Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Vixen (Rosie Garland)

Garland, Rosie - Vixen

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Vixen
Author: Rosie Garland
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2014
Edition: Hardback, published by The Borough Press in 2014

Devon, 1349. In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.

For Anne, the priest’s arrival is an opportunity that at sixteen, she feels all too ready for. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas’s housekeeper, though hopeful of something more. But his home is a place without love or kindness. So when a strange, mute Maid is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in, Anne is grateful for the company. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she’d never know.

I am struggling to put my thoughts on this book into words. This is an oddball book and kind of quaint, but in the end I think I kind of liked it.

Initially I was pulled in by the beautiful cover. Yes, I admit that this was a cover buy. Look at it!

It certainly took me a bit of bewilderment to get into the book, but once I got to know our main characters I was invested in the Maid and Anne especially. The three perspectives (one male, two female) contrast each other very well. Their views of the world around them is so different.

In the beginning I thought this would be a magical realism tale, but it was a very human story instead. It explores superstition, gender roles and religion in a climate of fear, but also humanity and love. The writing did retain a touch of otherworldliness throughout and it did mean I felt I was being kept at a distance. I did feel that it suited this story, so I did not mind that.

This novel won’t be for everyone and it did not quite win me over, but I appreciated it and grew to enjoy it.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 19 February 2020

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WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

***

What am I currently reading?

I am currently reading Vixen by Rosie Garland. I am about halfway. It is a odd book set in the 1300s, but I kind of like it even if I am not blown away by it so far. I have also started Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, finally continuing my re-read of Harry Potter after a year to get to the final book, which I have never read for some reason!

Finally, I am listening to The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack The Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. I saw someone on Booktube (Jeansbookishthoughts) talking about this and thought it sounded really intriguing. It was on sale on Audible, so decided to give it a listen. I am finding this one really interesting. It mainly talks about what life was like in Victorian London and I love listening to this one. It is a like a really fascinating history lesson! The narrator (Louise Brealey) is doing a fantastic job. I love that it is not actually focused on the crime, but on the women and their lives.

What did I recently finish reading?

Since last Wednesday I have finished Callanish by William Horwood (7/7 stars), Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (5/7 stars) and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (6/7 stars). I consider that a good reading week! I liked all of those books quite a bit!

What do I think I will be reading next?

Not sure yet. The books I am reading may well take me to the end of the month – the Harry Potter book is huge! Apart from one NetGalley eARC I will be mood reading much of March – I like to call it Moody March. I will be using a TBR prompt game to narrow things down for myself, but more on that later in the month.

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Review: H Is For Hawk (Helen Macdonald)

MacDonald, Helen - H Is For Hawk

★★★★★★☆

Title: H Is For Hawk
Author/Narrator: Helen Macdonald
Genre: Non-Fiction /Memoir
First published: 2014
Edition: Audio-book/paperback published by Vintage Classics in 2016

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Listening to this novel was like therapy, as I am sure it was cathartic for the author to write this memoir. The author’s soothing voice added to the experience and I am very glad that I decided to listen to this on audio, whilst I also had the book on my shelves.

The author talks about her journey, both in training her goshawk Mabel and the grief caused by the death of her father. Whilst doing this, she contrasts her own methods of training her hawk and her emotional wellbeing with author T H White’s. I really enjoyed that part of this book. It suddenly was not all about her, but also about his struggle and how they each projected their own problems onto their respective hawks.

From the beginning this book was set up for me to love it and it did not disappoint. Having said that, I don’t think it will be for everyone. It can be a little pretentious in places, but to be honest I did not mind that. It sometimes felt like a stream of consciousness, as if the author used the experience of recounting of what had happened in the aftermath of her father’s death as therapy. It feels deeply personal and intimate.

This is definitely the kind of book I would read again in the future.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie)

Shamsie, Kamila - Home Fire

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Home Fire
Author: Kamila Shamsie
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Retelling
First published: 2017
Edition: paperback, published by Bloomsbury in 2018

Practical-minded Isma has spent the years since her mother’s death watching out for her twin brother and sister in their North London home. When an invitation to grad school in America comes through unexpectedly, it brings the irresistible promise of freedom too long deferred. But even an ocean away, Isma can’t stop worrying about her beautiful, headstrong, politically inclined sister, Aneeka, and Parvaiz, their brother, who seems to be adrift—until suddenly he is half a globe away in Raqqa, trying to prove himself to the dark legacy of the father he never knew, with no road back.

In this novel the author used the framework of Sophocles’ Antigone to build a very current multidimensional story.

The tale is told in sections from a number of perspectives, which all come together to show the impact the jihadist movement has on Muslim families living in Britain. The idea of having to consider how your every action could come across is deeply troubling and heartbreaking , yet the reality of many of the families living not only in Britain, but across the western world. This novel manages to convey this heinous fact and also explores the conflicts of love, both in the familial and romantic sense.

This was a very powerful read, but I regret that I did not fall in love with this book. Though I enjoyed it, I never felt quite pulled in. I think this was the writing more than the subject matter. I always felt quite distant from the characters in the various perspectives and I found it a little frustrating. I did not believe in the characters as much as I wanted to.

Overall, despite my own frustrations, this was a really good read that I would highly recommend and it is a subject matter I would like to explore more.

5 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Callanish (William Horwood)

Horwood, William - Callanish

★★★★★★★

Title: Callanish
Author: William Horwood
Genre: Fiction / Animal Fiction
First published: 1984
Edition: paperback, published by Penguin in 1985

An immature golden eagle is captured and brought to the London Zoo for showcase and display. Creggan begins to lose his sense of freedom, as the cage curls around himself, cutting off access to the sky. An older female eagle who’s been trapped in the cages for a long time gives Creggan the strength to survive, and the hope of one day escaping this man-made construct.

This was a re-read for me. It probably had been about seven or eight years since I last read it and I had forgotten how amazing a read this is.

William Horwood has been a favourite author of mine since I was a teenager. He writes stories about animals being animals incredibly well. This particular one is about golden eagles and follows the journey of a captive juvenile eagle at London Zoo and at the same time follows our human main character, whose path echoes some of the storylines of the eagles. Of course he does anthropomorphize his animal characters to some extent, but his stories hold so much love and respect for the natural world. I love his descriptions of the animals and their surroundings and seeing the world through their eyes.

Something about the way Horwood writes makes me feel all the feels and although this is not a sad story, it is powerful (at least it is for me) and I cried like a baby several times, sometimes out of happiness! Both the eagles’ and the human stories broke and warmed my heart. The ending is simply perfect.

An absolute treasure of a short book at under 200 pages. The blurp really does not do it justice.

7 out of 7 stars

 

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesdays: 12 February 2020

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WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

***

What am I currently reading?

MacDonald, Helen - H Is For HawkI am still listening to H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, which I am really enjoying a lot. The author narrates it herself and I find it quite soothing listening to her. I am loving the book as well. It’s very Horwood, William - Callanishinteresting.

And to keep the birds of prey theme going, I am re-reading Callanish by William Horwood, who is one of my favourite authors. It’s been a few years since I read a book by him and reading this now I am reminded why I love his writing so much. He has written quite a few books about animals from the animals’ perspective, but with the animals behaving like actual animals a lot of the time. This one from a captive eagle’s perspective pulls on all my heartstrings! I definitely want to read more from him this year. I especially want to make time to finally read the Hyddenworld series!

What have I recently finished reading?

Since last week Wednesday I have finished quite a bit! I finished my audio book, which was How To Train You Dragon by Cressida Cowell (5/7 stars), The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag (4/7 stars), Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (6/7 stars), Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier (5/7 stars), My Sister, The Serial Killer (6/7 stars) and finally, I finished The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo today, which I absolutely adored and it is the first book this year that I am awarding the full 7 stars! I am sure that is the most books I have finished in one week ever! I do have to note that apart from Towers of Midnight, which was almost 1000 pages (and I had only 300 pages left at the last WWW), these were all under 300 pages. Actually The Poet X is just under 360 pages, but written in verse, so very quick to read.

Shamsie, Kamila - Home FireGarland, Rosie - VixenWhat do I plan on reading next?

I am sure the coming week will be a lot slower! I can’t stay on this roll forever! I have one book left to read for the Contemporary-a-thon, which is Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, which I will probably start tomorrow. The other book left on my February TBR is Vixen by Rosie Garland.

I hope to read both of those in the coming week, which would leave me lots of time for mood reading! Yay!

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

Acevedo, Elizabeth - The Poet X

★★★★★★★

Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / YA / Poetry
First published: 2018
Edition: paperback, published Egmond UK Limited in 2018

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

This novel was a joy to read from start to finish. But is it a novel? Or is poetry? I think it’s somewhere inbetween or both. It tells a story in verse and it manages to tell this wonderful story with so few words.

I have never read a novel quite like this in style and I found myself clinging to every word, every sentence. The story is simple, about a girl conflicted by her upbringing and her desire to be free. The slam poetry angle really works incredibly well. I found it hard to stop reading!

You cannot help but love Xiomara and with the way this book is written, you feel like you come to know her so well. I could not help but feel a real affection towards this fictional teenage girl with these big feelings. That is very clever writing indeed.

Tthis is a popular YA book and it absolutely should be. If you have not read this yet, please do, because I have no doubt you will enjoy it.

This novel is a triumph.

7 out of 7 stars