Why I Probably Should Have Given Wideacre a Wide Berth

wideacre

Well this was one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read…. I went into this book with a little mild trepidation because I’m not a total fan of Philippa Gregory (her books take wayyy too many liberties with history) and I don’t always see eye to eye on books with the friend who recommended this to me. When I finished my reaction was pretty much:

wtf did I just read.jpg

How to describe it?! At first glance this is just an innocent, evocative, highly descriptive narrative. It was compellingly written and I was intrigued to see where it was going. There were hints of seedy goings on, but the dirty deeds were at least vaguely understandable. And then, all too quickly, the plot started to get fucked up. To put it delicately: this was Flowers in the Attic meets 18th century aristocracy (except without the child abuse, so there’s no reason for the story to happen). Yeahhh it went the incest route. Gross.

And still I kept reading. Partly I’m just a masochist: finishing dreadful books so I can rant on here is what I do with my spare time apparently… But also because all the petty craziness and dastardly schemes kept pushing me towards the finish line. I felt almost as if I could trace the normal, sane book in it. Maybe somewhere in there, lost under all the icky bits was something akin to a Peyton book (one can live in hope- though I really should have learnt my lesson from reading Lolita that no amount of pretty writing can save a book like this).

I’m gonna be blunt: I think modern feminist attitudes will blind readers from the fact that the main character is LEGIT INSANE. Because the whole motivation for Beatrice, the main character, acting like such a deranged lunatic, is that she’s been oppressed by patriarchal society and is not getting her due. However, the premise this rests on is flimsy at best because she’s  a) not the oldest child b) not even good at running the land when she does get to and c) does everything based on emotion while claiming to be intelligent (so intelligent she needs to be the one to get the land). I can’t even see why an uber feminist would like this, since, even if you overlook her murderous tendencies, she is so totally useless and therefore a poor representation of girl power.

I didn’t even get why she was so attached to the land anyway. She just had an *everything the light touches* moment and that was it, she was sold. Never mind that she could have just grown up, married someone in the area and lived nearby. Or here’s a crazy idea: she could have just got over it. I think the author got it spot on in the preface when she wrote: No one like Beatrice ever existed or could ever have existed. Too damn right- no one could have been that stupid.  I mean pfff I know it’s a bit out there- but maybe (and I’m gonna put a spoiler in cos you shouldn’t read this damn book) killing your dear old dad, who you love, is not the best option when you’re worried about your inheritance. Maybe, just maybe moving house is less of an upheaval. But what do I know… I’m not a super-rich aristocrat (well, at least according to the classy author this is how all rich people behave)

Obviously, by that quote, the author meant that historically speaking the events of this book were an impossibility. Even then though, Gregory’s words kept coming back to me in their striking lack of self-awareness. Because having read plenty of books from that time period, I couldn’t stop my brain from wailing: “Why can’t she just be normal?!”  (actually my exact words in my notes were: “just find somewhere else to live, you stupid freak!!”). Honestly, this book is like a revenge porn fantasy to punish Georgian men.

ralph helloBut the murder is not the only way the plot leans on stupid ideas. Another spoiler (are you still planning on reading this though?!) but it doesn’t make sense that her nemesis, Ralph survives being fed to a man trap (one of those contraptions designed to stop men poaching). He basically got ripped in two and this is the 18th century with NO MODERN MEDICINE. But ho hum, there couldn’t have been a plot twist without the legless Ralph (also a bad name for a “villain”- it reminds me of that cuddly character off the Simpsons and hardly inspires fear) from coming back from the dead.

Mostly however the sheer stupidity of this book rests on the shoulders of the main character. Not just in the way that she behaves, but in her construction. I mean her schemes are so goddamn *dumb*. She’s supposed to be cunning, but a friggin molerat in a normal story could have seen through her plans (it’s at this point in shitty books where I start to question e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g: like why  do none of the characters have even an iota of intelligence, have I ever written anything as daft as this cos I may as well just throw in the towel if I have and is the sky even blue anymore?). I think the only idea in here that didn’t make me cringe was when she tricked Celia– which worked because Celia was ridiculously over sweet. That said, every-other-scheme only worked because everyone else acted like an *idiot*.

And if a smart character being stupid was the only inconsistency that would have been bad enough… but I also had trouble pinning down her age. I can’t tell you how many times I thought “wait- she’s supposed to be a teenager?” This does not sound like someone who is a clever sixteen- she just sounds over thirty. I had to suspend my disbelief for pretty much the entire book.

