Tuesday, 30 August 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: Orlando

Originally published in 1928 by Hogarth Press

My edition: the Penguin Modern Classics paperback

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
In my final year of university I took a module on Virginia Woolf, based solely on the fact that I found her life and inclusion in the Bloomsbury Group fascinating. I’d never read a single word of hers until then.

WHY I Chose to Read It
This is one of the books that I never managed to finish while studying her so I’d like to change that. It’s also Woolf’s longest novel and she can be really, really tough to read so I think it might be better read outside of that pressured environment!

WHAT Makes It a Classic
Woolf’s exploration of gender and identity was far beyond her time and done in her trademark whimsical style.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I have a very complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf. I think she was an amazing women and a tour de force of literature, and though I love her essays, letters and A Room of One’s Own, I really struggle to enjoy her fiction. I appreciate what she's doing, the beauty of her writing and gel with the themes she’s portraying, but there’s no enjoyment in it for me. That sadly continued into Orlando.

My first Woolf novel was actually the highly experimental Jacob’s Room, and then The Waves and Mrs Dalloway, so Orlando felt like a much easier Woolf novel than the ones I’d read previously. Though Orlando transforms from man to woman and lives through four centuries while only reaching the age of 36, everything felt straightforward and easy to understand. Until the last chapter, of course, where the novel went whimsical and experimental and further into the realm of magical realism.

Orlando is a mock biography of Orlando and the biographer has a really strong narrative voice. I love the way the reader was addressed directly with little asides and small explanations of what was going on in Orlando’s mind or how she spoke at certain times. It made the novel feel punchy and fun in a way that I’d never experienced with Woolf before.

It was really interesting coming back to Woolf after so long and realising how much of what I learned about her and what she believed in and experienced had stayed with me. Woolf is famous for her feminism, but also for her theories on gender; but Orlando also latches onto Woolf’s resentment towards the Victorian sensibilities and restrictions that she was born into. I loved seeing the biographer’s/Woolf’s observations on the position and roles of both men and women throughout the centuries.

While I’m definitely glad I read Orlando and I’m still in awe of Virginia Woolf, I didn’t really enjoy the reading process. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue reading Woolf’s novels; I may just dig deeper into her non-fiction.

WILL It Stay a Classic
It’s Virginia Woolf – Orlando isn’t going anywhere.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Those wanting a relatively easy introduction to Woolf’s work (also Mrs Dalloway!).
- People interested in gender theory.


Monday, 29 August 2016

Nevernight, Jay Kristoff

Pages: 429
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: 11th August 2016
Edition: UK hardback, received via Illumicrate

Other Titles by this Author: Stormdancer, Kinslayer, Endsinger, The Last Stormdancer, Illuminae (with Amie Kaufman)

Destined to destroy empires, Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no ordinary school, but Mia is no ordinary student.
The shadows love her.
And they drink her fear.

All I've heard about Nevernight since proofs started landing on doormats is incoherent babblings of love and shock over one certain page. That’s hype I couldn’t ignore, and I'm so glad I didn’t.

I have to admit that I had a bit of a rocky start with Nevernight. The first few chapters are a bit confusing with Mia’s present and flashbacks from her past having equal weight in the narrative, but as soon as I grabbed on, I didn’t let go. I devoured this novel over the weekend (I read fantasy quite slowly so that’s pretty impressive for me!) and I just didn’t want to put it down.

Mia is ballsy and brave and I was never quite sure what she was going to do. She’s brutal and fierce and clever, but also very loyal and I loved how deeply she felt things, even if that did lead her into trouble at The Red Church. The affectionate banter between her and fellow acolytes Lotti and Ash was really lovely and I really enjoyed that depth to a story that could easily have been eclipsed by the romance. And oh, what a romance. Tric is mysterious, sweet, and completely lethal and Mia definitely doesn’t love him. Nope, not at all. The tension between them sizzled.

There’s so much depth to Mia, the people close to her and the world that I just didn’t stop wanting more. Thankfully, we got one of my favourite (when done well) narrative tricks – footnotes! Added in by the unnamed narrator, we got detailed elements of the world and its history and mythology; Mia and the other characters sassed and wonderful snark throughout; I really loved the footnotes. I know they put a lot of people off, but Jay Kristoff made them work perfectly.

I'd heard lots about the horrible shocks to come on a particular page in this book and as I veered into the final 100 pages of Nevernight I got worried because I couldn’t remember which page exactly. Even though I was expecting the twists, I was still thoroughly shocked – that is some serious skill right there. I loved how it altered so many things and sent the end of the novel into an unexpected spiral. I genuinely dragged that last quarter of the novel out over several hours because while I was desperate to know what happened, I didn’t want it to end.

Seriously, if you like your fantasy violent, sexy, funny and utterly captivating, Nevernight is for you. I want more.


Friday, 26 August 2016

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

Vintage were kind enough to send me the gorgeous new Vintage Children’s Classics edition of The Handmaid’s Tale and I was over the moon. It’s ridiculous that I've made it to 24 without finishing a Margaret Atwood novel. No longer.

I had some thoughts.
  • I actually read the first third or so of The Handmaid’s Tale at university when I grabbed it out of the library on a whim during third year. Sadly, I never managed to finish it – darn exams.
  • I clearly remembered the start of Offred’s story and how intrigued I was. And I stayed intrigued. Atwood doesn’t give a whole lot away at first – details are drip fed throughout the novel. I love that sense of putting a puzzle together. 
  • The mystery and sense of impending doom was wonderfully atmospheric.
  • There did feel like there was a little something missing for me, though. I was expecting to be thoroughly blown away, and while I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, I wouldn’t say it lived up to the ridiculous levels of hype.
  • The ending was where it fell down, I think. Though I appreciate the cleverness and originality of it, I was infuriated. SPOILER WARNING: I read 500 pages only to not actually find out what happened to Offred – I mean, really? It made me really quite annoyed and pushed the novel down in my estimations sadly, even though it fit with the format and what we found out about the story. SPOILER OVER.
  • If I had read this with no prior knowledge of how beloved and acclaimed it is, I think I could very easily have fallen head over heels in love with it. Until the ending, that is.
  • It is truly terrifying how plausible Offred’s world feels. Chilling and clever.

Though I didn't fall for The Handmaid's Tale completely, I really am looking forward to digging more into her backlist. I already have Alias Grace, Stone Mattress and The Heart Goes Last ready to go. 


Thursday, 25 August 2016

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Monday, 22 August 2016

The Potion Diaries: Royal Tour, Amy Alward

Pages: 372
Publisher: S&S
Release Date: 11th July 2016
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

Other titles in this Series: The Potion Diaries

Since winning the Hunt and saving her new BFF, Princess Evelyn, Sam Kemi has been royally busy. What with TV interviews, working in her family’s potion store and preparing to join Evelyn on her world tour, Sam STILL hasn’t had time for a real date with Zain, her new-boyfriend-slash-former-rival.

And that’s not happening anytime soon. Someone has tampered with Sam’s grandad’s mind and she is the only one who can unlock his memories. Memories that contain the key to the most powerful potion in the world and one which people would kill for . . .

So Sam must swap dresses, princes and palaces for dragons, centaurs and caves in her quest to save her grandad (and everyone else).

Just your standard episode in the life of a potion-making teenager, then.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amy Alward’s The Potion Diaries last year and while Royal Tour is just as fun and easy to read as book one, I was a little bit disappointed.

Up until the last 150 pages, it felt a little unoriginal and a tad dumbed down in the fantasy tropes and names of things. I was a little bored and noticed repeated ideas, the twists and turns in the plot were ones I had guessed and the revelations were expected. I was just eager to get finished with Royal Tour unfortunately.

I had very little investment in the story, even though I really like Sam, Ostanes and Molly. I think I must have been in the wrong headspace when I read this as what I found charming in The Potion Diaries I found a bit irritating.

The Potion Diaries is such a fun series and is perfect for young YA fans looking for their first foray into fantasy. I’ll be reading book three and hoping I connect with it a little more.

Thanks to S&S for the review copy.