Friday, 8 April 2016

Phrases and Praises // Quarterly Book Review

It's time already for my first quarterly book review of the year (January to March) and I have to say I've read some real diamonds already this year! A great varied selection of books have slid off my shelf and under my nose, including some rather chunky numbers, so I'm really pleased with my diversity lately and have been super lucky with the amount that turned out new favourites! Since it's quite a list, shall we dive right in?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling 5 * {870 pages}

"Leading up to his fifth year attending Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry's best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer, making Harry desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what he discovers is far more devastating that he could have ever expected..."

How on Earth do you review a Harry Potter book without repeating what has been said a gazillion times before or without spoiling anything for the small tribe of people yet to have enjoyed the novel? Let me then just say that I loved it! I really enjoyed the development of the characters, from the previous books, the story gripped me and was swept along for the ride. If you haven't picked up the Harry Potter series or haven't yet made it to the fifth instalment, what the heck are you waiting for? Get on it! This one was packed with emotion, as the plot thickens and our characters mature, without losing any of it's magical whimsy that makes this series so special.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn 4 * {64 pages}

"On a rainy April morning our unnamed narrator, reading auras at Spiritual Palms, immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the 'psychic' visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan's terror and grief, she realises she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore."

Yes! Gillian Flynn strikes again, with a fast paced, sharp tongued short story. Like other novels by this bodacious author we are introduced to a tangled web of intrigue and mystery, odd and disturbing characters and as we tread delicately along the story, face unease as the pages unfold and the truth is revealed. Then again, what really is the truth? This one will leave you with a sour yet delightfully torturing taste in your mouth.

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed 5 * {160 pages}

"From the best selling author of Wild, a collection of quotes drawn from the wide range of her writings that capture her wisdom, courage and out spoken humour."

The perfect little reminder, perspective giver and thought provoker.

A Dance With Dragons (Part Two): After the Feast: Book 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin 5 * {560 pages}

"The future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance. On all sides bitter conflicts are reigniting, played out by a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skin changers, nobles and slaves. The tides of destiny will inevitably lead to the greatest dance of all."

Everything I wanted (needed) and more! Packed with beloved characters, full to the brim with action, drama and enlightening discovery, the epic story develops further and satisfies immensely. That is, until you realise there is yet still more to come. My habit needs to be fed; George please get a wiggle on!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 4 * {477 pages}

"Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, 'Americanah' is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today's globalised world."

This book blew my mind in varying ways. It is the first of it's nature for me to have experienced, and in doing so I am hungry for more. I immensely enjoyed being exposed to such sharp honesty and blunt delivery. The subjects and issues raised to light may prickle my skin slightly and leave me wriggling in my seat whilst clutching the pages, yet I could not get enough. Walking a day in someone else's shoes... with bells on. For enlightenment, wisdom and to lift that heavy veil of blissful ignorance, pick up this novel and clear your schedule. You got some reading to do.

The Dream Thieves: Book 2 of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater 2.75 - 3 * {439 pages}

"If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps for himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he's not only one who wants those things."

Right. Ok. Hmmm.

This book has me torn into two equally measured pieces. On one hand I loved the story. Correction- love the story. So much so, That I fully intend to see it out to the end of the series (another two books, I believe). I really enjoy the characters and how they are fleshing out more since the first instalment, I am enjoying the direction in which the overall story is heading and I simply cannot resist the growing relationship between our two main characters (not wanting to give too much away).

Yet man oh man. I have a real problem with how this book is written and it kills me to say so. I am not down for writing negative reviews, especially if it involves me laying into an accomplished author.  I just do not jive well with the style, the language and the general flow of the books. It hits me immediately and is almost strong enough for me to call it a day with the series entirely, if it wasn't for that darn impending love entanglement (which is very much what the entire books are riding on, it seems.) It reads like a high school assignment. There isn't enough flourish, or beauty for my usual preference, no depth or charisma. Just feels a little skinny.

But clearly, since I have made it through two whole books with another two lined up and ready to go, it can't be that bad, or rather has enough positive qualities for me to continue.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill 5 * {202 pages}

"Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as it's hero Arthur Kipps, an up and coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle affairs of Mrs Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and most dreadfully- and for Kipps most tragically- The Woman In Black."

Now that was a ghost story! Pure, spine tingling, white knuckled yet elegant gothic story telling. Not in any way horror as we know it today. You won't find any gruesome scenes, any violence or graphic profanity here. This is one for those high of imagination, a lover of Victoriana smog and of grounded sensibility as there are a few hairy moments that will have you hanging off the edge of your chair!

I loved the gentle lay out of the story, the gradual build up of toe curling suspense and the heart felt history of the characters.

Although I read this in Dutch as a way of furthering my language study, I still felt entirely absorbed by the beautiful writing style and the delightfully dramatic wording.  I devoured this book and know already that this will be one that I revisit time and time again.

Room by Emma Donoghue 5 * {401 pages}

"It's Jack's birthday and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 by 11 feet. He loves watching TV but knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside."

This story will break your heart. Just so you know. But please, I urge you to pick it up and allow yourself to be fully absorbed in this tragic yet beautiful story. It is told in such a clever way from such a fascinating perspective. I thought this book was written with a delicate hand, despite it's heavy subject matter and I believed every word and felt such a compassion towards the characters. I was so swept up with the story that I found myself struggling to put the book down. This story will stay with you for a while.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 3.75 - 4 * {368 pages}

"Wuthering Heights is the tale of two families both joined and riven by love and hate. Cathy is a beautiful and wilful young woman torn between her soft hearted husband and Heathcliff, the passionate and resentful man who has loved her since childhood. The power of their bond creates a maelstrom of cruelty and violence which will leave one Emily Brontë's novel is a stunningly original and shocking exploration of obsessive passion."

Beautiful, heart wrenching, tragic. This story is one great contradiction of emotions and a joy to read. Falling into this landscape whilst reading this novel is inevitable and almost a character in itself, the further I reached into the story the closer the air felt, the heavier the haze of early morning mist, the richer the smells from the moors and beyond. The characters are flawed and at times unbearable, which lends to the complexity of the plot and their dark history and haunting fate fill the pages. Richly written and cleverly manipulated.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown 4 * {405 pages}

"Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year, come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on in her life."

What a complex and superbly clever book!

Despite it's harrowing and somewhat difficult to digest subject matter, this novel was a pleasure to read. Tackling so many heavy issues (high school shooting, life as a teenager, trauma recovery, divorce), should have left a dark and unsavoury feel after reading, yet the clever and heart felt way in which it was written eliminated any harsh after thoughts and left the dense reality coupled with a gentle, human delivery of tragic events and how to move forward in the face of it.

The pace of this novel was just right and leads you as a reader through the horrific experience, whilst balancing the emotion and mood of the story with plentiful back and forth between past events leading up to and a current perspective, making for a full and rounded book. Highly recommend.

An Education by Lynn Barber 4 * {199 pages}

"At 16, Lynn Barker was an ambitious school girl working towards a place at Oxford, when she was picked up at a bus stop by an attractive older man in a sports car. So began a relationship that almost wrecked her life. Barber's fascinating memoir takes us beyond this bizarre episode, revealing how it left her with an abiding mistrust of men which paradoxically led her to a promiscuous life style at university until she met her husband- to -be. An Education tells how she went on to work for seven years at daring (for the times) mens magazine Penthouse before beginning her starry days as the Demon Barber- Britain's most entertaining and most feared interviewer."

Read like a dream! Insightful, wise, hilarious, dramatic and incredibly entertaining.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters 5 * {592 pages}

"Sue Trinder was an orphan left in the care of Mrs Sucksby, as a child, who raised her with unusual tenderness, within her home of petty thieves. One day, the most beloved thief of all, Gentleman, carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the main to Maud Lilly, a naive gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud's vast inheritance. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways... But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals."

Everything I love in a novel!

Historical drama jam packed with twists and turns. I loved the complex, fully developed characters, each offering a new depth to the story, a highly thought out perspective and a colourful enrichment to the world I had delved into. The setting is deliciously gritty and grimy, thick with detail and so wonderfully described that it played out in my head like an award winning film. The story immensely clever, I was guessing right up to the very last page and loved the delivery of each new turning of the plot. As you read this novel you will find yourself transported! Allow yourself to fall into another lifetime; tread the cobbles of the Dickensian London slums, hear the screeches and wails beyond the walls of a lunatic asylum, enjoy an afternoon stroll throughout the gardens of Mr Lilly's estate or simply watch from the crowd as the hangman prepares the gallows. Read. This. Book.

So there we have it, a pretty good start to the year I think! What has been the best book you've picked up, in the last couple months? Is there anything on your shelf you're super excited to reach for? Have you read any of the books in this list, and what were your thoughts on them? Let's keep our fingers crossed for some nice weather so we can head outside for some sunshine, fresh air and a brand new book!

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