Well that was when it wasn’t making me feel physically sick. Because this main character is poisonous enough to rival even Humbert Humbert- and that’s saying something! It wasn’t just the murder or the incest (though bloody hell- when I write it like that- it’s certainly bad enough!) it was also watching her ruin people. That actually managed to be the worst part of it for me- seeing the consequences for everyone else. She’s one of the most disgusting characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading about. I can’t even say it was fun to read about such a villain because there was no legitimate reason for her to act like such a crazy bitch. She just reminded me of a spoilt brat throwing her toys out of the pram.

And by the end I was left with the same questions I had at the start: What the hell is the meaning of this story? Should she have never sat on a horse and acted like a man? What is the point of all this? Why write this? I didn’t get this book at all– a line I often reserve for some highbrow books- but trust me this is as low as it gets.

Rating… arghhh… how is an ape supposed to rate a book like this? It’s the wrong kind of bananas! Here’s a handful of measly peanuts instead:

nuts

So have you read this? Will you… pahahaha… let’s not even pretend you’re gonna pick it up… Don’t do that to yourself. Seriously.

Six of Crows Made My Heart Fly!

six of crows

If there is a single word I could use to describe this book it would be: faultless. I devoured this book in one sitting and didn’t take much in the way of notes- so if this review is in any way lacking- take that as a testament to how good this book was!! It was, in fact, too good for me to be proper book blogger right now, so I’m just gonna have to insert some totally deserved squeals:

squeal gif.gif

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s talk about why I loved this book. The most obvious thing to talk about first is the characters. AHHH the characters (yeah I’m not totally done screaming yet…). I cannot express how stonkingly ridiculously brilliant they were. This was a book full of anti-heroes (two of my favourite things right there: book + anti-heroes = happy orangutan). Not only that, but it managed to do a slow reveal of their backstories *whilst* simultaneously leaving me wanting more for book 2.

And this was not the only way this book managed to satisfy me and whet my appetite at the same time. The story itself built to a perfect crescendo and just when I thought it was all tied together nicely- BAM! It threw me under the bus and went *I’m not done with you yet*.

Every twist and turn led me somewhere I didn’t expect- but more incredibly, it led me back to the world of the Grisha and made me love it *so much more*. It’s no secret that I was on the fence about the original series- BUT BOY OH BOY- the world and story here gave me a whole new level of appreciation for Bargugo’s writing.

Because it was soooo good. Everything so well thought out. From chapter to chapter, scene to scene, Bardugo passed  the buck of the story so that it flowed like a perfectly executed relay. Where one moment left off another began- it never gave me the chance to catch my breath.

Add to that some subtle messages and growth as the characters learn about hatred of the “other” and all I can say is this book made my heart soar!

Rating: 5/5 bananas (duh!)

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

Okay, so this was much less a review and more shameless gush. But I can’t help it with this one! Right now I’ve lent my copy to my sister, saying “if you don’t love this there’s something wrong with you” and am waiting for a good moment to crack open the next one!

So have you read this? Are you planning on reading it? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Read YA

I’ve been asked before (very politely) why I, a monkey in my twenties, would read something clearly not aimed at my demographic aka YA. This is especially relevant after I read several naff YA books in a row. So today I’m gonna give a few of my main reasons why I keep going back to YA (with examples- yay!)

six of crowsBecause when it’s good, it’s damn good. Even after all this time, YA can still get my heart pumping. I let my emotions lead my choice of books, so if a book genre can still make me feel excited, then I’ll keep going back to it. Books like Six of Crows more than keep me sated- but you’ll hear all about it in my upcoming review. For now, I’ll just say books like that show how YA is always doing new and innovative things, which leads me onto…

northern lightsThey’re often extremely imaginative. The main reason why I keep going back to books aimed at a younger audience is that there’s a lot of fearlessness in the way YA authors write. There really is a sense in YA that you can write about *anything*. Being a fantasy lover, it makes logical sense that I’ll seek new worlds wherever I can find them. And since some of the boldest, most adventurous work always seems to be aimed at people under 18, that’s where I’m naturally drawn. Of course, for all this explosive talent, the genre is not without its faults. Still…

