Book Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Gothic, Horror

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Summary from Goodreads:

‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil’

Published as a shilling shocker, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll’s strange association with damnable young man Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde’s true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil.

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Review:

Before reading this I already knew what the “big reveal” was – that Jekyll and Hyde were different versions of the same person. It’s kind of tricky not to know that – Jekyll and Hyde is a popular and well known classic, synonymous with the idea of “split personality” as the summary says.

But does knowing this detract from the reading experience? When this was first published, the fact that Jekyll and Hyde were one person was not common knowledge. Those first readers would have stumbled across that revelation along with the narrator, Mr. Utterson – arguably how it was intended to be read by Stevenson.

On the one hand, I feel that if I had gone into this book knowing absolutely nothing about the story I would have found the mystery element of it a lot more… well, mysterious. The clever parallels Stevenson draws between Jekyll and Hyde, the hints, the build-up would have had a better pay-off.

On the other hand, I might not have been able to appreciate those things as much if I hadn’t known what they were alluding to. So, really I don’t think it impacted my reading experience that negatively.

Overall I really enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde – it’s short, fast-paced, and unsettling in a good way as Stevenson raises interesting ideas about the nature of good/evil in humanity.

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Best Quote:

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ”

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Has anyone else read this one? Tell me what you thought!

lizard

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Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

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Summary from Goodreads (link here):

It’s 1999 and the internet is still a novelty. At a newspaper office, two colleagues, Beth and Jennifer, e-mail back and forth, discussing their lives in hilarious details, from love troubles to family dramas. And Lincoln, a shy IT guy responsible for monitoring e-mails, spends his hours reading every exchange.

At first their e-mails offer a welcome diversion, but the more he reads, the more he finds himself falling for one of them. By the time Lincoln realises just how head-over-heels he is, it’s too late to introduce himself.

After a series of close encounters, Lincoln eventually decides he must follow his heart… and find out if there is such a thing as love before first sight.

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Review:

This book is fluffy kittens. It’s hot chocolate and freshly baked goods. It’s warm hugs.

In other words, Attachments is a whole heap of sugary sweet cuteness.

I’m not usually a contemporary reader, but I always make an exception for Rainbow Rowell books – they’re amazing. Her writing style is brilliant and endlessly humorous, especially in the email exchanges between Beth and Jennifer; these chapters feel like a realistic email conversation between friends, whilst at same time building up enough personality and backstory for each character in order to let the reader get to know and like them. I love how Rowell shows their friendship, how they’re always there for each other and supportive, forgiving of each other’s mistakes and willing to be honest about things.

This book was a fabulously quick read – honestly, I managed it in a day. I’ve been needing something lighthearted and fun lately, and this ticked all the boxes. It’s got a nice feeling of resolution at the end and the story never drags.

Also, I’m adding a little shout out to my favourite character, Doris. What a lady! Seriously, I want a Doris to share dinner with and give me useful life advice. She’s awesome.

So, yeah. I don’t really have much more to say…? Attachments is just a solid book, filled with adorable relationships and funny exchanges. It’s the perfect uplifting summer read.

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Best Quote/s:

“So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.”

“I’m too old to be lying to other people’s mothers,” Doris said.

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If you like this try:

Rainbow Rowell’s other books, Fangirl and Eleanor and Park.

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Has any one else read Attachments? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

lizard

 

Book Review: The Muse

 

Author: Jessie Burton

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Historical Fiction

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Summary from Goodreads (link here):

From the internationally bestselling author of The Miniaturist comes a captivating and brilliantly realised story of two young women—a Caribbean immigrant in 1960s London, and a bohemian woman in 1930s Spain—and the powerful mystery that ties them together.

England, 1967. Odelle Bastien is a Caribbean émigré trying to make her way in London. When she starts working at the prestigious Skelton Art Gallery, she discovers a painting rumoured to be the work of Isaac Robles, a young artist of immense talent and vision whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is matched by the intrigue around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions, Odelle does not know what to believe or who she can trust, including her mesmerising colleague, Marjorie Quick.

Spain, 1937. Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer and English heiress, follows her parents to Arazuelo, a poor, restless village on the southern coast. She grows close to Teresa, a young housekeeper, and her half-brother Isaac Robles, an idealistic and ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. A dilettante buoyed by the revolutionary fervour that will soon erupt into civil war, Isaac dreams of being a painter as famous as his countryman, Picasso.

Raised in poverty, these illegitimate children of the local landowner revel in exploiting this wealthy Anglo-Austrian family. Insinuating themselves into the Schloss’s lives, Teresa and Isaac help Olive conceal her artistic talents with devastating consequences that will echo into the decades to come.

Rendered in exquisite detail, The Muse is a passionate and enthralling tale of desire, ambition, and the ways in which the tides of history inevitably shape and define our lives.

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Review:

(HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I loved this book. For me, it was better than The Miniaturist.

Personally, I adore books that try and show the interlocking connections that exist between time periods, places and people and The Muse captures this brilliantly – half the story follows Odelle in 1960s London and the other half follows Olive in 1930s Spain. Out of the two, I found Odelle far more likeable – Olive was at times painfully naive and somewhat oblivious to others, although considering the novel does explore the idea of finding one’s independence and sense of purpose, Olive’s age (19) and rather sheltered upbringing, it is understandable. However Odelle was endlessly enjoyable to read about – an aspiring writing who suffers from a lot of self doubt, was stubborn and stuck to her values, had believable conflicts with other characters from which she learned and evolved as a person. Also, I really admired her determination – she moved from her family home in Trinidad to London to pursue her dream of being a writer, facing and overcoming a lot of ingrained racism as well as her own worries about not being good enough.

The two women are connected by a painting – Rufina and the Lion. Olive, an artist, painted the piece along with several others during her time in rural Spain in the lead up the Spanish Civil War. Olive’s father is a notable art dealer, but he has never taken his daughter’s work seriously –

Her father always said that of course women could pick up a paintbrush and paint, but the fact was, they didn’t make good artists. Olive had never quite worked out what the difference was.

(Side-note: Another reason I admire Burton’s writing is because it’s often got a feminist slant – her characters are usually working against some kind of confining gender discrimination, and in Odelle’s case it’s racial as well.)

Olive believes herself to be creating her best work during her time in Spain as a direct result of meeting Isaac Robles – Isaac and his sister Teresa are locals who arrive at the Schloss household seeking work for Teresa as a maid/housekeeper. Olive is quickly infatuated with Isaac; he becomes her muse. Olive becomes terrified of losing this creative ability she has found, desperately clutching at Isaac’s affection and the cover identity he provides for her work after Teresa, wanting Olive to receive more recognition for her paintings, switches one of Olive’s works with a portrait of Isaac’s. Olive’s father falls in love with the piece, setting about to sell it immediately, oblivious to the fact it was painted by his daughter.

Fast forward to London, 1960s. Odelle is given a job at an art gallery by the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, who tries to encourage Odelle’s writing talent, going so far as to help her publish her first story. Odelle goes on to meet Lawrie at her friend’s wedding party, and the pair share a moment in the kitchen, discussing the death of Lawrie’s mother and Odelle’s father, before going their separate ways. Lawrie later finds Odelle at her work, bringing with him a painting which draws a rather strange reaction from Quick and excitement from the gallery’s owner – it’s an Isaac Robles, a piece called Rufina and the Lion.

As both stories progress and interconnect, culminating in tragedy and hope, it becomes apparent that Marjorie Quick was in fact Teresa. I don’t know at what point in the story Burton intended for this to become known to the reader – I figured it out quite quickly, so it wasn’t a major revelation. I don’t know if it was supposed to be one, but I also don’t think that it matters. The very narrative structure of novel, split between two periods, grants the reader a sense of knowledge, an awareness, that the characters themselves could never possess. So it doesn’t matter, I feel, because the reader finding out isn’t the point – it’s Odelle finding out, it’s the validation of another person knowing the truth about the Isaac Robles painting, that matters. At least, that was my interpretation.

The Muse is not only about growing up, but also about art and the creative process. A lot of emphasis is placed on the freedom Olive gains from being able to paint anonymously – people do not attribute her work to her, but Isaac, and this gives her space to do what she likes. Quick advises Odelle, who is going through a period of writer’s block, to just write because her work would be separate from herself. It’s a strange but also not strange idea – once an idea leaves the confines of a person’s mind and is shared in any creative medium, the interpretation of that idea is up to its audience. The audience’s interpretation is separate from the intention of the artist. The artist themself is not their art, nor is their art them.

The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary. I didn’t know if it was possible, even desirable.

I feel that Burton’s own experiences must have influenced her here – The Miniaturist was a wildly popular debut; I think it’s sold over a million copies (it has, I just check The Muse’s book jacket – which is incredibly pretty by the way). How daunting to have to write a another book in the face of that success and inevitable expectation. That’s why I feel the whole idea of separating the art from the artist probably captured Burton’s interest – the idea of the creative freedom that would allow, that Olive experiences when Isaac becomes the face of her work, was probably something Burton would appreciate with her own writing.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book was how Burton explored the finite nature of some relationships – the person who you fall in love with in your late teens/early twenties isn’t necessarily the person you’re going to be with forever, and that’s totally normal and okay. Odelle describes how her relationship with Lawrie changes and fades away after he uses his money from Rufina’s sale to travel to America:

In the end, Lawrie didn’t come back.

[…] I did not miss Lawrie as much as I might have missed my work. He had told me to keep writing, so I did. I would have preferred not to have to choose between writing and loving; because for me, they were often the same thing.

[…] Perhaps I didn’t have to choose. Perhaps that was a dichotomy I set up myself. Regardless; the phone calls became more sporadic, and then they stopped.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. Burton is a talented story teller and her historical settings are simply gorgeous – although I must say, 1960s London and 1930s Spain weren’t quite as beautiful as her depiction of 1600s Amsterdam. The Muse is a fantastic book – it made me consider creativity and the nature of art differently, as well giving brief glimmers of insight into two very interesting time periods. What are you waiting for? Go read it!

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If you like this try:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns

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What about you guys? Any other Jessie Burton fans? Please share your thoughts!

lizard

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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Author: Scott Lynch

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Fantasy

 

 

 

Review:

Summary from Goodreads:

An orphan’s life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.

A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.

Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying…

Damn that’s a long summary. To be fair, it’s quite a long book – Lynch’s writing is very detailed and entertaining, but it does lean toward the denser side at times. In fact,part of me feels that sections of the book were superfluous and indulgent, but part of me also thinks that the jumpy, sometimes seemingly meandering time line of the book was necessary. Everything, from the characters to the religious system, the setting of Camorr to the various cultures found within the world, is richly drawn and explored as a result; Lynch’s world-building, a cornerstone of any good fantasy novel, was excellent and immersing because of this.

The characters, especially Locke and his ever faithful band of thieves, The Gentlemen Bastards, were distinctive. I loved the friendship and camaraderie that existed between all the Gentlemen Bastards  – their exploits made for interesting reading.  Lynch takes care to slowly divulge elements of each character’s backstory, interspersing these “Interludes” throughout the novel, slotting them in where the content is most relevant to the immediate predicaments of the characters.

The plot was clever and engaging – just when you think you know where it’s going it takes a sudden twist or turn in a direction you never saw coming. The actual heists/general shenanigans of Locke and his friends are well thought out and described brilliantly.

Overall, I found The Lies of Locke Lamora to be a good, solid fantasy novel that’s lots of fun. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Best Quote/s:

“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”
“Oh please,” said Locke. “It’ll never happen.”

“There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”

 

If you like this try:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

lizard

Book Review: A God in Ruins

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Author: Kate Atkinson

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Historical – WW2, Fiction

 

 

 

Review:

Summary from Goodreads:

WINNER OF THE 2015 COSTA NOVEL AWARD
A God in Ruins relates the life of Teddy Todd – would-be poet, heroic World War II bomber pilot, husband, father, and grandfather – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

This gripping, often deliriously funny yet emotionally devastating book looks at war – that great fall of Man from grace – and the effect it has, not only on those who live through it, but on the lives of the subsequent generations. It is also about the infinite magic of fiction.Those who loved the bestselling Life After Life will recognise Teddy as Ursula Todd’s adored younger brother – but for those who have not read it, A God in Ruins stands fully on its own.

This book grew on me. I feel that it started out a little slow; the second section “Alouette” about Teddy’s childhood was rather meandering and uneventful, but still interesting and effective at establishing most of the main characters in Teddy’s life. After this section, the others were a lot more engaging and flitted between various points in Teddy’s long life – his experiences in WW2, the immediate aftermath, his married life, his daughter Viola growing up, his grandchildren, his old age. The scale of the novel’s story is quite impressive, and I admire how Atkinson has managed to distil an entire life into the pages of her book.

The omnipresent narrative took me a while to get used to – it’s weird reading about a child and being given information about his future daughter, but ultimately this style of weaving different threads of time together it what makes A God in Ruins so brilliant. It connects the dots between time period and generations of a family. It highlights the repercussions of history, most specifically the impact of WW2 on both the individual (Teddy) and wider society. It’s compassionate but honest in its depiction of its characters and their flaws, about life in general.

Overall, A God in Ruins struck me as being a book about consequences – of history, of our actions, of our emotions. It’s a beautiful book that had me shedding a few tears, especially in the scenes about (SPOILER! SPOILER!) Teddy’s wife, Nancy, dealing with her illness and the eventual end of her life.

Honestly, I recommend it for everyone.

Best Quote/s:

“One’s own life seemed puny against the background of so much history.”

“Moments left, Teddy thought. A handful of heartbeats. That was what life was. A heartbeat followed by a heartbeat. A breath followed by a breath. One moment followed by another moment and then there was a last moment.”

 

Has any else read this book? Thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

lizard

The Wicked + The Divine Book Review

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Authors/Creators: Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (illustrations), Matt Wilson (colourist), Clayton Cowles

Read: June 2016

Genre: Fantasy, Comic/graphic novel

 

 

Review:

“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.” Summary from Goodreads.

I’m going to be honest – I’ve not read that many graphic novels, so I’m maybe not the best person to be reviewing them. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the ones I have read, but that I don’t really know any good ones to read? If anyone has any suggestions please let me know! I’d like to build my collection!

Anyways, The Wicked + the Divine popped up on my recommended list on Amazon, and the synopsis of Gods being modern day pop-stars really intrigued me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for mythology.

Firstly, the art work was brilliant. The colour schemes are really vibrant and eye catching, and the drawings are amazing. Absolutely beautiful.

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Unfortunately, the story-line isn’t quite as good. It’s not bad by any means, just a little confusing. There’s a lot of secondary characters that don’t get fleshed out enough, or whose powers aren’t explained well. For example, our protagonist Laura meets the Goddess the Morrigan at one point, but unless you’re up on your Celtic mythology and know that she’s technically three sisters in one person, I’d imagine you’d be really confused during their interactions. More details about a lot of the characters would have been really helpful.

And then there’s Laura herself. She’s pretty likeable, but her motivation for doing things is a bit sketchy at times? After attending a concert and meeting Luci (short for Lucifer, who has been reincarnated this time round as a young woman), who gets arrested for a murder she didn’t commit, Laura starts helping by trying to figure out who the real murderer was. Who helps a person they barely know with something as dangerous as this? A bit difficult to buy into at times.

The story was interesting and fast-paced overall, but really could have been improved with more character detail and clearer explanations for stuff. If you enjoy humour and don’t mind feeling mildly confused for most of the story, and are, like me, easily distracted from this feeling by the presence of wonderful artwork and pretty colours, then this is a fantastic read.

Best Quote:

“Please. When you’re as good as I am? This is humble.”

lizard

Wuthering Heights Book Review

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Author: Emily Bronte

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Romance, Gothic

 

 

Review:

“Wuthering Heights tells the story of a romance between two youngsters: Catherine Earnshaw and an orphan boy, Heathcliff. After she rejects him for a suitor from a better background, he develops a lost for revenge that takes over his life. Attempting to win her back, and then to destroy all whom he considers responsible for his loss, Heathcliff creates a living hell for those who inhabit his intimidating residence, Wuthering Heights. This tale of hauntings, passion and greed remains unsurpassed in its depiction of the dark side of love.” (Summary from Goodreads)

I loved this book – it’s quickly earned its place on my favourites shelf. Wuthering Heights is a haunting tale about darker aspects of love, not once shying away from its depictions of cruelty and obsession.

The novel unfolds as a narrative tale told by the servant Ellen Dean. Ellen has been employed by the families concerned in the novel throughout Heathcliff’s life and, after the tenant Mr Lockwood has an unpleasant encounter at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, she recounts the tale to him. This interesting narrative grants added perspective to the story whilst still managing to pull in the reader – like Mr Lockwood, we grow strangely involved in the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, and the misery their doomed love inflicts upon those in their circle. By starting the story near its end, with Heathcliff alone and Catherine dead, their respective spouses gone also, Bronte creates the scene of a car crash and invites readers to replay the events which caused it. It’s horrible, and we know it is fated to end tragically, yet we can’t look away as we become sucked into the story.

Besides the narrative, Bronte also expertly manipulates the setting; Wuthering Heights is cold and gothic, stranded in the bitter climate of rural moorland. The weather is generally bleak, the winters cold and uncompromising. The isolation the location imposes adds a sense of claustrophobia to the novel, further emphasising the idea that the characters are trapped in their poisonous relationships and that the dark nature of love is inescapable for them.

And it is the novels dedication to this theme, the dark qualities of love, that renders the story so haunting. Every ghastly deed Heathcliff does, he does out of a twisted sense of love for Catherine. It’s a warning about letting love corrupt you, or, less dramatic sounding, impede your judgement. For though none of the other character relationships quite reach the intensity of that of Heathcliff and Catherine, there are also many examples of characters making less than sensible decisions out of feelings of love – take for instance when Cathy (Catherine’s daughter) sneaks out of the Grange to visit her ailing cousin Linton at Wuthering Heights, despite her father expressly forbidding and Ellen also warning against it. She has been told to avoid that place in order to avoid Heathcliff, who is as wicked as she has been told, and yet Cathy goes anyway out of love and worry for her cousin.

 Wuthering Heights is a warning about love, illustrating its unnerving and potentially corruptible power over people, the story haunting its readers long after its close. I thoroughly recommend it for everyone.

 

Favourite Quote:

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

If you like this try:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

The Night is darkening round me by Emily Bronte.

lizard

The Lifted Veil Book Review

Author: George Eliot

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Horror, Gothic

Review:

This book, part of penguin’s little black classics range, includes Eliot’s dark novella The Lifted Veil and the essay Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, which examines the flaws of female writing in Eliot’s time.

The Lifted Veil

“Latimer, a sensitive and intellectual man, finds he has clairvoyant powers: he has a vision of a woman, “pale, fatal-eyed”, who he later meets: she is Bertha Grant, his brother’s fiancee. Entranced and bewildered, Latimer is unwilling to take heed of the warning visions which beset him.” (Summary from goodreads)
 I really enjoyed this novella – Eliot examines the supernatural in an engaging and haunting manner. The narrator – Latimer – is not overtly likeable, but his insecurities and isolation, largely self-inflicted as a result of his clairvoyant abilities, are distinctly relatable and unnerving.
Eliot also explores the consuming, blinding nature of attraction and jealously through Latimer’s infatuation with Bertha and how this later leads him into a poisonous relationship. The twist of the story revealed in the particularly unsettling scene with Bertha’s deceased servant at the end of the novella really emphasises this to readers.
Overall, the story was a dark and suspenseful read that I highly recommend.
Silly Novels by Lady Novelists
 
“Describing the silliness and feminine fatuity of many popular books by lady novelists, George Eliot perfectly skewers the formulaic yet bestselling works that dominated her time, with their loveably flawed heroines.” (summary from goodreads)
This essay was a really interesting insight into Eliot’s opinions on popular feminine literature of her time – she feels that most of it was written poorly and that the characters and stories were overly dramatic/silly. More interesting than Eliot’s direct critiques of these writings however is her concern about how an abundance of such literature would be detrimental to perceptions of women. She felt that through the types of heroine depicted in these novels, harmful stereotypes of women’s intellectual inferiority would be reinforced, or perhaps legitimised. These concerns are communicated effectively, creating a very thought-provoking essay.

Best Quotes:

“We learn words by rote, but not their meaning; that must be paid for with our life-blood, and printed in the subtle fibres of our nerves.”

“By a peculiar thermometric adjustment, when a woman’s talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when she attains mediocrity, it is already at no more than summer heat; and if ever she reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point.”

If you like this try:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Emma by Jane Austen Book Review

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Author: Jane Austen

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Romance, Victorian Literature

 

 

 

Review:

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Loathe as I am to admit it my first foray into an Austen novel has not been an enjoyable endeavour. Emma, what went wrong? Your premise – a match matching, witty heroine trying to organise other peoples’ marriage prospects – promised humour, fun, and romance. This is not what I experienced. 😦

The main character, one Miss Emma Woodhouse, wasn’t particularly likeable, even by Austen’s own admission – “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Not to disagree with one of the most iconic writers to ever lift a pen, but perhaps this isn’t the best way to go about creating one’s protagonist? It made battling through the book a real challenge for me, but Emma’s popularity and critical acclaim as one of Austen’s better novels seems to prove that I, like Jon Snow, clearly know nothing.

But as a reader, my main concern is usually characters – if I like them, I can be pretty forgiving about a lack lustre plot. The issue I had with Emma was that I didn’t much like her to begin with – she was conceited, manipulative and exceedingly superficial. But, some people may argue, characters are supposed to flawed as that makes them realistic. Well yes, but they should also have some redeemable qualities too. Hell, even just one.

To be fair things did improve a little as the book went on. Emma does become marginally less annoying, emphasis on marginally. In saying that, I never felt particularly invested in her life or the supposed obstacles that occur within it at any point in the novel – it is difficult to feel much pity for a rich women who thinks trivial romantic misunderstandings are exceptionally important.

So Emma and I didn’t get along. This was an issue, certainly, but could have been saved had I grown to care about any of the other characters.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.image

They were all quite… meh. Like lukewarm tea. I’ll stomach it so as not to offend my Gran, and it’s not exactly awful tasting, it’s just that I’d rather be drinking something else. If it was anyone other than my Gran I’d put the cup down – if the author had been anyone other than Jane Austen I would have put this novel down and moved on to something else.

To summarise: characters = not so interesting. Me = heartbroken. Austen, your books are supposed to be amazing, your characterisation ingenious and witty. Why didn’t I get amazing and witty? Why?

So the characters were all a bit useless – this could have been saved by a decent plot, which Emma’s match-matching shenanigans should have provided surely?

Alas, not. This book was dialogue heavy – there were far too many entirely irrelevant conversations. I mean, pages and pages of pointless chatter. The narrative was boring, following the woes of wealthy people and bad relationship choices. It felt long and meandering whilst reading – I feel that things could have been improved greatly by better editing.

And the ending! It was utterly predictable – SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! – Emma marries Knightly and Harriet marries that farmer guy, I think called Robert? Who, as you can tell by my near photographic recollection of his character, was a real stand out (insert copious amounts of sarcasm at your own discretion). Oh and Frank Churchill marries Jane Fairfax. The revelation of their secret engagement wasn’t something I saw coming actually, but my lack of interest in either character made any reaction of mine to this surprise somewhat muted. End spoilers.

Overall, I was hugely let down by this novel. I don’t know if it’s just me? I’ve heard so many fantastic things about Austen, and Emma in particular. I think I’ll attempt another Austen novel before I write off her books as not for me, but I’m definitely waiting at least a year – I need time to wash away the bitter disappointment.

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Favourite Quote:

“Why did we wait for anything? why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”

If you like this try:

Whilst I didn’t enjoy Emma, I have been told that I would on the basis that I really enjoyed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I’m also guessing Austen’s other works would appeal to fans of Emma.

lizard

The Girl of Ink and Stars Review

 

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Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

Read: May, 2016

 

 

 

Review:

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes it’s tricky. Before I review the actual written book, I just want to comment on it’s beautiful design. The pages are full of small drawings related to the story/setting, from compasses to sea monsters to sailing ships. The cover folds out to reveal a gorgeous map of Joya, the fictional island where the story is set. It just adds another layer to the storytelling, really emphasising the importance of maps/cartography to the overall plot of the story. Kudos, book designer.

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The book follows the journey of Isabella, a cartographer’s daughter who dreams about travelling/exploring the rest of the island they live on, leaving the closed off Gromera for the Forgotten Territories. Isabella gets the chance to do so after her best friend, the Governor’s daughter Lupe, goes missing and Isabella deceives her way into the search party. However, a greater danger is lurking in the Forgotten Territories as an old myth starts to awaken.

Overall, I really quite liked Isabella as a main character. She was brave and headstrong, believably flawed. However, the rest of the characters felt a little flat in comparison. The author doesn’t really elaborate on any of the secondary character’s back stories or personalities, meaning the feel a little two-dimensional at times. Also, a lot of the adult characters seem incredibly oblivious. Not that some obliviousness isn’t desirable in adults in children’s literature (because how else is anybody not yet in adulthood meant to go on a dangerous adventure, am I right?), but in this book it felt a little too forced and this in turn meant that some plot points felt contrived and unlikely.

The setting, by contrast, was well-developed and interesting. The island of Joya is beautifully described, helped by the fact the Isabella has a love for geography and maps. Seriously, I kind of want to visit for a holiday now.

The plot of the novel is fast-paced, but somewhat predictable at times. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t lacking originality, but a few of the plot “twists” were rather obvious. However, the overall story was interesting enough to me that these small issues can be largely forgiven. The Girl of Ink and Stars was fantastical and fun – I highly recommended it as a summer read for all book worms.

Best Quotes:

“Cats never understand the gravity of a situation.”

“We are all of us products of our surroundings. Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.”

If you like this, try:

The Wee Three Men by Terry Pratchett

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

The Golden Compass/ The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman