February: Epic Tome Month

RMOThis month was a month I should never have organised. I don’t have much success with epic novels, only occasionally does one click with me but despite this I still decided to try. After a false start (I started but truly couldn’t get into, let alone finish, Turn of the Century by Karl Andersen) I did choose a single Epic novel for this month and it did take most of the month to read. My chosen book was Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra in the end and well, epic is definitely on word for it. It seems unfair to only write a short review of something so huge but that’s what I’m going to attempt to do. Enjoy.

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Review: Gretel and The Dark by Eliza Granville

Review: Gretel and The Dark by Eliza GranvilleGretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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four-stars
Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer - celebrated psychoanalyst - is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings - to be, in fact, not even human. Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta's Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the 'animal people', so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more. And when everything changes and the real world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed

I chose Gretel and The Dark as my February book for the Fem-Tellectual Book Club. This month’s theme:

February: Pretty Magical Ladies
Read a book inspired by a fairytale.

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Review: Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

Review: Dear Thief by Samantha HarveyDear Thief by Samantha Harvey
Published by Random House on September 25th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars
In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget. Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.

Dear Thief is a novel I had heard a lot about before I gave it a go and I’m still not really sure what I thought of it. It has so many merits and so many good things about it yet I still don’t feel right saying I truly enjoyed it because I don’t think I did.

It’s such a clever concept, telling the whole story as a single, long and sometimes rambling letter, from a woman most definitely scorned to the close friend who carried out the scorning. Her closest friend from childhood is the recipient though whether it was sent or not is another matter. She hasn’t seen her friend Butterfly/Nina for fifteen years yet her friend is everpresent in her life and she just can’t shake her presence.

The unnamed writer is a strong character, you can feel her bitterness and anger in many of her statements and in others it’s hard to gauge whether there’s even the slightest sense of believability in her accounts. She’s a traditional unreliable narrator, her descriptions of herself are at odds with those of the characters who she talks about, her friends and those around her, so sometimes I found it hard to get anything from her without second guessing it or wondering whether there was an inch of truth to it.

None of this really matters, Harvey has created a real stomach churning tale at times, where you can feel the strength of emotion that the letter writer still feels despite the length of time since its been since the events that shape the whole novel, her friend’s betrayal. Harvey has put real time and effort into drawing out, painstakingly at times, the depths of the emotional memory and how it operates.

Four Books By Haruki Murakami

4booksI have been trying to think of ways I can write about what I want to write about without it seeming completely random and pointless and decided this is the best way. I have been meaning to get together more list-type posts because I enjoy them more than anything else and so, Four Books, was born. I suppose it’s like a personal version of many of the linkies out there, where there’s a topic and you have to think of things that fit into it, except I’m not challening myself that much. I’m picking four books (d’uh) for any given reason and I’m starting simply, my four favourites by the genius that is Haruki Murakami.

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Review: Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

Review: Lost and Found by Brooke DavisLost & Found by Brooke Davis
Published by Random House on January 29th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl who always wears red wellington boots to match her red, curly hair. But one day, Millie’s mum leaves her alone beneath the Ginormous Women’s underwear rack in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t left her home since her husband died. Instead, she fills the silence by yelling at passers-by, watching loud static on TV, and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Until the day Agatha spies a little girl across the street.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He sits in a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again. In a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.

Lost & Found will be adored by fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry; The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared; and The Rosie Project.

I keep picking up books which say they’re for loves of Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessey and I really shouldn’t, having that idea in my mind when I start reading something is a bad idea because my love for those characters has yet to wane and I love everything I have ever read by Rachel Joyce. This isn’t a great start for me saying how great Lost and Found is but realistically, I’m not sure I enjoyed Lost and Found as ‘a fan of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry‘, I liked it because I liked it.

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AlphaWorld Reads: A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

AlphaWorld Reads: A God in Every Stone by Kamila ShamsieA God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie
Published by Bloomsbury on 10th April 2014
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Amazon (Affiliate Link)Goodreads
three-half-stars
July 1914. Young Englishwoman Vivian Rose Spencer is running up a mountainside in an ancient land, surrounded by figs and cypresses. Soon she will discover the Temple of Zeus, the call of adventure, and the ecstasy of love. Thousands of miles away a twenty-year old Pathan, Qayyum Gul, is learning about brotherhood and loyalty in the British Indian army.

July, 1915. Qayyum Gul is returning home after losing an eye at Ypres, his allegiances in tatters. Viv is following the mysterious trail of her beloved. They meet on a train to Peshawar, unaware that a connection is about to be forged between their lives – one that will reveal itself fifteen years later, on the Street of Storytellers, when a brutal fight for freedom, an ancient artefact and a mysterious green-eyed woman will bring them together again.

A powerful story of friendship, injustice, love and betrayal, A God in Every Stone carries you across the globe, into the heart of empires fallen and conquered, reminding us that we all have our place in the chaos of history and that so much of what is lost will not be forgotten.

I may have cheated a bit here, I did have another Kamila Shamsie novel as my choice for the letter P in my never-ending AlphaWorld Reads challenge, but I thought, seeing as I have a copy of this one and no copy of the one which I had listed on my list, that I’d switch them around a bit. So, A God in Every Stone is my choice for Pakistan and I was able to get a copy of this novel thanks to Netgalley, which is probably the best creation there ever was. Anyway, to the book.

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One Book for 2015

ONE (1)I’ve been looking at up and coming releases for the rest of 2015. There are so many I’m interested in but one stands out a mile. Last year I picked out three or four books I was really looking forward to for the coming year, for some reason I haven’t done that this year and it being the middle of February it feels a bit weird to do so, so I’m just picking out one and fawning over it because I know it’s going to be brilliant and my inherent nosiness and need to know what happens next with this particular character means I just HAVE to get a copy. I’ve seen proof copies floating around with a few reviewers who I am insanely jealous of and I cannot wait until May and the publication of A God in Ruins.

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Review: The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie

Review: The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa GebbieThe Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on March 29th 2012
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 384
Format: Audiobook
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four-half-stars
'My name is Laddy Merridew. I'm a cry-baby. I'm sorry.'
'And my name is Ianto Jenkins. I am a coward. And that's worse.'
The boy Laddy Merridew, sent to live with his grandmother, stumbles off the bus into a small Welsh mining community, where he begins an unlikely friendship with Ianto Passchendaele Jenkins, the town beggar-storyteller.
Ianto is watchman over the legacy of the collapse many years ago of Kindly Light Pit, a disaster whose echoes reverberate down the generations and blight the lives of many in the town. Through Ianto's stories Laddy Merridew is drawn into both the town's history and the conundrums of the present.

Why has woodwork teacher Icarus Evans striven most of his life to carve wooden feathers that will float on an updraft? Why is the undertaker Tutt Bevan trying to find a straight path through the town? Why does James Little, the old gas-meter emptier, dig his allotment by moonlight? And why does window cleaner Judah Jones take autumn leaves into a disused chapel?

It might be something about me and audiobooks or it might be that I’ve just picked good ones but The Coward’s Tale, like the last few audiobooks before it, went down an absolute storm. I completely loved this novel, made up of so many smaller interconnected stories and so many different people with pasts connected to the mining history of this small Welsh town, which is purposefully vague but not at the same time. The whole town is mapped out, street by street, person by person yet it is nameless, which in some ways makes it all the more impactive.

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Review: The Faithful Couple by A.D. Miller

Review: The Faithful Couple by A.D. MillerThe Faithful Couple by A D Miller
Published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited on March 5th 2015
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Amazon (Affiliate Link)Goodreads
four-stars
A brilliantly clever and insightful novel that deals with the most universal of themes - friendship, and the way our past actions shape our lives - in a uniquely perceptive and memorable way.
California, 1993: Neil Collins and Adam Tayler, two young British men on the cusp of adulthood, meet at a hostel in San Diego. They strike up a friendship that, while platonic, feels as intoxicating as a romance; they travel up the coast together, harmlessly competitive, innocently collusive, wrapped up in each other. On a camping trip to Yosemite they lead each other to behave in ways that, years later, they will desperately regret.

The story of a friendship built on a shared guilt and a secret betrayal, The Faithful Couple follows Neil and Adam across two decades, through girlfriends and wives, success and failure, children and bereavements, as power and remorse ebb between them. Their bifurcating fates offer an oblique portrait of London in the boom-to-bust era of the nineties and noughties, with its instant fortunes and thwarted idealism. California binds them together, until-when the full truth of what happened emerges, bringing recriminations and revenge-it threatens to drive them apart.
I like A.D Miller’s work. I read Snowdrops and reviewed it over at Judging Covers, it wasn’t faultless but I remembered it well enough and enjoyed it and so when I spotted The Faithful Couple I thought I’d give it ago. I’m glad I did, it’s an interesting novel where, when you look at it when finished, not a lot really happens and the key moment is quite early on and acts as a catalyst for so many other moments throughout the book.

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Review: Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Lee

Review: Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun LeeKinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Published by HarperCollins UK on February 25th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Amazon (Affiliate Link)Goodreads
three-half-stars
When Moran, Ruyu, and Boyang were young, they were involved in a mysterious ‘accident’ in which a young woman was poisoned. Now grown up, the three friends are separated by this incident, and by time and distance. Boyang stayed in China, while Moran and Ruyu emigrated to the United States. All three remain haunted by what really happened. A breathtaking page-turner, Kinder Than Solitude resonates with provocative observations about human nature and the virtues of loyalty. In mesmerizing prose, and with profound philosophical insight, Yiyun Li unfolds this remarkable story, even as she explores the impact of personality and the past on the shape of a person’s present and future.

I picked Kinder Than Solitude out of my massive pile of things to read because I liked the sound of it, probably the best reason for picking anything no? The synopsis appealed to me because it sounded like there was definitely some mystery to be uncovered.

In reality Kinder Than Solitude is a strange book, not quite what I was expecting but not entirely unenjoyable. Yiyun Lee has a strange way of writing, at least in this novel, which took me some time to get used to and get into the rhythm of and so it took a little while to get into but once I was in, I realised I knew enough about each of the four key characters to really need to know what had happened when Shaoi (the poisoned girl) had her accident. I also had to know what the accident was, if Li dediced this was something she’d share with her readers!

Kinder Than Solitude is bleak, I think I read it described as unconsoling and this definitely feels right as it is a novel which focuses on events in these four people’s lives when they were just teenagers and how this has effected their life in the long run. The problem being that whilst their lives have definitely been effected, they’re not…compelling. There’s a jaded-ness from page one and as we see where Boyang, Ruyu and Moran are now, it takes some time for their backstory to be built up and see what made them the way they are.

Kinder Than Solitude is set a few months after the Tiananmen Square protests (when telling the backstory) and the modern day when not. The double time-frame structure which is popularly used and I usually enjoy is used to good effect but still, there’s something missing. I think the characters may be too similar, they’ve all be involved or effected some way by Shaoi’s poisoning and how this leads her to live a life which is little more than that of an infant but there is no focus on Shaoi’s life. It’s all about the others and the lives they have chosen as a consequence of their involvement: Boyang staying near, helping out and the two women leaving for America. Whether any of them was responsible for the poisoning is another matter again, as it’s revealed Shaoi had her own demons, issues and political agenda but unfortunately, I didn’t feel connected enough to care too much. I don’t suppose Li wrote this novel so we felt great sadness for the eventuality that befalls Shaoi, but I think I would have liked to have felt a little more than nothing.

Kinder Than Solitude has elements which didn’t grip me at all, the mundane dialogue between the two characters who move to America, scenes which just didn’t seem necessary or beneficial to the narrative but I did want to know the crux of the issue and I did need to know more about Shaoi and how and why she might have been poisioned and this kept me reading until the end.