Sunday, 24 April 2016

Ye Olde Stories & Songs | #Shakespeare400

This weekend the whole world celebrates 400 years of William Shakespeare, one of the world's greatest storytellers. I thought I'd celebrate the Bard in my own small way with a new instalment of Stories & Songs, pairing songs with some of Shakespeare's most famous couples.

Which songs would you pair with Shakespeare's characters?

Romeo and Juliet

"C'est la Mort"
The Civil Wars

Let's walk down the road that has no end;
Steal away where only angels tread.
Heaven or hell or somewhere in between,
Cross your heart to take me when you leave,
Don't go.
Please don't go.
Don't go without me.

Desdemona and Othello
from Othello

"What Kind of Man"
Florence + the Machine

And with one kiss
You inspired a fire of devotion
That lasted for twenty years
What kind of man loves like this?

To let me dangle at a cruel angle
Oh my feet don't touch the floor
Sometimes you're half in and then you're half out
But you never close the door

What kind of man loves like this?
What kind of man?
What kind of man loves like this?
What kind of man?

Beatrice and Benedick

"True Love"
P!nk ft. Lily Allen

At the same time, I wanna hug you
I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
You're an asshole but I love you
And you make me so mad I ask myself
Why I'm still here, or where could I go
You're the only love I've ever known
But I hate you, I really hate you,
So much, I think it must be

True love, true love
It must be true love
Nothing else can break my heart like
True love, true love,
It must be true love
No one else can break my heart like you

Friday, 22 April 2016

Review | St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

by Karen Russell

My Rating: 

Charting loss, love and the difficult art of growing up, these stories unfurl with wicked humour and insight. Two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab; a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to 'Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers' (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Insomniacs; Cabin 3, Somnambulists...); a Minotaur leads his family on the trail out West, and finally, in the collection's poignant and hilarious title story, fifteen girls raised by wolves are painstakingly re-civilised by nuns.

Karen Russell's one of those authors who's been on my TBR for quite a while now. For a long time I'd heard she was a beautiful writer, if a little difficult to follow sometimes, and I was ready to accept the challenge and step out of my comfort zone. Her style has been likened to Angela Carter's, and as someone who, unfortunately, isn't the biggest fan of Carter's work I wasn't 100% sure if Karen Russell would be for me or not.

Now that I've read her debut collection I'm still not 100% sure.

One thing can't be doubted here: Karen Russell is an excellent writer. This collection was published when she was only 25, and her talent is obvious; some of her sentences are just gorgeous and such a pleasure to read, but I think that might have been part of the reason why I ultimately came away from this collection rather disappointed, because at times it felt like more effort had been put into the way the stories had been written rather than the content of the stories themselves. I admire beautiful writing a heck of a lot, but I love stories more.

Some stories I really enjoyed; 'Haunting Olivia', 'from Children's Reminiscences of the Westerward Migration' and 'St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves' were my favourite stories in the collection, but the more I think about this book the more I realise those three were probably the only stories I truly enjoyed. Every other story in this collection I either found really frustrating or I just didn't care about all that much. Yes, her writing style is quirky, but it's just a bit too quirky even for me.

What the stories in this collection all suffer from is the lack of an ending. Russell doesn't finish her stories, they just come to an abrupt stop, and as someone who's a big fan of a beginning, a middle and an end - particularly in short stories, because the ending to a short work can completely make or break it for me - I found it so frustrating. 'Haunting Olivia' and 'St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves' had the most concrete endings to me, which is probably part of the reason why I enjoyed them more than the majority of the other stories in the collection, but even 'from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration' was the casualty of a disappointing non-ending.

The stories were also far too samey for me. So many of them are written in first-person with a precocious child narrator (how many children use the word 'obdurate'?), usually a little boy, and none of these little boys are particularly distinctive other than the narrators of 'Haunting Olivia' and 'from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration' - but I have no idea if I remember them because they're written differently or because I at least enjoyed their stories. I understand that short story collections usually have a theme, but there's a big difference between themed stories and the exact same story over and over again.

Originally I rated this collection three stars mainly because I figured two stars was a bit harsh for a writer who can write, but how can I rate something three stars when, for the most part, I didn't actually enjoy it that much? This is only Russell's debut, so perhaps I'm being a little harsh; I've seen plenty of people who feel the same way as I do about St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves say that Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a much stronger collection. I'll give it a go at some point, but right now the name 'Karen Russell' is giving me a headache.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

This Week in Books | 20/04/16

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

NOW: I've picked up Jamaica Inn and so far I'm enjoying it. I love Daphne du Maurier, she's well on her way to being one of my favourite writers, and I think I might be going to the real Jamaica Inn in the summer so I'm looking forward to getting this book under my belt!

THEN: I recently read Karen Russell's debut collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and unfortunately I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would. Look out for my review next week!

NEXT: Tomorrow is the release day of Julia Ember's debut, Unicorn Tracks, which I'm very excited to read. I've pre-ordered a copy and I'll be diving into it as soon as it arrives!

What have you been reading recently?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Top Ten Tuesday | Ten Books Every Lover of Jane Eyre Should Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week you compile a list of ten books which coincide with that week's theme. You can find everything you need to know about joining in here!

In nine days time, on the 21st April, it's Charlotte Brontë's 200th birthday. It seemed wrong not to celebrate the birthday of one of the world's most famous authors, so today I have ten recommendations for any fans of her most famous work, Jane Eyre!

If you haven't read Jane Eyre and/or are completely unfamiliar with the story, I'd recommend you stop reading now - I don't want to spoil anything for you if it's a novel you still want to read!

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: It's practically in the title! Fforde's Thursday Next series takes place in a world in which our literary characters are very real, and when Jane Eyre disappears it's up to Thursday Next to find her.

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë: Anne Brontë's often forgotten in favour of her sisters, which is a real shame considering she may actually be the most feminist of the three. One of the reasons she may be lesser known is that Charlotte decided not to reprint The Tenant of Wildfell Hall after Anne's death, so I think it's only fair she gets a mention here! Like Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey is based on the sisters' time as governesses, though Agnes Grey may be a more realistic portrayal of the job...

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: If you enjoyed Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece I don't see why you wouldn't enjoy Daphne du Maurier's. Mrs. de Winter is not quite as fiery as Jane, but I've always found quite a few similarities between Jane Eyre and Rebecca, and often wondered if du Maurier was inspired by Jane Eyre at all when she was writing her most famous novel. It's also just a fantastic book, so you should read it whether you're a Jane Eyre fan or not!

How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis: Samantha Ellis's memoir is all about her relationship with her favourite literary heroines, and the book actually sprang from a conversation between herself and her best friend in which they were discussing whether it was better to be like Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. If you're new to non-fiction this is a brilliant starting point - it's a great memoir.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Yet another book you should read whether you're a fan of Jane Eyre or not because it's just that good, but this is another story that gave me some Jane Eyre vibes when I read it. The Miniaturist felt like a coming-of-age novel to me in much the same way that Jane Eyre does. Read it for yourself and see if you agree!

Lirael by Garth Nix: Plot-wise Lirael is nothing like Jane Eyre, but character-wise? There's something about Lirael that reminds me of a fantastical Jane Eyre; her sad childhood, her intelligence, her quiet strength. Jane, I believe, has influenced many a heroine.

Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale: Set in the late 19th century, Blue Stockings is a play that tells the story of four women who attend Girton College, Cambridge: the first college in Britain to admit women. There's no doubt in my mind that Jane would have attended university if she'd had the chance to.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys: This modern classic is a prequel to Jane Eyre which tells the story of Bertha Mason: the madwoman in the attic.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters: I think Sarah Waters is a brilliant storyteller, and Fingersmith is one of the twistiest, turniest novels I've ever read. As shocking to read as Jane Eyre was upon its initial publication, it also includes a love story that crosses class boundaries and is a wonderful place to start if you've yet to read any Sarah Waters.

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault: This graphic novel tells the story of Hélène who's being bullied at school because of her weight. The only thing that makes her feel better is reading Jane Eyre. This is a beautiful graphic novel, and one that, sadly, I imagine a lot of girls can relate to. It's not the best graphic novel I've ever read, but it's still pretty darn good.

What did you talk about this week?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Review | Blue Stockings by Jessica Swale

by Jessica Swale

My Rating: 

A moving, comical and eye-opening story of four young women fighting for education and self-determination against the larger backdrop of women’s suffrage.

1896. Girton College, Cambridge, the first college in Britain to admit women. The Girton girls study ferociously and match their male peers grade for grade. Yet, when the men graduate, the women leave with nothing but the stigma of being a 'blue stocking' - an unnatural, educated woman. They are denied degrees and go home unqualified and unmarriageable.

In Blue Stockings, Tess Moffat and her fellow first years are determined to win the right to graduate. But little do they anticipate the hurdles in their way: the distractions of love, the cruelty of the class divide or the strength of the opposition, who will do anything to stop them. The play follows them over one tumultuous academic year, in their fight to change the future of education.

I don't usually review plays - I don't tend to read them very often, if I'm perfectly honest - but last year, on my birthday, I went to see Jessica Swale's Olivier Award-winning Nell Gwynn (reviewed here!) at The Globe Theatre in London, and because I enjoyed it so much I was eager to check out Swale's other historical play, Blue Stockings.

Blue Stockings is the kind of story I enjoy. Historical fiction about women fighting for the right to graduate from university? Yes please.

The story was infuriating, in a good way. It was so frustrating to have to acknowledge that women who wanted an education, who wanted their minds to be valued in the same way as a man's and to have more opportunities than to be a wife and mother, were treated so despicably and denied what is a basic human right. Education is for everyone.

We follow four women - Tess, Carolyn, Celia and Maeve - who are all attending Cambridge to study science. While I enjoyed the play, I would have liked more scenes about them receiving their education, about them studying and solving stuff out together and supporting one another. There is some of that, of course, but as the play wore on it became more and more about Tess and her first forays into love, in fact I feel like I barely knew Carolyn and Celia at all. There's even a scene in which Tess is shown to care more about the man she loves than about her education and is starting to fail her classes because of it. I couldn't believe that an intelligent girl who had to fight so hard just to be at university would risk throwing that away. For a play about women's education, I thought it was a bit of a shame that so much of it focused on Tess's love life.

My favourite character by far was Maeve, who absolutely broke my heart. What happens to her, in particular, made me so angry. I'd happily read another story about Maeve, whether it's a play, a novel or a short story, because I adored her. Carolyn and Celia are a lot of fun too, but reading the play they felt rather overshadowed by Tess. Perhaps if I'd seen the play I might feel differently, particularly as plays are meant to be seen rather than read.

All in all I enjoyed it, I think it's a very important piece of history to remember, but I didn't love it like I hoped I would. I still recommend checking out Jessica Swale's work, though, and if you have the chance to see Nell Gwynn make sure you take it!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Review | Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 

The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories—and secrets—that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?

With nine stories—five of which have never before been published—and an exclusive never-before-seen excerpt from Marissa Meyer’s upcoming novel, Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles.

I think you all know by now how much I love The Lunar Chronicles, so when the series finally came to an end I was thrilled to know I'd have one last chance to see these characters in this short story collection. Some of the stories I'd already read, but there were several others that were completely new to me and there was something so warm and comforting about finding myself once again in the company of characters I love and a world I know.

I've been a bit down recently, and ended up in a horrid reading slump, and I think this book is the one that pulled me out of it. Cinder is one of my favourite YA heroines, though I do love Scarlet, Cress and Winter, too, so reading about her is always a joy, as was reading about the other characters. In this collection we're given the chance to read a story about Michelle Benoit, Scarlet's grandmother, as well as stories about Cress's childhood and Cinder and Kai's meeting from Kai's point of view. There's even a very fun story that takes place after Winter which was such a joy to read.

I didn't fall head over heels in love with this collection like I thought I would. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it and I'm so pleased it managed to pull me from my reading slump, but I felt like Marissa Meyer's writing wasn't as strong in this collection as it is in her novels. Personally I think Meyer is a better storyteller than a writer; like all writers she'll constantly be improving, and she's by no means a bad writer in the slightest, but I think her stories and her characters are more impressive than the way in which she writes them. That doesn't bother me - I'm generally much more interested in story than writing style anyway, though every now and then an author like Jessie Burton comes along who excels in both - but this was the first time I noticed it, particularly in the first story which felt a little too slow for a character as lively as Michelle.

I do think Meyer has a real talent for dialogue, though. I love the way her characters interact, particularly when they're joking; it's not easy to write humour, but Meyer has a knack for it.

Ultimately Stars Above is a really fun collection. My favourite story is probably 'Glitches' - like I said, I am a big Cinder fan - but 'Something Old, Something New' is a very close second. If you're a fan of The Lunar Chronicles then this book will make a lovely addition to your collection, and if you're not? I recommend you pick up a copy of Cinder!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

This Week in Books | 06/04/16

This week I'm joining in with Lipsy @ Lipsyy Lost & Found to talk about the books I've been reading recently!

I'm slowly getting back into the swing of reading after a couple of months in which I didn't read much at all. Hopefully I'll be reading like a nutter again very soon!

NOW: I received an eARC of Desolation, the second book in Derek Landy's Demon Road trilogy, from NetGalley, and as the book is officially released tomorrow I thought I'd try and read it and review it as soon as possible. You can check out my review of the first book in the trilogy here!

THEN: Yesterday I finally finished Heidi Heilig's The Girl From Everywhere, another book I received through NetGalley, and I don't know why it took me so long to finish. I loved it, and yet it took me two months to finish it, which just goes to show how much of a slump I've been in. Read my review here!

NEXT: Alias Grace has been sitting, unread, on my shelf for far too long, alongside a whole host of other books, but lately it's really been calling to me. Once I get a few eARCs under my belt I think I'm finally going to delve into this one.

What have you been reading recently?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Review | The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

by Heidi Heilig

My Rating: 

Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times - although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix's father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix's existence rather dangerously in question... 

Nix has grown used to her father's obsession, but only because she's convinced it can't work. But then a map falls into her father's lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it's that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever.

I received an eARC of The Girl From Everywhere from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Nix lives aboard The Temptation with her father and their small crew. Perhaps that's already unusual for a girl of sixteen, but it gets stranger still, for Nix's father, Slate, is a Navigator. With a capital N. Slate can travel to any place on a map - real or mythological - so long as the map is accurate, and if he finds a map to 17th century France they'll travel to 17th century France. Slate's gift, which Nix has inherited, means they can travel through different worlds and different times.

There's one map in particular Slate is obsessively trying to find: a map to Honolulu 1868, where he hopes to be reunited with Nix's deceased mother. But if Slate finds her, Nix's very existence could be in jeapordy.

The Girl From Everywhere is Heidi Heilig's debut, and I loved it. It's such a fun, imaginative and whimsical story, and while it draws so much on history and mythology, it's also very grounded in reality. Throughout the book there's a recurring theme of losing paradise, and of such a thing being inevitable, which I really enjoyed. I'm also now desperate to visit Hawaii - it's always been a place I've wanted to visit, and now Heilig's depiction of it has made me want to jump on a plane this instant.

I'm pretty sure this is my very first time travel book and I really, really enjoyed the way Heilig decided to go about it. I've always been a bit wary of time travel - I don't like the simple excuse of someone managing to build a time travel machine - but I thought the way Heilig's characters jumped through time was so fantastic. This is the first book I've read in a long while that's made me think: 'wow, I wish I'd thought of that'.

Heilig's characters were so much fun, too. There's a lot of diversity here - Nix is a mixed race protagonist - but it's done in such a way that it doesn't feel like Heilig has written them diversely to 'make a point'. They've all come from different walks of life, some from different worlds, so it makes sense that Slate's crew is such a patchwork of people and cultures.

I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Nix and Kashmir, not only because Kashmir is hilarious and, in my head at least, gorgeous, but also because the budding romance between them doesn't ruin their friendship, which is a beautiful relationship in and of itself. I'm hoping there isn't going to be a love triangle in the next book, however. I know love triangles can be done well, but they so rarely are and they're just not something I enjoy reading. I did enjoy Nix's first forays into romance, though; she doesn't dramatically declare her undying love for anyone and the romance is such a minor part of the story, but when it does pop up it's written very well and there's real chemistry between the characters.

When I first started reading this I thought it might be a five star book, but the ending was just the teensiest bit rushed for my liking. I still enjoyed it immensely, but considering the pace of the rest of the book I think the end could have been longer and the book could have potentially been a complete story. That being said I'm glad we're going to see these characters again; I think Heilig has created a wonderful world with some memorable characters whom I'd like to learn more about, and I can't wait for more adventures with this crew!