Friday, 29 July 2016

With Malice, Eileen Cook

Pages: 304
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: 9th June 2016
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Waking in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of Jill’s life are a complete blank…

All she knows is what she's been told: while in Italy on a school trip she was involved in a fatal accident and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team.

Because maybe the accident…wasn’t just an accident.

I was really excited about With Malice – it sounded like a fun, fast-paced read. And it was, but I was also pretty disappointed.

With Malice is pretty much a rehash of Abigail Haas’s Dangerous Girls which I read and completely loved a few years back. The unreliable narrator, mixed media evidence, a horrible crime and twisty motives should have been perfect and yet I just felt like I'd read it before, but better. I didn’t get fully sucked into the drama and the tension because of the trajectory of the plot and Jill’s characterisation just felt obvious. I was really hoping for something that I could hardly bear to put down, but I just ended up being a bit ‘meh’ about it.

I really wish that the Italian setting had been made more of. I know that Jill didn’t remember the trip, but there were dreams and visions and so many transcripts from interview and blogs that I’m sure there was a way to get some more Italy in there. It feels a little wasted.

On the positive side, it is a quick and easy read, and if this plot is a new one to you then you’ll probably be swept right up in it.

Thanks to Hot Key for the review copy.


Thursday, 28 July 2016

Books I Couldn't Finish (9)

I used to finish every book I started, whether I was enjoying it or not. But life is short. I’ve realised that I don’t have time for books I’m not full involved in any longer so if I don’t like something or don’t connect with it as much as I want to, I’ll put it aside. It still makes me feel guilty though, especially if I received them for review so I still want to talk about them, explain why I didn’t like them. Here are the most recent books I DNF-ed.

Perfume, Patrick Suskind
I've wanted to read this one for years and I’m kind of gutted I didn’t like it. Set in mid-18th Century Paris, the novel vividly sets the scene, mostly using descriptions of scent, of course. I loved this element but there was so little about Grenouille’s descent into becoming a serial killer that it all just felt like filler. Waffle about the people who brought him up and others that seemed to be completely irrelevant to the story – it got rather frustrating and as I seem to have very little patience with audiobooks I’m not enjoying, I DNFed it at 23%.

What We Left Behind, Robin Talley
I was so looking forward to this. Talley’s debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves, was a beautiful tale of sexuality, race and the fight for equality in the 60s and I was really looking forward to seeing a genderqueer character in YA. I couldn’t do it. Everything felt like an agenda; Toni sexual identity was mentioned constantly and I felt like a message and explanations about what being genderqueer is were being forced down my throat. Everything was delivered in such a strange tone and it was clearly message/subject matter over story and characters and I could just envisage myself getting very angry at it so I had to put it down. DNF at page 86.

Girl Hearts Girl, Lucy Sutcliffe
I went into Girl Hearts Girl with serious excitement, but I ended up DNFing it at page 38. I was expecting to be swept away by a tough, romantic and important story, and maybe it still is, I just couldn’t get back the infodump of Lucy’s childhood. Of the 40 pages I read, only about 10 of them felt even slightly relevant to the story I was promised. I also struggled with the writing – it was unremarkable, but also managed to be irritating. It felt very unpolished and young. Such a disappointment.


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: Lady Chatterley's Lover

Originally published in 1928 by Tipographia Giuntina

My edition: The rather lovely Penguin Clothbound Classics hardback

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
Like with a lot of classics, I can’t recall a distinct moment of discovering Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It's just one of those canonical texts that has always been there.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I watched the new BBC adaptation when they ran a short series of adaptations earlier this year and while I enjoyed it, it felt a bit lacking. Twitter seemed to agree and suddenly floods of praise came in for the novel, people strongly recommending everyone not to be put off a wonderful book by a lacklustre adaptation. I was sold.

WHAT Makes It a Classic
DH Lawrence was writing about and during a time that will continue to fascinate for years and years to come: in between the wars. A time when modernity and tradition clashed, when women were still only beginning to fight the restrictions of society, when the leftovers from before the war feel old and stifling. And on top of that, he throws in lots of sex, scandal and high romance – he was paving the way for a new generation of writers.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
When Lady Constance Chatterley’s marriage to Sir Clifford turns stale, boring and unsatisfying due to Clifford’s paralysing war injuries, Connie turns her affections to the gamekeeper that maintains the ground of Wragby house.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is one of the most accessible classic classics I've read this year and I really enjoyed it. If I hadn’t have been reading Middlemarch alongside it (which is a lot tougher to get through!) then I would have sped through this book.

I knew very little about the plot or themes of this book outside of the vagaries of the BBC adaptation so I was really interested to see Lawrence exploring the clash between post-war modernity and the leftovers from the old-fashioned Edwardian era. Seeing this reflected both in Clifford and in Mellors in such different ways was fascinating. We learn a lot about the wars in the UK education system, but we rarely look at the non-war related effects on the years between them. Set around 1920, the shock of the war is still evident and it shows up in the disparities between Connie and Clifford and Mellors.

The clash between the times also showed up in the war between the classes and it was really interesting how Connie went back and forth between caring about her status to disregarding it and back again. It is expected for her and Clifford to care, and that’s what they’ve been taught since birth, but for Mellors and his own experiences in the war, his social position is no longer of consequence to him.

Connie and Mellors’ relationship is up and down from the outset, and I wasn’t always 100% on board with it. The first few times they were together, Connie wasn’t really a participant – it almost felt as if she wasn’t really sure she wanted to do anything. But as they got closer and closer, she warmed up and he cooled down. By the end of the book I felt that Connie had forced Mellors into a relationship that he didn’t really want. This weirdness meant I didn’t really connect with the passion and ‘love’ that was continually professed. I was also surprised by how explicit it was!

Though Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written and released in 1928, the full, unabridged version wasn’t published in its entirety in the UK until 1960 when Penguin were famously tried for the obscenity. Even with that in mind, I genuinely wasn’t expecting anything that scandalous. I was wrong! I figured it would be a little suggestive, slightly risqué, but nothing like what I got. I was so shocked at some of the word choices, and the frequency of their use. They’re words I cringe to hear even now, I can’t even imagine the reactions 60+ years ago. But for me, the crudeness of that language took something away from the romance and passion that Connie and Mellors supposedly felt for each other – it just didn’t seem like there was genuine feeling behind their actions. It’s kind of fascinating, really.

This was a perfect introduction to Lawrence and I’m really looking forward to reading more of his work, I only wish I hadn’t stretched it out for so long! I think this is the kind of novel best read in a binge or as quickly as you can – I think Connie’s passion and intensity will be served better that way.

WILL It Stay a Classic
Definitely. It’s accessible and fun, and the legacy of the scandal that this book caused for Lawrence will live on.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Lovers of scandal fiction and those not put off by graphic content.
- Readers interested in the period between the wars and the effect on society.
- If you’re curious about early 20th Century exploration of women’s freedom and sexuality. 


Friday, 22 July 2016

Run, Kody Keplinger

Pages: 326
Publisher: Hodder
Release Date: 14th July 2016
Edition: UK paperback, purchased

What risks would you take to save your friends?

Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and an alcoholic mom. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnes Atwood has never stayed out past 10pm, never gone on a date and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally-blind daughter, but Agnes isn’t quite sure what they are protecting her from.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs more deeply than anything else. But when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, police sirens wailing in the distance, Agnes is faced with the biggest choice she’s ever had to make. Run, or stay?

I’m a huge fan of Kody Keplinger’s books, and while Run was as easy and enjoyable to read as her previous novels, it just wasn’t as immediately engaging as I was expecting.

Run is set in rural Kentucky and has an immediately different feel to Keplinger’s other novels. Mersey is a small, poor, religious town and the Southern accents are clear even through the narration. We don’t really have an English version of the small-town American South so I find this setting endlessly fascinating. The judgements and strictness of it baffle me. I really felt for Bo and Agnes suffocating under the pressure of their home town.

I loved the intensity of Bo and Agnes’s friendship. It’s that heady best-friendship you develop in your teens that hurts even more than a romantic break up when it fractures. Keplinger writes the agonies of it perfectly. I often found myself not especially motivated to pick this back up and it was only wanting to see Bo and Agnes learning from each other and teaching each other that kept me going.

Agnes has the same condition as Kody Kepliner herself and it was fascinating to read about. I don’t think I've ever read about a legally blind character before and it was super interesting to see how day-to-day life worked for Agnes. It had never occurred to me before how over-protective parents would be of their blind child, the daily struggles at school and the idea of you being a ‘burden’ on your friends. But I loved that it wasn’t written that way – it’s not something to be pitied, and it's not all that Agnes is.

Run didn’t blow me away as much as Kody Keplinger’s previous novels have, but it was still an easy, enjoyable read about friendship, family and the thrill of freedom.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

In Three Words: My Favourite Books of 2016 So Far

I can’t quite believe that it’s already nearly the end of July… But it is, so I figured it was about time I told you about some of the best books I've read so far in 2016. I've been rather picky about handing out five star reviews this year and that’s definitely reflected in this list!

As ever, I've been keeping a running list of the books that have blown me away, adding them and taking them away as my feelings changed, but I think I've got a pretty firm decision. And here they are in three words:

A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J Maas
Sexy, addictive, unrelenting.

Under Rose Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall
Honest, moving, fresh.

The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell
Literary, fascinating, pacy.

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
Funny, romantic, absorbing.

Mistborn: Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson (Read by Michael Cramer)
Relentless, emotional, intense.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Read by Rosumund Pike)
Pitch-perfect, funny, nostalgic.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
Feminist, powerful, unusual.

Treats, Lara Williams
Relatable, strong, identifying.

Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
Powerful, moving, feminist.

What are your favourite books of the year so far?