Lover

“There is no such thing as a broken heart. The heart is a muscle not a vase.”

The quote above sums this novel up perfectly and beautifully! But to really explain what it is about… We meet a middle-aged couple who have been married for 10 years, have two young children and to all purposes are very happy in their lives together. Until one day, Kate comes across some emails from her husband to another woman. As they try to discuss and move past this, it transpires that this isn’t the only occurrence and it actually gets much worse from here. We follow Kate through discovering of, dealing with and the consequent living with the situation. This is truly a story about finding oneself, finding solace in those around you and recreating your life once something has tipped your world upside down.

This is a heartbreaking and life affirming story. Raverat writes beautifully and is really grounded in what she writes. We follow Kate through some of the most difficult times of her life, and there is no emotion hidden from us whilst she does this. The questions she has, the feelings she deals with and the actions she does are all so relatable. Your heart breaks alongside hers and as she begins to repair, so do you. There are certain points where Kate will do something really irrational and you can’t help but think… that is so something I would do! You really are alongside her all the way.

The timescale of the novel is done really well also, we all know that a broken heart doesn’t recover in a matter of days, weeks or months. And the insights that Raverat gives us across the different stages and time periods is really reflective of this. Just as developing a character and letting them grow doesn’t take place over a month… Speaking of which, the character development of this story is impeccable and I feel so proud of Kate at the end. It gets to the point where it doesn’t matter if they get back together or not, she has found her feet and she will make the decision that is best for her and her family. She reaches that stage of growth where you trust in her as she trusts in herself once more. Raverat breaks down the third wall and allows you to really resonate with the main character and just get behind her all the way.

A really lovely, understated read. Heartbreaking and heartwarming. It will make you laugh and cry. I absolutely adored this book. I’m going to leave you with a quote from it so you can all get a feel for the fantastic writing of this incredible read…

“Then again, people don’t always know the contents of their own hearts: we are such secrets, even to ourselves.”

 

Lover by Anna Raverat

Ready Player One

A further foray into Science Fiction! I think I’m going through a phrase… Anyway, Ready Player One is set in the year 2044 where the world has encountered an oil crisis, bank crisis and all other crises’ you can think of. The world is falling apart around everyone and the only thing that keeps people going (or at least our main characters) is living in a virtual reality OASIS. This is essentially a 3D interactive gaming device where you can play any number of games, go to school, work, meet friends and travel across worlds and galaxies. OASIS is huge, colossal. The games creator has recently died and left a trail of clues within his game to an Easter Egg. The prize for finding this easter egg is his fortune (billions upon billions) and his shares in OASIS. You can only imagine the  fight to get in there and figure things out… The biggest corporation company in the world at this point has their sights set on this and when our main character Wade finds the first key… it’s not going to be just a virtual fight anymore.

This novel is full of references to the movies, games, music, books, any pop culture references you can make, he does. There is a real affinity with the 80s scene and a lot of the references derive from there. I enjoyed these and it allowed the world to flesh out, it made you feel as though if OASIS was real it would be so cool to be in. Which made it all the more realistic for me. I’m not going to pretend that I understood the majority of these (to be honest, a lot went over my head) but I knew enough that it made it more enjoyable than elusive.

The concept of this story is fantastic, it really grasp the imagination and the fact that it is pretty much an online treasure hunt for the world to play just seems like such a cool idea. And it is. It’s a really good idea. However…

Cline’s characters, while interesting, didn’t quite connect with me. I liked Wade from the beginning but as we started delving into it more, I just came to dislike him a bit. I didn’t really relate to his attitude and some of his actions actually made me disgusted at times. I really like the ending for this character but I wasn’t liking him all the way through which for a story like this, I kind of needed to.

I also wish that there was more of a social discussion and a focus on the fact that the world is falling apart and everyone has been living in a virtual reality in order to ignore these problems. I have to admit that I found that side of things more fascinating that some of the other plotlines.

All in all though, a good read. I raced through it and really enjoyed the little nods to the different forms of pop culture. I loved the ending which was really well done. And this is going to be a film directed by Steven Spielberg so hell yes! That is something I will definitely be tuning in for!