talonI am a genre whore, so I’ll read anything. Sure, all genres have “genre specific” problems- but if I was going to hold a flaw against an entire group of books, I’d have a lot of trouble finding anything to read. Though I can admit that tropey laden books like Talon exist, I strongly hold by the fact that *every single* bookish problem can be done well somewhere (who hasn’t thought about a book “wow this is a walking cliché but it’s done so well that I love it and don’t care”?). Plus, no matter how much I complain about YA, there’s always those books that somehow manage to avoid tropes and clichés altogether- I’m always on the lookout for those. But while we’re on the subject of genre…

wideacreAdult books can be a bit tiring/draining/bleak. I still remember the first time I thought “I think I can venture into the adult section now” (contemporary not classics). But when I picked a selection and read them, I came away so dejected, thinking “is this all adults think about?” All the books had been about jaded characters, stuffed with seedy subject matter and full of depressing topics (oh just wait for my review of Wideacre and you’ll see what I mean!!). Now I’ve found more books in that genre I like, but I still think there’s something to be said about returning to the innocence of a good YA novel.

peter pan and wendyA little Peter Pan syndrome doesn’t hurt. Yes, it might be a little obvious from this post and my frequent references to Peter Pan that I was one of those children who never wanted to grow up. Not only did I spend hours as a child jumping off my bed trying to learn to fly, but the adults in my life always taught me you’re only as young as you feel (my grandpa, for instance, went to Disneyworld for the first time at 75 and loved it so much he went back the next year). We all have to grow up- but that doesn’t mean we have to be old. Inside at least, we can still be young. (And no this doesn’t mean I have a Dorian Gray style picture stashed away somewhere 😉 )

Hobbit_coverAnd finally, they’re educational. You never stop learning! Just because I’m older doesn’t mean I’ve incorporated all the lessons of youth. Every time I read a YA novel, I’m learning something new and in a funny way actually growing up. And isn’t that a fundamental point of YA- staying young while growing as a person?

So there’s my list of reasons for reading YA! Do you read YA too? Why? Why not? Let me know in the comments!

Wings Unseen Never Really Took Off For Me

*Received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

wings unseenWell for a book with a really strong start, this sure did fall flat. First I was lured in by that gorgeous cover, then I read the enticing synopsis and finally I read the delectable sample chapters- I was ready to go! Unfortunately, my excitement for this was short-lived. I feel like a lot of work went into that intro… and after that… nothing much happened. And then cos nothing really happened, I got bored. And because I was bored I started to nitpick. Still the book didn’t technically do anything wrong, it just didn’t do anything right. And since I don’t want to be all hypercritical about this I’m gonna try to not let that take over this review… so for that reason this’ll probably be very short.

Like I said, in terms of plot, this was very underwhelming. Unless you’re really into hunting trips, this was very much a s-l-o-w burner. There really wasn’t sufficient drama until 70% of the way in- when the *big reveal* happened- and even that was very predictable.  It took too long for things to happen, after a really strong start. By the time the plot picked up, I’d lost interest.

The world building was colourful and refreshingly different. I also thought the “three heads” was a half decent idea- yet it wasn’t clever enough to stand on its own two feet and really depended on the three main characters being compelling. However… this is what we got instead: Vesperi, the most intriguing character, but not exactly likeable; Serra, mildly sympathetic, but too bland to hold my interest; and Janto… well as far as I could tell, his sole characteristic was that he was a prince.

Then there was the romance … I didn’t buy it. Not for any of them. To be honest, this comes down to the fact that if I’m not invested in the characters, I won’t give a monkeys about the romance. So making it a love triangle didn’t really matter to me, because I didn’t care which direction it took. And (spoiler warning) really, I know I said I wouldn’t nitpick, can we please all agree that in a non-romance novel closing on a kiss is naff?

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahalf-a-hand-drawn-banana

Released 22nd August and is available here

So this was a bit disappointing- have you read a book lately that lured you in but fell flat? Let me know in the comments!

The Jewel, the White Rose and the Black Key (The Lone City Series)

the jewel white rose black key

Well this series was a pleasant surprise. To tell the truth, I only read these books cos I was in a slump, so my only wish going in was for it to not be terrible… And whaddya know- it wasn’t terrible! Success! Yes, sometimes I have low standards- but to be fair to me I do enjoy the occasional YA dystopia- I just feel like I’ve spent the last few years being burned by them *cue sad music*

So when this surprised me by having complex world building, a creepy setup and started going in a direction I did not expect… Well let’s just say I was prepared to eat my own hat.

eat my own hat

 

But hold your horses- it wasn’t all good. Because there were huge problems with this series… starting with the instalove. It was going so well- why oh why did they have to put in such a shoddy romance?! *Sigh*.

I have to say, one of the reason the romance sucked was cos the male characters were nothing but eye candy. I’m all for girl power, but c’mon does that mean most of the men have to be devoid of personality? Whhhy?! Lucien was the only interesting character really and he was a carbon copy of Cinna from the Hunger Games crossed with a tame version of Varys from Game of Thrones. Other than that a lot of the characters fell a little flat for me. I wasn’t crazy about the fact that the main character was hyperaware of everything that was wrong with her world from the start, because it allowed for less character growth as the series progressed (this is a theme I’ve noticed in dystopias which I’ve always thought of stylistically as 1984 vs Handmaid’s Tale– this definitely falls into the latter category). It was even more of a shame that they decided to substitute her actually learning something as a person for developing powers- which is yet another snowflakey YA trope.

In terms of plot, it had its ups and downs. There were times when not a whole lot was happening… *insert cricket noises*. But it was very addictive and had a fair amount of DRAMA to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, by book three the heightened action really could not make up for the lack of characterisation. Plus the ridiculous scheme they come up with is ridiculous, the ending is completely expected and naturally there’s a pointless death to spur the main character into action…

So yeah, in summary, there really wasn’t anything unique or original here (go figure, since I’m pretty sure this was marketed as Hunger Games meets Handmaid’s Tale meets Selection). That said, it was good for a slump, and for that reason, I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

 hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

So which books have you found helped you get out of a slump? (even if they were mediocre like this one) Let me know in the comments!

Spoils of War: This Series is Gaining HEAT

(Anyone else think this is ironic that an episode with this title was spoiled for a lot of people? Either way, if you have somehow managed to avoid hearing about/watching this episode and don’t want it spoilt… look away now!)

got 7-4

This episode was the definition of EPIC! I don’t even know how to coherently express myself anymore. I was tempted just to write !!!!!!!!! this week and leave it at that- cos that pretty much sums up my emotions right now. In fact a lot of my notes were just “arghhh!!” and “ahh” so it took a while to decipher.

So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start 😉 ). That opening scene between Bran and Littlefinger (or as I like to call him “fuck off Littlefinger”) was quite excellent, because it really showed the huge development of Bran as a character. He is a million miles away from that cripple in the bed being defended by his mother- now he’s one creepy bugger. I just loved how Bran said back Littlefinger’s infamous line: “chaos is a ladder”. It gave me the shivers! But seriously, my takeaway from this scene was still someone needs to kill Littlefinger already *ahem* Arya *ahem*. (Speaking of which- was Bran giving her indirect permission by giving her the knife? Theories anyone?)

And now we come to the ahh-my-emotions part of the episode. Because although this episode packed punch after punch of *feels*- including Meera leaving- the real hiccupy tears started to rise from the moment Arya set eyes on Winterfell again. I think the reunion, as good as it was, was nothing compared to that moment. Although Sansa’s line made me laugh:

when he sees you his heart will stop

LOL! So yes, this episode definitely succeeded in making me as emotional as the last one. I do have to say that as nice as it is to see them all back at Winterfell, none of them are anything like the children that left it. That point when they talked about how everyone that knew their father is dead and Arya replies “we’re not” hit home even more in a way, because it made me wonder have any of them really survived?

So we’ve revisited some old relationships, let’s talk about the new ones building. I adored the scenes on Dragonstone- not just Dany and Jon admiring some wall paintings together, but also the Onion Knight paying lip service to that ship. I just love how they’re slowly softening towards each other coming together. It was especially inspiring to see Jon managing to talk a fiery Dany down from  just turning King’s Landing to ash- talk about a dream team! And you gotta love Davos’ priceless line:

switched sides.png

I also did like Brienne’s initial reaction to seeing them all together, however, as good as all this was, I did find the training scene between Arya and Brienne a bit strange, unnecessary and fanfic-y. I could be wrong, but I just can’t picture something like that happening in the books and it’s the more jarring scenes like this which make me wonder how it will go there- I guess now would be a good time to take bets 😉

We certainly got reunions all round in this episode. I honestly didn’t know how Jon would react to Theon and it looked like Jon didn’t know either. I have to say that was one of Kit Harrington’s best moments, because he packaged so much into that one moment- shock, uncertainty anger- it all made the scene feel utterly authentic. In the end, I was glad they didn’t just hug it out, cos (and I have to remind myself of this too since it was so long ago) Theon’s the reason Rob is dead.

Okay- now what we’re all really here for is that battle sequence 😉 And what a battle it was!!

First of all, the build-up was so so good!! I loved how they didn’t rush into it, starting with a rumble and whinny of horses. The tension snuck up steadily, with everyone waiting for pandemonium to hit. Jaime’s line just before they hit was perfect:

we can hold them off.png

No you really, really can’t. Because my, my, my- the dothraki brought the chaos. All due credit to the showrunners- they know how to shoot a battle. This is by far the best I’ve seen on television- in fact it would be more than worthy of a summer blockbuster. It was so brilliantly done, from the way it was shot to the CGI fluttering of Drogon’s wings as he crashed to the ground… but more on that in a bit.

Because this wasn’t just about the visuals. Someway, somehow, the writers managed to build characters in the thick of it. You got all the emotion on fear on their faces as they feared for themselves and others. You had little moments, like the Dothraki saying to Tyrion “your people can’t fight” or Tyrion saying “you fucking idiot” as he watched Jaime charge towards the dragon. There was even that perfect moment between Dany helping Drogon on the middle of the battlefield, where suddenly it was just a girl and her dragon.

Seriously, I was so scared for people on every side- and even as my heart was pumping for Dany to finally get on the scoreboard of this war, I was absolutely terrified about what that would mean for Jaime (who by the way, did amazingly for a guy with one hand). But I couldn’t even think this would be a breeze for Dany, what with them trying to shoot POOR DROGON out of the sky. Of course you don’t mess with a mother-effin dragon if you want to live…

And that crazy cliffhanger with Jaime nearly dying is where I will leave you. I am absolutely on tenterhooks for the next episode. But I am delighted to say this was one of the most hard hitting, emotional episodes I have ever seen… and that’s saying something! The showrunners are really delivering on everything now, from long awaited reunions, meetings, characterisation, wars, and even the occasional, lingering notes of Rains of Castamere in the middle of a battle. And once again they have proven WHY THIS IS THE BEST DARN SHOW EVER!!!

I can also say, from me to you, this is definitely worth rewatching 😉

So what did you think of this EPIC episode? Did it make you happy? Scared? Something in between? Let me know in the comments!

All That Still Matters At All: A Voice that Deserves to be Heard

all that still matters at all

I don’t normally review poetry- indeed I don’t normally read whole poetry collections cover to cover. But this book was special. Part of that was due to the complex story of the man behind them- Miklós Radnóti- a Hungarian poet murdered in the Holocaust.

“The velvet darkness fails to comfort me/and thorny anger no longer can liberate”

There are many strands of his life story tangled up with his writing: the death of his mother and twin at his birth, his wife and muse Fanni, and his conversion to Christianity (sadly even this could not save him from the labour camps). Add to that the fact that these poems were recovered from a notebook found on his exhumed body and it feels like these words are speaking from beyond the grave.

“O will I have the strength to come back/swept away in the riptide of my life”

Through the themes of death and war, this book speaks to the depths of humanity. Burdened with survivor’s guilt from his tragic origins, he paints himself as an anti-hero, a “beast of humankind”. In this way, the image of his twin reflects more than just a single tragedy- it recognises the duality of the human race and the capacity within us all for good and evil.

“the dusk moth will hover already and its wings sparkle silver”

One of the striking elements of these poems is when he harks back to the Ecologues, imagining a conversation with Virgil, where he discusses the madness of the age. With this time travelling exercise he creates a bridge between past and present in a way that even he could not have considered. For in the very last line of this collection, we are inadvertently reminded that his words reach out even after his death:

“on my ear the muddied blood was caking”

A brief, yet impactful read, there were so many wonderful poems here that if I wanted to list my favourites I would be giving you half the contents page.  Instead I will leave you with one last line from this beautiful collection:

“The dusk was copper-skinned/and death was heroic”

Rating: 5/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

So will you give this a go? And do you have any poetry collections you can recommend me? Let me know in the comments!