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend and someone who teaches him that you only get once chance at life so you have to make it count. When Alex is stopped at customs with some marijuana, an urn of ashes on the front seat and a nation in total uproar, he's pretty sure that he's done the right thing. It starts out feeling like a quirky little lighthearted read, but if by the end your heart hasn't been ripped apart and patched back together again, you're a stronger person than I!

Air. 


  • Find a book with air on it 
  • Find a book with white on it
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker 
I still feel a little mean only giving this book two stars because it had so much potential, and although it was beautifully written it never really lived up to the potential for me. Or maybe I was just expecting something different. I suppose it is nice to have more an almost whimsical YA apocalyptic novel that doesn't follow the usual formulae. On an otherwise ordinary Saturday Julia and her family awake to discover, with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is beginning to slow. Along with the longer days & nights and the changes to gravity, Julia is also attempting to cope with the disasters of everyday life like the loss of old friends and the strange behaviour of her grandfather. It's nothing incredible, but worth a read if you like YA I would say.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
In Tokyo, Nao has decided that there's only one way for her to escape her loneliness but before she ends her life she wants to document the life of her Grandmother, a Buddhist nun who has lived for more than a century. Nao's diary is her only solace. Across the Pacific Ocean Ruth is a novelist living on a remote island and one day discovers a collection of objects washed ashore inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox. As the mystery of the box unfolds Ruth finds herself pulled into the past, into Nao's life, and into the future. This novel explores a connection between two people, separated by an ocean and how the journey of discovery can teach us more than we ever thought imaginable.

Spirit bonus. 


  • Find a book with the colours blue, red, green and white on it 
It Was A Dark & Stormy Night
This pop-up beauty was one of my favourite books as a child and one my mum didn't mind reading over and over with me. Lady Penelope Pig hires Inspector Derek Dog to guard the biggest diamond in the world, which she plans to display at her dinner party that night. Doesn't sound like the best idea to display it, right? Yeah, it's not. When the lights go out during the party, the diamond disappears and we have to follow the clues to figure out who the thief is. Such a fun mystery spoof, it's brilliant.

I Tag You!

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Friday, 3 April 2015

Book of the Month | March 2015


"Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side."

You know I do love a good coming of age novel and my goodness, this is such a good one. Single sentences could make my eyes instantly fill with tears, both happy and sad, and make my chin do that funny little wobble that only happens when there are too many feelings to process at once to truly know whether to smile, or laugh, or sob. And it didn't even matter that maybe some of the speech felt a little off once or twice because its message is so important and so clear without being so ridiculously overt that it loses its integrity. It's about love in all its forms, and friendship, and family, and how difficult it can be to figure out and feel comfortable with who you are and who you want to be. A smart young adult book that remains true to itself, with a good heart and characters that feel real; and it deserves every one of the five stars for being beautiful in its own, very honest way, just the way it is. 

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Do you like coming of age novels?  

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Read in March 2015


*Dusts off the cobwebs* *Turns on the light*
Hello! So... it turns out that keeping up with two blogs is slightly trickier than I had first anticipated. BUT I've been practicing planning ahead, writing lists and not loosing so much time to endless Ted Talks so it's good to be back! March was a much better reading month that February, although it still had nothing on January. But that's okay. Here are a few sentences about each of the 8 books I read last month...

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Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg | ☆☆☆☆☆
After spending the majority of March attempting to write a coherent essay about how women's voices are represented in Howl, it's safe to say I must have read those few pages around seventy times or more. I can see why it was such a force, especially when listening to recordings of Ginsberg reading in front of a lively audience hanging on his every word. The beat generation as a whole is quite fascinating, they're such problematic figures but the work they made had such an impact.

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High Fidelity by Nick Hornby | ☆☆☆
This is a book that caught my eye as I was perusing my boyfriend's bookshelf and all I really felt as I was reading was a sense of not feeling particularly surprised that it's a novel he gravitated towards in his younger days. I guess I thought it would be a little funnier than it was? I don't know. It was a bit disappointing I suppose.

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The Boy in the Book by Nathan Penlington | ☆☆☆
Nathan Penlington buys a set of Choose Your Own Adventure novels on ebay because he remembered loving them as a child. As he picks the books up and begins flipping through the pages he not only relives his own childhood, he also stumbles across Terrence's. Throughout Terrence had scribbled down things about his life; being bullied at school and his desire to make real friends. Inside one of the books was a diary and even though it must have been twenty years since Terrence had written those words, Nathan set off on his own adventure to find out what happened to this boy who, for him, only exists within the pages of books.

I've never read anything quite like this before and I particularly liked how it ended up not only being a search for Terrence, because I really did want to find out where life had taken him, but also how it enabled me to become a part of Nathan's journey too.

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The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger |  ☆☆☆☆
If you love explorations of relationships between characters, with beautiful descriptions of the Canadian landscape peppered throughout, this is the novel for you. It's a truly marvelous piece of writing. The landscape is scarred, much like the characters as they make their way through life in the best way they know how to. Their best way isn't always necessarily the 'right' way and the novel really allows the space to try and understand why they react in the ways they do. An unsuspecting novel that drew me in immediately and was very nearly my favourite read of the month. It's published on May 7th and it's one to look out for.

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins | ☆☆☆
I bought this for my Mum as part of her mother's day present and naturally I had to borrow it after she had read it. For a long while I wasn't really interested in picking it up because of the comparisons that had been made to Gone Girl (which I wasn't a fan of) but curiosity got the better of me and I'm glad that it did. Perhaps overwhelming marketing really does work?1 I won't go into the plot because I'm sure you've heard a lot about it already but I went in without particularly high expectations, and in the end I thought it was pretty good.

It wasn't mind-blowing and I had figured out what was happening before the big reveal, but that's part of the fun. I wanted to piece the clues together before I was told what was happening. And I got that. The characters are all delightfully terrible too and it's always interesting following the stories of people when you're not sure if you should be rooting for them or not.

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Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz | ☆☆☆☆☆
This was on my list of books I really wanted to read this year and oh my goodness, it was so lovely. I won't say too much more here because it was my book of the month for march and most certainly deserves its own post. But my love for it is a combination of a wonderful story and it being a case of the 'right book at the right time'. If you've been meaning to pick it up for a while, please do. It's incredibly sweet. And there is definitely a place for sweet books on my shelf!

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The Boat by Nam Le | ☆☆☆
This collection of short stories took me longer to get through than I was expecting. I adored the first story, the stand out of the collection for me, and the rest were okay but nothing special. That's the risk with short story collections I suppose, and how well the individual pieces read next to one another is how I distinguish between a good collection and an okay one. Many of the stories are slow, they're not event based but they are very character driven. They're a real exploration of people and in that respect I think it really does achieve what Le wanted to, the only issue I had was that sometimes I wasn't quite able to believe in them wholeheartedly, they felt a little constructed.

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The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen | ☆☆☆
It definitely feels like I'm cheating counting this as a book because it's so tiny. But it is a book. Just a short one. So I'm counting it anyway. The Tinder Box is a delightfully informal tale with a distinct lack of morals. There are a couple of other stories in there too, and although the title tale definitely stood out for me, nothing felt particularly remarkable enough to warrant more than three stars.

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Was march a good reading month for you?