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A Darker Shade of Magic/A Gathering of Shadows

Now this is a first. I am doing a two-part review! Or a review for two books at the same time.. Or… Never mind. Anyway. It’s a first. I am not going to spoil anything (or try really hard not to!!) but I will put a separate review of the second book (A Gathering of Shadows) below with a heading so feel free to skip or turn away QUICKLY. But for now.. A Darker Shade of Magic as a series…

So A Darker Shade of Magic begins with Kell who is an Antari, one of the last magicians in all the worlds that can master all types of elemental magic and can travel across dimensions, primarily into different Londons. He works with the royal family and delivers letters to the different rulers across the three Londons (Red, White and Grey). Each with their own different countries, worlds and levels of magic. On such a trip to White London he get tricked into taking a forbidden object from the long dead Black London first into Red London before getting attacked and escaping to Grey London. This object should not exist and it’s magic is not only powerful but dangerous. We also meet Lila who is a cross-dressing pirate without a ship, thieves to live, and has the continuous urge to live life on the edge. When she becomes involved with Kell and the new world of magic she never dreamed existed, she may very well come to regret her urge to push her limits. But together can they send the stone where it belongs and be alive at the end of it?

I have to say that I cannot name my favourite part of these books… Is it the different Londons that are completely different yet lie on top of each other and are cut off from one another? Is it the absolute beauty of the magic? Is it the characters? Is it the element of danger? Is it the greatness of the world building? Yes to all! It’s all my favourite bit. The concept is fantastic and really visual. V. E. Scwab is really good at writing in an understated, relatable way in worlds that are way beyond our experience.

The characters are absolutely incredible. I am going to admit to something that may come back to haunt me but… Lila is one my favourite female characters of all time. She is just epic. Independent, fierce, strong-headed, stubborn, strong, and sassy. And she’s a pirate! What more can I say? I love her relationship with Kell and I really appreciated the fact that Schwab didn’t force any romantic attentions on them from the beginning. That isn’t the main part of the story and she didn’t remove the focus from the actual story.

The different Londons and the different stages of magic really came to life and the way it’s explained (using mostly analogies and metaphors) really fit with me and helped me GET the worlds.

I also love the ending of the first book. The last page really gets me and sticks with me. I cannot tell you how excited I was to get the second one into my hands… And this is where, if you have not read or don’t want to know ANYTHING then you had better pick this baby up soon!

A Gathering of Shadows

As I just mentioned, I was so excited to read this and just to stare at it for a while! The return of Kell and Lila seemed so right and natural. They don’t meet again until quite a way into the book and I loved this. I adored reading about how they lived their own lives apart and got into their own adventures before seeing each other again. I also loved the new characters (both the brand new and the new insights into an older character) I thought this was a really refreshing change for the second book in a series and I adored both characters just as much as I do Kell (maybe not quite up to Lila’s level, but nothing much is) and their relationship is soooo good. It was actually my favourite bit of the whole thing!! If you have read it then you know the little twist I’m talking about. Such a surprise but was amaze-balls. Yes. I did just use that in a real sentence…

OK, I’m going to calm down now and basically summarise what I thought/think of the whole thing. I adore it, if it isn’t obvious! The characters really make it for me and they are incredible. I would read this series over and over and over. And I will. My new favourite series (along with The Name of the Wind, please see previous post here:). But if you have not begun this series yet, you really are missing out. I’m just gutted that I have to wait so long for the next one…

I have attached both the US and the UK covers of both titles here as well and boy don’t they look fab!

 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Sovereign

Historical fiction is a neglected love of mine. I adore it yet I barely ever read it. This is one occassion where I tried to correct this. Sovereign is the third book in C.J.Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series set in Henry VIII’s time. I have not read any other books in this series but continued regardless, and to be perfectly honest, it didn’t effect my reading experience much at all.

Sovereign follows the lawyer Shardlake and his assistant Barak on their journey to York, where Shardlake has been hired to process petitions to the King during the famous procession of 1541. The King is trying to quell the rebellious thoughts in the North of England, in an infamous procession throughout the East of England. He is with his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who has still yet to fall pregnant thereby failing to produce a male heir for dear King Henry. Shardlake has been charged with an extra task by the Archbishop Cranmer to ensure the health and safety of an important prisoner in York and then to accompany him to the Tower of London where true torture awaits. Things seem to be going in a mediocre way until a glacier gets killed. Shardlake finds himself the head of the investigation and gets caught up in uncovering a rebellious plot to upend the King. With the discovery of secret documents, multiple assassination attempts and some truly power-hungry authoritarians, is he ever going to get to the bottom of it? Or even come out of the trip alive?

This is a slow burner… It took me a while to get into it and I think that it was down to the amount of time it took for the initial murder to take place that kicks everything off. There was a lot of setting the scene which I appreciated due to the fact that I hadn’t read any other novels in the series but also felt impatient with as there was nothing to really get “into”. Once things do start kicking off and the pace picks up, this truly gets interesting. I was fascinated to read more about the time period and found it really interesting. The main characters dealt with things quite well and Shardlake is intelligent without being a genius which is refreshing. He talks a lot of sense which got me behind him.

The characters were all quite interesting although I didn’t take to any of them despite the size of the book (around 600 pages). I thought that I would become attached to some of them as you normally would but nope. I’m not sure I like the relationships either. I think this is where I should have read the other books, to see the progression of their relationships and characters. Hopefully this would have solved this issue for other readers.

It was very well done in it’s historical detail and it’s storyline. I enjoyed the storyline and the secret documents. It also made me want to read more about that time period and especially about the procession that Henry VIII was on, the unrest and of course the religious side of it all. I think that it what a historical fiction book should do. It’s to tell you in a loose way what happened and can really spur you on to study it more. Which as a history buff I tend to do!

Now I tell you something… the ending was a shocker. It wasn’t the revelation that was the shocker but what happens after that!! My goodness! I did not see that coming. I didn’t like it. But I love that I didn’t like it! If that makes any sense? It was controversial and would split readers. I was so shocked that it happened that I really appreciate that it wasn’t just a typical- here’s the culprit, arrested, rots in jail kind of ending. I’m really intrigued to see if this is a common theme in all the books or whether this is character development?

I would definitely read another book in the series. Due to the historical factor and period but also due the ending and the characters, despite not taking to them I am intrigued to know more about them and any possible explanations of why I feel that way.

The tricky question now is to go backwards or forwards in the series? I did not think this through…

 

The Sovereign by C. J. Sansom

 

The Vegetarian

This is another book that was not a personal choice of mine. Me and a group of friends initially met at a book club and proceeded to create our own. That was a year and a half ago… We haven’t discussed a shared book for over a year. We wanted to correct that and this was the first choice. It is a very good Book Club choice, lots of discussion points and many controversial events occur that can be dissected. But as for a good choice of a general read? I’m not convinced.

The Vegetarian is not a book primarily about vegetarianism as I first thought when I picked it up. And when I read the blurb… It is the story of a woman in South Korea who has lead a perfectly normal life, with a perfectly normal husband who suddenly turns vegetarian one day. Something that is not the norm or common at all in South Korea (at least according to this story). The story is told from three different viewpoints and none from the main characters narrative. It is the people around her that  tell us her story. I feel as though I shouldn’t discuss what the main theme of the book is, as I thought it was a better experience for me not knowing. But suffice to say, it isn’t primarily about her becoming a vegetarian…

I feel as though I have to say first off, that this is a translated work from Korean and it is done beautifully. I don’t often read translated works and speak only English (something I hate to admit) so I am by far an expert in the issues of translation, especially in literature but I do know that this is done well. You get the tone of the book through the language and can only assume that it echoes the original. The language is gorgeous and it is so well written. Both due to the author (Han Kang) and the translator (Deborah Smith). Fantastic job.

This is a gritty read. A lot of unpleasant things are discussed or happen that actually made me uncomfortable. I am an escapist reader and find these kinds of novels really difficult to relax into. I guess the point isn’t that you relax into them but you absorb them. The point is that I did not take to this kind of gritty and disturbing narrative. It was all a little too “real” for me personally. I mean, there is a reason why  I adore fantasy novels…

Some of the events made me extremely angry and I felt so annoyed with the culture that it presented (not to confuse it with South Korean culture itself, I do not know enough of it to take the representation here as law) and the way family act. It was a very educational read in the respect of people and their reactions of things, something which was not pleasant or comforting…I did really enjoy the different perspectives. I thought it really clever how we never got Yeong-hye’s perspective and that the different people’s reactions and attitudes to her where so diverse in different ways. It was well done.

This novel is brilliant in it’s special kind of way. It is a great piece of literature and I do think that the translation is incredible. Yet it was just too gritty and disturbing for me. Not what I expected at all. It was a rather hard read for me and I don’t think I will read it again. If you like something that will touch you, disturb you, fascinate and what not, then have a go at it. For me… not quite my cup of tea (the perfect analogy for someone who adores tea like me).

This was a work of art, but just not the kind of art that I particularly enjoy.

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

 

Brooklyn

I bought this book as part of a Book Club and I can’t say that I would have picked it up off my own back… It is a Costa Novel Award Winner and has recently been turned into a film with Saoirse Ronan as the main character. But as first impressions go, I was expecting a dramatic, love triangle, frustrating read… that is kind of not what I got, at least not in how I expected it…

We follow a young girl called Eilis who lives in a town in Ireland with her mother and sister. It is the early 1950s and opportunities are thin on the ground for Eilis. This being the case, her sister organises for her to move to America and we follow this process. Through the homesickness, the strangeness of meeting new people, finding your own feet when everything has been stripped away and the natural progress of moving countries, Colm Toibin gives us a true insight into the mixed feelings and the rollercoaster that is emmigration. When disaster strikes at home in Ireland Eilis is left with a difficult decision… Where is her life now?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The way that Toibin writes about the intimidating life event is so authentic and grounding. I found myself relating a lot with Eilis when it came to her feelings about both places and countries. As someone who has moved both countries (from UK to China) and cities (Manchester to London), I understand the level of homesickness and un-belongingness (yes, I just created a word) that comes with such a giant step. And Toibin echoes it beautifully. When Eilis goes back to Ireland (whether forever or a short time, I shall not tell you!), her experience there is so realistic to me and I truly related. I love that. There was nothing showy in it, no over-used drama, just a human experience in all it’s glory. Excellent work.

I enjoyed the first half of the novel more than the last half. I enjoyed watching Eilis building a life for herself, both the good and bad, the sad and happy. But when certain things start happening… I got so mad at her! I found it rather frustrating…

Eilis as a character was a little too weak-kneed for me in opinions and inner grit. I would have preferred for her to be a bit stronger in that and I don’t feel like we really got to know her in that way. She got a bit soppy at times and open to manipulation, I found myself wanting to slap some sense into her… but only at specific and certain times! But then all people have flaws and just because she is fictional is not to say that she should be perfect, I guess.

I adored the other characters though, I found them fascinating as I did all of their relationships. I also loved the ending, it was the best decision and ending for me personally. I believe that I may have thought differently about the whole book if it had gone differently, it would have been at least closed angrily!

The entire journey was well done and I absolutely adored the genuine thoughtfulness of the book. I would pick up another of Toibin’s books in a heartbeat if this is a snippet of what he is capable of.

Devoured the book… Now for the film…

 

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

The Rook

MI5 for wizards….

That is what the cover says and so naturally I snatched it up. Despite it not being accurate, I am very glad I did. MI5 is correct. And boy is an excellent organisation. The Checquy are incredible! If a supernatural MI5 doesn’t exist then they should create one and model it on this. But anyway… Lets start with what I’m actually going on about shall I?

We meet Mythanwy Thomas who has just woken up in a park surrounded by dead gloved men. And with no idea how she got here. Complete amnesia. Luckily, the previous Mythanwy knew this was coming and ensured that she left letters for Thomas in order to understand and navigate her way, not only through her job at the organisation but also trying to find out who did this to her. There is a spy in the top orders of the Checquy (the supernatural MI5) who did this to her and will continue to try to kill Thomas. Luckily, she is prepared. Not to mention, she has an awesome super power which is control people by touching them. You try pointing a gun at her? She will make you point it on yourself. VERY COOL. Mythanwy Thomas is a Rook and is one of the highest roles of the organisation yet she never does fieldwork. She is the queen of admin and is the organiser of life and missions. So when normal meek Mythanwy is replaced with a strong-willed and confident Thomas, things begin to get interesting…

Espionage, super powers, crazy creatures, spies, guns and the highest of secret government operations are a recipe for a fantastic novel. O’Malley creates a complete world underneath our own in the very heart of London. I love the main character. I think that she is awesome! She is a badass and I love the response people have to her when she actually starts to boss them about and demand respect as opposed to what she used to be. No one knows about the amnesia yet they can all tell she has come into her own.

I really enjoyed the different relationships between everyone and it was really funny at times. The letters from the old Mythanwy to the new where so insightful. I really enjoyed hearing stories about what the Checquy had encountered and how they dealt with things (told through Mythanwy’s letters). It was very well done.

A lot happened throughout the book which was great to read but I think that perhaps it was a little too much. It distracted from the real story. The ending was disappointing as well. It was all too calm and civil for my taste and due to what I think may happen in the second book, I’m not sure I will jump to read it. I may have to revisit but I would love for the next book to be from a different perspective of a different agent. Now THAT would be awesome.

Tiny thing though: they are in London, the main character is English… Why are there mentions of ‘the holidays’ and pop tarts for breakfast? They are just a couple of examples… it shattered the world view a little for me but didn’t take away from the whole package.

So all in all. Great characters, great relationships, great action, great bad-ass-ness (yes, I just created that word), great book. If you love everything supernatural with super-powers then this is for you!

 

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley