Sunday, 23 August 2015

Mid-Year(ish) Book Tag

It's well past mid-year but as I'm running a little behind on my reading challenge, sitting at roughly half way to 100 as I write this, I think it's still okay for me to answer these questions!

 1. Best book you've read so far this year?
This is not going to be a surprise to anyone that's been around at any time over the last couple of weeks and it's A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It's devastating, had me ugly crying in places and tearing up at any mention of it for weeks after turning the last page. Full post here

2. Best sequel you've read so far this year?
For some reason there is a distinct lack of books in a series on my shelf. I don't have anything against them, but I don't seem to be as drawn to them and I have no idea why that is. I'm probably just not looking into the right ones! I read The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith back at the start of the year and I thought it was great. The relationship between Strike and Robin was explored a little more and it was nice to have that as I was trying to piece together the clues to solve the who-dunnit. As always the big reveal makes all the clues seem so obvious retrospectively, but I didn't manage to work it out. Rowling is always one step ahead of me!

3. New release you haven't read yet, but want to?
Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Not a super recent release, but it's one that's been looking at me from my shelf for a long time now. 

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of 2015?
Keeping up with new/upcoming releases is something I am absolutely terrible at, although it's probably not such a bad thing for my bank account. The illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone comes out soon, and of course the new Galbraith, Career of Evil, is one I'll have to pick up at some point. Apart from that, any recommendations are welcome!   

5. Biggest disappointment?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This is a favourite of many people I know and it was just one of those books that I didn't form a connection with. And that's okay. I can appreciate this is an important book for so many people and although it wasn't for me, I'm happy that it has brought a lot of joy to so many.

6. Biggest surprise?
Lorali by Laura Dockrill. When I heard this was a book about mermaids I was intrigued and skeptical in equal measures. The skepticism came from a (very wrong!) preconceived notion I had from somewhere that mermaid stories are always somehow inherently cheesy. One of the perspectives the narrative is told from is the sea itself, and it worked so well within the overall eccentric and humourous adventure. There's also some really intelligent commentary on our modern media culture in there too, which is a conversation that I think is ridiculously important and it really enriched the narrative authentically as opposed to feeling like it had just been wedged in there simply because it could be. 

7. Favourite new author?
This is a difficult question. I definitely want to explore more novels by Sarah Waters and M.J. Carter. I was really captivated by the writing style of The Paying Guests by Waters and The Infidel Stain by Carter, so I think it's likely that I would enjoy their other work too.

8. Newest fictional crush?
Ohh I'm not sure I have one. I would certainly appreciate a presence like Willem from A Little Life in my life though. 

9. Newest favourite character?
Jude St. Francis from A Little Life. He managed to draw out pretty much every emotion from me over the course of 700 pages. 

10. Book that made you cry?
I hate to repeat an answer yet again, but no book has ever made me sob like A Little Life. I still get a little glassy-eyed whenever I think about it. 

11. Book that made you happy?
Aristotle and Dante discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. This book is cute with a capital C.

12. Favourite book to movie adaptation you've seen this year?
I'm cheating slightly because this is a book to TV adaptation, but Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell captured the eerie magical atmosphere and the tumultuous relationship between Strange and Norrell within the narrative really well. 

13. Favourite review you've written this year?
I'm rubbish at writing dedicated reviews, so this isn't a question I can answer. But I will say that my favourite post to write so far this year was the elements tag. I do love a good tag! 

14. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year?
If we're talking cover design, Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry is a real thing of beauty.

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
I'm such a mood reader this is a question I'm finding almost impossible to answer. I have both The Secret History and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on my shelf that I'd like to get to. I've just been reminded of The Incarnations by Susan Barker by the All The Books! Book Riot podcast so that's one I'm hoping to start soon. And I still haven't read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, despite it having waited patiently on my shelf for longer than it should have already.

Now I just have to get over my 'how can I ever read again after A Little Life broke my heart' slump. It's really bad. I couldn't even reread Harry Potter when I tried the other day, but I think I might try to read something...anything this afternoon. Fingers crossed!

* * *

What is the best book you've read so far this year? 
Anything you're looking forward to reading over the coming months? 

