Review-ish: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

‘I think it possible to put flesh on the bones of our terrors, most of all when we have turned our back on God.’

Cheers to Dai Brows for this recommendation. It’s definitely not something that I would have normally picked up as I shy away from period novels, but the recommendation was strong and Essex is the Mother and Fatherland so thought I’d give it a go. The cover is gorgeous actually, a William Morris design. I love it and it shows the reader that it’s much more than a piece of Victoriana.

It’s just a bit of a delight really. It has enough depth through the deeply complex and fascinating characters to make it truly gripping, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The narrative is so unusual, exploring Victorian thoughts on science, medicine, social housing, wrapped around a legendary serpent and this compelling and sometimes a bit frustrating (in a good way) central character.

Perry only hints at Cora’s past married life, which makes it all the more powerful. She creates a central character that is sometimes irritatingly niaive and at other times very self-aware. Cora herself recognises the contradiction of knowing that the marriage shaped her into the woman she is now.

Cora is a maverick and really challenges those around her’s perceptions of womanhood. I loved and loathed that everyone felt owed something by her; love, politeness, friendship, a typical family-life. This provides another layer of tension throughout the book and allows us to examine Victorian-life for women, through her experiences and the way that it contrasts to the other female characters.

Every character in the book, even the more minor ones, have the same level of detail, quirks and individuality. As I write this, I remember more and more of the characters; Naomi, Cracknell, Maureen Fry, Charles Ambrose and Thomas Taylor. A specific interaction between Cracknell and Cora’s son Francis stands out to me as peaceful, beautiful and faintly comical due to Francis’ matter-of-factness.

Perry uses foreshadowing in an impactful way without slapping you round the face with it. And her little updates or summaries at the start of many of the chapters were really poetically written and a simple and effective device.

This is a really great and pacey read. If you’re looking for something a bit different I highly recommend getting your teeth into it.

Whats everyone planning on reading over the Summer then?

Kelly



Review-ish: Circe by Madeline Miller

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

< There are so, so many beautiful passages in this book that I could have used, have a look here for some examples> Strap yourselves in, this is going to be one of those gushingly positive posts, where I offer very little literary criticism.

I have been eyeing up Circe in book shops ever since it was published in 2018, but a 5 hour wait at Edinburgh airport broke my resolve to get through my to-buy list in order. Circe is Madeline Millers second novel, following her debut novel, The Song of Achilles, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction back in 2012.

This book is so stunningly written that it will make me incoherent. Not only is the narrative fascinating, tracing Circe’s journey from childhood to adulthood (can a demi-god be a child??) intersecting with characters from well-known Greek myths, but it is also stunningly poetic.

“But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.” 

Case in point. Oh how its flows.

The way that Miller introduces these ancient stories is really remarkable. And surprisingly modern-feeling. The mythical characters were bought to life in a way that they never really had been for me before (save for a GCSE Drama class exploring Orpheus and Disney’s Hercules) All were 3D and complicated, and the Gods in particular were nuanced whilst, I believe, staying true to their origin stories.

I fell in love with Circe’s internal transformation, her strength and her flaws, in the way I would with a dear friend. She is complex, burdened with struggling to find her place in the world. No wonder so many of us related to her so deeply (it has a 4.3 rating on Goodreads at time of writing). This is without a doubt, one of my top reads of 2019 so far.

Thanks to some further-reading recommendations from Offbeat Book Club pals, I have become obsessed with these feminist re-tellings of stories that we have heard our entire lives. So further Reviews to follow. And please keep up your recommendations. Already on the list or already read: Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker and A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. Obviously I will also HAVE to read A Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Anyone else fallen in love with this? And dare I ask, did anyone hate it?

Kelly

Review-ish: The Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (#2 in the Farseer Trilogy)

‘Wolves have no kings’.

I appreciate that I wasn’t blown away by the first installment to Hobb’s Farseer Triology, as you can read here, but something drew me back in. Lad-at-home continued to wax-lyrical about this series, and I didn’t dislike the first book, I just found it a little bit slow. I’m aware that I have the concentration-span of a springer spaniel and it had been a while since I’d read a fantasy books so thought I’d have a go at Book Number Two, The Royal Assassin.

This installment certainly isn’t slow. It picks up after a cliffhanger, with Fitz a shell of his former youthful self, and rushes straight back into the action. The characters that are introduced in the first book develop further, all with very interesting and often unexpected arcs. The Fool in particular begins to reveal more of his true self, whilst also totally baffling me. Which I loved. We follow Fitz into his near-adulthood, whilst he stumbling-ly finds his place within this world of treachery, intrigue and class war-fare.

The concept of the Forged Ones is brilliantly clever; we are made to fear them, but also pity them. And it allows us to explore the complex range of emotions that the families and communities must go through. It also allows us to see a new side to Fitz, as his skills develop.  I won’t say anymore about the Wit and the Skill as I don’t want to spoil it for any other readers but the ‘magic’ elements if this series as fantastic. I love that these skills have to be developed through hard work and connection to others, rather than just ‘boof’ magic-done-type magic of Tolkein ilk. Its why I love Ursula La Guin so much. Brilliant. 

Like a few reviewers on Goodreads, I feel fairly meh over Fitz’s relationship with Molly. I understand it as a plot device but care less about his romantic relationships that his much more interesting relationships with the royals, Burrich and Patience. There was a lot less of Chade is this book, which I hope that is meant to create more mystery around him, and hopefully he’ll play more of a role in the concluding book. 

This was a much more compelling read than Book #1. And I really hope that readers that find the first installment a bit slow aren’t put off trying the next one as it really is worth sticking with. I believe that I have read enough fantasy series over the years to confidently say that Hobb’s voice is wonderful and that the world that she has created is all-encompassing. Even if I haven’t read enough, sod it. This is my blog so I can say what I like!

Anyone ever had a similar experience with a series before? Is second-book-syndrome really a thing? Chat ahead in the comments.

Kelly

Review-ish: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

‘Mademoiselle, I speak as a friend. Bury your dead! … Give up the past! Turn to the future! What is done is done. Bitterness will not undo it.’

I am mightily ashamed to say that this is my very first Agatha Christie novel. I couldn’t begin to give you a reason for it, I like a good murder mystery Agatha and I share a birth-place, so I have been surrounded by her presence my entire life. Big thanks to Amy G for encouraging me to have a go and for kindly lending me this copy from her precious (and impressive) collection.

Accepting that you have to look past language that wouldn’t be appropriate if it was written today, Death on the Nile is a good ol’ romp. I loved it. It is a comfortable read. The characters are mainly ghastly (thank you Agatha, for making me want to talk like a 1920’s It girl) but are very fun in their despicable-ness. I enjoy the clashes between the different classes (which are pretty polarising) and the way that Poirot breezes past them all to wrap it all up beautifully.

This book forced me to avoid skim-reading, although not entirely. I still had to go back and re-read bits, and also read an online synopsis to write this review as I read this a while back now and have read another Poirot novel since!

With 66 novels and 14 short stories under her belt and well as two characters that are house-hold names, Poirot and Mrs Marple, Christie truly is the Mother of Murder Mystery. Her impact on story-telling, and more specifically on female writers cannot be denied. I’m aware that the majority of readers of this blog will be more than familiar with these works and I’m stating the very obvious, but just on the smallest of off-chances that someone out there hasn’t read any before, then I highly recommend dipping into a Poirot. And Death on the Nile is an excellent place to start. Bon voyage!

Review-ish: Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I can’t find a quote for this book so that might suggest how little I enjoyed it. Plus the fact that it has taken me WEEKS to get around to writing it up. I just couldn’t think of enough to say about it.

I guess what made me pick it up was the name of the author, as I was looking for more of a variety of voices to read. And I have since realised that I have read one of her books before, The Forty Rules of Love, which was a book club read from many a moon ago. The Forty Rules focused on Rumi the poet and although I found that slightly interesting, the writing left me cold then. And this was more of the same.

Although the subject matter was different, and on paper, it should be right up my street (feminism, friendship, travel) I just found it very dull and a bit of a slog. The characters weren’t just unlikeable (I can get around that if they are written well) but they were caricatures; there was the timid one, the sexy one and the righteous one. Maybe I liked Peri’s Dad? But I genuinely can’t remember.

Shahaf must be doing something right as Goodreads shows huge numbers of 5 star reviews, and I am very respectful of her ability to write in both Turkish and English, but I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking out any more of her books, they’re just not for me. And that’s fine!

So I’ll keep it short and slightly-less-than-sweet on this glorious Bank Holiday Monday and focus on catching up with the rest of my reviews!

Have a good one!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White

‘The more environments that say yes to feminist, female and other marginalised voices, the bolder those voices will become and the louder and clearer they will ring out into the wider world.’

Firstly, I have to thank Dai Brows and Anna for introducing me to The Guilty Feminist pod-cast in the first instance, and to my step-mum for buying me this book for Xmas. Nailed it. Pretty on-brand.

For those that are already fans of The Guilty Feminist in its pod-cast form, you will be pretty familiar with DFW’s style of writing and presenting, which is both warm and inviting. She has, along with Sofie Hagan and other incredible guests and guest hosts, made it ok to be a less-than perfect feminist, as long as you have good intentions. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and has brought much-needed lightness to what has become such a contentious issue.

Much of what is discussed in this book has been examined in great depth on the podcast and but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading it in a new form. It’s a really easy read, even when the subject matter isn’t, and is such an effective how-to guide for all humans, on how to be better humans, not just better feminists.

The important point that the podcast and the book raise, is how vital it is to learn and listen to those different from ourselves. Part of the guilty part of The Guilty Feminist is not always recognising where our privilege allows us to act in a way that isn’t respectful of the intersectionality of feminism. By reading and listening to The Guilty Feminist, and by hearing new voices and learning about the guests varied experiences, I feel confident to admit when I’ve messed up but also to always be open to learning.

I have a shelf full of books considered to be ‘must read feminist texts’ and as much as it pains me to admit it, I haven’t always gotten on all that well with them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t absolutely recognise their importance and the massive impact they often had but we will always need books like this that can cut through some of the noise and just celebrate being perfectly imperfect.

This really is a joy and can and should be read by everyone.

Feminist book recommendations always appreciated, just commend below!

Happy Sunday.

Kelly

Review-ish: The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall

electric

‘People went through life like well handled jugs, collecting chips and scrapes and stains from wear and tear, from holding and pouring life.’

The above isn’t even my favourite passage from this beautifully written book, but I was just keen to not give too much of the story away through my eagerness to share. This book was found during the same charity-shop binge of a few months ago, which has provided some real treats. Yet again, this isn’t something that I would normally have picked up, but the bloke-at-home found it, and raved about it so much (he’d be pretty excited to learn that Hall is an Aberystwyth Uni alum) that I had to give it a go.

It’s not often that you read a book with pretty-much perfect pacing. That grabs you from the first word and ensures that you finish it with a satisfied sigh. I so rarely get to the end of a book and feel like it was the ideal length but I really felt this with The Electric Michelangelo. 

Hall creates such evocative scenes, from Morecombe Bay to Coney Island and through the most complex, complicated but often-times loveable characters. Grace is one of the most exquisitely written characters that I have encountered for a while, and even with my limited imagination, I felt like I knew her.

The book explores themes of family, the family you’re born into and the family you choose, peoples desire to re-invent themselves, the traditional sea-side town on both sides of the Atlantic, and migration. All through the microcosm of tattoo.

I can only speak for The Electric Michelangelo, as I haven’t read any of her other books, but in this, Hall’s writing is never over-done. I don’t want to say much more as its just going to be general gushing and I really don’t want to give away too much of the story-line. Its too beautiful. Go. Read. Come back and tell me how much you adored it.

Kelly