Thursday, 28 April 2016

Review: 'The Course of Love' by Alain de Botton

Love is, without meaning to sound cliché, at the core of most of human life. Almost every novel, every film, song or painting comes back to love eventually which allows us to answer some of life's most fundamental questions. And no one talks about it as well as Alain de Botton so I knew I wanted to get a chance at reading him for myself. Thanks to Penguin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 28/04/2016
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
The long-awaited and beguiling second novel from Alain de Botton that tracks the beautifully complicated arc of a romantic partnership, from the internationally bestselling author of On Love and How Proust Can Change Your Life.
We all know the headiness and excitement of the early days of love. But what comes after? In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children—but no long-term relationship is as simple as “happily ever after.” The Course of Love is a novel that explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. You experience, along with Rabih and Kirsten, the first flush of infatuation, the effortlessness of falling into romantic love, and the course of life thereafter. Interwoven with their story and its challenges is an overlay of philosophy—an annotation and a guide to what we are reading.
This is a Romantic novel in the true sense, one interested in exploring how love can survive and thrive in the long term. The result is a sensory experience—fictional, philosophical, psychological—that urges us to identify deeply with these characters, and to reflect on his and her own experiences in love. Fresh, visceral, and utterly compelling, The Course of Love is a provocative and life-affirming novel for everyone who believes in love.
The Course of Love is split up into two different types of narratives. On the one hand there is the story of Rabih and Kirsten, told non-chronologically. de Botton moves between remembering the first flares of their infatuation while discussing the early days of their marriage, before flashing back to their first meeting. The second story-strand is de Botton's interjections about the nature of love, enlightening the story of Rabih and Kirsten or giving advice to the reader. Whether it is noting the disproportionate amount of attention on the beginning of love rather than the continuation of it, or discussing the role of parenting in love, de Botton actually addresses almost everything that could affect the 'happily ever after'. This dual nature makes it hard to fully consider The Course of Love a fictional novel but de Botton makes it work.

The quote that made me sure I'd enjoy The Course of Love was:
'Then comes the pivotal challenge of knowing whether the feeling is mutual, a topic of almost childlike simplicity nonetheless capable of sustaining endless semiotic study and detailed psychological conjecture.' 6%
Writing a book about love, especially one that is infused with philosophical statements, comes with a lot of potential pitfalls. If the author doesn't actually both understand the problems that might accompany love but can also write about them in an engaging and understanding way then the book is lost. de Botton, thankfully, knows how to talk about love without becoming too sweet or too sanctimonious. Although The Course of Love isn't necessarily the type of book one can read in one go, it is very interesting.

The Course of Love is the kind of book that you will be able to revisit over and over again throughout your life, finding relevance in new passages now that you've entered a different stage of life. de Botton's writing style is fascinating because both his style and The Course of Love are so stripped back. de Botton has gotten rid of all the cliches, of the romantic settings and the heavy symbolic language. What is left is something between a case study and a novel which is fascinating. The love he describes is not one of passionate chases through airports or confessions in the rain, but rather the calm truth of what love really is. The Course of Love is like a flash of clarity after which you can return to the haziness of romance but with a clearer brain. It's a thought-provoking read which will make for great discussions and, dare I say it, personal growth.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

The Course of Love is incredibly readable. The writing in The Course of Love is fun and interesting, the love story he describes one that everyone can both recognise and aspire to. de Botton has won a new fan in me after The Course of Love. I'd recommend this to fans of philosophical reads and those who are inquisitive about love.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Review: 'Murder, She Wrote: Design for Murder' by Jessica Fletcher, Donald Bain & Renée Paley-Bain

Murder, She Wrote has been one of my favourite TV series for ages. I'm not quite sure there's a time where I didn't watch it or dropped everything in order to turn the TV on ASAP whenever it was one. But somehow I never got around to actually reading any of the books spanned  by the TV show about my favourite literary female detective and writer, so when I saw one of Fletcher's novels on Netgalley I knew I wanted to get on it. Thanks to Berkley Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/04/2016
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, NAL
In the newest in the USA Today bestselling mystery series, Jessica Fletcher visits New York City during fashion week, only to discover someone has rather fatal designs...  
Jessica is in Manhattan to attend the debut of a new designer. Formerly Sandy Black of Cabot Cove, the young man has reinvented himself as Xandr Ebon, and is introducing his evening wear collection to the public and—more important—to the industry's powers-that-be: the stylists, the magazine editors, the buyers, and the wealthy clientele who can make or break him. At the show, the glitz and glamour are dazzling until a young model—a novice, taking her first walk down the runway—shockingly collapses and dies. Natural causes? Perhaps. But when another model is found dead, a famous cover girl and darling of the paparazzi, the fashion world gets nervous.  
Two models. Two deaths. Their only connection? Xandr Ebon. Jessica's crime-solving instincts are put to the test as she sorts through the egos, the conflicts of interest, the spiteful accusations, and the secrets, all the while keeping an amorous detective at arm's length. But she'll have to dig deep to uncover a killer. A designer's career is on the line. And another model could perish in a New York minute.
As I said above, Murder, She Wrote is one of my favourite things to watch on a lazy Saturday. And that is all down to the amazing Jessica Fletcher, played by the brilliant Angela Lansbury. She is a star and she infuses the character of Jessica with so much warmth and enthusiasm that you simply can't help but follow her. I also really enjoyed seeing an older woman taking part in the fun than seeing another twenty-year old experiencing all the world. So I was really hoping that her character would translate as easily into the books. On the one hand book-Jessica had the same eye for detail, the kindness and the politeness. On the other hand, she comes across as somehow colder, a little bit stifled and almost, dare I say it, annoying. Where this difference comes from I'm not quite sure but I think Lansbury probably has a big part to play in it.

Overall the plot of Design for Murder is quite interesting. The Bains take on the fashion industry, critiquing the way in which the industry mistreats young girls trying to become "famous" and how incredibly antagonistic everyone within the industry is with each other. As such the industry comes out of the novel very negatively, stripped of its glitz and glamour. Partially this is the strength of having a main character such as Jessica Fletcher who, thanks to her age, is not as easily blinded and can cast a fresher glance on an industry like this. The murder mystery in Design for Murder, then, is well researched and interesting but not very complex. For those who have seen Murder, She Wrote or are familiar with these types of murder mysteries won't be too surprised by any of the twists and turns. But overall the novel makes for a cozy mystery.

The writing style of the Bains is incredibly easy and comfortable to read. Each chapter seems to be summarised to make sure the reader never forgets what happened or loses track of any of the plot developments. On the one hand this is great because you don't get lost, but on the other hand it severely slows the pace of the novel down. In the end this is down to personal taste, how intense the reader wants his mystery to be. I need a pace that is a little bit higher for my own mysteries. One thing I also had a problem with was a storyline about a New York detective and his intentions towards Jessica. It both felt forced and frequently put Jessica in an unnecessarily uncomfortable position. It felt discourteous to Jessica to make her deal with something like that when there are exciting murders to solve.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I still love Jessica Fletcher and I did enjoy finally reading a Murder, She Wrote book. However, Design for Murder wasn't entirely my cup of tea. The pace was a little bit too slow for me but the Bains clearly put effort into the research for this novel. I'd recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries and, of course, Murder, She Wrote novels.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Review: 'Eligible' by Curtis Sittenfeld

Second Jane Austen-inspired read of the week! The 18th was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death, hence why you have probably seen her around a lot in the last week. I was really looking forward to Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield, partially because of the author, but also because Pride & Prejudice is my favourite novel. I'm still slightly conflicted by it, however. Thanks to Random House Group and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publisher: Random House
From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Pride and PrejudiceEqual parts homage to Jane Austen and bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.  
This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven't met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.  
Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master's degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won't discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane's fortieth birthday fast approaches.  
Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip's friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .  
And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.  
Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen's beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.
Tackling one of the world's most famous novels is an incredibly complicated task because there are so many fans out there which can be, and will be, disappointed. I, for a long while, didn't enjoy reading or watching any adaptations because I felt like these adaptations and spin-offs never lived up to the originals. Until I realised that an adaptation doesn't have to mirror the original but, rather, stand on its own two feet as an homage. In that sense Eligible has an even harder task, however, since it follows the storyline of Pride & Prejudice very closely. Everyone will expect the story to go a certain way and I was one of them. As such, the bare bones of the plot don't hold a lot of surprises. Where Eligible's strength lies is in the way it has updated and modernised the characters. This is also where, for me, some of the novel's weaknesses lay, however.

Everyone has been aged up a little bit and has been moved from the English countryside to twenty-first century America, although you wouldn't necessarily know it by the way Mrs. Bennet behaves. By moving the story to the mid-west of America Sittenfeld keeps the sense of claustrophobia which the country houses in England represent, explaining why both Liz and Jane have abandoned their home for New York. I liked a lot of the changes made, the way in which Sittenfeld also shows the almost-generational difference between the elder and younger Bennet sisters or how the daily worries of modern life affect a large family. But some of the changes, in my eyes, deprived some of the characters of the depth they are given by Austen. It especially affected the two main Bingleys, neither of whom I truly liked in Eligible. Towards the end of the novel the story also begins to drag a little bit. The reader knows where the story is going but it's not getting there and it leads to a bit of frustration.

Sittenfield's writing in and of itself is incredibly readable. The characters feel quite real and the cliches the novel engages in generally work very well for it. Eligible will quite happily suck you in and not let you get away very easily, but I felt it did lack the depth that it seemed to aspire to. There are a lot of great ideas and themes in Eligible, many of which work, but something about it also felt too easy to me. An adaptation or spin-off should bring more to a story already-told rather than simply cover it in a new slab of paint. Eligible does its best to modernise the world in which Pride & Prejudice is set but thereby Sittenfeld loses track of the heart of the story. By the time the happy end happens I was ready to move on.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

Part of me really enjoyed Eligible but there was also a lot about it which simply didn't work for me. I think partially this is a personal thing where I'm still not entirely over my dislike for adaptations, but I do think there are flaws about Eligible. I'd recommend this to fans of Austen looking for a modern twist on a classic.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review: 'Love, Lies and Spies' by Cindy Anstey

My love for anything Jane Austen should be a major clue to everyone that if you give me a funny heroine, a charming hero and ballgowns galore that I will be a very happy reader. So of course I couldn't let Cindy Anstey's Love, Lies and Spies pass me by! And this one is coming out today, which means you should go get it! Thanks to Macmillan, Swoon Reads and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publisher: MacMillan, Swoon Reads

In Love, Lies and Spies, Cindy Anstey's hilarious homage to Jane Austen, a lady with a penchant for trouble finds a handsome spy much more than merely tolerable. 
Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She's much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she's determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research. 
Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana's traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.
First let's talk about Love, Lies and Spies as an independent novel. All one can really say is that it is utterly charming. From the first line Anstey's writing shows itself to be really entertaining and the definition of "quintessentially English". With Juliana hanging off a cliff and Spencer Northam appearing as a dashing rescuer, there is fun and excitement from page one. If I had to describe this novel through a metaphor it would be through the image of a calmly flowing river on a lovely summer day. The plot moves effortlessly on and on, and although hardly any of the twists and turns are real surprises they come exactly when you want them and so it's actually a pleasure when exactly that happens which you were hoping for.

As the blurb says, Love, Lies and Spies is an homage to Jane Austen and it is probably the best one I have read in a very long while. Because rather than create a weak carbon copy of one of Austen's plots, Anstey actually very cleverly infuses her own plot with loads of little hints to Austen's characters and plots. Juliana is reminiscent both of Elizabeth in her stubborness and reminds one a little bit of Emma in her devotion to her father. But then the plot is definitely a little bit more along the lines of Northanger Abbey, as is the chemistry between Juliana and Spencer. There is also the grumpy dowager and the secretly supportive father, which are practically staples for Jane Austen books. I'm also sure that upon a reread more similarities could be found, but this in itself should suffice to show exactly why Anstey' novel is such a beautiful homage. Love, Lies and Spies is perfect for those who want a fun romp through Austenland, giving us interesting characters and fun plot. I'll be the first to say that Anstey's novel doesn't necessarily go very deep or hits any truths very hard, but it also doesn't set out to.

As I said above, it is truly Anstey's writing which makes this story as fun as it is. Her dialogue is incredibly witty to the point where you know it's not entirely realistic but where it is the most fun. Juliana and Chester's chemistry sparkles of the page and by switching between their perspectives for each chapter the reader also gets to appreciate both of the characters to the fullest. What I really appreciated was Anstey's ability to never compromise her characters in order to allow for the romance-tropes. On the one hand Spencer gets to be the knight in shining armour, but Juliana isn't a lost damsel in distress. Juliana and the other female characters get to enjoy going to balls and receiving attention, but they don't immediately get typecast as airheads. Anstey's kindness to her characters is something that also reminded me of Austen and I can only give her props for it.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I raced through Love, Lies and Spies in a single night and didn't want to put it down. I found myself absolutely enjoying the novel and Anstey has definitely found a new fan in me. I'd recommend this to anyone who loves Jane Austen and Regency-style romances.

Teasers and 'Love, Lies and Spies' by Cindy Anstey

Love, Lies and SpiesToday I'm sharing a book which is coming out today: Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey. The cover was what first drew me to it because it looked so intriguing and clever. And the blurb just intrigued me straight away as well. The fact that the main character has almost the same name as me definitely helps as well!
Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.
Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Jenn over at Books and a Beat.

Intro:
'"Oh my, this is embarrassing," Miss Juliana Telford said aloud.  There was no reason to keep her thoughts to herself, as she as alone, completely alone. In fact, that was half of the problem. The other half was, of course, that she was hanging off the side of a cliff with the inability to climb either up or down and in dire need of rescue.' p.1%
I loved the sound of this from the beginning! I mean, if I was hanging off a cliff I probably would be screaming rather than commenting on how embarrassing the situation was. Although, admittedly, I have been in England for quite a while so potentially by now I am so British and apologetic that I would.

TeaserTeaser:
'Spencer's brows furrowed, and his gaze went from her hand to her mouth. The singular way in which he was staring made Juliana feel rather heady, as if she were about to float away.' 44%
There's nothing quite like a man looking intently at your lips to make you feel like you could float away. Also, the fact my name is Juliane makes me feel like I will be loving Juliana quite a lot. Our names are too similar for me not to.

So, does Love, Lies and Spies sound like your kind of book Drop by my review if you're not quite sure yet!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Review: 'Tell the Wind and Fire' by Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarah Rees Brennan was the author who changed my mind about Young Adult fiction and made me realize that one could actually get quite a lot out of this genre. So when I saw that she had a new book out, one which was loosely based on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. And I'm glad I did. Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/04/2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Clarion Books
In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets. 
Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.
Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.
Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?
It was Brennan's The Lynburn Legacy series which made me a fan of hers. Her main characters were very interesting and diverse, her writing was incredibly funny and snappy, and even when she was using the worn-out and tired tropes of the YA genre she did so with an interesting edge that made me not even mind. So it could be said I went into Tell the Wind and Fire with relatively high expectations of Brennan, despite not being a Dickens fan at all. (I realise his books must be good to have amassed such a devout following but I can't bring myself to enjoy them. I am also disappointed in myself.) And throughout Tell the Wind and Fire I kept finding the things I enjoyed about Brennan before. Lucie was funny at times, she was determined if flawed and had the best intentions. Brennan's writing was still beautifully descriptive and the book in itself is very imaginative. And yet there was something about it that fell a bit flat for me.

So it can be said that I am a little bit conflicted over Tell the Wind and Fire. On the one hand I enjoyed it but on the other hand it left me hanging a little bit, right from the very start. And that is because the very plot of the novel requires a major leap of faith and suspension of disbelief. See, Tell The Wind and Fire is set in New York, but not in the New York as we know it. Because one day humanity suddenly discovered magic and there seems to be no real explanation for this. On the one hand it isn't necessarily relevant to the plot, it can quite happily continue without an explanation of the origin of Magic, but it makes the novel feel a little bit thin. I would have quite happily sat through a hundred pages of extensive world-building because that is one of my favourite parts of Urban Fantasy. And this is what in the end means that I did enjoy Tell the Wind and Fire but am not entirely impressed by it. Which is a shame because it does have some very interesting things to offer.

It's a shame when a novel as such has things going for it, like an author's writing style and an interesting idea, and yet doesn't entirely manage to take off. I myself haven't read A Tale of Two Cities so I can't say to what extent Brennan has managed to adapt Dickens, but I do feel that perhaps trying to put one of his complex plots into 300-odd pages is what stopped Brennan from shining the way she usually does. And I feel I need to emphasize again that I did, as such, enjoy reading Tell the Wind and Fire but I kept wishing for more. Lucie was interesting but she needed more development. Both Ethan and his dark secret are, dare I say it, predictable and therefore a little bit boring. And the novel ends at the point where I think the story could have really taken off.

I give this novel...

2 Universes!

I wanted to like this novel more than I did and the reasons I am not hating it is because I do enjoy Brennan's writing. Tell the Wind and Fire could have been a lot more and despite how nice some of the writing is, it's a book you can race through and that won't challenge you. I'd recommend it to fans of Urban Fantasy looking for a fun and easy read.

Friday Memes and 'She' by H. Rider Haggard

SheI've been wanting to read She for a good year at least now, I think. I found it at random in a recommendation list and it's been on my mind since then. And then, this Wednesday, I spent some time in the community library and suddenly ran into the cover on the left and realised which book it was. So of course I immediately took it out and wanted to share it with you.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, Leo Vincey opens the silver casket that his father has left to him. It contains a letter recounting the legend of a white sorceress who rules an African tribe and of his father's quest to find this remote race. To find out for himself if the story is true, Leo and his companions set sail for Zanzibar. There, he is brought face to face with Ayesha, She-who-must-be-obeyed: dictator, femme fatale, tyrant and beauty. She has been waiting for centuries for the true descendant of Kallikrates, her murdered lover, to arrive, and arrive he does - in an unexpected form. 
Blending breathtaking adventure with a brooding sense of mystery and menace, "She" is a story of romance, exploration discovery and heroism that has lost none of its power to enthrall. 
Doesn't it sound interesting? Book Beginning and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively.

Book Beginning:
'Introduction 
In giving to the world the record of what, looked at as an adventure only, is I suppose one of the most wonderful and mysterious experiences ever undergone by mortal men, I feel it incumbent on me to explain what my exact connection with it is. And so I may as well say at once that I am not the narrator but only the editor of this extraordinary history, and then go on to tell how it found its way into my hands.' p.1
I always like it when "travel"-books begin with introductions like these, with the authors pretending that the book we're about to read is a real, actual, historic document. It's authors trying to add some authenticity to their material so it is easier for the reader to "believe" their story.


F56:
'Circumstances have been against me in this respect, and men and women shrink from me, or, at least, I fancy they do, which comes to the same thing, thinking, perhaps, that my somewhat forbidding exterior is a key to my character.' p.56
Although I have no idea yet who is saying this, I like the way in which She is written. This feels like fun interior monologue with someone constantly going off on little sidetracks before returning to the main point.

So, does She sound like something you'd want to read?

Thursday, 14 April 2016

War & Peace #4: I.iii.13 - I.vi.7

I didn't actually manage to get to twenty chapters this week but didn't want to leave you hanging quite so early on in the War & Peace read along! On the one hand there have been some exciting development in the story which are mainly based on miscommunication and misunderstanding. But already, 240 pages in, some character have gotten absolutely sick of each other. Due to the wide variety of characters it's also really easy for the reader to pick favourites while disliking other characters. Unfortunately that has also happened to me but I feel very justified in my choice of favourites.


Summary of the Chapters:
Tolstoy is still happily moving between the various battlefields in Austria and the "homestead". Even if that homestead is at various different places. Anyways, this week we got to actually see one of my favourite historical figures: Napoleon Bonaparte! I was always impressed by him but ever since reading Les Mis and now reading about him here simply shows exactly how influential Napoleon has been for continental Europe/Eurasia. In the case of War & Peace so far, he has been kicking the Russian Army;s ass, but almost by accident. There is a lot of frustration happening and in the end the Russians are definitely defeated. Even worse, Prince Andrew was hit by a canon, is wounded and has been captured by Napoleon himself. At least Dolokhov has been doing well for himself.

Then we move on to Book iv and watch Nicholas, who while at the front developed a patriotic crush on his Tsar, return home to his enraptured family. He goes right back to being his slightly insufferable self while, shock, horror, Prince Andrew is suspected to be dead! In further news, Nicholas' father throws a party for his regiment leader to which Pierre is also invited. And this is where the drama truly happens because rumours have been swirling that his wife Helen Vasili has been having an affair with Dolokhov, who has just become friends with Nicholas and is hence also at the party. Everything escalates and Pierre and Dolokhov meet in a duel, where, to everyone's surprise, Pierre manages to shoot Dolokhov. So far I'm assuming that the latter is dying, but I'm not sure yet. This also culminates in Pierre blaming Helene for him being "tricked" into their marriage and threatening to divorce her. The seventh chapter ends with Pierre leaving Moscow for St. Petersburg.

Feel of the Chapters:
It is interesting how the chapters set at the front are very active, very hectic, with loads happening almost all the time. There is a whole variety of characters that we know at least by name and they are constantly running around, seeing each other, fighting, getting ready to fight, etc. In contrast, the scenes at home are very quiet and almost solitary. There is almost always company, but I think almost all the characters feel quite alone in the way the men at the front don't. And of course there is a gender divide, of course, with the women stuck in domestic confinement. It sort of reminds me of the stillness and quietness which Jane Austen makes so prevalent in all her novels. It is what triggers a lot of her plots, the fact people are sat around with nothing to do for so much time that they end up becoming frustrated etc.

As such it is no surprise, then, that the last few chapters feel a little bit like a soap opera, where no one is actually talking, everyone is gossiping and people seem to die for no good reason. I think the gender politics here are quite interesting. Since it is mainly men who are given time by the narrator to talk about their feelings, Helene is naturally painted as the villain. She is callous, harsh and way too attractive so of course she is out of order. I'm sort of holding back on judging her since I don't actually know to what extent she was used by two men to have a fight or actually a guilty party. I'm interested to see how this story develops though!

General Points:

  • Tolstoy always refers to the Russian army as 'we' and 'us' which makes War and Peace feel a lot more nationalistic but without the negative sense. It's clear that Tolstoy is proud of his country and what they do, even when, in this case, they're losing against Napoleon.
  • I think I'm starting to dislike Nicholas a bit. Initially I put the fact I couldn't really empathise with him down to that he's still growing etc. but now I just feel like he's a little bit entitled and proud of himself. See the first quote in the Quotes section below to see what I mean. Maybe my opinion will change but probably not.
  • There is something odd about how childlike Natasha remains while everyone else seems to grow up way to quickly. Whereas Sonya already seems slightly aware of adult behaviour etc. but in a teenage way, Natasha is happily still running around, spurning marriage and laughing at everything. I sort of love her for it and also have an impending sense of doom that it is not going to end well. I mean, it is a Russian novel.
  • I wonder when people are going to find out Prince Andrew isn't dead. It seems to be a given to people, but no one, so far, seems to be very upset about it. I'm assuming next week's chapters will bring us to his family and then we'll see some mourning but it is an interesting look into what consequences warfare had for the home front back in the day. Misinformation was rule, basically.
Quotes:
'How was it I did not see that lofty sky before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood, except that infinite sky.' p.217
This is what Prince Andrew thinks moments after he's been hit by a canon and finds a moment of quiet reflection. He has been chasing after honour and recognition pretty much since page 1 and now he's finding some kind of peace in the sky. I thought it was beautiful!
'Besides it seemed to him [Nicholas] that the society of women was rather derogatory  to his manhood.' p.234
You know what is derogatory to your manhood, Nicholas? That kind of attitude! Park it and take a seat, you're not that amazing yet. Ok, maybe that response is a little bit over the top, but Nicholas is definitely not my favourite character right now.
'Rostov went on ahead to do what was asked, and to his great surprise learned that Dolokhov the brawler, Dolokhov the bully, live din Moscow with an old mother and a hunchback sister, and was the most affectionate of sons and brothers.' p.245
I liked this little moment because it showed that Tolstoy can be quite gentle with his characters as well. Dolokhov was a major idiot in these chapters and yet Tolstoy showed us that we've only seen one side of him. Everyone behaves differently depending on where they are and in Dolokhov's case it turns out he can be good to some people.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Review: 'The Trees' by Ali Shaw

The blurb of The Trees immediately caught my eyes and I simply couldn't pass up on the chance to read it. I'm such a fan of Magical Realism and Fantasy mixing with Contemporary Fiction that Ali Shaw's novel simply seemed absolutely perfect. The fact it had an absolutely stunning cover didn't hurt ether. And I'm so happy I did give it a chance! Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/03/2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Leaves calmed and trunks stood serene. Where, not a minute before, there had been a suburb, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins…
There is no warning. No chance to prepare.
They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves.
Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too.
Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves. 
The Trees is an amazing combination of Magical Realism and something that feels more legendary and fantastical. From the moment the trees rise from the ground Shaw's narrative takes off and doesn't quite let go of its reader till the end. This might sound like a given, but nature has always been a massive part of human life. On the one hand it is a constant source of creation and of nurturing comfort, but on the other hand we have all seen the destructive power, the sheer enormity of, nature's force directed against us as well. This power lies at the bottom of this novel, constantly rearing its head before returning to a quiet slumber. Shaw gives each of her characters a reason why they end up struggling against this power, which symbolically is also a struggle against their own nature. Whether it is homebody Adrien leaving his couch, or Seb of the Internet-generation, each has to find a new place for themselves in a world where nature is no longer tames and once again unreliable.

The narrative moves between different narrators, giving each of the main four (Adrien, Hannah, Seb and a young woman who became probably my favourite characters) a chance to talk throughout the story. I've found this shifting between narrators very enjoyable when done well and it works for The Trees where our protagonists are a bunch of virtual strangers. Digging into each of their histories, following them as they plot through a landscape that fears between horrendous and fantastical, we really get to know them very well. At times their development plods along a bit, but this feels quite purposefully done as the reader is forced to share some of their experiences. The relatively slow grind of it, however, may not be for everyone.

Shaw's writing is what makes this novel. A brilliant idea can fall flat when it isn't being served by a good author and in the case of The Trees both idea and author come together to deliver what might be my favourite book of 2016 so far. There are paragraphs of stunning prose in The Trees, as well as heart-achingly beautiful plot twists, and each is down to Shaw's skill. There has always been something intensely majestic about trees which has always made me love them and Shaw captures it perfectly. The magic and life with which her wood is infused pleases me incredibly and the new world she creates with them is fascinating. The divide it creates between those who fear and those who embrace nature could have been worked out a bit more but that would've made the novel lose some of its magic, I think.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved The Trees! It completely captured my imagination and I wished the book would never end. Following Shaw's characters as they figure out how to cope with their whole world changing was very interesting as well, as it triggers you to mull over the question yourself. I'd recommend this to fans of Magical Realism and Fantasy.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Teasers and 'Tell the Wind and Fire' by Sarah Rees Brennan

Tell the Wind and FireIt's Tuesday and I've got a fun read to tease all of you with. Sarah Rees Brennan is the woman you can all credit with for turning me from someone who simply didn't "get" YA and refused to give it a chance, into someone who discovered the breadth of the genre and how free and amazing it could be. And since then I have been loyally picking up her books whenever I could find them! So here I am with her latest, Tell the Wind and Fire!

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.
Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.
Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.
Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?
Celebrated author Sarah Rees Brennan tells a magical tale of romance and revolution, love and loss. 
Sound good no? Me and revolution go together like nothing else so I can't wait to start this one! Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Jenn over at Books and a Beat respectively.

Tuesday Intros:
'It was the best of times until it was the worst of times.We had never been allowed to go away for the weekend alone together before. So our holiday at Martha's Vineyard was a rare and special treat, sweet as only things that come seldom and do not last can be.' 1%
Aaah I see you and your Charles Dickens references! I thought the title sounded like I'd heard it in a beautiful quote before and I had! I like this beginning though, I feel like I can definitely empathise with the narrator from this! Since I'm not the biggest Dickens fan, maybe this can convince me to give A Tale of Two Cities a try.

Teaser
Teaser Tuesdays:
'Penelope's and Marie's faces turned to his, and Jarvis's expression smoothed. Marie scrambled off the sofa and ran to him, and he lifted her up to the ceiling, his Light-enhanced-for-perfect-vision eyes reflecting a golden rim. Marie laughed down at him, knowing for certain that her father would always protect her and always be there, his hold on her steady and strong.' 33%
I realize this is quite a long teaser but I simply loved the last line and didn't want to share it without the run-up! I'm definitely a bit of a daddy's girl so this was just really recognizable for me.

Have you read Tell the Wind and Fire? It just came out last week so I'm still trying to avoid reviews etc. before I finish it.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Review: 'Harem: Behind the Lifted Veil' by Alev Lytle Croutier

When I saw that in celebration of its 25th birthday Harem was available on Netgalley I knew I wanted to dip into it right away. One of the first books written on the topic, Croutier invites the reader into one of the world's most secretive and mysterious secrets: the harem. Combining personal childhood memory with intense research, I'm very glad I got my hands on Harem. Thanks to Abbeville Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 30/09/2014
Publisher: Abbeville Press
A fascinating illustrated history of one of the strangest, and cruelest, cultural institutions ever devised. A worldwide best seller, translated into twenty-five languages.
I was born in a konak (old house), which once was the harem of a pasha,” writes Alev Lytle Croutier. People around me often whispered things about harems; my own grandmother and her sister had been brought up in one.”
Drawing on a host of first-hand accounts and memoirs, as well as her own family history, Croutier explores life in the world’s harems, from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, focusing on the fabled Seraglio of Topkapi Palace as a paradigm for them all. We enter the slave markets and the lavish boudoirs of the sultanas; we witness the daily routines of the odalisques, and of the eunuchs who guarded the harem. Here, too, we learn of the labyrinthine political scheming among the sultan’s wives, his favorites, and the valide sultana, the sultan’s mother, whose power could eclipse that of the sultan himself. 
There were the harems of the sultans and the pashas, but there were also middle-class” harems, the households in which ordinary men and women lived out ordinary, albeit polygamous, lives. Croutier reveals their marital customs, child-rearing practices, and superstitions. Finally, she shows how this Eastern institution invaded the European imagination in the form of decoration, costume, and art and how Western ideas, in turn, finally eroded a system that had seemed eternal. Juxtaposing a rich array of illustrations Western paintings, Turkish and Persian miniatures, family photographs, and even film stills Croutier demystifies the Western erotic fantasy of the world behind the veil.” This revised and updated 25th anniversary edition of Harem includes a new introduction by the author, revisiting her subject in light of recent events in Turkey, and the world.
The idea of the harem is one that has intrigued me and Western culture for a very long time. Orientalism, that complete and utter appropriation of Eastern culture by the West, definitely took the image of the harem and ran with it, imprinting its own repressed sexuality on it. Even though everyone has a picture of what a harem is, most people actually hardly know anything about it. In that sense Croutier's book was a gift 25 years and still is. Croutier discusses almost everything that one would wish to know about the harems throughout the Middle-East but especially focuses on the harem in the palace of Topkapi in Istanbul. The text, as such, jumps about quite a lot, occasionally seeming to move randomly from one topic to the other but Croutier manages to make all them somehow fit together.

