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

Only Ever Yours

This is a really poignant tale about society and the way teenagers are seen and see themselves. This novel is set in a future society which makes what O’Neill does even more clever than initially believed.

So what is it about? We begin by meeting Freida who is an Eve at the School. The School is a place where young girls are placed to be trained, pruned and plucked as the perfect wife for high class sons. The Ceremony is looming and the girls begin meeting their potential future husbands. They have to be perfect in every way to get picked. And more extraordinary than ever to get picked by the best. The School houses some of the biggest bitches, cliques and the claws are out. She is best friends with Isobel yet one day Isobel stops speaking to her. For no reason. Everyone wants the prize but how far will Freida go to get what she wants? Betray the only friend she has ever known?

This is such a hard-hitting read. If you have ever heard of Louise O’Neill’s work then you will know that she doesn’t shy aware from the ugliness of society nor the ugliness of feelings and emotions. Jealousy is a key theme in this book, with the Eves being mainly judged by their beauty and having to fight for the boys attentions.

There are many conflicting emotions and actions and you can feel that things are going to keep taking a turn. What this turn is, is shocking, unpredictable and heart-breaking. The main character is not someone that I initially sympathised with at all. But the more things begin to happen, the more you realise that this is all in the way she has been brought up and the actions are from such a sad and lonely place. It is really moving and teeth clencing at times!

It is such a great read that packs a punch. Despite being set in a different realm, you cannot help but make parallels between their society and ours. Our ideal of beautiful and the way we expect perfect to be. It highlights what that kind of expectation and knowledge does to someone who is growing up and finding themselves judged by such things especially when surrounded by it non-stop as we are with the media.

I wept, got angry, frustrated and heart-broken all within it’s 390 pages. This is not a happy read but by god is it an important one. I adore O’Neill’s writing and cannot wait for more and more of her work. I know that she will continue to tackle issues that are not addressed to young adults.

Only Ever Yours. God, I hated some of the characters. And loved none. But I DID love this book. And what it said beyond the pages.
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

 

Illuminae

Oh boy. This may be a long one. You have been warned…

Illuminae is a very unique story that uses so many different formats and images that you never know what is coming next! So the story is about a girl called Kady and a guy called Ezra. The morning they break up, their ice cold planet (an illegal mining populace) gets invaded (or more like destroyed) killing thousands upon thousands of occupants. The two manage to escape into different ships. The story is about the three ships that manage to get out, trying to outrun the Lincoln who keeps trying to hunt them down. Further to this, AIDAN, the AI on the main ship, Alexander, decided to defy command from the commander and orders the team to shoot down their sister ship the Copernicus. With the marine commanders attempting to cover the truth up, there is Kady on a separate ship who is determined to find out the truth. With Ezra on the Alexander, Kady makes contact in order to get answers. Kady’s hacking skills are beyond compare and she works trying to find the truth… Boy does it kick off from there. Add in an illness that drives people psychotic and bloodthirsty along with an insane AI who takes on a life of his own… Kick off indeed.

I was SOOOOOO hesitant to read this. I wasn’t keen on the storyline but once I had it in my hand, I knew that I was going to love it. The book is organised like a file full of documents that help piece together all of the events from the invasion to the end. So you go through messages, camera equipment, audio files, etc. You genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next or what form it is going to tell us in (a couple of examples are below). It is full of adventure and heartbreak and death.

It stinks of death. The entire way through it. And I love it. I adore authors who are not afraid to kill their characters, regardless of their role in the story. It just makes it that much more tense! And this story is tense. Its also really interesting to read it through data and solid evidence rather than through a perspective, it really adds that edge to it where there is no narrator that you know has to survive etc.

The imagery of this is incredible. Not only is it with the cover image, the insides are just as beautiful. I ended up pausing so many times just to look at it and take it all in. Added such a cool dimension to the story.

Kady is an awesome, kick-ass, sarcastic hacker and you have total faith in her the entire way through. Such an amazing character and I love that she isn’t afraid to feel but then get on with stuff (like saving the ship). Ezra is also a great character and I adore them both. I like the different dimension that their relationship takes from the beginning.

All in all, an extremely clever and incredibly well-done book. The ending was just SO GOOD. It made the entire thing just shine that much brighter. I cant really articulate how much I enjoyed it and I cannot recommend it enough. If only for the uniqueness of the tale.

When can I have the next one?!!?!?

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

 

Sorcerer to the Crown

A magical regency tale where magic has stopped being brought into England, war ravages miles and countries away and the Society of Unnatural Philosophers has just gained a new Sorcerer to the Crown… an African whose mentor (the previous Sorcerer to the Crown) has disappeared and Zacharias has taken up the staff which may only be held by the true Sorcerer to the Crown. We follow Zacharias as he follows through with his role and attempts to find the reason for this lack of magic in England. Throw in a batch of Society members who are planning to upend him from his position and a young mixed race woman who has powers that extend beyond the normal Sorcerer or magician, and you have yourself a story!

This novel actually took me ages to read, it’s style reminded me very much of the kind you see in Classics, especially older classics, so I had to take it slower than I would other books. This is not to say that I didn’t like the writing style, I think it really fit the story and was actually a glorious reminder that Regency England was a very specific society… Women weren’t allowed to practice magic, discrimination against “foreigners” was very much the norm and the stiff upper class of England, essentially rule the land. I think it was fanscinating to read and contemplate the addition of magic to this world, especially when it has such prominence in society and has already been established.

I really like the two main characters, they make a great time and poor Zacharias! What a sweet sweet gentleman! He remains true to himself to the end yet even though the story is told from his perspective, he is very much in control of himself and his thoughts. I have to say though that the jewel in the crown is Prunella, the young mixed race magicianna who just has an incredible attitude and does not give two hoots about what people think. Completely born in the wrong time but boy, does she show them all who’s boss. She is by far my favourite character and I really wish we could have a novel about her and her past or future (I don’t care which one!).

The world building is really good, I love the different references to Fairy World and different kinds of mythical creatures, it really adds depth. I wish we had more time to explore these further and I do think that the opportunity was there to explain a bit of the history of it all. It was a little passed over but maybe next time…

I also liked the focus of the story, it is very much a focus of getting magic back and finding the assassin rather than about feelings or romance. I really appreciate that. I also just have to say something about the diversity in this book, especially the two main characters. I really love that the author has included diversity in this book. It makes a really nice change! Which makes me so sad that that is a true statement. It shouldn’t be something different or a change…

So a really good read… Not one of my favourite fantasy reads but it brings something new and even subtle to the genre. The ending made it for me. Just those last few pages ensured that my hunger for the story, and especially Prunella, grew. Give me a story about her please!!

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho