Thursday, 30 June 2016

War and Peace #7: II.vi.9 - II.vii.2

I am officially enjoying War and Peace. It took me about seven weeks and almost 400 pages, but now that I am almost halfway through the novel I have started to appreciate it. I have also set myself the challenge to finish War and Peace before September. I have 191 chapters read, which should take me about 10 weeks if I read 20 chapters a week, so I think I should be OK if I don't have an off-week! Maybe I'll move the weekly section up to 25 however because actually the page count of the chapters can be quite low.

Summary of Chapters:
We finished last week with Pierre reconciling himself with Helene and we continue there as well. Helene  is a success in Petersburg society, which is a major surprise to both Pierre and Leo Tolstoy since they both think of her as stupid. Boris continues to hover on her peripheries which worries Pierre. From there we move to the Rostovs who have also come to Petersburg. Berg, a soldier, finally proposes to the oldest Rostov daughter, Vera, and demands her dowry from a cash-strapped Count Rostov. Meanwhile Boris' childhood passion for Natasha is reignited despite trying to cold-hearted social climber with his eyes set on a rich heiress. However, Natasha discovers love when she dances with Prince Andrew at a splendid ball.

As Prince Andrew starts to appreciate life again he becomes disillusioned with politics and enchanted with Natasha. After frequent visits and run-ins at parties, Natasha confides in her mother about her love and Prince Andrew does the same to Pierre. Prince Andrew asks from permission to propose from his father, who demands that they wait for a year before getting married. Natasha still accepts and it's all adorable. Meanwhile his father, Prince Bolkonski, treats Princess Mary like crap because he is frustrated about Prince Andrew. Nicholas Rostov is also called home because someone finally has to start dealing with the serious financial crisis happening to the Rostovs. He does so by beating up their financial adviser and then both him and his father decide to keep out of things they don't understand.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is something so romantic and sweet about the chapters focusing on Natasha and Prince Andrew, which is the majority of this week's section. Tolstoy seems to have a soft spot for them, or at least seems willing to indulge in describing their love affair.


General Points:
  • I'm starting to wonder if Tolstoy is a little bit misogynistic at times. He seems to be fond to let his male characters "discover the weakness of the feminine", which is a bit disappointing. I feel that the male characters are given a lot more emotional and mental gravitas, whereas in this week's section two women were called stupid despite seemingly handling themselves really well.
  • What is it about a ball that is so much fun? Balls were also some of my favourite parts in Jane Austen's novels and I think it's due to the fact it brings together a whole range of characters and that there is bound to be something important happening. No author brings his characters to a ball to just dance.
  • Age difference, it's a thing. However, so seems to be expecting love in marriage. Natasha and her mother, in discussing Boris and Prince Andrew, do seem to see being in love as crucial to marriage. I think that's interesting, especially since we've seen at least one marriage already (Pierre and Helene) which definitely doesn't feel love-based.
  • What is interesting is that we started War and Peace with children and youths, whereas now these children have grown up and have to take up new responsibility. How they'll cope with entering the "real world" will probably be the matter of the rest of the book. 
Quotes:
'Natasha was happier than she had ever been in her life. She was at that height of bliss when one becomes completely kind and good, and does not believe in the possibility of evil, unhappiness, or sorrow.' p.363-4
I was so happy for Natasha in these chapters even if I worry for her as well. But she is such a fresh breath of air, so unconcerned with how to behave and thereby being one of the novel's freest characters.
'"Let the dead bury their dead, but while one has life one must live and be happy!"' p.368
Prince Andrew has discovered the value of life once again thanks to Natasha's own love for life. It's adorable, I ship it, and therefore it is probably doomed.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Review: 'Saturday Requiem' (Frieda Klein #6) by Nicci French

I love crime and detective novels. I remember being twelve and "borrowing" my first crime novel while we were visiting family friends. Everyone seemed amused about it until they realized I was reading about a criminal cutting out hearts. (I wish I could remember the title of this book, it was good!) This started a long tradition of me borrowing crime novels from that family whenever we went to visit, until I started buying them myself. So when I saw the latest Nicci French on Netgalley I knew I wanted to try it out, even if I hadn't read any of her previous Frieda Klein novels. Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 30/06/2016
Publisher: Penguin UK - Michael Joseph

Thirteen years ago eighteen year old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the brutal murder of her family. It was an open and shut case and Hannah's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since. 
When psychotherapist Frieda Klein is asked to meet Hannah and give her assessment of her she reluctantly agrees. What she finds horrifies her. Hannah has become a tragic figure, old before her time. 
And Frieda is haunted by the thought that Hannah might be as much of a victim as her family; that something wasn't right all those years ago. And as Hannah's case takes hold of her, Frieda soon begins to realise that she's up against someone who'll go to any lengths to protect themselves . . .  
Saturday Requiem is the sixth addictive and intriguing novel in the Frieda Klein series by the bestselling author Nicci French. 
At the heart of every crime novel series has to be an interesting detective/psychologist/protagonist who can pull the reader through multiple novels and multiple crimes. Elizabeth George has her infamous Inspector Lynley and French introduces Frieda Klein to her readers in 2011 in Blue Monday. As far as a crime novel protagonist goes, Frieda Klein is a nice combination of genre tropes and subversion of those tropes. There are those aspects I love, like the frequent glasses of red wine, the beautiful houses in which they find time to think, and the flashes of brilliance, which can be found in Frieda. What makes her interesting is the fact she is a psychologist and therefore approaches the situations differently than the police characters do. It makes for an interesting dynamic throughout Saturday Requiem with Frieda both part of the system and working outside of it. The case at the heart of this novel is naturally also one which perfectly fits Frieda and the light that it allows French to shine on mental illness and the ambiguous role of psychiatric institutions was also very interesting. Hannah Docherty is a really interesting character and I wish there had been more time spent on her in the book.

Something that slightly put me off Saturday Requiem was that the reveal and the ending just didn't fit for me. Usually at the end of these kind of crime and detective novel the reader has built up a number of cases in their head against various characters, has made and let go of wild theories and in the last few chapters settled on a final suspect. For most of Saturday Requiem the reader is very much in the dark in the way that Klein is. That is in and of itself great because it keeps the reader on edge, but on the other hand it also makes the reader nervous the closer one gets to the end of the novel. When it got to the final few chapters of Saturday Requiem it felt like French got distracted by focusing on continuing the narrative that connects all the Freida Klein books, rather than finishing this novel's story first. The final reveal left me very surprised and non-plussed because I simply couldn't see it. Usually once the reveal happens all the little hints dropped throughout the novel become apparent and the reader can see how it was all set up. That didn't happen for me in Saturday Requiem which left me unsatisfied in the end.

The duo behind 'Nicci French' has been writing and publishing thriller and crime novels together since 1997 and very successfully so. Since 2011 they have been focusing on the Frieda Klein series whose titles follow the days of the week. What can be a danger with series like these is that it is impossible to start halfway through a series and still get what's happening in the protagonist's life. French did very well in rehashing those occurrences which were relevant to the plot of Saturday Requiem, such as reintroducing characters which first appeared in precious novels. As such I never felt like I was missing out but was only made curious to read the previous novels. I enjoyed having a female protagonist in series such as these which aren't necessarily rare but I still get happy whenever I find one. Although the first part of the novel takes some time to get going, there is a good speed to the novel which keeps the interest high. Similarly, the brief interjections of narrative from Hannah's mental institution focusing on its inmates is really interesting, although one wishes there was more of it.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Overall I really enjoyed reading Saturday Requiem and did so rather quickly. Although it left me in some ways unsatisfied it has made me curious to check out the rest of the Frieda Klein series. I'd recommend this to fans of Nicci French as well as to crime fiction fans in general.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Review: 'Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter' by Patrick McCauley

As a child nothing was as enduring and ever-present as Harry Potter. First the books and then the films became a constant part of my life, a consistent presence that let me dream and explore my own imagination. As the first Potter-generation grows up, Potter is becoming more and more interesting in how it survives and finds relevance. It's also becoming an academic subject, with people explicitly searching through its layers for an answer as to why J.K. Rowling's series has proven so important to so many. Into the Pensieve is a great addition to this new writing. Thanks to

Pub. Date: 28/10/2016
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
This book takes a look at the arc of the storyline in Harry Potter, digging below the surface to explore ethical, mythological, and religious meanings in J.K. Rowling s best-selling series. Why do we find ourselves so intrigued with the tale of Harry Potter? Many of the millions who passionately read the Harry Potter series found they could relate to the details, dreams, and fears of Harry s life. From a phoenix that dies and rises again to Dumbledore, a character who appears in a realm beyond death, there can be little doubt that Rowling s story delves into profound themes and ideas. She tackles issues of grief, responsibility, individual excellence, and heroism in the face of violence and corruption. This philosophical analysis shows that if, in fact, we do find ourselves reflected in Harry s story, then we may also find that our destiny and individual potential resonates with his as well.
First and foremost it has to be said that I am an absolute sucker for anything Harry Potter. As said above, it's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As such it is no big surprise that I would be interested in Into the Pensieve or would find its contents interesting. So this review will only partially be on the actual content, while the other part considers the form etc. McCauley covers a wide range of topics in this book, covering both traditional elements of the Hero's journey, such as the importance of the Father'figure, as well as what Harry Potter has to offer its readers on the subject of power. The broad range of topics means that not everything could be discussed quite as much as might have been interesting, but that a reader walks away with a good idea of what kind of treasures can be found in Harry Potter. Personally I found the chapter on 'Women and Violence' incredibly insightful and definitely something that I hadn't read about before.

Academic books, in my eyes, whether meant mainly for the general public or written for the dusty corner of a discipline, need to engage with other critics. In order to show how Harry Potter operates within a certain tradition or how it develops a certain literary trope the critic has to engage with the wider research in that area, with what has been said before, in order to show breaks with convention. If that doesn't happen a book is just personal opinion rather than research. This unfortunately does come with the cost that a book will require some effort because it isn't always easy to keep up with ideas and traditions. McCauley does his best to keep as much academic lingo as possible out of his writing as possible. As such, Into the Pensieve is really quite accessible which is a good thing since Harry Potter has also proven to be one of the most accessible series in this century.

What the reader will have to consider when it comes to Into the Pensieve, however, is if they actually want to read about their favourite series this way. For many of us Harry Potter holds a very special place in our hearts which means we may be too close to it to appreciate an academic dissection of it. As with all books such as these, you won't agree with everything McCauley has to say in Into the Pensieve and there will even be points where you actively disagree with him. However McCauley doesn't expect you to. As a University lecturer himself he wants to start a conversation, introduce his reader to their beloved Harry Potter in a new way and grow their understanding of the books and of themselves as readers. For me reading Into the Pensieve in no way lessened my love for Harry Potter but only increased it. A note also has to be made of how Into the Pensieve looks. Schiffer Publishing really tried to make this book look wizard-ly with nice fonts, paper quality and page illustrations. It will look very well next to my Harry Potter books.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Into the Pensieve is very well researched and beautifully laid out. McCauley does a great job in reintroducing the reader to Harry Potter and starting a conversation. I'd recommend this to anyone who is a Harry Potter fan but also to those interested in story telling and mythology.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Friday Memes and 'Beauty is a Wound' by Eka Kurniawan

This Friday I'm sharing a novel I started reading earlier this week and I am really, truly enjoying it. I'm talking about Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. I knew I wanted to read it the moment I read the blurb. So now I'm sharing some bits with you in the hope to make you equally as fascinated with Beauty is a Wound. Thanks to Netgalley and Pushking Press for providing me with a copy of this book.

THERE'S NO CURSE MORE TERRIBLE THAN TO GIVE BIRTH TO A PRETTY FEMALE IN A WORLD OF MEN AS NASTY AS DOGS IN HEAT
One stormswept afternoon, after twenty-one years of being dead, the beautiful Indonesian prostitute Dewi Ayu rises from her grave to avenge a curse placed on her family. Amidst the orange groves and starfruit trees, her children and grandchildren have been living out lives of violence, incest, murder, madness and heartbreak. They are creatures of breathtaking beauty - all but one of them, whose ugliness is unparalleled. And Beauty is her name.
Set in the mythical Indonesian town of Halimunda, Beauty is a Wound is a bawdy, epic tale of fearsome women and weak-willed men, communist ghosts and vengeful spirits, chaste princesses and ruthless bandits. It is also a satirical portrait of Indonesia's painful past, journeying through almost a century of brutality, from Dutch colonialism and Japanese occupation to revolution, independence and dictatorship. Weaving together history with local legend, Eka Kurniawan spins a fantastical masterpiece in which darkness and light dance hand in hand.
Doesn't that sound simply fascinating and hilarious and beautiful all at the same time? Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilian over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively.

Book Beginnings:
'One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dad for twenty-one years. A shepherd boy, awakened from his nap under a frangipani tree, peed in his shorts and screamed, and his four sheep ran haphazardly in between stones and wooden grave markers as if a tiger had been throw in into their midst.' 1%
I simply absolutely love Kurniawan's tone. There are so many moments in this novel where I've been laughing out loud. The novel describes terrible things with a tone that allows the gravitas of the situation to sink in while also allowing the reader to have fun.


Friday 56:
'One night, after they had been married for a month, Maya Dewi asked him, "May I go back to school?" 
The question was surprising. Of course, she was still of school age, and every girl of twelve belonged in school from morning until afternoon. But she was also somebody's wife and he had never heard of a married woman sitting on a school bench.' 56%
Again, this is both a hilarious teaser in the sense that it's written so laconically that you can't help but snigger. On the other hand it's dealing with something quite serious topics such as child marriages and deprivation of education. I love reads that are both challenging and fun.


So, what do you think about Beauty is a Wound? Sound like your kind of read?

Review: 'Figures of Catastrophe: The Condition of Culture Novel' by Francis Mulhern

What I discovered during my Undergraduate was that I absolutely loved reading books about books. To have someone dig deeply into a genre or a tradition of books etc. is just fascinating so when I saw Figures of Catastrophe focusing on the 'condition of culture' novel which I hardly know anything about, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Thanks to Verso Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 26/01/2016
Publisher: Verso Books
A bold new vision of the modern English novel
The leading critic Francis Mulhern uncovers a hidden history in the English novel and demonstrates its intimate, formative association with the course of the British labor movement, from its rise in the early twentieth century to the years of decline from the 1980s onwards. In this striking reconstruction, culture emerges as a stake in social conflict, above all that of classes; the narrative evaluations of culture's ends—the aspirations and destinies of those whose lives are the matter of its fictions—grow steadily darker as time passes. Readings of classic and contemporary novelists from Hardy and Forster to Amis, Kureishi and Smith, among others, illuminate the forms and narrative logics of the genre that Mulhern terms the “condition of culture novel,” and places it in international context.
Academic books can be difficult to review because often they are rather specialized and analytical in nature. Therefore, perhaps a short introduction to both Mulhern and the matter of his book. By nature and trade, Francis Mulhern is a leftist, or to be more precise, Marxist literary critic, combining literary criticism with keen attention to class struggle. His The Moment of Scrutiny was required reading for those who wanted to follow in F.R. Leavis' footsteps. In this book, Figures of Catastrophe, Mulhern takes to class a range of novels he considers to form a neglected genre, the 'condition of culture' novels. According to Mulhern these novels discuss the worth of 'high culture' and its relevance and importance to all the different classes of British society.

Mulhern discusses 14 novels in his book, ranging from the last decade of the 19th century into the 21st century. Having such a wide period of time to choose from, the eventual selection of novels may feel a bit at random but all, in the end, serve Mulhern's purpose. Starting with Jude the Obscure, Mulhern highlights books in which culture  and teaching become a battleground, where classes clash with each other. In the end, Figures of Catastrophe does lead to catastrophe, to the conclusion that seemingly education and culture are not meant for the lower classes. There isn't a lot of optimism on offer in this book, but Mulhern makes some fascinating observations about the novels he discusses and how (political) reality and literature go hand in hand, one perhaps informing the other.

During my bacherlor's degree in English Literature I found myself occasionally troubled by critics with a distinct political slant, such as F.R. Leavis with whom I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with. My problem is that political ideology at times equated to already having your answer before you've properly asked the question. In the case of Figures of Catastrophe it at times feels like Mulhern simply dismisses all those things that don't fit into his argument or forcefully makes them fit. But partially this ability to twist and turn is also part of what makes a good literary critic. Mulhern's writing is generally very compelling, leading the reader along easily, although he does write very academically. This doesn't make it the most accessible of academic texts, especially for those who simply wanted to read something interesting about their favourite novel.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I decided to give Figures of Catastrophe 3 Universes because it is such a highly specialized subject. Not everyone is going to find this book interesting, or even think the subject is worthy of a novel. For those who are interested in taking a deep dive into some Marxist literary criticism however, I wholeheartedly recommend this novel.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Review: 'The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction' by M.A. Orthofer

I've got another interesting Columbia University Press read for you! One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to read more world fiction, open myself up to more translated works. But it can be quite hard to get a good look at international lit and especially to understand how literature has developed in different countries and in different languages. So when I saw Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction up on Netgalley I knew that it might give me the answers I needed. I was also impressed with how long its title was. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publication: Columbia University Press

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site's content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world's literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels. 
What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation's literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.
M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Complete Review Guide started as a website, which tries to bring the reader all the info and objective opinion they might need in regard to books both old and new. I'll solely be reviewing the book though, so hop by the website if you want to have a look.

As Orthofer says in his introduction, 'great literature and great books know no borders'. Or at least, it shouldn't. At the heart of The Complete Review Guide is international and translated fiction, the hundreds and thousands of books written and published all over the world. The main purpose of The Complete Review Guide is as a reference book, which means it's not exactly a cover-to-cover read. Rather, it is incredibly useful to dip into when either looking for information on a specific author or want a general idea of the development of literature in a specific region or country. One of the let downs of The Complete Review Guide, however, is that it focuses mainly on thrillers and mysteries, considerably neglecting genres such as Fantasy and Romance. Although it is understandable that you can't discuss every genre in a single book, it would have been good to see a bit more variation. I would say it is very important to read the Introduction, just to get a sense of what it is this book is trying to achieve. It also explains how The Complete Review Guide is split geographically, first into continents and then into smaller sections dedicated either to general areas or specific countries. Although Orthofer accepts it is difficult to tie a novel down to a specific region sometimes, but the categorisation he ends up with works for the reader.

Orthofer's writing is what makes reading The Complete Review Guide not just informative but also fun. This book is not just a dull and dry list of books, authors and translators, it gives its reader a genuine idea of literary tradition and the development of translation. Whether it is discussing the influence of propaganda on literature written in the Soviet Union, the rise of women writers in India or how colonial languages influenced fiction written in colonised countries, Orthofer goes out of his way to contextualise international literature for those who may not have any experience with it. His writing isn't filled with academic lingo or with elitist opinions about literature, but rather his writing is very friendly and direct. If you're like me and you enjoy reading reference books, The Complete Review Guide will be like sitting back and having a good friend enthusiastically explain world literature to you over a glass of wine.

At danger of sounding even nerdier than usual, the supplements to The Complete Review Guide were very useful, especially the second focusing on Supplemental Resources for those wanting to explore more translated and international fiction. If the book's purpose was to get readers interested in translated fiction, then I can say that The Complete Review Guide is a very successful book! It has taken up a solid spot on my bookshelf and I'm sure it will be frequently used in the near and far future.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The Complete Review Guide is an incredibly useful reference book for those who want to read internationally. The lay-out is clear, the writing is lucid and the book genuinely does cover the world.

Review: 'The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction' by M.A. Orthofer

I've got another interesting Columbia University Press read for you! One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to read more world fiction, open myself up to more translated works. But it can be quite hard to get a good look at international lit and especially to understand how literature has developed in different countries and in different languages. So when I saw Orthofer's The Complete Review Guide of Contemporary World Fiction up on Netgalley I knew that it might give me the answers I needed. I was also impressed with how long its title was. Thanks to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 19/04/2016
Publication: Columbia University Press

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site's content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world's literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels. 
What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation's literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.
M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
The Complete Review Guide started as a website, which tries to bring the reader all the info and objective opinion they might need in regard to books both old and new. I'll solely be reviewing the book though, so hop by the website if you want to have a look.

As Orthofer says in his introduction, 'great literature and great books know no borders'. Or at least, it shouldn't. At the heart of The Complete Review Guide is international and translated fiction, the hundreds and thousands of books written and published all over the world. The main purpose of The Complete Review Guide is as a reference book, which means it's not exactly a cover-to-cover read. Rather, it is incredibly useful to dip into when either looking for information on a specific author or want a general idea of the development of literature in a specific region or country. One of the let downs of The Complete Review Guide, however, is that it focuses mainly on thrillers and mysteries, considerably neglecting genres such as Fantasy and Romance. Although it is understandable that you can't discuss every genre in a single book, it would have been good to see a bit more variation. I would say it is very important to read the Introduction, just to get a sense of what it is this book is trying to achieve. It also explains how The Complete Review Guide is split geographically, first into continents and then into smaller sections dedicated either to general areas or specific countries. Although Orthofer accepts it is difficult to tie a novel down to a specific region sometimes, but the categorisation he ends up with works for the reader.

Orthofer's writing is what makes reading The Complete Review Guide not just informative but also fun. This book is not just a dull and dry list of books, authors and translators, it gives its reader a genuine idea of literary tradition and the development of translation. Whether it is discussing the influence of propaganda on literature written in the Soviet Union, the rise of women writers in India or how colonial languages influenced fiction written in colonised countries, Orthofer goes out of his way to contextualise international literature for those who may not have any experience with it. His writing isn't filled with academic lingo or with elitist opinions about literature, but rather his writing is very friendly and direct. If you're like me and you enjoy reading reference books, The Complete Review Guide will be like sitting back and having a good friend enthusiastically explain world literature to you over a glass of wine.

At danger of sounding even nerdier than usual, the supplements to The Complete Review Guide were very useful, especially the second focusing on Supplemental Resources for those wanting to explore more translated and international fiction. If the book's purpose was to get readers interested in translated fiction, then I can say that The Complete Review Guide is a very successful book! It has taken up a solid spot on my bookshelf and I'm sure it will be frequently used in the near and far future.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

The Complete Review Guide is an incredibly useful reference book for those who want to read internationally. The lay-out is clear, the writing is lucid and the book genuinely does cover the world.

War and Peace #6: I.v.11 - II.vi.8

We have made it through the first Volume and successfully into the second Volume and the sixth Book! Thank yo so much for sticking with me so far, there's only nine more Books and two Epilogues to go. Unlike with my Les Mis read along, where I knew the basic plot of the story from the musical, I don't know where the story is going to go. I have some general ideas thanks to the unavoidable trailers for the recent BBC adaptation, but there will be plenty of surprises coming up. So far nothing very shocking has happened but I am finally starting to enjoy Tolstoy's writing and the book's pace.



Summary of Chapters:
We started with Pierre, who has unsuccessfully tried to free his Serfs and only made their lives harder, who is visiting Prince Andrew and manages to, at least a little bit, coax him out of his self-imposed exile from the world. Convinced the only way to do no evil is by not interacting with the world, Prince Andrew has retreated to his estate and is building a log cabin. From there we move to Nicholas who, after his embarrassing gambling debacle, returns to his regiment. Tolstoy this time uses Nicholas' time in the army to highlight its hardships. Suffering from a severe lack of provisions, Denisov decides to seize a transport of foods and gets into trouble. However, he is wounded and shipped to a hospital where Nicholas finds him under terrible circumstances. Typhoid has broken out and nothing seems to be possible to help the soldiers' suffering.Nicholas tries to petition the Emperor Alexander at Tilsit, where he is meeting with Napoleon, but only runs into Boris, who is turning into a person I don't trust. He has single-mindedly pursued his climbing in society in a way that makes him look down on everyone else. I don't like him. Nicholas also begins to be disillusioned with life, having gone from soldiers suffering to emperors smiling.

And now we moved into Volume II, which starts with Prince Andrew having to visit Count Rostov. He spots the happy Natasha going about her way and it reawakens a passion for life in him. Andrew decides to return to active life and heads for St. Petersburg to introduce his amendments on a law. In St. Petersburg he reenters the social elite and spontaneously forgets about the grander ambitions in his life. One of the people which leads to this is Speranski, who is an advisor to the Emperor and an overall sleaze, I think. He has something of a superiority complex. We end with Pierre who is discovering that despite men being Freemasons they don't necessarily become better men. He tries to learn more while abroad but his ideas are shot down upon his return. Slightly bitter he is talked into reconciling with Helene. He moves into the attic and is proud of his own forgiving nature.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a sense, now that we've got about a third into the novel, that everyone is growing. About three to four years have passed in these 300-odd pages and there is a sense that everyone has now encountered their first difficulty and has tried or is trying to overcome it. Those who were children at the beginning are growing up, becoming disillusioned with the world, whereas those who started out more cynically are opening themselves up to the world. This is exactly what I love about family sagas or these generational novels, you get a sense of progression and growth. However, you do have to invest some time before you hit this growth.

Perhaps it's because I've reinvested myself in War and Peace, but I am finally starting to see the appeal of it. Although time still passes rather quickly for me, and the enormous cast of characters can be a distraction, I have become invested in some of the characters. I'm fascinated by the historical aspects of the book, the casual appearances of historical figures like Napoleon, the attention to the consequences of warfare. It's not a light or casual read, but it's becoming rewarding.

General Points:

  • This week's section officially warmed my heart to Natasha. Perhaps I had too high expectations of her beforehand, expecting her to be a bit more grown up, but she's now come to the point where I find her interesting and want to know more about her.
  • I think it would be fair to say Tolstoy isn't a big fan of politics and what it does to people. Or at least, the type of court politics which are more about posturing than about actually trying to change or achieve something. So far I think he is showing this in his different stories for Boris, Pierre and Prince Andrew, all of which try to somehow involve themselves in the big game.
  • I wonder if Tolstoy is setting up any kind of romance between Prince Andrew and Natasha or if she is simply a way of getting the former out of his midlife crisis. Because any man that builds a log cabin in his early thirties is surely suffering from an early midlife crisis. I jest, I am actually really intrigued by Prince Andrew's characterisation so far.
Something Extra:
Today we're looking at one of the most interesting historic events in Europe's history: the meeting between Emperor Napoleon and Tsar Alexander in Tilsit, where the two signed the first of the Treaties of Tilsit. The first Franco-Russian treaty was signed on the 7th of July 1807 and pretty much meant the end for the Prussian King. For Napoleon these treaties meant the cementing of his power in Europe and he gained the support of Russia in his continuing struggles with Britain and Sweden. 

What I love about this meeting between Emperors is not only that it is an absolutely historic meeting between two of the most powerful people in the world, but also how they went about being able to meet on neutral ground. In a rush, the French build a raft on the middle of the Neman river which had two tents on it. The Emperors were then ferried to the raft from two opposite sides at the same time, but in order to show his superiority the French raft put on a spurt so Napoleon arrived first and could welcome Alexander. Love nothing as much as petty emperors.

Quotes:
'"I feel that I cannot vanish, since nothing vanishes in this world but that I shall always exist and always have existed."' p.303
This is Pierre trying to convince Prince Andrew that not only is there an afterlife but that life itself is worth living for.  Although he doesn't make a believer out of Prince Andrew he does awaken something in him. I did love this quote, the idea you are a part of this world and always will be. 
'"Do just come and see what a moon! ... Oh, how lovely! Come here... Darling, sweetheart, come here! There, you see? I feel like sitting own on my heels, putting my arms around my knees like this, straining tight, as tight as possible, and flying away! Like this..."' p.331-2
This quote is what made me love Natasha. It genuinely changed my mind about her. There is something about this quote which I can identify with, the desperation for freedom and the love for the night's sky.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: 'Sleeping Giants' by Sylvain Neuvel

I love Fantasy, I love Sci-Fi and I love Speculative Fiction, so nothing was as destined as for me to have an interest in Sleeping Giants. From the moment I saw the blurb I was absolutely intrigued by the idea of the novel but something kept getting in between me and the novel. However, once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Thanks to Penguin UK and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 21/04/2016
Publisher: Penguin UK - Michael Joseph
11-year-old Rose Franklyn was cycling near her house on her eleventh birthday when the ground disappeared beneath her. When she came to, she was in a deep pit, lying in the palm of a giant metallic hand. 
Seventeen years later, Dr Franklyn is leading a top-secret scientific investigation into the bizarre artefact she had unwittingly discovered all those years ago. It is clear to Rose and her team that the hand is not only ancient but almost certainly not of this world. A search begins for the rest of this vast creation, perhaps the most perplexing puzzle humanity has ever faced.
The first thing you encounter in this novel is young Rose Franklyn, who, in many ways, stays at the very heart of the novel. She falls into the open palm of a giant metallic hand one day and it forever changes her life, although she doesn't suspect so for another seventeen years. Truly there is nothing more I could say about the plot of the book without ruining some of the novel's suspense. Sleeping Giants is Mystery Sci-Fi at its very best, constantly keeping the reader on their toes and masterfully combining the world we know with the seemingly absurd. Science Fiction often stumbles over the first word of its name, either too focused on making the science work or not caring at all if it works because, hey, it's fiction and no one will care. The science in Science Fiction matters though because it is what allows a novel's plot to transcend the ordinary world. Sleeping Giants finds a great balance between showcasing its science and being fiction by having scientists and exploration at the heart of its plot. Figuring out what the mysterious hand is for both requires science and makes it fun.

The way Sleeping Giants is written is one of its main strengths, aside from its great plot. Neuvel experiments with fiction, with how one can write a linear and chronological story, and it is beautiful. What we get to read are interview transcripts of the characters, their journals, their work reports, etc., which allows Neuvel to change not only how a reader normally discovers the plot but also how a reader gets to know characters. We are hardly ever 'in the moment' with the characters but find out about things afterwards, moving between characters, mediums, countries and events at a rapid pace. And oh does it work! As a reader you are always on edge, always desperate to know more. Reading Sleeping Giants really is something else. Although arguably there is a whole host of main characters, the true narrator and protagonist is a shadowy man, working from the peripheries of the novel to make it all happen. He is fascinating and he is a mystery to seemingly everyone. Neuvel, however, manages to make a character without a name and apparently without a background one of the best characters in the book. It's hard to explain exactly how well Neuvel's approach to storytelling works because

Neuvel's writing throughout the novel is great. Switching between different characters and different mediums of writing (interviews, reports, etc.) could lead to everything and everyone sounding exactly the same and yet each character feels like an individual. Also, I couldn't help but absolutely love the variety of female characters in this novel. They are great! Neuvel makes you care for them and it is the first time in a long time that a Sci-Fi novel genuinely made me wish for the stars. The ending of Sleeping Giants is a twists readers won't see coming, a final little push to show exactly how creative Neuvel is with his story. I only just found out that Sleeping Giants is actually the first book in a series, the Themis Files, the second of which comes out in 2017. Even without knowing there is a sequel the ending is brilliant, but now Neuvel has left the reader hanging off the proverbial cliff in a great way. Sleeping Giants is a whole story, in the sense that it doesn't feel as if anything has been left out in order to make the reader read the next book, and can be read on its own. You'll probably be as desperate for the sequel as me though, after reading it.

I give this book...

5 Universes!

Reading Sleeping Giants is an experience which I wouldn't trade for anything. Neuvel's novel not only successfully experiments with how to tell a story, it also tells one hell of a story. I will not only be rereading Sleeping Giants, I will also be counting down the minutes to the sequel. I'd recommend this to fans of Sci-Fi, Mystery and experimental writing.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Review + Blog tour: 'Valley of the Dolls' by Jacqueline Susann

Valley of the Dolls 50th Anniversary EditionI am incredibly exited to be a part of Virago's blog tour for the 50th Anniversary of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susan, for which they released a new paperback copy. Valley of the Dolls was the kind of modern classic which I knew off but never had a chance to read. And there were the questions swirling around about whether I could really relate to a 50 year old book about starlets. But, despite its age, I immediately fell under the charm of Susan's novel. Thanks to Virago for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Original pub. Date: 1966
Publisher: Virago
The 50th Anniversary Edition of Jacqueline Susann's All-Time Pop-Culture Classic
At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream. 
Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark. Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls.

Valley of the Dolls was an overnight success when it was published in 1966, being one of the first novels written by a woman which depicted the lives of the rich and famous in fiction. There is something fascinating about how honestly Susann writes this novel and it must have been revolutionising in the 60s. Susann hides nothing, none of the ugly, none of the bad, and also the few moments of incandescent happiness everyone has. There are discussions of orgasms, mental health, drug use, periods, aging, almost everything one could think of. What I loved about Valley of the Dolls is that the women in this novel feel real. Initially I thought that I would really feel the 50 year gap between the novel and me, yet from the first page I could empathise and even identify with Anne's desire for freedom, Neely's desire for validation, and Jennifer's bitter quest to be loved for more than her body.

The novel is split into the stories of three different women, Anne, Neely and Jennifer. All three find their way to New York where they all seem to realise their dreams: they make it! Most stories end there, after the "happy ending" has been achieved, but this is where Valley of the Dolls really gets in swing. Susann allows her readers into the darker side of life, the intense doubts that haunt people throughout their life. After I finished Valley of the Dolls I wondered what it was truly about, what message, if any, we could be drawing from Susann's novel. In the end what I settled on is that Valley of the Dolls is all about the things people do for 'love': the love for others, the love for life, love of self, etc. No one in this book could necessarily be defined as "good", some characters are cold, others greedy, some plain desperate, and yet Susann describes it in such a way that we can see ourselves in their desperation. For women in the 60s it must have been a release to have an internal struggle written down, even if hyperbolically.

Displaying SusannJacqueline.jpg
Displaying SusannJacqueline.jpg
This novel paved the way for many more novels which imitate it but do not reach its heights. Susann describes the life of celebrity with an ease and slight disinterest that makes it all the more interesting. It's the 50s, everyone is lounging around smoking, drinking club sodas, wearing mink furs and popping pills. Susan takes advantage of our obsession with the rich and famous, with the glitz and glamour, to slip in some hard cold story lines. On the one hand you can identify with the characters as a 21st century woman, with their desire to validate themselves, their drive to make it. But they also are products of their environment and their society. The desire to settle down, to "find a man to live for" feels disingenuous to us now, as if it would signify a failure. Desperation never looks attractive, and yet everyone is desperate for love. Does this sound like high-brow literature? I don't know. But does it sound exactly like the plot of The Great Gatsby? Yes. Now what does the difference in reception tell you about how we perceive literature?

There are some absolute gems in this book, quotes which I've underlined and which simply ring true, no matter the strange situations they arose out of. One is below:
“Never let anyone shame you into doing anything you don't choose to do. Keep your identity.”  
Susann's writing is incredibly entertaining and keeps you glued to the page. There is a real distinction between Anne, Neely and Jennifer's voices and their journeys. Despite the 'celebrity column on a good day'-feel to the novel, there is also some genuine depth in Susann's brutal analysis of what humans do for love. The popping of the dolls to calm the nerves, to allow for sleep, to drown out the world, to not have to worry, to make it feel like that endless climb and struggle to the top was worth it, it drives the message home. You're probably not going to walk away from Valley of the Dolls feeling happy and refreshed, but you'll definitely not be forgetting about it soon.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved Valley of the Dolls. I raced through the novel, unable to put it down and delighting in the 'dirty secret'-feeling it gave me. But some parts of the novel came dangerously close to the heart. I'd recommend this to everyone who is both up for a wild ride and some hard truths.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

War & Peace #5: I.iv.7 - I.v.10

It has been ages since I read and wrote about War and Peace so I thought it was high time to get back to my read along. I'm still having a difficulty connecting to War and Peace the way I did with Les Mis after a few weeks, but maybe I just need to actually stick with it this time around. If you'd like, hop over to my last post to catch up with what has happened because otherwise the below points won't make as much sense as I would like. So, here's post #4 in the read along.


Summary of Chapters:
We ended our last section after the Battle of Austerlitz, at which Prince Andrew disappeared. In this new section, Prince Andrew makes a miraculous return, after being presumed by his family, just in time to see his wife Lise go into labour and die. It's a strange mix between happiness and sadness. We then move to the Rostovs, to whom Nicholas has only just returned. He brings Denisov and Dolokhov with him, which only leads to problem. Dolokhov falls in love with Sonya, who is still in love with Nicholas and therefore rejects him. This leads to the former getting the latter into enormous amounts of debt. Denisov also decides that Natasha is the best and "accidentally" proposes to her. Only being 15, her mother wisely helps her to reject it. Nicholas eventually returns back to the army, embarrassed about the money he had to ask his father for.

We then hop over to Pierre, now Count Bezukhov, who has left Helene in St. Petersburg. He meets a mysterious man, Bazdeev, who happens to be a Freemason. Pierre is fascinated by it, of course, and on arriving in St. Petersburg he goes through an initiation rite, joins the Freemasons and leaves for one of his estates. Meanwhile Boris has schmoozed his way up the ranks and makes the acquaintance of Helene at a tea party. He "becomes an intimate" at her house, which I assume will be elaborated on. Meanwhile we return to Bald Hills where Prince Andrew's baby son is ill, leading to him being frustrated with himself and his father, Count Bolkonski. Meanwhile Count Bolkonski is at the front, where things are only going worse. We leave War and Peace with Pierre realizing that it's all good and dandy to be a Freemason but that it's more difficult to actually free your Serfs.

Feel of the Chapters:
I still get a very distinct 'soap opera'-feel from the book, which is entertaining but also doesn't go quite as deep as I'd like? There are some moments, such as Pierre's Mason trial or Natasha's experience of a ball, which are absolutely beautifully written and really stay in the mind. There is a lot of working towards moments, making each chapter's ending feel cliffhanger-esque. The novel is very intensely character-based. The characters need to be interacting in order to let the story develop, and as such time flies. As the novel moves between different characters, months pass, practically years. As such, the novel feels a little bit like Game of Thrones.

Some of the novel's most interesting moments are with the Rostov family. Whereas a lot of characters feel corrupted at heart, with their eyes firmly set on improving their positions, the Rostovs largely seem to be quite a cohesive family unit, in the sense that they all love each other. I think Tolstoy is taking his message that people can be bad perhaps a little bit too far because so far I only like one character out of the plethora of characters Tolstoy has offered us.


General Points:
  • I think Tolstoy is a real big fan of Pierre but I somehow find him quite annoying? He is rich, white, and has suddenly discovered he maybe should do some good so he can feel good about himself as well. I don't necessarily like it very much because he's so proud of himself but has no actual knowledge of the world he plays such a big role in. Yes, I could rant about this!
  • Lise dying did have an impact in the story, mainly because as a character she had constantly been side-lined by the other characters. When a character dies that everyone's been sort of ignoring it makes you feel bad.
  • I always think it's interesting when something like the Freemasons is brought in to add some mystery to their story. Nowadays it is the Illuminati who are the go-to bogeymen, but the rituals and hierarchies of the Freemasons are fascinating so I do see it. I wonder what Tolstoy is planning to do with it.
  • This book really is a testament to how people can't live with but also can't live without each other. Everyone is constantly sniping at each other and yet they're also very reliant on each other. Whenever we see a character alone they're in some kind of trouble and need others to get out of it. The only exception so far is Princess Mary, who is still my favourite character.
Quotes:
'"I love you all, and have done no harm to anyone; and what have you done to me?"' p.254
This is what the expression on Lise's face has to say to her husband when she dies in childbirth. As I said above, as a character Lise faded into the background a bit. She was a typical "product" of her society, too obsessed with the politeness of court, and everyone shamelessly looked down on her for it. So far this has been the first lesson I've learnt from War and Peace.
'It seemed to him that he had been vicious only because he had somehow forgotten how good it is to be virtuous.' p.276
Pierre's mind is blown by Freemasonry and in many ways that is because it comes at the perfect moment for him.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Short Review: 'ZOO: Stories' by Otsuichi, trans. by Terry Gallagher

Short stories are some of my favourite things. Not only are short stories incredibly difficult to write but, when you get them right, they are absolutely amazing. They also allow an author to really stretch their imagination, covering different topics and maybe even experiment with different writing styles. So when I saw ZOO I knew I wanted to give it a try! Thanks to Shueisha and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 10/06/2016
Publisher: Shueisha

Made into a feature film under the same title in Japan, a chilling YA collection of bestselling author, Otsuichi is now available in e-book format at last. Bonus pages include the author's interview.
man watches his girlfriend decompose, one Polaroid at a time. A salesman offers a euthanasia drug at an exorbitant price to a man on a hijacked airplane. An abused boy builds a house in the woods out of dead bodies. These are some of the stories in Otsuichi's ZOO. Creepy, funny, strange, and sad, these stories will fire up your imagination. Let one of Japan’s brightest young authors into your mind. Welcome to the ZOO.
Part of the reason I started A Universe in Words was because I wanted to push myself to read more literature from different countries and cultures. Perhaps short stories are one of the best ways to get to know the literature of a different country because you get so many different takes of an author's style. ZOO contains a range of stories written over four years, between 1998 to 2002, which range across different topics but retain a dark sense of humour. The stories in ZOO should all be classed as horror, technically, with dark twists, morbid realizations, and absurd overtones. Some of the situations created by Otsuichi in this collection are hilarious and yet they are intensely uncanny and creepy at the same time.  The original ideas behind almost every story is fascinating and often the core plot will stay with you way after you've finished the story, but at times the writing style doesn't entirely do justice to the stories itself.

Otsuichi has a very stripped back writing style, which doesn't rely on overt dramatization to get the tension in a situation across. Horrid things are coldly spelled out and partially this is what makes the stories so fascinating. However, this means that sometimes it also feels as if the stories are rushed or written too simply. The stories unfold, with one twist after another, and then simply end. This sounds like exactly what a short story must do, but being used to horror stories which focus more on the interiority of its characters, Otsuichi is both refreshing and also strange. It might take some getting used to but in the end ZOO is very rewarding collection of horror stories from a truly different voice. Among my favourite stories are probably 'The White House in the Cold Forest' which gave me the shivers and 'Seven Rooms', which was amazing.

I give this collection...

3 Universes!

I am really happy to have read ZOO, every story had something unique and interesting to offer the reader. Otsuichi has a fascinating imagination and I basically want to see full length film adaptations of each of these short stories. I'd recommend this to fans of Horror fiction and Absurd fiction.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Review: 'Foxlowe' by Eleanor Wasserberg

Something about family relationships is absolutely fascinating. We are defined by our families and yet we are also constantly trying to somehow get away from them. We try to become our own people and yet can't ever let fo where we came from. Seeing this problematised and explored in fiction is one of my favourite things so I knew I wanted to read Foxlowe the moment I saw it. Thanks to Harper Collins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/06/2016
Publisher: Harper Collins, 4th Estate
A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong. 
We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home. There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya.

We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family. We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away. And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free.

There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

This novel immediately succeeds in making its readers uncomfortable. And I mean that as a compliment. Some books are meant purely for fun and for entertainment, to take their readers' minds off of their everyday lives. But some books are written in order to shake their readers up, to set off that little alarm bell in the back of our heads and wake us up. Family is always a sensitive topic and therefore stories about family will always hold our interest. The family at Foxlowe is made up of typical family members, the Mother, the Father, the Children, etc. and yet the family relationships are incredibly tightly wound. On the one hand they're all closer than family and yet they are not. Written from the perspective of a child, the reader can still sense all the tensions running through Foxlowe, how the adults are battling each other and how the children are stuck in the middle. It's always difficult for a novel to find a common ground between writing from the perspective of a child without dumbing everything down.There is the typical child language, as well as seemingly strange cult-subs In the case of Foxlowe Wasserberg manages this by writing in retrospect, letting Green tell us her story both then and now. There is nothing immature about her and yet we can see a childish innocence in her as well. It makes Green a very interesting main character.

In the end Foxlowe is about the stories we tell each other and ourselves. Stories about our origins and our purpose, and especially the stories that parents and children tell each other. Communes and cults seem to be a thing in fiction at the moment. This is the second book I've read about them this month and I've got at least one other coming up. The popularity of this trope, I think, lies in that people continue to be fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves and the things we are willing to do in order to keep believing in our stories. The story of Foxlowe the novel and Foxlowe the building is really interesting, the way in which the pagan and mystical elements feel so natural and yet there is the constant undertone that something isn't right. Story-telling should be subversive and the reader should be questioning themselves and the plot. At times Wasserberg leaves a little bit too much up in the air, never making concrete certain things that I'm now curious about, but maybe that's part of the magic as well.

Wasserberg's writing is stunning. She makes Green into a fascinating person, twisting around what the reader may expect of her, and of the other people populating Foxlowe. The novel is split up into two parts and Wasserberg makes the difference between the two feel credible, makes the outside and the inside feel like they're worlds apart. At times parts of Foxlowe may stretch what is credible for 21st century readers but since the novel is set in the '90s it also sketches an interesting portrait of the previous century. The way in which Wasserberg creates Foxlowe for the reader, how she describes the rooms, the atmosphere, the magical Solstice gatherings, it's all beautiful and makes the novel what it is. You can almost imagine yourself living there, how perfect it maybe could be. And that's where the seductive danger of Foxlowe lies.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I absolutely loved Foxlowe, partly due to its beautiful writing and because of its interesting plot. Non-linear, non-chronological plots are fascinating, if executed well, and it works perfectly in Foxlowe. I'd recommend this novel to fans of Magical Realism and Literary Fiction.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Teasers and 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman

American GodsSo, I heard the news about Gillian Anderson has joined the cast for the TV adaptation of American Gods and I knew the time had officially come for me to get a crack on this contemporary classic.
A storm is coming...
Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own. Along the way Shadow will learn that the past never dies; that everyone, including his beloved Laura, harbors secrets; and that dreams, totems, legends, and myths are more real than we know. Ultimately, he will discover that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.
Tuesday Intros and Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Jenn over at Books and a Beat.

Intro:
'Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.' 1%
I like this beginning. Shadow sounds like an interesting character and I know I like Gaiman's writing style so this is a beginning that does make me want to continue, even if it doesn't offer a lot. Considering the blurb, though, this is quite tragic.

Teaser
Teaser:
'Wednesday guided his wolf - now a huge and charcoal-gray beast with green eyes - over to shadow. Shadow's mount caracoled away from it, and Shadow stroked its neck and told it not to be afraid.' 21%
I love wolves, they're amazing. They're the best of animals, especially in fiction! So, I'm excited to get to this point in the narrative because I feel like exciting things are happening.


So, what do you think about American Gods? Have you read it, and what do you think?

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Weekly Overview

I haven't done a overview post in a while because Sundays seem to be really busy and my brain is a little bit fried usually. However, I need to get back to more regular scheduling so here it is. I've been busy trying to do reading for my dissertation so I've been reading a lot about psychoanalysis. Everything has stopped making sense and yet a lot of things also do make sense now.

Monday:

Tuesday:
Thursday:
Friday:
Saturday:
It's been a surprisingly productive week but I feel like I'm running low on stuff to post next week so I need to try and get some quality reading time in tomorrow and Monday.

This post is part of the Sunday Post, hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Review: 'The Girls' by Emma Cline

Something about the blurb of this novel drew me in straight away. I'm really dipping into this whole 'girl in the title'-novel trend because I'm simply fascinated by it. And in the case of The Girls there is also a historical edge to it, which makes it right up my alley. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/06/2016
Publisher: Random House UK
California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life....
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. 
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?
In some ways The Girls is, as I hinted in my introduction, "simply" another book in the current craze of books with 'girl' in the title. So it wouldn't be amiss to say something about where this trend comes from. As such, the answer is quite simple. With the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train it become popular to put 'girl' in the title of books in order to make them sell. However, I agree with Megan Abbott who says this trend is about more than just sales:
"I think there's really something at the root of the popularity of Flynn's and Hawkins' books that is far more important than branding or marketing, and I think it's the universal themes that you see in these books that speak to female readers." (NPR)
Something about the darkness which these kind of female-authored, female-centered books bring to their readers is quite unique and new, and it resonates with a whole new audience of female readers. For so long female characters have always been held back by their authors because they felt the need to infuse them with a sense of innate goodness. The only reason a woman could be the bad guy was because she was psychotic, not because perhaps there were different shades to the female character as well. And the new wave of books focusing on girls is opening up how female characters can act, which I'm eternally grateful for.

The Girls centers around a fictionalized version of the Manson-cult, which terrified America during the summer of 1969. Emma Cline takes pretty much direct inspiration from this cul, its worshipping of a male leader figure and it's commune-like nature. But at the true heart of the novel are its girls. There's Evie, a fourteen-year old who finds herself in the middle of a Californian summer with nothing except herself. Set for a large part in '69, Cline describes a time in which the world was slightly different, when there was no social media, when gender relations were still muddier and when an unlocked door maybe wasn't an immediate alarm bell. Her girls are left to themselves, to wonder when their parents suddenly became just people with problems, when the world stopped offering them something interesting. Again, this type of narrative is perfect for anyone who is interested in it. Exploring the darker undertones of teenagehood, of teenage boredom and the struggles between parents and teenagers. Contrasting these relatively normal worries with the tensions of being drawn into a cult and dealing with being exposed to your own darker side.

The story moves quite fluidly between  1969 and the present, with Evie revealing small aspects of her experiences with the cult while also dealing with the world as viewed through darker-tinged glasses. Just like Evie, the reader is desperate to get back to '69, to get a grasp on what actually happened but also because there is just something fascinating and enticing about how humans become evil, how cults work etc. These kinds of books draw you in and by the end you're just a little bit shell-shocked, asking yourself what you would do in that position. Cline's writing is hypnotic, revealing what's inside of Evie's head without spelling everything out exactly. Her descriptions of California in '69, how arid it is, how slowly time goes, the listless days on the ranch. It feels both enticing and disgusting, which must be exactly what Cline wanted. Cline's attention to the girls in the cult, especially on how Evie focuses on Suzanne, feels quite singular because the whole cult of the Manson-family mainly centers on Manson himself. Cline investigates what it is about the girls that makes them follow Russel, where their darkness comes from and how easy it can be to go wrong.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

I raced through The Girls in two nights, absolutely fascinated. Something about Cline's writing style is very enticing and it is a perfect addition to this new genre of women's fiction. I'd recommend this to fans of women's fiction and crime fiction.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Friday Memes and 'Foxlowe' by Eleanor Wasserberg

FoxloweIt's Friday which means it's time for some fun memes again. Today I'm sharing a book I'm starting today which came out yesterday. I hate being behind on publication dates but I was incredibly busy in May so I couldn't read ahead the way I usually do. But I've got a fun read for you: Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg.
A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong
We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home.
There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya.
We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family.
We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away.
And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free.
There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice. Hop over to join in on the meme fun!

Book Beginning:
'Prologue 
At Foxlowe everyone had two names. One is a secret, meant to be lost. For most, it worked like this: first they had the one they came to Foxlowe with peeled away like sunburnt skin. Then a new name, for a new life.' 1%
I like Prologues, they're always very mysterious and interesting. Also, it makes Foxlowe sound like a fascinating place and I really want to know more about it. It's the perfect beginning, in that sense.


F56:
'We crept around the door. I knew it was serious, but still I loved the game of it, everyone straining to keep quiet, moving slow and awkward now, trying to stop the floor from creaking.' 56%
I have no idea what's happening at this point in the narrative but I love sneaking around in houses. In my old house I knew exactly which steps not to walk on because I knew they creaked, etc.

So, does Foxlowe sound like your kind of read?