Far From The Tree – Robin Benway

I picked this up a few months ago, when it was on special on the Kindle store. It was 99p, and I liked the look of it, so it sat patiently in my kindle library until the day that I decided I wanted to read it, because my phone was in my hand, and I was too lazy to go get the actual hard copy book I was reading at the time.

It was so good, though, I actually got up to get my kindle, so that I could have a proper reading experience (the phone screen is very small!), and had it finished within a few hours.

Far From The Tree – Robin Benway

36512193.jpgA contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

I wasn’t expecting a massive amount from this book, to be honest. It was a 99p buy on a whim one day, which I expected to use to pad out some afternoon or evening when I was bored and had little else to do. There are many such books on my kindle, patiently biding their time until I read them, and I don’t think I’m massively excited to try any of them out.

I was so wrong not to be excited to read this. It is wonderful.

It’s an exploration of what family is, and whether you’re born into your family or you find it, about the ties that bind us, both by blood and by choice.

With three very different bio siblings who find each other at just the time they needed each other, this book had a gorgeous mix of love and hatred, pain and pleasure, joy, love, and hurt. Joaquin, Maya, and Grace, who all grew up in very different situations – Grace adopted at birth and an only child, Maya the standout brunette in a family of redheads, and Joaquin having been in and out of the foster care system for seventeen years – meet at a time of turmoil for all three of them.

It could be a little trite to think that their difficulties arrive at the same time as they met their siblings, but I never felt that when I was reading this. The ties that bind us to our siblings, whether by nature or nurture, and family bonds were so delicately explored in this book I couldn’t help but love it.

With a serious heft of feeling behind it, I finished this book emotionally wrung out, but delighted with how much I had enjoyed it, and how little I had expected it.

Not counting re-reads, which get stars for sheer nostalgia reasons, Far From The Tree is my first five-star read of 2018, and it deserves every one of them. I thoroughly recommend this book.

Five Stars
*****

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Following Ophelia – Sophia Bennett

I received a copy of this book on Netgalley

This book became available on NetGalley last week because the sequel was being published. With its gorgeous cover art and interesting story of a girl becoming an artist’s muse, I couldn’t help but click.

Following Ophelia – Sophia Bennett

33256865.jpgWhen Mary Adams sees Millais’ depiction of the tragic Ophelia, a whole new world opens up for her. Determined to find out more about the beautiful girl in the painting, she hears the story of Lizzie Siddal – a girl from a modest background, not unlike her own, who has found fame and fortune against the odds. Mary sets out to become a Pre-Raphaelite muse, too, and reinvents herself as Persephone Lavelle. But as she fights her way to become the new face of London’s glittering art scene, ‘Persephone’ ends up mingling with some of the city’s more nefarious types and is forced to make some impossible choices.

Will Persephone be forced to betray those she loves, and even the person she once was, if she is to achieve her dreams?

Historical fiction with a decent splash of paint, Following Ophelia sets the scene for us as Mary takes up a position in London, working as a housemaid for a middle-class family. However, her pre-Raphaelite looks catch the eye of the local art scene, and she soon begins living a double life, as an artist’s muse. Meeting an enthusiastic, obsessive artist, she soon finds that the world she has fallen into is not all that it seems, and intrigue lurks not far beneath the surface.
Richly drawn, and with some solid historical research backing it up, I felt like the weakest part of Following Ophelia was, sadly, the characters. Mary didn’t click with me at all, so I felt no sympathy or empathy for her, in any of her endeavours. But I think that was definitely that it didn’t click for me. This sweeping romance is sure to delight artists and romance fans alike, with references to pre-Rapahelite greats and a story interwoven with the movement, there’s plenty to satisfy every romantic at heart.

This book wasn’t ideal for me, as I failed to connect with it, but I think it was just that the book didn’t suit me, as opposed to it being a bad book. So if you have an interest in art, historical fiction, historical London, or pre-Raphaelite painting, this one is sure to be a joy!

