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Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Book Review | All the Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell


Lara and her younger brother, Alfie, living in London during the 7os and 80s, are used to their father's absence. As a Northern Irish plastic surgeon, he spends most of his time in Belfast attending to bomb victims of the Troubles and only coming back to work at a Harley Street clinic and to his family in London every other weekend.
However, When Lara is twelve he is killed in a helicopter crash and it is then the truth of his double life is revealed. He has another wife, another family, other children in Northern Ireland and Lara's mother is, in fact, his mistress.

I found this in Waterstones in a section of Irish authors and picked it up for my granny for Christmas because she's normally all over this sort of thing. However, the blurb intrigued me so much I ended up reading it on my Kindle myself.

This book was basically everything I expected- an insight into a painful and complicated family situation that transpires as the result of one man's selfishness and the effect it then has on his children, both at the time and in much later years, as an adult Lara struggles to make sense of her childhood and understand her father for the person he really was.

One thing I really liked about this book is that there was nothing at all pretentious about it. I think this was partly down to the fact that Lara, as the narrator, is portrayed as simply trying her hand at writing for the first time in order to get her family's story down on paper. Actually, Caldwell captured the character of Lara and all of the emotion of the story so well that I  had to check to make sure it wasn't an autobiographical novel, and it wasn't. The author's life is in fact world's away from her character's, Caldwell being both younger and a Cambridge graduate which I think really shows her skill as a writer.

However, there were times when I did find Lara's character as an adult a bit annoying, mostly for her tendency for self-deprecation and 'woe is me' attitude. Also, I will say this is quite a heavy read at times and for anyone who likes to see all (literary) conflicts resolved at the end of a book, you might find this one a little frustrating. Overall though it's definitely a worthwhile read. [Rating: «««]
6

Read in September


This month I finished quite a good mix of fiction- bit of young adult here, bit of "chick lit" there, meshed in with a couple of classics too! I just want to say though before I go on to the breakdown of what I've read this month, there were a couple of these books that I really didn't like so I apologise for any ranting on my part and I've also realised that this post is really reeeally long so again, apologies! But without further ado:

'The Rosie Project' by Graeme Simsion
I've seen this described on Goodreads as "Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) in love," a comparison I would certainly agree with. The novel tells the story of one nerdy guy who devises a compatibility questionnaire with very specific criteria in order to find the perfect mate.
I have already written a review of this book here which will give you a better overview of my thoughts but long story short, I really enjoyed this book, it was very funny and played out somewhat like a romantic comedy. I believe this book started off life as a screenplay in fact, so that would explain why I've seen a few people describe it as "cinematic". The characters are also very likeable and it's just a real fun, easy read! 
Rating: «««

'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' by John Green & David Leuithan
For me this book was one serious disappointment. In fact, the plot was so thin I'm actually struggling to think of really what exactly this book was "about" so here's the blurb for you:

"One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical."

I was drawn to this book obviously because it was a John Green collaboration. I'd always been aware of it and when I set out to read another John Green novel, the blurb drew me in because it was so ambiguous- now of course, I understand why. 
For one, all of the main characters are like banal stereotypes; you've got your Will Grayson number 1, the typical "boy next door", then you've got his best friend, Tiny Cooper who is so stereotypically and outrageously "gay" it's ridiculous, followed by Will Grayson number 2, the dry, cynical "emo kid". Aside from that though, apart from one huge revelation a couple of chapters in, virtually nothing happens in this book. At all. I kept waiting, but whatever dramatic outcome I was anticipating, it never came.
Don't get me wrong, this book was okay, it was readable and there were a good few laughs in there but overall, I just didn't like it, especially the ending.
Rating: ««

'Tender is the Night' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
According to my instagram, this book took me a whole 10 weeks to finish (in my defence I was reading other books at the same time) but finish it I did, and aren't I glad. 
This is the story of the beautiful and mysterious Divers, an American ex-pat couple living in the French Riviera who at first glance appear to be a vision of glittering perfection. That is, until they encounter pretty, young up-and-coming Hollywood actress Rosemary Hoyt whose appearance, as well as causing irrevocable damage to the couple's fragile marriage, prompts details of a much darker past to come to light.

Many of us will already be well-acquainted with Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby', particularly with the movie having been released last year as well as its recent reappearance on the A Level syllabus for English literature. It is by far Fitzgerald's most famous work and as such it can be difficult to approach his other novels without feeling the need to compare. I say this for the benefit of those who will pick up this book expecting it to be anything like Gatsby, it's not, but it is by no means any less beautiful or profound.

I found this to be quite a slow and sometimes uncomfortable read. I say "uncomfortable" because I would describe this as being more of a psychological novel than anything else as in it's more of a study of the characters, but I certainly do not say it as a criticism. It reminded me a lot of "The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence actually in that, like Lawrence, Fitzgerald really dissects the various relationships in this book and examines the characters very deeply in terms of their virtue and integrity. As someone who tends to interpret things in black and white, the intricacies and complexity of these characters unsettled me. By the end I didn't know what to think or how to feel, it was as if they were their own entities that I would never be able to fully grasp or understand, I merely had to accept.

One thing I found really powerful about this book was also how much the plot paralleled events in Fitzgerald's life at the time. I don't want to elaborate too much as I don't want to give anything away but I will say that the Divers seem to be very much like a portrait of Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. It's easy to see pieces of Fitzgerald in his own writing but this book in particular I feel speaks honestly from deep within the man himself.

This book absolutely consumed my thoughts for hours after I'd finished reading it and I think I may read it again just to get a better grasp of it. All in all I'd say it's a very poignant, thought-provoking read especially for anyone who enjoys character studies in books.
Rating««««



Then on my Kindle app I read:

The Dead by James Joyce
This is actually a short story taken from Joyce's 'Dubliners'. I read this after hearing it described as one of the best short stories ever written which I thought sounded promising, and in actual fact this turned out to be one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I've ever read. The story is similar to 'Tender is the Night' in being a study of the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy and takes place during the course of an evening, at a dance and dinner party hosted by Gabriel's two ageing aunts in the first week of January 1904. The main bulk of the narrative mainly examines Gabriel's social awkwardness and insecurity as well as his flawed since of self-entitlement, though the power of this story comes in its ending. I think that's all I'm going to say for now but I would highly recommend this little story, it's so beautifully written, there were parts of it that just made me melt.
Rating:  «««««


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I got this on my Kindle app to read on my commute to work and unfortunately this was another book that I really really did not like. Basically it's about a boy who comes home one day to find he has received a box full of tapes recorded by a girl he knew from school who recently committed suicide. On each tape are reasons, thirteen to be precise, for why she decided to kill herself and he is one of the reasons.
I don't know whether it was the degree to which this novel plainly romanticised suicide or more how it seriously misrepresented mental illness/depression but damn, this seriously grated on me. I'd even go so far as to say it's actually irresponsible to write a book like this aimed at teenagers.

It has been suggested by psychologists in the past in response to the vast numbers of suicides by teenagers each year that young people may actually have some sort of "immortality complex" whereby their minds are not able to comprehend the finality of death and that once they're gone, they're really gone. If this is actually the case I can only imagine how this book could easily perpetuate this sort of mentality in young people, particularly in how although the girl, Hannah Baker, is already dead for the entirety of the book her presence through the tapes remains the focus, as if in some way she was still there. Not to mention the fact that her untimely death only seems to make her more beautiful and mysterious in the eyes of Clay Jenson, the boy who receives the tapes and who is also the book's narrator.

I also personally felt Hannah Baker came across manipulative and vindictive in carrying out such an elaborate act of revenge no matter how much it may or may not have been deserved. In my mind this element of the novel only sends out the message that committing suicide is an effective way of getting an emotional response out of people, that "they'll be sorry". No. Perhaps they would be sorry, but you certainly would not be around to see it.
There was also what I felt to be a really unnecessarily graphic scene near the end of the book that seriously creeped me out, especially due to the fact that this book was written by a middle-aged man and is aimed at teenage girls.

To finish, this book would be getting 0 stars if it wasn't for its one singular redeeming quality, in that it does present the effect that sexism and sexual harassment can have on young girls and what a serious issue this is in our society quite accurately. Overall though, I would not recommend.   
Rating«

Are there any books you have really enjoyed (or really didn't enjoy) this month?
14

Book Review | The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion


Don Tillman, a university professor of genetics, has a plan for absolutely everything in his life. His days are mapped out, dictated by a strict schedule down to the very second. Unable to find the right woman for him (partially due to his incredibly lofty standards), Don devises the 'Wife Project', a questionnaire designed to find him the perfect girl... But then Don meets Rosie, spontaneous and impulsive, Rosie meets none of Don's essential criteria, yet Don finds himself swept up in her and her world, unable to understand the force which causes him to gravitate towards her.

I picked this book up after receiving a recommendation from someone I knew but I'd already heard about it through Goodreads, Amazon etc. and even the lady in Waterstones when I was buying it told me how brilliant it was, so I was very keen to give it a go. In truth this book as absolutely hysterical. The narrative and concept are very fresh and the book itself, all in all, is highly entertaining.

It's difficult to voice my reservations about this book without giving away spoilers but I will say that the fact that many of the jokes are at Don's expense has caused considerable controversy. Although this approach undoubtedly works to brilliant comic effect as intended, the ethics of this novel are a bit skew whiff and I've noticed from reading reviews that a number of people feel that it misrepresents a certain group within society. Normally I don't pay much heed to these sorts of claims (e.g. 'Eleanor and Park' has been accused of being racist?) but certainly I can imagine one of my friends in particular being offended by this book. For that reason, I'm reluctant to give this novel a sparkling review, although I did enjoy it. In summary, I would recommend with reservations.
9

Book Review | Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell


This book. I don't even know where to begin. I don't even know what to say.

I bought this edition off Amazon, it arrived, I was intrigued, I was excited, although I did raise an eyebrow to the quote from John Green on the front cover which in true dreamy John Green fashion had stated: "Reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book". 

'Psssssht, alright...' I had thought- I'm not really one for such sentimentalities- but I'm just going to say, I get it now. This book is an absolute gem.

The story itself tells the simple tale of one budding romance between two misfit teenagers in 1986, unfolding through many weeks of silent bus journeys and a shared appreciation for music and comic books.

There are countless things I love about this book: it's powerful, it's sexy, it's endearing, it's counter-cultural, but above all else it's raw and masterfully written. The characters are so complex and well-developed that with each turn of the page I felt every one of their sorrows, their joys, and their triumphs. I got to know Eleanor and Park so intimately that by the end of the novel they felt like lifelong friends. And I'll tell you what, this book gave me major feels- I laughed, I cried, it was a total emotional roller-coaster, but one that I never wanted to end.

There's a lot to be said for a book that makes you feel so many things so deeply, and I well believe that Rainbow Rowell's writing is the kind of material that could convert even the most religious of book snobs into young adult fiction fanatics. I'm also in love with all of her cover art, the way it's so bright and stylised. Eleanor and Park comes in a whole pile of other editions and I'm actually tempted to collect the rest of them- is that a little extreme?


Anyways, I would 100% recommend this book. It's actually topping my list of my most favourite books of all time right now. Though if you've already read Eleanor and Park I'd love to hear what you thought of it too!
15

Book Review | If I Stay by Gayle Forman


"And that's just it, isn't it? That's how we manage to survive the loss. Because love, it never dies, it never goes away, it never fades, so long as you hang on to it."

I'd seen this book floating around on my recent book shop visits. Though the cover I'd seen before had been the film version which admittedly I much prefer, I ended up buying this version from Amazon out of handiness after I saw it recommended by Sanne of Books and Quills on a recent video where she was talking about upcoming book to movie adaptations (the film adaptation of this book stars Chloe Moretz and is set to be released on the 22nd August).

Long story short, this book arrived in the post yesterday, from the first few pages I was completely hooked, and now having just finished it I thought I would quickly gather my thoughts and write a review while the story was still fresh in my head. 

The story itself takes place only over a period of 24 hours as seventeen-year-old Mia, in a coma following a horrific car accident which leaves both her parents and potentially her younger brother dead, has an out-of-body experience that allows her to witness the ways in which the people around her, including her grandparents, best friend and boyfriend cope with her condition, whereby she realises that she must make the decision whether to stay, and experience the pain of living without her parents, or simply slip away.

This was the sort of refreshing read I think I really needed, it was gripping and touching yet not too heavy or overly-descriptive. At the beginning I wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting, I didn't think it would be anything incredibly profound, but in fact I was very pleasantly surprised. I liked that the scenario Forman presents here encourages some thought on what is a primal fear in all of us: the loss of the people we love. From the perspective of someone who has never really experienced death, much like the protagonist, it made me reflect on how painful the experience of losing a loved one must be and posed questions such as how do we begin to move on with our lives or indeed, if given the chance would we even want to? Where does our strength come from to keep going when we feel we have nothing left?

I also really appreciated some of the themes in the novel about love and survival in spite of dire circumstances. In Mia reflecting on the things she still has to live for, Forman presents her life and future in a beautiful and colourful way and so, despite the fact that at times this book is challenging and sad, there is still a sense of hope which prevails throughout.

I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone looking for an easy page-turner as I managed to whiz through the 250 pages in no time with ease. The characters and character-development you see in the novel are very rich and descriptive and the novel also has its fair share of romance as you see the relationship between Mia and her boyfriend, Adam played out from its beginnings.

Frankly, I'm VERY excited to see how this film translates onto the Big Screen, especially because the trailer looks pretty amazing!


Just a quick update also: my posts might be a little infrequent/sporadic these next few weeks as I'm working full-time interning with an accountancy firm so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to keep up with my blog but I'm really going to try!

Hope you're all well!
18

April Reading List


  1. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” 
  1. The Four Loves - C.S. Lewis
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 
  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.” 
  1. Surprised by Joy - C.S. Lewis
“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still 'about to be'.” 

I've really been enjoying C.S. Lewis this month. I find his stories and philosophical and theological reflection really uplifting and after recently finishing 'Surprised by Joy' I can now say it's definitely one of my favourite books of all time; well-worth a read for anyone who has any interest in the life of C.S. Lewis or his works. 'The Four Loves' is now next on my list to finish for April, followed by 'The Lion the Wish and the Wardrobe' as I am ashamed to admit I never read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child! I also picked up a beautiful Penguin edition of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' in Camden Market while I was in London- bit of a contrast from C.S. Lewis but a great read all the same.

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