Monday, 28 January 2013

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin


It took me quite a while to read the third volume of A Song of Ice and Fire because I chose to read the version split into two paperbacks, making it easier to carry around and also enabling me to take a little break half way through.  And I honestly needed the break because this is one of the most epic books I've ever read.  It's by far the best of the series and there's no way I can gush about how fantastic it is without mentioning spoilers, so consider yourself warned!

So many dramatic events take place - it's like Martin spent books one and two building up to this epic, clearing the decks type of story.  By the end of the second paperback there was a game-changing event in practically every chapter and I was completely and utterly hooked.  I read the last 250 pages in one night, staying up much later than I should have done but I honestly could not put it down.  Reading the book made me feel happy, angry, frustrated, shocked and amazed all at once. 

The most shocking event was of course Robb's death during the Red Wedding.  It was at this point that I realised that George R.R. Martin's world really isn't a safe one for any character, even one that the author seemed to have been grooming to be the eventual winner all along.  It's been a while since I've felt actual anger at the direction a story was taking (I put the book down and complained to my husband, who has already read it) and it's a sign of how involved I was in the story.  Up until that point, I had thought Martin was working towards the Starks being the eventual victors, but now I'm not so sure.  The realisation that any of my favourite characters could be next in line for the axe made the story seem much more real and immediate.

After Robb's death, there were many other deaths but I was a bit desensitised.  I wasn't expecting Joffrey to actually die and will miss him in an I-loved-to-hate-him way, he was such a great villain.    Likewise I wasn't expecting Jaime to lose a hand or Tywin Lannister to be murdered.  I knew Littlefinger was not to be trusted,  but the last chapters at Eyrie revealed just how sinister and calculating he is.  And the ending with Catelyn was unexpected to say the least!

One thing I admire about George R.R. Martin is how he can make me completely revise my opinion on a character by offering their point of view.  In books one and two I thought there was nothing likeable about Jaime but through his story-line with Brienne he actually became one of my favourites.  Likewise the Hound. I'm still not keen on the Wall story-lines (although I do like Jon) and was secretly hoping Mance Ryder and the wildlings would win as that would have been more interesting.  Daenerys is an interesting character but I'm getting impatient for her to actually arrive in Westeros so her plot can link with the others.

It'll be interesting to see where Martin goes in the next book as the wars of the five Kings are well and truly over, with all but Stannis dead.  I have a feeling the pace will slow and the story will start to build up again before reaching a crescendo like this one in a few books time.  

Verdict: I haven't loved a book like I loved this one for a long time.
Source: Personal copy
Score: 5 out of 5

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sam Sunday #2: House-Buying Limbo

So here we are a week later and still no real progress on the house buying situation, it's getting really frustrating.  We have sorted out an issue with our mortgage provider (they had the wrong information from our mortgage adviser at one point) but we still haven't exchanged contracts or you know, actually moved.  We are waiting on the current owner at the moment as we're done and dusted with the legal work; all we need to do is pay the solicitors and I'm not doing that until we have an exchange date.  My solicitor still thinks we could exchange on 1st Feb, but I'm dubious to say the least.  It's the half term break for us in three weeks, realistically I would like to either be moved by then or be actually moving during the week off.  I thought planning a wedding was stressful, but it's got nothing on buying a house!

I've been feeling a bit under the weather this weekend, I think the stress from this combined with some additional work stress has got to me.  I was supposed to spend some time with my sister and nephew yesterday, but I decided to rest instead and hopefully not pass any germs I may have on to the baby.  Instead I had a leisurely visit to the library (who else does this when stressed?) and then baked some coconut and lime cupcakes (see above).  We had this flavour combination on our wedding day so baking them always brings back happy memories.

Despite having a busy week, it's been a great week in terms of reading.  I've been reading the following:


I finally finished part two of A Storm of Swords and I just loved it - expect a gushing review soon!  I also finished book one, part one of War and Peace for the readalong I'm participating in and I expect to finish Property tonight as I've only got 40 pages to go.  All three books have been very enjoyable.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Library Haul #2

I've been in a strange reading mood lately.  I usually love historical fiction, literary fiction and books set in other countries but at the moment I don't know what I feel like reading.  I blame George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire; I finished Storm of Swords yesterday and it's such an all-encompassing, engrossing book that it's hard to know what to try next.  Hopefully my new stash of library books will help:


First my fiction/poetry selections (links go to goodreads):
1. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt - I'm a fan of the Canongate myth series but boy am I behind with them!  This is apparently book 17 and my reading total is still in the lower end of the single digit numbers.  Based on Norse mythology, Ragnoraok is about a young girl evacuated to the English countryside in World War Two who is given a copy of a book of ancient Norse myths.
2. Ariel by Sylvia Plath - You can tell I need to rejuvenate my reading by trying new things as I never normally pick up poetry.  But I live Sylvia Plath and I've never actually read this in full.  I have high hopes.
3. Property by Valerie Martin - I use the Orange Prize as a recommendation list as I generally enjoy the short-listed books and winners.  Property won in 2003 and is set in the deep South of America in the 1800s.  Manon is unhappily married to the owner of a sugar plantation in Louisiana as whispers of a slave rebellion grow.


On to the non-fiction selections.  I was in a non-fiction mood today, so they outnumber the fiction:
4. The Devil Came on Horseback by Brian Steidle - Brian Seidle was one of only three Americans hired by the African Union to document the situation in Darfur during 2004.  This book is him bearing witness to the atrocities and genocide.
5. Titans of History by Simon Sebag Montefiore - I know the type of history that focuses on big personalities alone is out-dated now, but I do enjoy it.  I've read and enjoyed Montefiore's books about Stalin so I'm hoping to enjoy skimming through this guide to influential personalities throughout world history.


6. The Lost City of Z by David Grann -  A British explorer attempts to fill in the blank spaces on the map of the Amazon during the 1920s but then vanishes without a trace.  I love a good adventure story, especially if it's true.
7. Enslaved by Jessica Sage and Liora Kasten - Modern day slavery is such an under the radar issue, so I'm looking forward to this book of true stories from slaves.  Hopefully I will learn more about the millions of people that are currently held as slaves around the world.

Have you read any of these titles?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet's Twin by Michael D. Lemonick

One of the joys of having taken an astrophysics module last year is that I'm now fascinated with the universe.  I've always been a bit interested; but now I know about dark matter, black holes and the inside of stars, I'm completely absorbed. Expect this to be the first of many reviews of non-fiction books with a space theme.

Mirror Earth is about one of the most exciting research topics in astrophysics at the moment, planets that exist beyond our solar system (exoplanets).  It was only in the 1990s that scientists were able to detect such planets, and they've been overturning our expectations about the universe ever since.  Before exoplanets, scientists assumed that planets near their stars must be small and rocky, with large gaseous planets further away (such as Jupiter and Saturn).  But the first exoplanets discovered were many times larger than Jupiter and many times closer to their stars than Mercury is to our sun.  Many have strange orbits and don't behave in the way that we expect planets to at all.  Theoretically, these planets just shouldn't exist.  But they do.

Of course, discovering exoplanets (and there are many known ones now) is only the first step for scientists who hope to find a 'mirror' earth, one that could meet all the conditions for life.  This is really the meat of the book, as Lemonick discusses attempts to isolate and study planets that could possibly be habitable.  He takes a Bill Bryson-like approach of mixing the science with information about the scientists and the process of discovery, and this is largely successful.  I spent the first half of the book in awe of the perseverance and ingenuity of scientists who have been able to identify invisible planets around stars that are mere sparkling dots in the sky.  It's not simply a case of looking into the sky with a telescope, it's about the slightest movement of a star due to the planet's gravity and the tiniest possible blurring.  It's technical stuff.

Things get even more interesting as the discussion moves on to questioning our assumptions about life.  Most of the book and indeed, most of recent scientific history, is taken up with the quest to find planets like our own because scientists have assumed that life can only exist in similar conditions.  But in the final chapter, Lemonick considers other possible planetary systems from the realm of theoretical physics.  It's possible there are carbon-based planets with cores of pure diamond and "diamond continents sloping down to seas of tar."  What kind of life might such a planet harbour?  It seems physicists are questioning their basic ideas about life and I can't wait to see what research comes out of this in the future.

I really enjoyed Mirror Earth, but it wasn't perfect.  Whilst it was interesting to read about the actual scientists and their quests to discover planets (especially their funding issues), some of these sections went on for too long.  Had I not studied astrophysics at an introductory level, I would have struggled to understand the techniques the physicists used, although I could have kept up with the theories and discoveries easily.  But for an "awe and wonder" book, it's hard to beat.  The universe is more strange and diverse than we ever thought, and we're only scratching the surface of all the different possibilities.

Source: From the publisher, via Netgalley
First Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sam Sunday #1: The Snow Edition

I'm always writing that I want to make my blog more personal, more than just a stream of book reviews, so today is the start of weekly personal updates on a Sunday.  I enjoy personal posts on other blogs and getting to know the bloggers behind the reviews, so it's time I opened myself up a bit too.

I'm currently tucked up warm inside a blanket as it's snowing outside and has been since I woke up this morning.  The snow is fairly light but has settled and is slowly accumulating.  It's been constantly snowing on and off since Friday and although school was open on Friday, I'm sort of hoping for a snow day tomorrow.  I have a long commute and my car is unable to cope with snow, so if school does open tomorrow I'm expecting a long journey in via train and bus.  I love my job, but getting in via public transport is a massive pain.

However, the snow has given us an excuse to have a lovely weekend in.  I caught up on some reading yesterday and started a new course on Coursera.  I've always loved to study and over the last year or so, I've been missing being at university and learning new things.  I took an astrophysics module through the Open University last year (which was incredible) but unfortunately my budget doesn't allow me to do that very often.

But Coursera is wonderful - it's real, live university courses without the cost.  I'm not looking for course credit, just mental exercise, so I'm not bothered that I'm not earning credits.  At the moment I'm one week into a course entitled 'The Modern World: Global History Since 1760' and it seems like it's going to be fascinating.  I'm considering an algebra course that starts next week, to keep up the mathematical side of my brain, but I'll see how I go.  There's an interesting one coming up on fantasy and sci-fi too, but I have enough to read at the moment!

Hopefully we should be finalising buying our house next week.  It's been a lengthy and frustrating process - we made an offer in September and will not move before Feb 1st or Feb 8th.  I'm expecting lots more calls to solicitors/ mortgage advisors and I will start officially stamping my feet and making demands if it is not sorted soon.  I thought planning a wedding was stressful, but it's nothing to buying a house.  Anyway, fingers crossed I have good news to report next week.

Books Read:
Reviews posted: Sea of InkThe Runaway Princess

Friday, 18 January 2013

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

Ah, the last novella in mine and Lyndsey's (from Tolstoy is my Cat) Peirene Press readalong.  And it's a good one too.  Sea of Ink tells the life of Bada Shanren, born into the Chinese royal family in 1626, shortly before the dynasty is destroyed by rivals.  Abandoning his life as a Prince, Bada becomes a nomad painter, wandering between different towns and roles.  Disillusioned with humanity, his paintings focus on nature and become more simplistic over time.  Sea of Ink tells the story of both his life and the development of his art.

Despite not being a big fan of art, I really enjoyed Sea of Ink.  I liked how Weihe took us right into the mind of Bada Shanren as he painted and made the physical process of painting such a large part of the story.  Bada Shanren's quest to capture nature with a single brushstroke had a sense of poetic beauty about it, and I loved that the paintings were included in the book alongside the relevant chapters.

Sea of Ink is a tranquil book.  Although Bada Shanren faces some difficult life events throughout it's pages, the whole story is calm and quiet, which I appreciated.  Sometimes we all rush around, ignoring the world around us, and this novella works as an antidote to that.  It reminded me to take a moment to really see what is around me.  Sea of Ink is about perseverance and living your life in your own way;

"...besides the old role models you also have your own: yourself.  You can not hang on to the beards of the ancients.  You must try to be your own life and not the death of another."

The only issue I had with the book was that it didn't seem to flow as smoothly as some of the other translations from the series.  And the sacrifice for the calm, tranquil qualities in the story was some degree of disconnect from the main character.  I never felt Bada Shanren's losses heavily as Weihe keeps him at a distance from the reader.  The story was about more than the character, and I was OK with that.  

I'm glad we finished the Peirene Press novellas on a high note!  There'll be one more discussion post next Thursday and then it's all over.  I'll miss opening the cover of a new novella every Sunday evening...

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne

Amy Wilde is at a party one evening when she meets a man named Leo.  Only after several dates does she realise that he is in fact Prince Leopold, a member of a minor European royal family.  Sounds perfect, right? But Amy is totally unprepared for the change in her life that dating royalty brings - her every move is scrutinised in the papers and she's put on a punishing fitness regime by Leo's family.  When a chance change to the succession laws brings Leo closer to the throne, the pressure on Amy intensifies and her own secrets threaten to become public knowledge.

The Runaway Princess is certainly different from my normal reading but I was craving a bit of brain candy last week and I did dream of marrying a Prince as a young girl (My Mum always wanted me to marry Prince Harry and my older sister to marry Prince William!!).  I liked the premise of the book, how it promised to go beyond the 'happily ever after' and I was in the mood for some light relief.  And on these terms, the book delivered.  It was fluffy and fun and it was always a pleasure to pick it up after being at work all day long.  It's easy to empathise with Amy and Browne had some fun with the minor characters too.

The only problem with this book was that Leo was mind-bogglingly perfect.  I mean, come on!  I could buy that he was sick of the trappings of royalty and just wanted to meet a normal girl, but I couldn't believe that he was that accommodating and non-spoilt, in addition to of course being amazingly handsome.  In fact, a better story-line could have been Amy falling in love with his arrogant brother Rolf, that might have had some more chance for character development.  As in most of the chick-lit I've read, the ending felt very tidy and again, I couldn't believe that Leo was that perfect.

On the whole, I spent a happy few nights with this book in a happy, stress-free place.  It's not high literature, but I did enjoy escaping with it :)

Source: Personal copy (kindle)
First Published: 2012
Score: 3 out of 5

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read Tender is the Night last weekend for the Classics Club Readathon but have only now got the time to sit down and write about my thoughts properly (I blame going back to work).  Before picking up this book, I had read The Great Gatsby (my review), which I liked but not as much as I had hoped.  I found the themes interesting but felt that the writing was too detached and failed to make an emotional connection with the characters.  Tender is the Night is the opposite of that; it's an emotionally raw, utterly miserable book and it had me captivated from the moment I picked it up.

We start the book with Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress on holiday in the French Riviera in the 1920s.  On the beach she meets Dick and Nicole Diver, a rich married couple who have drawn people to them by their wealth, charisma and lifestyle.  Rosemary imagines herself instantly in love with Dick and the story seems to be a straightforward tale of possible adultery.  But then things change about a third of the way through the novel when we jump back in time to when Dick and Nicole met, at a psychiatric facility where Nicole was being treated.  From this point on, Tender is the Night is the story of the steady decline of their marriage and nothing is spared.  Nicole's early reliance on Dick feeds into his need to be loved and adored and this forever prevents them from being happy together.  I don't know too much about Fitzgerald but much of Tender is the Night seems to be based on his experiences with his wife, Zelda, who also underwent treatment for mental illness.

Nicole is fabulously wealthy and much of the novel is taken up with their attempts to 'stay busy', by constantly visiting new places, going out every day and 'never being too tired for anything'.  I've seen reviews of the book criticising it as it's hard to feel sympathy for the ultra-rich, but this wasn't a problem for me.  Happiness doesn't depend on your bank balance and the impact of mental illness is felt right across classes.  It's soon apparent that the illusion of happiness around the Divers that draws others to them is just that, an illusion.  Sure, I'd love to own a home in the French Riveria and not have to work if I didn't feel like it, but I'd much rather be emotionally fulfilled and not have the constant need for external distractions.

It was obvious that some of the novel was based on Fitzgerald's own experiences as everything felt so real, all the complex emotions that go into a marriage, whether it is a happy one or not.  The decline of their marriage is protracted and utterly miserable to read about, as they did once genuinely love one another.  What I took from this book is the importance of both people in a relationship having the space to grow and be their own people, and to interact as equals. For the Divers, Dick was always the protector and Nicole the patient from the clinic.  This meant that whenever Nicole showed signs of independence, their relationship was threatened.   Dick's need to be adored was his weakness;

"....realising this power, he had made his choice, chosen Ophelia, chosen the sweet poison and drunk it. Wanting above all to be brave and kind, he had wanted, even more than that, to be loved."

It goes without saying that Tender is the Night is beautifully written.  It's not a book to rush through, but one to read slowly and marvel at the lyrical prose.  It didn't make me happy to read it, but it certainly had a powerful impact on me.  I'm glad I waited until I was well into my twenties and married myself before picking it up.  I know that The Great Gatsby is supposedly the 'Great American Novel', but Tender is the Night is the saddest and yet most wonderful book I've read in a long, long time.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1934
My Edition: Vintage, 2010
Score: 5 out of 5
Classics Club: Book 6/72 (my list is here).

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

The Murder of Halland is novella eight out of the nine that Lyndsay from Tolstoy is my Cat and I are reading as part of our Peirene Press readathon, and part of the Small Epics series.  Bess is a writer living in a small, tight-knit community with her partner Halland.  One morning she is woken by the sound of a gunshot and soon receives the news that Halland has been murdered.  The police start to investigate whilst Bess starts to grieve.  Throughout the process, Bess starts to see her neighbours, friends and family in a different light, and faces up the consequences of the decisions she has made throughout her life.

I should start this review by confessing that I'm not a fan of crime/detective fiction.  I've read a few popular crime books and some Sherlock Holmes, but I just can't get into it.  I know I'm supposed to solve the puzzle of who committed the crime but that's not how I like to read.  Sure enough, whilst reading The Murder of Halland, I didn't spend any time trying to work out who murdered Halland and consequently later events were a surprise to me.  The crime aspect of the book was well written but didn't appeal to this particular reader.  I also can't judge how much it 'dismantles the rules of an entire genre' (quote from the back cover), as I'm not familiar enough with the genre to tell.

Luckily, The Murder of Halland is much more than crime-by-numbers, it's also about grief and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.  Many of the sections dealing with this rang very true to my own experiences.  There's one chapter in the book where Bess is supposed to go to a library to give a talk (she's a writer) and checking her emails, she finds a confirmation.  In the space of a few short sentences she goes from almost flippancy ("should I create an auto-reply saying my husband had been murdered?") to despair;

"What had I written?  I didn't want to think about work.  Perhaps I would never want to think about writing again.  That belonged to the past and it didn't matter any longer."

Grief has been like that for me too; a roller-coaster of emotions and the constant worry of whether you are grieving properly or not, whether people will judge you for smiling or for leaving the house.  I think Juul's writing will relate to the experience of most people ("If normal everyday life had resumed, the washing needed attention.") and I connected well with Bess.

So a bit of a mixed bag.  The crime sections didn't appeal but the writing was simple and heart-felt, honest about the grieving process.  If you are a crime fan, you'll enjoy this book.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Monday, 7 January 2013

In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires

I received this book for Christmas, it's an updated version of one of the original books to delve into the life of the 'real' Dracula, Vlad the Impaler/Vlad Dracula, and to investigate the origin of Romanian folk-lore about vampires.  Regular readers of my blog will know that Dracula is one of my favourite books and that I'm fascinated with the vampire myth (though not the paranormal romance kind!).  As McNally and Florescu are both scholars who have travelled intensively in the Wallachia region and researched all over the world, I was excited to start reading this book.  As well as covering the life of Vlad Dracula, it looks at the origins of the myth and how the representation of Dracula on stage and screen has changed over time.

In Search of Dracula was concise, but packed full of interesting facts.  Although much of the information was already familiar to me, it was presented in an interesting way and there were some new facts.  I had no idea of the connections between Dracula and the Bathory family, and McNally and Florescu do a great job of portraying the context of Vlad Dracula's cruelty, while not excusing it.  Vlad Dracula was constantly fighting challengers to his power (sometimes from within his own family), as well as attempting to push back the Ottoman threat.  If you've never read anything about the historical Dracula, this book would be completely fascinating.   

For me, the most interesting part was when the authors veered away from strict history and considered whether all the myths about Vlad Dracula could be true.  Did he really dine among a field of impaled humans, dipping his bread in their blood?  Translations of the original German anti-Dracula pamphets are included in the appendix and whilst they are grossly exaggerated, the authors conclude that the historical Dracula did probably commit some of the acts ascribed to him, those that he had the motive for.  Again, this part was morbidly fascinating to read.

The only place where the book fell down was in the later stages, where the authors moved on to considering how Bram Stoker's Dracula has been represented in film, and more broadly how books about vampires have changed over the time.  Although this had the potential to be interesting, in reality it was mainly a list of books/films with a brief description of each, which I admit to skipping over.

On the whole, this is a short but fascinating book about the life of the historical Dracula and the evolution of the vampire myth.  Fans of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian will love it.

Source: Personal copy (Christmas gift)
First Published: 1972
Score: 4 out of 5

Read Alongside:
1. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - A scholar receives a mysterious book with a dragon inside it and his search for the origins of the book lead him through the history of the historical Dracula.  Gothic fiction.
2. From Demons to Dracula by Matthew Beresford - Non-fiction account of the history of vampires.
3. Vlad by C.C. Humphreys - Fictional retelling of the life of Vlad Dracula, as seen by his confessor and friend.  No vampires here.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Classics Club Readathon - Ending Post


So my first ever readathon is now finished.  I managed to get a good chunk of reading done, although not quite as much as I had hoped.  I read about 260 pages of Tender is the Night yesterday and finished it off in bed this morning.  It was a very good book, but boy is it miserable.  When I read The Great Gatsby, I felt like there was emotional detachment all the way through, but that's not the case with Tender is the Night; there's so much raw pain in it's pages.  I'm glad that I read it, and reading it over the course of a day and a bit (normally it would take me about a week) enabled me to get right into the book and experience it more fully.  There'll be a review to follow in the next few days.

Closing questionnaire:
  1. What book(s) did you read during the event? Just Tender is the Night by F Scott FItzgerald. 
  2. What book(s) did you finish? Technically none, as I finished this morning (Jan 6th).
  3. What did you like about our event? I enjoyed visiting other blogs and finding some great new blogs to follow.  I loved the social aspect of reading together and being able to read guilt-free, putting everything else aside for the day.
  4. Do you have suggestions for future Readathons through The Classics Club? Maybe extend  the event over a whole weekend?
  5. Would you participate in future Readathons? Definitely!

Whilst I didn't quite reach my reading goals, I'm pleased with the amount of reading I managed.
How did you get on?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Classics Club Readathon

The Classics Club readathon is here!  Even though it doesn't techincally start until 1pm GMT, I have decided to just read on the day, January 5th, rather than trying to follow American times.  I was all set to read Bonjour Tristesse, but then last night I was struck with an urge to read something 1930s and miserable.

Enter Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald!  I read about fifty pages or so last night and so far I am enjoying it and already feel more of a connection to it than I did to The Great Gatsby.  The characters are all very rich, but aimless, bored and miserable.  Perfect for January.

I'm probably going to concentrate just on this book today, but if I need a break from it I might still pick up Bonjour Tristesse.  I'm also hoping to spend some time commenting on blogs and being social, as this is my first readathon.

Happy reading everyone!

Edited to add the classics club questionnaire:
  1. Name and Blog: I'm Sam (the female kind) and my blog is called Tiny Library.
  2. Snacks and Beverages of Choice: It's almost 2pm here, I've just had some homemade minestrone soup and croutons for lunch.  I plan to snack on Christmas chocolates throughout the afternoon (dairy milk, yum!) and then I'm visiting my parents for a chicken madras later on.  It's going to be a good food day!
  3. Where are you reading from today? My home, which is near London in the UK.  I'm moving between my sofa and comfy reading chair.
  4. What are your goals for the Readathon? Just to enjoy the day.  I go back to work on Monday so a lovely relaxing day reading is perfect preparation.
  5. What book(s) are you planning on reading? I'm reading 'Tender is the Night' by Fitzgerald.  If I finish that, I'll continue the French Riveria theme and pick up 'Bonjour Tristesse' by Francoise Sagan.
  6. Are you excited? Of course!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Upcoming Events

I don't tend to sign up for yearly reading challenges but what I have discovered over the last year or so is that it's much more fun to read cooperatively than alone.  In the spirit of reading togetherness, here are two reading events I'm taking part in soon:

1. Classics Club Readathon - 5th January 2013

Believe it or not, this will be my first ever readathon!  No way will I manage twenty-four hours (I love sleep too much), but my husband is out for most of the morning so I intend to get a good chunk of reading done then.  Unfortunately, I have packed most of my classics away for our upcoming house move, and War and Peace won't have arrived yet (see below), so I think I'm going to start with Bonjour Tristesse, as I have a copy of it to hand and it's nice and short, therefore satisfying for a readathon.  To be honest, I'll be pleased to finish just the one book but I might also root around and start something new.

Information and sign up: here

2. War and Peace Read-along - All Year

War and Peace isn't even on my classics club list, but I loved Anna Karenina so much that I've jumped at the chance to read War and Peace in a group.  Reading solo, it intimidates me but chunky books like this are so much easier when read with friends.  The schedule is quite relaxed and runs all year, so I should still have plenty of time to read other books alongside it. I've ordered the Peaver and Volokhonsky translation as I thoroughly enjoyed their translation of Anna K.  

Information and sign-up: here

I'm excited, lots of classics reading in the upcoming months!  At the moment, all I want to read is classics, fantasy epics and 1000+ page chunksters.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg

The Brothers is the sixth book out of a total of nine that Lyndsay from Tolstoy is my Cat and I are reading as part of a read-along of novellas published by Peirene Press.  We've completed the Female Voices and Male Dilemmas series; The Brothers is the first in the series entitled Small Epics.  I've been looking forward to this series all along as I love epic fiction, although I'm more used to it in chunkster rather than novella form!

The Brothers is about Henrik and Erik, Finnish brothers in 1809 who fought on opposing sides of the war between Sweden and Russia, that made Finland a part of the Russian Empire.  Although they share blood, there has long been conflict between them, and when Henrik finally returns home, it's to a broken house full of people that hide secrets of their own.  In the wintery wilderness, Henrik and Erik must face up to each other and the revelations that are to come.

I enjoyed The Brothers, mainly for the atmosphere.  I read this novella in one go on New Year's Day, snuggled up in a blanket with the heating turned up.  So it was wonderful to read about the icy Finnish winter, the rugged Farmhand, the distant wife and the frozen rivers.  On the back cover, it states that The Brothers is a 'Shakespearean drama from icy Finland' and the atmosphere reminded me a cross between Hamlet and a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.  I wanted to dive right into this book, the setting was that vivid.

Despite the historical elements, The Brothers is mainly a story about what can happen to people when they live in isolation from larger communities.  Some of the drama and secrets centre around Erik's wife, Anna, but in a way that's inevitable as she's the only woman we read about existing in the community of what seems to be only two houses.  When you live so shut off, boundaries between relationships blur and people have to take on multiple roles in your life.  That said, I didn't guess the big reveal near the end (although there are plenty of smaller reveals along the way) and I loved that Sahlberg was able to surprise me.

Although I very much enjoyed this book, there was a distance from the characters that stopped me loving it. I don't mind less than perfect characters, so the flaws of Henrik didn't concern me, but it was written in a style that reflected the cold, icy Finnish winter.  Whilst I admired the writing, this technique also stopped me from connecting with any of the characters properly, and it was this that made me only like the book, rather than love it.  It is a wonderfully written book though, and well worth reading for the atmosphere alone.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Back in September, I started a Little Women read-along hosted by Risa at Breadcrumb Reads (you can see my thoughts here and here).  It covered the first volume of the story Little Women but not the second part, which is sometimes known as Good Wives.  Indeed, growing up, I always knew the two parts as two separate novels but that isn't always the case and my Penguin Threads edition contains both.  So before the end of 2012, I decided to clear the reading decks by finishing the second half of the novel.  This review will cover the whole story but focus mainly on Good Wives.  There are spoilers ahead!

Good Wives opens three years after the events of Little Women, with the wedding of the oldest March sister Meg to John Brooke. It's a far more grown up story than the first, with all of the sisters reaching adulthood and trying to find their own way in the world.  Jo jumps at an opportunity to go to New York and pursue a career in writing, but is in for some hard knocks along the way.  Amy still wants to be a 'lady', but has learned to control her vanity and has to decide whether to marry purely for the money that the family needs.  Meg learns that being a wife and running a home can be a challenge and Beth is still the same kind soul she was from the first volume.

I first read Good Wives as a teenager, and I remember not being too impressed with it.  My young, romantic heart was very disappointed that Jo and Laurie didn't end up together and the concerns of the sisters didn't really relate to my own life.  But now, in my mid-twenties, the book makes a lot more sense.  Like the March girls, I grew up in a happy home with a sister I'm close to and growing up and away is both a lovely and sad experience.  I read that in the book too, the happiness to be achieving dreams and getting married but the sadness and nostalgia that things will never be the same again.  I've been married for eighteen months and I'm now an aunt, which is wonderful, but sometimes I miss being young and living at home with my Mum, Dad and sister.  There was a sense of that throughout the whole second half of the novel which spoke to me.  I completely missed the bitter-sweet tone of the story as a teenager.

Reading Good Wives, I feel justified in choosing Amy as my favourite of the March girls.  In Little Women she's always struggling to catch up with her older sisters but in Good Wives she has matured.  On this read, I could appreciate how well suited Amy and Laurie were, her calmness offsetting his hot-headedness.  Obviously this means my young, romantic heart has well and truly left the building!

Reading Little Women was like sitting down with old friends, the whole experience was very comforting.  I was thoroughly into the story and felt the emotions along with the sisters (especially when a certain tragic event takes place).  I'm glad I made the time to re-read this book.

Classics Club: Book 5/72 

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1868
My Edition: Penguin Threads, 2012
Score: 5 out of 5