Three Stars
***

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Sunflowers in February – Phyllida Shrimpton

*I received a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for a review.*

Sometimes when browsing NetGalley you see a book which looks like it’ll be right up your alley. That was the case with Sunflowers in February for me. I loved If I Stay and Before I Fall, as well as Before I Die, so apparently I have a morbid streak that likes stories about teenagers, dead or dying. Therefore Sunflowers in February, which tells the story of Lily and the aftermath of her sudden death in a road accident, looked like it would be perfect for me.

Sunflowers in February – Phyllida Shrimpton

36528065Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. and very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance arrive, and she sees her own body, that she realises that she is in fact… dead. But what is she supposed do now? Lily has no option but to follow her body and see her family – her parents and her twin brother start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity – to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time…

A moving, startlingly funny yet achingly sad debut novel from a stunning new talent.

I really, really thought I was going to like this book. On the face of it, it was everything that I like. But it did not work for me at all.

I’m not sure what it was that didn’t work for me. It might have been the close-knit nature of the action – that Lily’s family and the driver are so closely intertwined that I felt it totally unlikely. It might have been that Lily seems to have no regard for her brother’s life, riding roughshod over his decisions to ‘do a good thing’ and make his life better. It might even have been that I can’t imagine anybody would believe that the teenage boy in front of them was actually his dead twin sister, much less as quickly as the characters in this book did.

Whatever it was, this book just didn’t click with me. I don’t think it was the author’s fault though. This isn’t a bad book. It’s got some lovely themes, some profound moments, and a great understanding of the difficulty of sudden death, especially in teenagers.

I don’t know what it was at all, but this book really didn’t work for me. For that reason, and that reason only, my rating is quite low. It’s not a reflection on the quality of the book, but rather my reaction to it.

But, sadly, for me, this wasn’t a winner at all.

Two Stars
**

Sunflowers in February publishes today, incidentally, so should be available in all good bookshops and online.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Books To Read Before I’m 30

You know when you read those 100 books to read before you die lists, and you’ve never even heard of half of the books, and it makes you feel even guiltier for not having heard of these books, let alone read them, and it just makes you feel bad about everything in your life?

No? Just me? Okay.

So this year, I thought I would read some of the books that I feel like I should’ve read by now. But when I was looking at lists of books everyone should read, lots of them were books I’ve never heard of. So if I’ve never heard of them at all, I don’t feel like I should have read them.

I was talking to my younger sister about this, and she said she was kind of feeling the same. We did some research into best books lists, and found that most of the titles on the lists didn’t ignite that ‘yeah, I’ve always felt like I should read that’ feeling that we were thinking about.

So we combined the best of those lists with a few ideas of our own, to create a list of 100 books that we feel like we should’ve read by now, and now we’re both trying to read some or most or all of them in the next few years.

My own personal goal is to finish all the books on this list before I turn 30, which is two and a quarter years away. I’m not sure what Sinéad’s idea is. If she has until she turns 30, she’s got three years more than me, and that seems manifestly unfair.

But, that said, I’ve always been too dedicated to this sibling rivalry thing.

In any case, here’s my list of 100 books to read before I’m 30. I’ve read some of them before, so I will consider rereading if it’s been a few years. If they’re recent enough to have been counted on this blog, then I’m not counting them.

A few notable exceptions to this list – His Dark Materials and Harry Potter. There were a few reasons why these are left off. The first is that Sinéad and I have both read all of them already. The second is that this book is mainly aimed at reading more classics, and neither of those series are really old enough to count as classics yet.

That’s not to say that every book on this list is at least a hundred years old – that’s certainly not the case – but that’s a little bit of background.

In any case, this is my self-set and sister-shared challenge, of books I will try to read before I’m 30. I’m going to create a page (much like The Lists) to keep track over the next few years, but because this is only a blog post, I’ll put the full list here too.

Title Author
Watership Down Richard Adams
Little Women  Louisa May Alcott
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
Emma Jane Austen
Persuasion Jane Austen
Fahrenheit-451 Ray Bradbury
Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
The Secret Garden Francis Hogson Burnett
A Little Princess Francis Hodgson Burnett
Tarzan of the Apes Edgar Rice Burroughs
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll
The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick
Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
Great Expectations Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle
Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
The Great Gatsby  F Scott Fitzgerald
Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert
Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank
Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
Lord of the Flies  William Golding
The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett
Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
Catch-22  Joseph Heller
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway
For Whom The Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway
Dune Frank Herbert
The Odyssey Homer
Les Miserables Victor Hugo
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Victor Hugo
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
Ulysses James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man James Joyce
Finnegan’s Wake James Joyce
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
A Wrinkle in Time Madeline l’Engle
Lady Chatterly’s Lover DH Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird  Harper Lee
The Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis
The Call of the Wild Jack London
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marques
Atonement Ian McEwan
Moby-Dick Herman Melville
Winnie The Pooh AA Milne
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell
Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery
Lolita  Viktor Nabokov
1984  George Orwell
Animal Farm George Orwell
The Bell Jar Slyvia Plath
Good Omens Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome
Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
The Little Prince Antoine du Saint Exupery
The Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger
Hamlet William Shakespeare
Frankenstein Mary Shelley
The Grapes Of Wrath John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men Charles Dickens
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
Kidnapped! Robert Louis Stevenson
Dracula Bram Stoker
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
The Lord Of The Rings  JRR Tolkien
The Hobbit JRR Tolkien
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
The Prince and the Pauper Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Around the World in Eighty Days

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Jules Verne

Jules Verne

Jules Verne

Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
The Colour Purple Alice Walker
Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace
Charlotte’s Web EB White
The Once and Future King TH White
The Picture of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde

 

This list is alphabetical, so I probably won’t read them in this order, but in any case, this is my list of goals for before April 13th, 2020.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

January Roundup

First month of the year and I’m very happy with how it went. Eighteen books read, seven of which I reviewed, although I’m sure I’ll review one or two more before the year is out. Lots of these were audiobooks (seven of them, in fact), and that’s probably because since I started my new job this month, I’m spending more time in the car. I have a longer commute now, which means I can get big chunks of books read while I’m on my way into or out of the office.

I got loads of books for Christmas, of which I’ve read precisely, uh, none, so I’m going to have to rectify that shortly. I’ve got a whole shelf full of them sitting in my office, waiting for me to catch up. But that’s okay. I’ve got lots of time.

All in all, 2018 isn’t off to a bad start!

Books

  1. Long May She Reign – Rhiannon Thomas
  2. Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates
  3. One Small Act of Kindness – Lucy Dillon
  4. A Life Without You – Katie Marsh
  5. The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
  6. The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain
  7. Apricots and Wolfsbane – KM Pohlkamp
  8. A Million Worlds With You (Firebird #3) – Claudia Gray
  9. The Time Machine – HG Wells
  10. To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo
  11. The Edge – Dick Francis*
  12. The Silent Sister – Diane Chamberlain
  13. Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All The Wrong Questions #1) – Lemony Snicket
  14. Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1) – Tomi Adeyemi
  15. The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty
  16. Leave Me – Gayle Forman
  17. Sunflowers in February – Phyllida Shrimpton
  18. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Harry Potter #8) – JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

Cover Art

 

Favourite Book This Month

Children of Blood and Bone. I’ve been looking forward to this book since last July, when I read the sampler, so I had pretty high expectations going in. Thematically, it wasn’t a million miles away from Fire Lines, which I thought was pretty alright, but I think this was stronger.

I said in my review that I wasn’t exactly happy with the ending of the book, but overall, for hype, expectation, and then the excitement and joy I felt most of the way through reading, this was still my #1 book for January.

Least Favourite Book This Month

This was a tough one. For one reason or another, there were a few unlikeable reading experiences this month. I really hated the narrators in The Prince and the Pauper. I didn’t really like the story in Who Could That Be At This Hour? I thought the construction of The Tattooist of Auschwitz was off.

But (and this is surprising, because I really liked the actual books), my least favourite book this month was actually Harry Potter. The Cursed Child is so off the wall in terms of plot, and deviates so completely from established canon in the original Harry Potter series that I actually can’t take it seriously at all.

I saw the stage show of Cursed Child in mid-2017, and when you’re watching it, the phenomenal staging and special effects almost let you gloss over the fact that the plot is flat-out ridiculous. But reading the book of the script, there’s nothing to mask how poor a follow-up this is to the original story arc which so many millions of people loved. I might write a full review of this later on (I only read it last night), but it’s definitely a massively disappointing experience.

Favourite cover art

I’m starting the year off in a way that I’m likely to continue it. I have TWO favourite cover arts this month. One, because watercolours are beautiful, and it matches so well with the others in the series, and the other because it’s wonderfully atmospheric, and captures the personality of the main character. Long May She Reign and A Million Worlds With You are my joint favourite cover arts this month.

 

 

Other…

I’m definitely happy that I’ve pared myself down to only two blog posts a week. My new job is time-consuming and tiring, and I’m still settling myself in, so I’m glad I set myself up early with a smaller commitment, so I feel like it’s still something I can do and I won’t feel guilty if I can’t post three times in one week. This is my first career job, so I don’t want to mess it up, and as much as I love blogging, it’s not where my life is going overall. So unfortunately, my commitment to the blog will be lessened, but that’s just life, I guess.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Books

The Time Machine – HG Wells

Does The Time Machine count as a whole book? Or is it just a novella? I’m not sure, but either way I’m including it on my list as a full entry.

I listened to a Librivox recording of this classic in the time travel genre, and I think my difficulty was coming to it too late.

The Time Machine – HG Wells

18332433‘I had made myself the most complicated and the most hopeless trap that ever a man devised’ 

When a Victorian scientist propels himself in the year 802,701 AD, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realises that this beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture – now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity – the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels if he is ever to return to his own era.

The Time Machine is the first and greatest modern portrayal of time travel.

I read this (well, listened to it) over the course of two days on my commute, and while I had no actual objections to anything in it, I think it suffered by virtue of being so groundbreaking.

HG Wells’ The Time Machine is credited with the popularisation of the idea of a time machine, a vessel which can travel through time, and so it stands as a classic for that reason. The idea that time, the fourth dimension, can be freely navigated by man if one only has the correct vehicle to do so, was so outlandish that the very notion of it was enough to make this book incredible.

Published first in 1895, I’m sure it was fantastical and ridiculous to think that such a thing could exist, and such fancy was part of what made this book so exciting.

But I’ve come to this book in 2018, when time travel has been a bastion of fantasy and science fiction for more than a century, and the idea of a book where the main plot point is the ability to travel in time is, well, passé.

The nameless main character, the scientist who travels through time, has no actual personality of his own, merely being an observer of the new civilization he finds around himself when he travels eight hundred thousand years into the future. And so, although there is a plot, and some sort of progression, the narrative thrust of the book is, well, lacking.

The (also) nameless narrator, who sets up the framing device of the story by being a witness to the scientist telling his tale, increases the feeling of detachment from the story, meaning that it has little to no excitement, or emotion in it at all.

I can see why this is a classic. Certainly, in the late Victorian era, it must have been astounding. But, much like when I read Dracula, the passage of time since the publication of the book and the popularisation of the genre that it pioneered lessens the impact of the original.

For that reason, I didn’t really enjoy The Time Machine, although I am glad that I read it. In terms of its impact, of course it’s huge. But in terms of how much I liked it, well, it was mediocre at best.

Three Stars
***

1 Comment

Filed under Books

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

*I received a proof copy of this book from MyKindaBook in exchange for an honest review*

I’ve been looking forward to the release of Children of Blood and Bone since I read the sampler after YALC. I was excited for this story steeped in African magic and with a story of overcoming adversity and oppression. I was also excited because I knew there were multiple POV characters – not only Zélie, who’s trying to restore magic, but also Inan, who’s trying his hardest to eradicate it. Plus, that cover art! It’s spectacular! How could I not want to read this?

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

34728667Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

For the most part, I really, really loved this book. Two brother-sister pairs of protagonists on the run as they try to fulfil their destinies, and bring back – or keep down – magic once and for all. Zélie was a compelling main character, with a headstrong personality and an incredible tendency to run straight into trouble. Contrasted against the softer, more refined personality of Amari, the princess on the run, the tension and contradictions between these two leading ladies were delicious.

Then the two male leads, Tzain and Inan, were equally complex and interesting. I thought it was interesting that three of the four main characters were narrators, but Tzain was, for some reason I couldn’t fathom, sidelined, and only seen from the perspective of the other three. It was an interesting narrative choice, and I’d love to ask the author why she did it.

But the three narrators were fabulous – each had their own distinct voice, and from inside their heads, as their past unfurled and affected their present and their future, I was wrapped up in all of their stories. I supported Zélie and her quest to restore magic and free her people. I was so behind Inan and his struggle of reconciling duty and self, and deciding which he must put first. I was cheering Amari on as she uncovered the fierce, strong woman who was hidden inside her. The fact that their goals conflicted directly with each other didn’t really bother me. I was behind all of them, and waiting for them all to succeed.

I was a little worried, mid-way through the book, that the set-up of four main characters, two brother-sister pairs, would lead to a terribly neat and dull arrangement of two couples at the end. But I was so pleased that was actually happened was infinitely more complex and satisfying than that.

I really, really loved this book. The whole way through I was entranced by the world-building, the spiritual connections, the weaknesses and foibles of these four main characters, and the depth of the thought which went into their adventures and their development. It was a five-star read for me the whole way through, especially as the climax was so powerful.

Except – on the last page, something happened, and I don’t know what it was. The book ended on, I think, what’s meant to be a cliffhanger? But I didn’t actually understand what had happened. It’s probably that I’m monumentally stupid, and the climax was clear to anyone with an ounce of sense, but I finished the book not with a feeling of ‘I can’t wait to see what happens next!’ but rather with a question of ‘What just happened?’

The sense of not understanding (and it’s only the final maybe paragraph that I don’t understand) is so great that it’s actually marred my enjoyment of the book as a whole. Not enough to knock off more than one star, but it’s left me with a vague, dissatisfied and confused feeling, rather than impatience for the next installment, or any of the wonder that I was feeling at how well-plotted this book was.

Four Stars
****

3 Comments

Filed under Books

To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

I received a NetGalley copy of this book in exchange for a review.

2018 feels like it’s going to be the year of the mermaid. With Louise O’Neill’s The Surface Breaks due out in March and now To Kill a Kingdom, mermaids are clearly the next big thing. Although, technically, this isn’t a story about mermaids. This is about Sirens. Princess Lira is a Siren, next in line for the throne, and a trained killer. With the hearts of seventeen princes buried under her bedroom floor, she’s beautiful, deadly, and revered. But when she displeases her mother, the Sea Queen, she’s transformed into a human, and given a deadline – deliver the heart of Prince Elian, a sailor, pirate, and prince, by the winter solstice – or remain a human forever.

To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

37769536Dark and romantic YA fantasy for fans of Sarah J Maas – about the siren with a taste for royal blood and the prince who has sworn to destroy her. 

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most – a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavoury hobby – it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good. But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. With an interesting main character, and a hate-to-love arc between the two leads, this retelling of The Little Mermaid had enough other stuff going on to keep things interesting. The main issues I had were the one-dimensional villain of the piece, and the lack of conflict between the two mains when all was revealed. But these were relatively minor issues, as they weren’t the driving force of the book. Exploring different countries and the oddly one-dimensional aspects of those was interesting, and Lira’s relationship with her cousins, together with Elian’s relationship with his crew, made for an interesting read.

Four Stars
****

2 Comments

Filed under Books

The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain

Mark Twain holds a special place in my heart because I used a quote from him as the epigraph for my PhD thesis. But actually I hadn’t read any of his books before. So in my newly evangelical admiration for audiobooks, and specifically Librivox books, I listened to The Prince and the Pauper over the course of a few trips to and from work (it’s about forty to fifty five minutes, so plenty of time to get a few chapters read). Although I knew the general thrust of the story, I had no idea of the specifics, so it was a journey of discovering extra aspects of a story which I thought I knew, and it turns out I didn’t know at all (like Frankenstein, which I listened to late last year, and it turns out I really didn’t know the story of).

The Prince and the Pauper – Mark Twain

I listened to Librivox version 2.

prince_pauper_1601.jpgThis treasured historical satire, played out in two very different socioeconomic worlds of 16th-century England, centers around the lives of two boys born in London on the same day: Edward, Prince of Wales and Tom Canty, a street beggar. During a chance encounter, the two realize they are identical and, as a lark, decide to exchange clothes and roles–a situation that briefly, but drastically, alters the lives of both youngsters. The Prince, dressed in rags, wanders about the city’s boisterous neighborhoods among the lower classes and endures a series of hardships; meanwhile, poor Tom, now living with the royals, is constantly filled with the dread of being discovered for who and what he really is.

I very much enjoyed the story in this book, and would happily recommend it. A classic satire, it’s the original rags to riches story, of two identical boys and their experiences after an accidental switch. Mark Twain’s satire of the excesses of the rich compared to the struggles of the poor, as well as his rich description and his humorous anecdotes as the prince (and then King) of England struggles to reclaim his rightful place make this an immersive and entertaining book. It’s definitely a classic for a reason, and well worth seeking out if you haven’t read it before, not least because of all the versions of it which exist (mostly the Disney one, if I’m honest).

But. There’s a big but for this. The Librivox version I listened to was, well… not good. Librivox audiobooks are voiced entirely by volunteers, so I understand that they won’t have the same level of professionalism attached to them as, for example, Bolinda or Audible audiobooks. These people are giving up their free time, for the love of books, and to share those books with other people. But this was a particularly bad version of a Librivox book.

Over the course of the last eight or nine months, since I got my car, I’ve listened to about twenty audiobooks. Maybe closer to thirty. And this is by far the worst recording. I’ve listened to about ten librivox books, and while some have been infuriating (the voice of Mrs Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice was a horror of upwards inflection), none of them have been as difficult or annoying as this version of the prince and the pauper.

I had so many little niggling annoyances about this audiobook that they combined to make for a very frustrating listening experience. It was a collaborative recording, meaning that different chapters were voiced by different volunteers. This isn’t really an issue for me, but each chapter had a different volume level. That’s all well and good, but meant that I spent some chapters straining to hear or, after turning it up for one particularly quiet chapter, had the ears blasted off me when I began the next. A small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

Secondly, several of the narrators were clearly reading from a book, as there were frequent pauses in the narrative for page turns. This was especially irritating where words broke over page turns. The slight pause in the middle of a word was an eye-roll from me, and a note to listen to a different version of this in future.

The final thing which rankled with me was lots of pronunciation errors. This was across the board, through all narrators. Some were clearly American/British differences (Lord Hertford, for instance, is consistently referred to as Hurtford, rather than Hartford), but some were just errors (kees instead of cease).

All in all, although I enjoyed the story, the annoyances of this particular audiobook recording made for a rather disappointing experience. I feel bad criticising a volunteer project, particularly as nobody made me listen to it, but certainly I would advise a different version to this.

Four Stars
****

1 Comment

Filed under Books

Apricots and Wolfsbane – KM Pohlkamp

I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher and the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Apricots and Wolfsbane – KM Pohlkamp

unnamedLavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

According to the press pack I got from the author, this book was inspired by an ancient female poisoner, Locusta, and the essence of her story was transported to Tudor England, with additions and diversions along the way.

Apricots and Wolfsbane was inspired by the life of Locusta, the notorious poison master from Gaul.

In AD 54, Empress Agrippina conspired with Locusta to murder her husband, Roman Emperor Claudius, with a batch of poisoned mushrooms in order to place her son, Nero, on the throne. While Locusta was subsequently imprisoned in AD 55, Nero sought to secure his throne by contracting Locusta to craft a poison to murder Claudius’s son, Britannicus. When the concoction failed initial tests, Nero flogged Locusta with his own hands. Her second attempt succeeded. Upon Britannicus’s death, Nero bestowed Locusta with pardons, lands, and lavish gifts. He also sent pupils to study with the poison master.
But all good things come to an end. In AD 68, the Roman Senate tired of Nero’s rogue practices and the Emperor took his own life with a dagger before facing punishment. The Senate’s attention then turned towards Locusta, and without protection from the Emperor, she was convicted with an execution sentence. Some accounts say she was raped to death by a giraffe and then torn apart by wild animals. While that tale tantalizes
the imagination, it is more likely she was led through the city in chains and executed by human hands.
The plot of Apricots and Wolfsbane is inspired by Locusta’s life, but is not a replication. The essence was lifted out of Ancient Rome and placed into two fictional shires of early 16th century England at the height of the Catholic church. Those familiar with Locusta will recognize bits of historical reference within the tale, but the novel is full of unpredictable twists in a unique examination of morality.

I decided to read and review this book on the back of a comparison to Poison Study, and the space that it could have to grow into an adult book. Apricots and Wolfsbane is an adult historical fiction novel, focused on a female assassin, and is certainly an interesting ride.

First things first, this book is beautiful. The cover art is gorgeous, the typesetting is lovely, and the chapter headers are in the most elegant font – it would look wonderful on any shelf, as it’s certainly clearly been crafted with love. That said, though, there were numerous typing errors which could and should have been picked up by the proofreader. I found several of them near the beginning, which put me on edge for the rest of the book, as I was then more aware of them. I know that no editor is infallible, but there were a lot of typos in this book, which was disappointing in such an otherwise beautiful copy.

Those are minor concerns, though. The bulk of the review should be about the content of the book!

So much of this book was really great. The prose was elegant, the history clearly meticulously researched, the characterisation considered and the variety of perspectives shown was thrilling. Apricots and Wolfsbane was a thrill of a read, and I read it in only two days, sprawled across the couch as I dreamed of being dressed in fine clothes and jewels with Lavinia and Aselin.

I also really appreciated the detail that the author included on Lavinia’s poison development – I knew throughout that the poisonous plants mentioned were real, but didn’t realise until the post-novel notes that Lavinia was attempting to develop ricin throughout the book.

An interesting point which is probably unique to me – although I’ve read plenty of books about assassins and poisoners, including Throne of Glass, the Night Angel trilogy, and the Chronicles of Ixia, I’ve never actually read one before that was straight historical fiction, and not also fantasy. So throughout this book, I was kind of expecting magic to jump in somewhere. This was, of course, ridiculous, because this was Tudor England, and faithful to the modes of the period, but I was still waiting for it. Not sure why.

I had only a few complaints about this book which stopped me from rating it a full five stars.

The first was a plot point from early in the book. If Lavinia was a young woman alone, and needed to marry, as far as society was concerned, how had she been maintaining the appearances she needed for the three years preceding the book? While we know that she was able to support herself with the income from her commissions, what lie was she spinning to society at large to explain how a yeoman woman was able to keep not only herself and her house, but also two orphans, with no discernable source of income? So much rich detail was included in the book that the omission of this particular detail really rankled.

Secondly, I never really connected with Lavinia. I couldn’t understand how she could reconcile her piousness with her abject need for murder. Although this was developed and nuanced in the book – ably demonstrated by the testing phases in the latter parts of the book – I just wasn’t able to get into her head and sympathise with her. Because I didn’t understand her religious convictions, and therefore didn’t support them, she then lost a lot of her humanity for me. So as an assassin that I didn’t connect with, I had no real support for her, and she failed as an anti-hero. I didn’t particularly want her to succeed, although I didn’t want her to fail either.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any real religious faith, but I totally failed to understand how Lavinia could reconcile her murders with her confessions, and definitely didn’t understand her feeling of cleansing after confession. Aselin’s cold-blooded lack of belief and self-contained interest was much more comprehensible.

I think, however, that the lack of connection with Lavinia was more me than the book, and might not have affected anyone else, so I didn’t knock a star off for that.

Finally, there was some strange muddling between tenses, but a finish that I really didn’t see coming, so I was left surprised and pleased at the end of the book.

I think that Lavinia’s apprentice Aselin will appear in a follow-up in the future, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that. I think perhaps her colder nature might make her easier to warm to, because I’d be better able to understand her. But we’ll see!

Four Stars
****

1 Comment

Filed under Books