Croutier, as I mentioned above, combines both memories of her childhood in Turkey with the research she did for this book. As such, Harem reads very personal at times. However one gets to know not only Croutier, but also the women that form the subject matter of her book. It feels as if Croutier isn't necessarily writing about the women, gazing at the from a distance, but rather trying to write with them, trying to include the small snippets that remain from centuries ago and describing the experiences of her own family members. The many illustrations throughout the book are also really helpful in helping Croutier make her points, especially in how harems and its inmates were represented. Overall Harem has only whetted my interest in the topic more and I will probably be digging into my University library to find more books about it.

For me the most interesting part of Harem was the way in which Croutier described, towards, the end, the way in which the West picked up on the idea of the harem and of what happened in it. The absolute fascination which grew in Europe about anything "Oriental", anything from the East is something I've been trying to find an explanation for for a while. On the one hand Europe used, and still arguable does, the East as a place for all its extravangances, with the male elite imagining the harem as their own private brothel where nothing was too much and everything was available. The fact that orgies and the like went completely against Islam was happily ignored. On the other hand the barbarity and primitiveness of the whole culture was also highlighted at the same time, so as not to let Western culture be overwhelmed by the beauty coming from the East. Also fascinating is how Croutier addresses the various polygamous Christian sects popping up in America of late as a modern continuation of the harem.



I really enjoyed reading Harem, Croutier absolutely caught my attention and I feel much more informed, and chastised, in my opinion about harems. I'd recommend this to anyone who is interested in History and Gender.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Spotlight: 'Passenger' by Alexandra Bracken

Passenger (Passenger, #1)Today is the Quercus publication date for Passenger, Alexandra Bracken's stunning novel! Although you'll have to wait till Saturday for my own review I'm very happy to present you with a spotlight post, just to draw your interest a little bit in case you have managed to somehow miss this book in the last few months!

Pub. Date: 07/04/2016
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books
In one devastating night, Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has travelled not just miles but years from home. 
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods - a powerful family in the Colonies - and the servitude he's known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can't escape and the family that won't let him go. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, his passenger, can find.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveller who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods' grasp. But as they get closer to their target, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home forever.
Doesn't it just sound absolutely fascinating? Well, Alexandra is equally fascinating herself!
aboutalexI was born in Phoenix, Arizona and spent all of my life there up until college–I miss it all of the time, but primarily when I’m forced to deal with ice/snow/mass transit/or some combination of the three.  I’m a middle child, which supposedly means I’m full of angsty feelings of neglect, but, in reality, it just means I’m always sandwiched between my older sister and younger brother in Christmas pictures.  On a whole, I had a pretty typical childhood, with only one big exception: my dad was a big time Star Wars collector, which means I went to more antique shows, toy stores, and Star Wars conventions then you could ever imagine! No, really, I’m up to six conventions. I will now pause to let that soak in… 
I recently graduated with a degree in History and English from The College of William & Mary in Virginia. (Four years in Colonial Williamsburg is enough to give anyone a sense of humor about life, trust me.) I began writing Brightly Woven there during my sophomore year as a birthday present to my dearest, darlingest friend Carlin… and finished six months AFTER that date. The number one question I get asked is how I wrote a novel while I was still in school. There are two answers to this: sacrificing a social life and a depressingly effective will to see even the most futile projects through.  I signed with my agent on my 21st birthday, and sold it later that year.  I spent a good portion of my senior year buried under edits, and the rest of that year trying to figure out what else I was going to do with my life. 
After graduating, I left my colonial bonnets behind and moved to New York City, where I attended the Columbia Publishing Course and worked in publishing for five years. I now write full time.

The bio is from Alexandra's website. You can also find her on Twitter and on Tumblr.

And Quercus has been generous enough to send along a little sample for me to share with you from the third chapter! So do be aware that this may contain some spoilers! Have a read below:

War & Peace #3: I.ii.14 - I.iii.12

I've been doing rather well in doing this reading an I realise that's a presumptuous thing to say considering this is only the third week, but it's still been quite busy. As exams come nearer I might have to scale it down to ten rather than twenty chapters, but I have all intentions of continuing throughout exam period. I've also had a sneaky look ahead at page count and some future chapters only seem to be a few pages long, in which case, when I have free time, I might even stretch the weekly sections a bit. Aah, the freedom of controlling one's own reading. But let's get on with it, shall we?




Summary of the Chapters:
So far it is fair to say that a lot is constantly happening. Tolstoy has set up a wide variety of characters and each seems to have been divided into a subset with its own storyline. But of course everyone is deliciously intermingled and related so each storyline remains relevant to the plot overall. So let's see what happened! The first few chapters (and the last few chapters of Book ii) are dedicated to finishing up Tolstoy's initial foray into Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Prince Andrew manages to show himself from his better side although he also walks away from the battle with a sense of disappointment at how lacking warfare really is in nobility. Nicholas is wounded and begins to wonder why he left his comfortable home and Tolstoy leaves the scene with the reader feeling equally unhappy abou the whole thing. Dolokhov remains in the story, first popping us as a friend to Pierre in the first Book and now showing himself as a good soldier rather than just a drunkard.

Book ii brings us back to the civilised world of princes and princesses, rather than soldiers. First we see Pierre, recently become Count Bezukhov, who has been visiting Prince Vasili who has been very busy helping himself while pretending to help Pierre. Helene Kuragin, Prince Vasili's daughter, has been flaunted in front of Piere's eyes who is very conscious he's being seduced into a marriage that won't make him happy and yet he can't help himself to still want it. And so they get married. And then we move to poor Princess Mary who Prince Vasili tries to convince his son Anatole to marry. Princess Mary is almost fooled into thinking he might want her, but is disillusioned by her father Prince Bolkonski (father of Prince Andrew).  But we once again shift place and return to battle, where the Russian army is greeted by their Emperor. Nicholas is filled with imperial love and zeal, Boris does his best to rise the ranks, and Prince Andrew continues to try to find satisfaction. We leave them all on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a distinctively different feel between the chapters which focus on the courtly life and those which focus on battle. While describing the social niceties of the elite and how fake most of it is Tolstoy is clearly enjoying himself and I find them to be some of the most interesting chapters. So far the chapters on war, however, are the ones where I feel Tolstoy clearly places most of his emotion, whether it's the description of Prince Andrew striving for glory (see below) or Nicholas' love for his Tzar.

I find myself getting more used to Tolstoy's continually growing list of characters. Especially when looking at the Russian army, there are generals and adjudants everywhere, each of which are named and all of which disappear after a few pages or chapters at most. It's very different, for example, from Hugo's Les Mis which has a relatively small number of characters considering the length it spans.

General Points:

  • Princess Mary is definitely my favourite character so far. There is something so vulnerable and yet so strong about her. Also, she has some of the most genuine relationships out of any of the characters so far, managing to inspire actual affection rather than faked.
  • As some of you may know, the BBC recently aired a new adaptation of War & Peace in which the relationship between Helene and Anatole Kuragin was, let's say, modernised a la Game of Thrones. These chapters hold a hint as to a potential incestuous relationship which was made factual by the BBC and I wonder how it'll play out in the rest of the book.
  • Having just read Les Mis with its passionate defence of Napoleon, it is very interesting to read an account of Napoleon's exploits from the other side, so to say. They don't think him half as heroic as Hugo did and this way of shaping historical figures through literature is fascinating.
  • Tzar Alexander is a very interesting character because, well... he's fact, he's history, unlike some of Tolstoy's other characters. But overall War & Peace is incredibly historical, with many of the characters either being actually real or slyly based on real people. Considering he only wrote 2 generations or so after the events he describes I feel like there was some audacity in doing so, but perhaps I'm wrong there.
A rather fancy Alexander I
Quotes:
'In the darkness it seemed as though a gloomy unseen river was flowing always in one direction, humming with whispers and talk and the sound of hoofs and wheels.' p.150
I loved this description of the thrum that is hanging over the army as they wait for something to happen. People always forget how much time soldiers spend waiting and anticipating.
'The old prince felt as though he had been insulted through his daughter. The insult was the more pointed because it concerned not himself but another, his daugter, whom he loved more than himself.' p.175
I absolutely love how much of a pappa bear Prince Bolkonski is towards his daughter. On the one hand he is clearly very protective and yet he expresses this love so incredibly harshly that he unwittingly hurts her. And yet she's such a loving daughter that I think she can see where his love is coming from. I hope this relationship doesn't get ruined...
'Every general and every soldier was conscious of his own insignificance, aware of being but a drop in that ocean of men, and yet at the same time was conscious of his strength as a part of that enorous whole.' p.188
This is one of Tolstoy's descriptions of how Nicholas and the rest of the army felt when they saw their Tzar. I sort of like the lack of national fervour in it since it's all focused on one man but it is exactly this leader-cult which is so dangerous to society as well.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Short Review: 'Wonderland' by Amily Shen

Ever since I heard of adult colouring books I've been intrigued and then I received a copy of Lost Ocean myself for Christmas and became utterly addicted to it. Nothing like relaxing while creating art and there is something strangely meditative about the drawing as well, even if I still have to learn how to colour in the lines occasionally. So when I saw Wonderland on Netgalley I knew I wanted a look at it. Thanks to Ten Speed Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/04/2016
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Artist Amily Shen takes coloring book fans on a magical journey inspired by Alice in Wonderland.
Boasting benefits from mindfulness to stress relief, the adult (and tween) coloring book trend shows no signs of abating. This beautiful adult coloring book, inspired by the imaginative world of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, features delicate and detailed illustrations of a girl going down the rabbit hole and venturing into a beautiful, strange new world. Featuring the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, tea parties and croquet, this evocative tale will draw both fans of coloring books and Lewis Carroll's literary classic into the world of coloring, where they can pick up a colored pencil and leave all their worries at the top of the rabbit hole.
The lovely thing about Wonderland is that it follows the story of Alice's adventures quite closely. As such, the more determined, or dare I say OCD, are given a chance to actually create a story of colours as well. By this I mean that one can create connections between the different drawings and hence trace Alice and her companions over the pages. In keeping with adhering to the story, every few pages a new "chapter" begins with the chapter headings from Carroll's book and a small summary of the plot. I really enjoyed this because it is a sign of how Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has not just been used as a jumping off point by Shen but rather that Shen worked together with Carroll, of sorts, to craft something both new and yet loyal.

Amily Shen's illustrations are delightful. There is a good balance between broader shapes and fine details which keeps all of the drawings interesting and challenging. My fingers are itching to start because Shen brings all of Carroll's wonderful, fantastical imaginings to wonderful life. What I found interesting, and as you can see from the cover, Shen has digressed from the stereotypical image we have of Alice with the long hair and the long socks. This Alice looks a bit younger and allows fans to create their own image of Alice through their own art. Overall, this colouring book is a fun way of rcecreating an English classic and showing that literature never goes out of style but, rather, can keep up with all the trends.

I give this colouring book...

3 Universes!

I personally can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy of this. Shen's designs are fun and the way in which Wonderland follows the original is very engaging. I'd recommend it to fans of the classic Carroll novel and fellow-adult colouring books fanatics!

Teasers and 'More Wonders of the Invisible World' by Robert Calef

Page image
Source: Cornell Witchcraft Collection
This week I'm sharing something rather different and please bare with me on this. Magic and witchcraft are purely an academic interest of mine, although I'd still quite happily accept a Hogwarts letter if it ever arrived. But I'm fascinated by the intensity with which magic and witchcraft were studied and how at times believing in them was even seen as necessary to being a good Christian and then seen as utter Heathen drivel. Anyways, the brilliant Cornell University Library has updated its online Witchcraft Collection (yes, that exists and it's awesome) and I thought it'd be fun to share some of it with you. Don't worry, I'm not bewitching you!

MORE

WONDERS 
OF THE
Invisible World, 
Display'd in Five Parts
.

Part I. An Account of the Sufferings of Margaret Rule, Written by
the Reverend Mr. C. M.
P. II. Several Letters to the Author, &c. And his Reply relating
to Witchcraft
P. III. The Differences between the Inhabitants of Salem Village, and
Mr. Parris their Minister, in New-England.
P. IV. Letters of a Gentleman uninterested; Endeavoring to prove
the received Opinions about Witchcraft to be Orthodox. With short
Essays to the Answers.
P. V. A short Historical Account of Matters of Fact in that Affair
To which is added, A Postscript relating to a Book intitled, The
Life of Sir WILLIAM PHIPS.


Yup, pretty much everything is in this book from Salem  and the opinions of Cotton Mather. Calef actually denounced the witch trials in Salem so I'm interested to read what he thought. Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Jenn over at Books and a Beat.


Intro:
'The Epistle to the READER.
And more especially to the Noble Boreans of this Age, wherever Residing.
 
Gentlemen,You that are freed from the Slavery of a corrupt Education; and that in spite of human Precepts, Examples and Presidents, can hearken to the Dictates of Scripture and Reason:For your sakes I am content, that those Collections of mine, as also my Sentiments should be exposed to public view; In hopes that having well considered and compared them with Scripture, you will see reason, as I do, to question a belief so prevalent (as that here treated of) as also the practice flowing from thence; they standing as nearly connext as cause and effect; it being found wholly im-practicable, to extirpate the latter without first curing the former.' p.1
You have to love the self-important tone of 17th century "scholars", but I do like how Calef is feels that education is a big part in forming wrong opinions. However, I don't really think everything should be compared and contrasted against Scripture because that just leads to a different kind of dogma.


TeaserTeaser:
'Yet this is manifest, that the belief of the Witches power to do the things above mentioned, is an ancient belief of the Heathen. And that from them it was received by the Papists, as a part of their Faith, who have since improved upon it, and brought in the notion of a Covenant. But it seems yet a further improvement lately made by the Protestants, that such Witches can Commissionate Devils to do those mischiefs, thereby setting the Witch in the place of God' p.95
I like how Calef is basically putting the witchcraft craze down to the diluting of an idea, of how it is picked up by different strands of Christianity and exaggerated until it erupts into the Salem trials.

So, what did you think? Would you like to dig into library archives of century old books and find out more about witchcraft? And what are you teasing?

Friday, 1 April 2016

Friday Memes and 'Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror' by Bruce Holsinger

Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on TerrorToday I'm sharing a book with you that is not necessarily fun but incredibly interesting and mandatory reading for university. I also got to use my lecturer's copy which wasn't terrifying at all... every time I held a drink I was scared I'd spill it all over his books. And academic books are so ridiculously expensive I would've cried if I'd ruined it. Anyways, let me introduce you to Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror by Bruce Holsinger.
President Bush was roundly criticized for likening America’s antiterrorism measures to a “crusade” in 2001. Far from just a gaffe, however, such medievalism has become a dominant paradigm for comprehending the identity and motivations of America’s perceived enemy in the war on terror. Yet as Bruce Holsinger argues here, this cloying post-9/11 rhetoric has served to obscure the more intricate ideological machinations ofneomedievalism, the global idiom of the non-state actor: non-governmental organizations, transnational corporate militias, and terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda.
'Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror' addresses the role of neomedievalism in contemporary politics. While international-relations theorists promote neomedievalism as a model for understanding emergent modes of global sovereignty, neoconservatives exploit its conceptual slipperiness for their own tactical ends. Holsinger concludes with a careful parsing of the Bush administration’s torture memos, which enlist neomedievalism’s model of feudal sovereignty on behalf of the abrogation of human rights. 
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gillion over at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively.


BB:
'On September 14, 2001, Thomas Friedman devoted his column in The NY Times to what he termed the "civil war within Islam", an epochal struggle pitting the modernizing advocates of progressive democratization across the Near and Middle East against the reactionary forces of Islamist fundamentalism. As Friedman described it, this civil war symbolized a larger reordering of world alliances equal in its impact tot he momentous geopolitical upheavals of the twentieth century. "Just as World Wars I and II produced new orders and divisions, " Friedman wrote, "so too might this war." One such division stretches across a chasm not of place, belief, or population, however, but of time.' p.3
I absolutely love that I get to apply some of my medieval knowledge and see how it's used in the world andI totally agree with Holsinger throughout this book. Post 9/11 the idea of the Middle Ages and of "medieval" was used to cast one side of the conflict as ancient and hence in need of destruction and the other as extremely modern and hence "good". This led not only to a complete misinterpretation of the Middle Ages but also to an increasingly widening gap of understanding between West and East.

F56
:
Quote from Hedley Bull's The Anarchical State: A Study of Order in World Politics'It is ... conceivable that sovereign states might disappear and be replaced not by a world government but by a modern and secular equivalent of the kind of universal political organisation that existed in Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. In that system no ruler or state was sovereign in the sense of being supreme over a given territory and a given segment of the Christian population;' quoted on p.56
 I definitely think I want to pick up Bull's book. Being bi-national, the idea of a state has never had much importance to me because I don't belong to a single one anyway. As a mainland European I also think I probably have quite a different view on the benefits that less emphasis on nation states might have. I'm aware however that it is a scary concept for many because of national pride and the fear of the loss of national identity.

I get that Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea but are you intrigued by its ideas? Do you think you'd be interested to find out more about it? I might consider putting up a discussion of some of its points and ideas, if people would be interested :)