Books, Reading Challenge, reviews

2018 Reading Challenge, Book 1 – History is All You Left Me

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I never stop with the book reading/reviewing thing. And yes, I am already coming at you with my first book of the year.

It took me just about 5 days to read, but on the 5th day I only spent about 5 minutes reading it because I only had 10 pages left and wasn’t with it enough to just finish it at home like I probably should have done…it meant I had to carry two books with me on that Friday, but ho hey.

The first book in question is this one:

2018 Reading Challenge, Book 1, History is All You Left Me
2018 Reading Challenge, Book 1, History is All You Left Me

I’m gonna be honest, I just saw this book crop up a lot on both Twitter and Instagram and well, it doesn’t take much for me to be interested by the prospect of new books, and so as 2017 drew to a close I went on a bit of a book buying binge and this was included within it.

I can’t lie, it took me a while to get into this book. Something about the way it is told really threw me, most likely because I just wasn’t expecting I don’t think. It took me about 50 pages before I really started to mesh with it and after that I just blazed through it.

While I’m talking about the way it’s written, and although it did take me a little bit to get used to it, I found the way that it was written really clever. The two narratives, that eventually merge together in some way at some point was really well done and it really took you on the journey with Griffin as he comes to terms with Theo’s death and the state that it has left his life and the life of those who also knew Theo. Seeing the way that things were in direct juxtaposition with the way that things are was heartbreaking in a lot of ways.

The thing that I really loved, and it was kind of momentary, was how in the present Griffin said that he was done talking to Theo and then the narrative instantly changed. It kind of made me really appreciate that the whole of the present was basically just Griffin trying to come to terms with his new reality. I mean you do kind of know that when it switches between history and present but that total switch off just really drives that home.

I found Griffin himself quite an interesting character to follow as you as a reader move with him as he tries to process his grief and where he stands without Theo. The way he interacts with Jackson felt real. The idea that you try to latch onto the one person that you feel will understand exactly what you’re going through felt pretty accurate. Was it kind of obvious that they were gonna end up having sex? Yeah kind of, but this book did a good job of turning things on it’s head in some ways. Because while I saw it coming I didn’t see the reason for it happening coming. I didn’t see the sequence of events that led up to the incident that killed Theo coming, mainly because I didn’t see Wade coming. I mean he was always there and I found the way he interacted with one of his former closest friends post Theo’s death a bit odd but it got all the more heartbreaking the further you moved through the book.

Yeah, that whole thing really took me by surprise. In a really great way. This book was full of little surprises and unanswered questions that were never going to be answered because they just weren’t Griffin’s story to tell.

The ending, we all know I love to talk about an ending, this one I liked. It seemed to come out of nowhere but that was just because I was so into it that I didn’t want it to end. The ending felt conclusive and it also, funnily enough, felt in keeping with the rest of the novel. It ended on a question that all boils down to perspective. This whole story was from Griffin’s perspective. It was how he viewed all the events that had happened over the past couple of years. There were flashes of how other people saw things but only in how they related to Griffin. And the ending just seemed to remind you as a reader that there are several different versions of the history that has just been told. I just liked that it remained so very complicated and even though I didn’t want it to end, it could only really have ended the way that it did and it ended on a hopeful note in some ways.

It reflected that there is some kind of light at the end of the tunnel in amongst the grief if you just let yourself at least try. And that’s just another way that this book felt so real.

I loved this book. It was a great first book of the year and I am so glad that I got some Adam Silvera in my life. I’m sad because that is no longer the case as I have finished both of his books now, but more on the second one later.

I recommend completely.

4/5 stars

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Bonus Book Review – Caraval

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And here we have the final book review of the books that I read in 2017. Now, you may notice that there are 2 books missing, Alexander Hamilton and  Don Juan. That’s because I just couldn’t read them in time. In terms of pages there were both totally doable to do in the 10 days that I had, but what I hadn’t accounted for rather foolishly was how dense they were. Which made it almost impossible to read them in time. They are both still books that I am making my way through because I did start them and made it some of the way through, but they weren’t going to be read in 2017. Which means that the total number of books that I read last year was 53, which was ahead of my target and kind of blows my mind because previous years have barely broke 40 and this one surpassed it.

The last book that I read of the year was this one:

Bonus Book Review, Caraval
Bonus Book Review, Caraval

First of all the pages are gilded. Red gilded. We all know how I feel about a gilded page. The book is just very aesthetically pleasing. And so it the contents.

This book was captivating.

I blitzed through it in about 4 hours total in the end and the last two days I was reading it I was so stressed out trying to figure everything out. And it kept on surprising me. Seriously, it was one of those books that always kept me guessing. I both loved and hated that.

Mostly hated.

Not for any bad reasons, but seriously at one point I was so stressed out by all the possibilities that the story could have gone down. It didn’t work out the way that I thought it would. Not at all. In fact the whole narrative didn’t really end where I thought it would.

It was all very stressful.

It was also the perfect ending for my fiction reading of 2017.

This book gave me serious The Night Circus vibes and not just because it was set in that kind of magical realm where things weren’t quite as they seemed and all that jazz. It just evoked the same kind of feeling that I felt when I was reading that book. I loved the character building and the set up of the world and how they all wove in with each other.

It was just delightful.

Okay, let’s get into the characters a bit.

Scarlett was an interesting character to follow the arc of. The way the reader watched her evolve and went on the rollercoaster that was her storyline meant that it was kind of hard not to like her a little bit. Or a lot. And then in total contrast to her was Donatella who as the story progressed you realised maybe wasn’t all that different to her. The whole dynamic between the two sisters was one of my favourite aspects of the whole book and I am really interested to see where that ends up going in the next book.

Julian was fascinating. I liked that even by the end of the book you never really know where you stand with him. The same, obviously, applies to Legend as well. The whole last 50 pages of this book really confused me pretty much for that reason. In fact it was the main cause for my stress. I don’t really know what to think of Scarlett and Donatella’s father, I never really felt his motives for treating his daughters the way he did ever reached a state of clarity, in fact a lot of their back story remains kind of murky and I hope that’s just because otherwise the book might get all info dump-y and these things are going to slowly make themselves clearer in time. If not then that aspect will be a little disappointing as it was kind of the only down side. This also kind of applies to the Count, he felt a bit like a wasted character and his appearance mad little to no sense. Although having said that both of their presence did help with the development of Scarlett, which is ultimately the most important part.

I am super interested as how the next book is going to play out, because the way Donatella talked about the way it worked as the book wrapped up was hella intriguing and even though this book felt like it concluded in some way, and it alleviated a lot of the stress that the previous pages had caused me, it did also open up a whole new realm of possibilities that I am excited to see play out.

I would definitely recommend giving this book a read, it’s crept onto my list of books that I will pretty much always tell people to read and that is a pretty hard list to get on for me. So yeah, do it. Read it.

4/5 stars

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2017 Reading Challenge, Book 49 – Hamilton: The Revolution

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We have almost reached the end of my 2017 Reading Challenge books, it was a long road and I really stupidly left the two longest books to the back of the year. Which I did in 2016 as well and had to abandon it, but this year I was determined. By the time the final week of the year rolled around I had 3 books to read, the other two will follow but this one was one of the ones that I had been left to the end of the year:

2017 Reading Challenge, Book 49, Hamilton: The Revolution
2017 Reading Challenge, Book 49, Hamilton: The Revolution

I kind of did that intentionally.

I saw Hamilton on 23rd December and was going again on the 30th and so I left it for that week in between to truly just stay immersed in the Hamilton world.

This book was also under 300 pages, had a lot of pictures and I got ‘er done on Christmas Day.

The book offered a really interesting insight into the process of getting the production to the stage and how all the pieces of the puzzle came together to create the thing that has had a grip of my soul for over two years now…

I found it interesting to see how the choreographer and the costume designer and so many other various people felt the pressure to get it right just because they felt the impact of what this could be. There were loads of parts like that, but it was those two in particular that really resonated with me, especially the choreographer. And also the whole section of It’s Quiet Uptown, not only did I enjoy that it was the only part of black pages and was incredibly symbolic and it somehow found a new to make that song even more painful.

I loved the annotations against all the songs, it revealed new levels that I hadn’t even noticed. It really highlighted that this is an ode/homage/nothing but total appreciation for hip hop and also musical theatre. And comes with bonus Shakespeare references. It gave me a newfound appreciation for the whole play, which I had already but am always down to learn some more about.

If you’re a fan of the musical in anyway I would recommend this book. It’s full of some gorgeous pictures and provides a really great insight into how it moved through from conception to the stage.

4/5 stars

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2017 Reading Challenge, Book 48 – Florence Grace

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These past two books have been ones that I have previously tried to read and just couldn’t get into. I did this one after Dragon Tattoo because I was just not fully prepared for it. It seemed to be a genre that I’m not really a fan of. And it was that to a degree. But once I got into it it just became a pretty easy read:

2017 Reading Challenge, Book 48, Florence Grace
2017 Reading Challenge, Book 48, Florence Grace

I can’t say that I enjoyed it per se, I mean it was passable and at no point did I think about putting it down and abandoning it completely.

My main issue with it is that it was a very large circle and was kind of pointless…there was a whole section of the story arc that felt like it could have been cut and we still would have ended up with the same result. She ends up back in Cornwall and stumbles into love. She effectively ended back up where she started but was older and had had a taste of the richer life. Nothing about it was surprising, nothing about it felt out of the ordinary. It just made sense, but it took so long to get there. So long.

Things I did like about it, the way that it built the worlds of both Cornwall and London, it definitely evoked the feel of that era I felt. I liked the way that as a reader you could feel Florence’s displacement from one world to another and felt as she finally managed to find some semblance of balance in this new world that she has ended up in. I liked the relationships that were built between Florence and Rebecca, that felt like a really solid friendship and also what she had with Sanderson. I liked that Turlington remained unredeemed, that felt like something that was true to life. Some people just don’t change their ways and I’m glad that there was no huge ‘love saved him’ thing about it.

Things I didn’t like, the whole Hawker thing. That kind of seemed unnecessary I feel. But also, it was pretty much the only thing of worth that happened in the whole book. This book is 400 or so pages. It was a twist of sorts, it just didn’t really feel like I needed it. Or wanted it. I don’t know, it felt weird. The treatment of Calantha, my goodness. On the one hand, given the context it made perfect sense, but then on the other it was incredibly annoying and then it was almost just swept under the rug for the most part until the end where she randomly showed up again and appeared to have ‘made’ it. The whole thing just didn’t sit right with me I guess. I also kind of hated the Florence/Turlington relationship…which isn’t great when it is pretty much the crux of the whole story. I dunno, it was always doomed and it seemed to drag on for too long.

Like I said, the book was passable. You can get from point a to point b without much issue. It isn’t as fantasy based as I thought initially, but it is still obviously a historical fiction which wasn’t bad or anything, but it’s not my genre of choice and nor would I reach for it again any time soon.

I can’t say that I would recommend it to people because there are a long list of books that I would put ahead of it, but it’s probably a good beach read. It just wasn’t for me…

3/5 stars

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2017 Reading Challenge, Book 47 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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This book took me a weirdly long time to get around to reading this year and I don’t even really know why because it is a book that I could always see myself getting along with.

And I did mostly, whether I actually enjoyed it or not is a different question:

2017 Reading Challenge, Book 47, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
2017 Reading Challenge, Book 47, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I did try to read this book in 2016 and didn’t get along with it. It was just not the right time for me to read this book. On this attempt however it was. And I found myself not hating it for the most part.

It’s slow. It is somehow action packed and really slow and I don’t even know how that is possible. It took about 100 pages before I found myself really hooked on the narrative. Then it died down again and took another 100 or so pages to pick up again. Then it dipped down and it kind of kept doing that. Come the end I was sort of left feeling a bit meh.

This book is brutal at times, in fact the parts that are most brutal are the parts that involve sexual assault. And that it the over arching theme of the whole book really. Violence, specifically sexual, against women. It sometimes makes tough reading. It’s also sometimes handled kinda badly. Or at least I felt like it was. It felt a bit like some of the scenes were shocking for shock’s sake. And that got kind of annoying after a while.

The plot of this book became kind of obvious after the first 150 pages or so. I knew that she wasn’t dead and I knew that they would figure it out. I kind of knew who helped other people out and the way that it was resolved in part was kind of obvious to me. I don’t know if that’s because I just kind of interact with a lot of those murder mystery/cold cases things and they kind of all follow the same formula or because it was just that A to B.

I wasn’t really a fan of any of these characters, they all felt a bit one dimensional and I didn’t really finish the book feeling like they were fully formed characters who I was invested in. I didn’t feel like I was compelled to read the second one. I didn’t really care all that much. My main issue with it is that it felt like everything that Lisbeth was had changed fundamentally and I didn’t like it. The final paragraph felt like a huge departure from the character that Lisbeth has been towards the beginning of the novel.

I just didn’t get the hype. There were huge lulls before anything exciting happened again and then to be fair I am using the term exciting kind of loosely to be fair. It was readable sure, I got through it pretty quickly, but it just came with all these expectations that it just didn’t meet.

I think on some level I would recommend this book, but also there are other books that I would recommend above it.

3/5 stars

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2017 Reading Challenge, Book 46 – Freedom

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I’ve finally reached reached the point where I went ‘right on track’ for my reading challenge for the first time all year because those two weeks out of my regularly scheduled programming took me slightly off course. However, I feel kind of confident that I’ve got a good enough plan in place right now that I can still get this done…

Anyway, the next book in question is:

2017 Reading Challenge, Book 46, Freedom
2017 Reading Challenge, Book 46, Freedom

I tried reading this book earlier this  year but it was just too much for me and so I think I switched to something kind of light and fluffier. But of all the books that I had left this was the one that spoke to me loudest and I went in with a slight worry that this would just send me straight into a reading slump which is what happened the first time.

Luckily it didn’t. In fact it had me hooked right away this time. And held onto me until it came to an end.

The story itself is split into 5 parts as it were. All in 3rd person, although two parts are a slightly skewed 3rd person and those are the parts that intrigued me the most. The autobiographies of Patty. One because they were told in the 3rd person and that threw me slightly because I kept forgetting that it was her version of events. In fact it took me until I was nearly finished the first section of her autobiography that I remembered that she was writing about herself. It was a really interesting take on the genre as a whole. And it was the point where I really got invested with this book.

The whole notion of this book is basically, funnily enough, about freedom and what it means to have it. The way that it affects all the characters is interesting. For most of them it ends kind of badly. And then there’s Joey. Who somehow manages to land flat on his feet despite getting involved in quite the shit storm.

I liked how realistic these relationships felt between all the characters. The familial stains and the way that they ebbed and flowed felt kinda true to life. The relationship between Patty and Walter felt kind of heartbreakingly real. The idea that Patty choose him and married him just because it was the convenient option and I guess the safest one. The insight that Patty’s autobiography gave regarding their relationship provided a level of interest that I don’t think you would get from something that was solely 3rd person narrative. But then when it did shift to 3rd person and you saw Walter’s side but at the point where the damage had kind of already done and he was falling in love with someone else.

Seeing Richard through his own eyes as it were painted all the things that were talked about by Patty in a new light. You at times sympathised with him and at times you kind of hated him because for some reason he did not seem to at any point to have grown and changed from who he was. But then also, he did change. It was in some ways kind of subtle but then when it happened it was clear. He had moved forward in ways that Patty hadn’t. And then Patty kind of caught up.

It moved in cycles like that and in some ways that felt like a reflection of life.

The sisters of Patty that had everything growing up and all the support but somehow never found their way. The daughter that was stuck between two parents. The son who thought he had it all figured out but still almost  lost everything and sort of fell into a marriage that eventually benefited him in some way. The father who finally thought he had a new lease on life and had reached contentment only to have it snatched away from him and end up in a war against cats. The mother who found and lost herself repeatedly but eventually seemed to get back on track and stay there.

The characters were so well thought out and so complex. There was never a moment when you really thought any of them were either good or bad people. Even when Walter was banging on about overpopulation and how it was ruining the planet and killing birds it was easy to see where he was coming from.

All the storylines wove together and gave you a sense in some ways of what it means to be free. There were no huge reveals of any huge plot twists or anything, don’t get me wrong, there was a twist. But it wasn’t a huge turning point or anything, it was more just like a footnote reminding you that the universe is cruel and just when you think things might be going your way it throws a curveball at you.

This book is unexpectedly deep, it really makes you think about things in a way that is almost quiet. It just happens in the background while you’re moving through and then suddenly it’s over and you kind of wonder what happened to the last 600 pages (yeah, it’s a long’un). This book was a Secret Santa gift last year and came into my life from someone who put Franzen up there as their favourite author, and I can see why.

The writing style is great and evocative and no word feels out of place. It takes you with it through this slight exploration of the human race on a relatitvely small scale and even when you think a character might be slightly pointless you’re proved wrong because they prove their place and how they fit in with the puzzle piece almost instantly.

The ending was good. I felt satisfied and maybe a little bit sad by the time I reached the final page and the sentence. It felt like a version of a full circle was achieved, but somehow also like it could lend itself to the same events that had just unfolded over the last 600 pages.

I would recommend.

4/5 stars.

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2017 Reading Challenge, Book 43 – Anansi Boys

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And with today I (finally) bring you my penultimate Neil Gaiman book of the year (although it has come after the final Gaiman book of the year because I could get this one written for whatever reason). I put off reading the last two books because I didn’t want to say goodbye to him too soon for the year. But then it became apparent that Neil Gaiman was all my heart wanted to read and so read them I did.

2017 Reading Challenge, Book 43, Anansi Boys
2017 Reading Challenge, Book 43, Anansi Boys

I got to dip my toe back into the American Gods world. Just a little. And it was glorious.

The vibe of this book just made me so happy. I was sucked into this world again instantly and it kept me hooked until the final pages.

I loved Fat Charlie and how he found himself stuck in the middle of this whole fiasco courtesy of his deceased father and newfound brother. The book was very much finding it’s footing before Spider came onto the scene and it was that that made the story feel grounded before it all kind of went to shit. And by that point I was very attached to Fat Charlie and then could not help but feel sorry for him from the moment when he ended up on that night out that all went to heck.

Spider was an interesting character from the moment he stepped onto the screen after being summoned by, surprise surprise, a spider. He then was super interesting because he had those Godlike tendencies and the way that he came into this world and how that affected everything. I loved that room that he had in Charlie’s apartment and how it became this ever changing thing. I kind of thought he was a bit of a dickhead but then discovered that by the time things started to go wrong for him I actually did care and that whole section where he was effectively being tortured was a real struggle to get through and I was rooting for him to get through the other side…alive. That part was a bit hit and miss though and it did leave me figuratively speaking of the edge of my seat.

The women in this book were something else.

They just exceeded all of my expectations, especially because the main protagonist is male, sometimes it’s very easy for the whole narrative to feel very male with the occasional token female thrown in for good measure. But the women in this in a lot of ways drove the story forward. There would have been very little of Fat Charlie’s storyline if he hadn’t gone back to Florida and ended up talking to Mrs Higgler again.

I quite liked Rosie. I liked how she interacted between both Charlie but mostly Spider. I found that relationship, although slightly suspect in the beginning, a fascinating aspect of the narrative. I especially liked how she came into her own at the end and kind of defied any expectation that I had for her to be honest. i liked that she surprised me. And so did her mother actually.

I loved Daisy. I loved her determination. And her strength. I loved how she followed her gut. And I went through phases with Maeve, but as with every character in Gaiman’s works there is no pointless character and everything falls into place eventually.

Ummmm the Bird Woman. She terrified me. She was hardly there but she was terrifying. And brutal.

One final mention to Graham Coats who I was convinced was just a bumbling idiot and then suddenly he somehow proved me to be correct, but also with a dark side. I didn’t really see it coming and then it happened and it all made perfect sense because just of course that would happen. And then I kind of remembered all the things that he done prior to that and how he was covering all of his tracks and pinning it all on Fat Charlie/Spider and it actually all made sense in the end. But it was a quiet kind burn of a story that came to a head violently and then set the course for the rest of novel.

I’m gonna talk about the ending just because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention them in some way. I liked it and I also didn’t.  It just felt a little bit sticky. But it wasn’t so bad that I ended up hating the book completely because that has happened before.

Overall however, I loved it. I love that whole play between the worlds of the Gods and the worlds of the ‘world’. It was magical. I mean ridiculous what with the waterfalls and the possession and the flamingoes and it had less Gods but the impact remained the same. And some really great characters that stuck with me for a while after I had finished the book, I’m always gonna love that.

4/5 stars.

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