- Jennie

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Monday, 17 August 2015

At Least The Book Of The Year So Far, Maybe The Best Book I've Ever Read.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

As I turned the final page, closed the book and replaced the dust jacket I sat back and thought, how can I possibly ever read another book? Nothing will ever make me feel like this again. Immediately after finishing I wrote this on Goodreads; "I don't have the right words to even begin, nor can I really see what I'm writing through the film of tears that is clouding my eyes. But I'll start with this; A Little Life is quite probably the most exquisite book I've ever read." 

That film of tears I mention there, well, it still spontaneously appears whenever my mind flits back to the final few chapters. Yep. Even two days later. And I think about it quite a lot. When I'm doing the washing up. When I'm brushing my teeth. When I'm trying to fall asleep. When I'm queuing in the supermarket. It's actually becoming a bit of a problem. But a good kind of problem because this is what great literature is. It's about making you feel. These characters aren't characters at all. They're real to me. And I'm not ready to let them go just yet. I'm not sure I ever will be.

"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome, but that will define his life forever."

This is the most exquisite, devastating, tender, brutally painful and emotional book I have ever read. I could go on with the adjectives, but you get my point. I have cried reading books before, but nothing has ever come close to the sobs that I wasn't sure would ever stop. 'This is the best book I have ever read' just wasn't a good enough explanation. A Little Life is about how what we're told we are by people we once trusted can shape the way we see ourselves forever, how the truest, most authentic bonds we form can survive almost anything, how recalling painful suffering can awaken the very best of human nature, and how the power of deep, enduring love does indeed have limitations no matter how much we wish that it didn't. This is Jude's story. And I'm not going to tell you anything else about it.

Just be sure to take care of yourself. In places things get so dark it's difficult to even imagine where the next source of light could possibly come from. Something that has been quite an intense part of my life is described in minute detail and rather than leaving me feeling desolate or distressed, it probably forms a large part of why I feel the way I do about this novel. But make sure you look out for yourself.

“You see, Jude, in life, sometimes nice things happen to good people. You don’t need to worry—they don’t happen as often as they should. But when they do, it’s up to the good people to just say ‘thank you,’ and move on, and maybe consider that the person who’s doing the nice thing gets a bang out of it as well, and really isn’t in the mood to hear all the reasons that the person for whom he’s done the nice thing doesn’t think he deserves it or isn’t worthy of it.” 
* * *
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
 * * *
“...things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realise that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.” 

So although it's likely that no other novel will make me feel quite like this again, it's okay because that's exactly what makes this one so intensely special. I'm not the same person I was before. This novel has become a part of me, quite possibly for forever. The power of words, eh? Magic. Extraordinary. Life changing.


Has a novel ever made you feel this way before?

- Jennie

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P.S. Number of times I've cried whilst trying to write this: 7. I told you it's becoming a bit of a problem!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

To Read in August.

To-be-read blog posts are one of my favourite kind of posts to read because I'm always curious (read: nosy) to see which books are noteworthy enough to make it to the top of someone's pile, and because I always seem to discover a new book that I then in turn add to my 'I need to look into this further' list. And I'm sure I'm not the only one that has a list like that.

When it comes to making and sticking to my own to-be-read selection however, well, let's just say I'm not the best. A combination of being an 'I can only read which ever book I'm in just the right mood for at the time' person and just generally very easily distracted, means I can't predict which book I'll want to read next, let alone which books I'll want to read in two weeks time. Even with that being said, I'm going to give it a go this month and we'll see how well I did at the end of the month!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The book I'm currently reading, I've talked about it an absurd amount already this week but if it sounds like something you would like/you're willing and able to have your heart broken and beaten to a pulp, I implore you to pick up a copy. The writing is phenomenal. And that's not a word I use lightly.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
After A Little Life I think I'm going to need something quick and fun to read. I have a collection of Poirot books that I bought from The Book People earlier in the year and this is the second one I'll be picking up. What's even better is that this is a collection of short stories, which I wasn't expecting, but it's a pleasant surprise. There's a story about a film star and a diamond, a suspicious death in a locked gun-room, a jewel robbery by the sea, and so much more. My favourite thing about Christie's work is how everything always slots neatly into place at the end. There's something very satisfying about that. 

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
I first started reading this back in May and I put it down, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I got a little distracted. 'From the sideshows of Coney Island to the tenements and opium dens of the Lower East Side, to an asylum on Blackwell's Island, follow the adventures of two sisters, an enigmatic orphan, a mortician's bride, an assortment of freaks, and a newborn baby, as they come together in the Church of Marvels...' This is one of those novels that feels like a real treat to read and I'm looking forward to getting lost in late nineteenth century New York again very soon.

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche
There's a little collection of these Penguin Little Black Classics on my shelf and I have, shamefully, been neglecting them. An 'iconoclastic German philosopher's blazing maxims on revenge, false pity and the drawbacks of marriage' this is a little book that I'll be making my way through slowly over the coming weeks to get the most out of it, even though it can feel so tempting to simply whiz through.

* * *

Do you like to pick out a few specific books to read at the start of each month?

- Jennie

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Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Little Life.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara has been on my radar for a little while now, ever since the first reviews started trickling on to the internet that described it as being both 'beautiful' and 'devastating'. Tell me a story will break my heart and I'll probably be there quicker than you can say 'don't forget to bring the tissues'. Last week the Booker long list was announced and although I'm usually terrible at predicting these things, I wasn't surprised to see this on there. Like The Luminaries this novel, with its deep character explorations, has the Booker Prize written all over it.

"When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome, but that will define his life forever."

I'm only a few pages in so there's not really much I can say, but I think the amount of page flags I have in there so far says it all. In fact, I might need to nip out tomorrow and buy some more if the rest is as beautifully written as these opening chapters. A novel I will read slowly over the coming week, I'm planning to savour every page whilst trying to prepare as much as possible for the emotional loop-the-loops of the roller coaster that I can see just ahead.

What are you currently reading? 
Have you read A Little Life?

- Jennie

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Saturday, 1 August 2015

*sidles in sheepishly* *has a quick whip around with a duster* Hello, remember me?!


There's a special kind of feeling that comes when returning to something that you absolutely adore, but haven't been able to find the time for. And it feels like this. Like thousands of tiny fireworks dancing in the pit of my stomach. The itchiness my fingers have felt, longing to type out thoughts about the books I have read or the ones I am eager to read soon, transforms into a delightful tingle as they dance over the keyboard with ease. You see, the time has come when the ropes that have tied them to academic essays for the last six years have loosened. Academic essays for me are always a slow burn, lots of careful searching for just the right word that makes me sound more intelligent than I actually am without appearing like I whacked it into the thesaurus and just picked out the one with the most syllables even though it now sticks out of the sentence like a sore thumb, and very little furious typing.

Although for my last ever essay there was quite a lot of furious typing, opting to take a risk and have fun with it without worrying about the final grade. I argued why Rebecca by du Maurier should win the Booker Prize over Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell and took great pleasure in imagining the literary elite relishing loudly voicing their disdain whilst admiring with joy the subsequent publicity of such a 'scandal'. I had spent weeks reading critical essay upon critical essay full of scathing comments for Rebecca and I decided they were all quite wrong. And of course it was the piece of work that earned the highest grade I have ever received, thank you mysterious marker for being so kind. There's a life lesson in there somewhere. Go your own way? Something like that. If you're at school now, take risks with your work (calculated ones, of course!), it'll probably pay off!   

Anyway, since I saw you last I have read a handful of books...

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke - I liked it, although there was a lull in the middle
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - a re-read & a book I adore
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell - ditto
Birdy by Jess Vallance - I liked it & must read more YA
Lorali by Laura Dockrill - ditto
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer - I liked it, very clever, lots of social commentary
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling - a re-read and favourite for ever, but I know you already know that
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby - emotional and beautiful
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - liked it, didn't love it as much as I thought I would
The Bones of You by Debbie Howells - liked it, bit predictable but a fun whodunnit
The Dinner by Herman Koch - brilliantly unsettling
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - disappointing (sorry, I know it's a favourite of many. It's not you, it's me!)
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood - my first Atwood, I need to seek out more because her writing is just as brilliant as everyone says
And I'm almost done with The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters - maybe needed a bit of an edit in the middle? But who am I to question the phenomenon that is Waters, so I'm reserving all judgement until I get to the end.

How have you been? Well, I hope? Hello to anyone that's new, I apologise that these parts have been a bit tumble-weedy for a couple of months. That's all about to change!

Leave a comment below letting me know the best book you've read this year so far - I'd love to know!

- Jennie

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