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 · 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 · 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

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Frenchman’ s Creek (Daphne du Maurier)

Maurier, Daphne du - Frenchman's Creek

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Frenchman’s Creek
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 1941
Edition: paperback, published by Virago Press in 2006

Bored and restless in London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona escapes into the British countryside with her restlessness and thirst for adventure as her only guides.

Eventually Dona lands in remote Navron, looking for peace of mind in its solitary woods and hidden creeks. She finds the passion her spirit craves in the love of a daring French pirate who is being hunted by all of Cornwall.

This was my first foray into this author’s books and I was not disappointed. Despite the fact that in the end the book did not blow me away, I really enjoyed the writing.

Our main character Dona is multifaceted and is neither good nor bad, but somewhere in between, with her desire for adventure getting her into trouble. You could feel how she was torn between the life she had and the life she longed she had. Sometimes I found her incredibly selfish, but I always understood her reasons.

I did feel the rest of the cast of characters were somewhat underdeveloped and much more could have been done with them. Of course this kept the focus on our main character, but I kind of wanted a bit more from the novel in that respect.

The plot and the ending were somewhat predictable, but overall I enjoyed this one and made me want to read more Du Maurier in the near future. I guess starting with one of her lesser known books was not a bad thing. I have all those amazing books to look forward to.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Towers of Midnight (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)

Jordan, Robert - The Wheel of Time 13 Towers of Midnight (with Brandon Sanderson)

★★★★★★☆

Title: Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time #13)
Author: Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
First published: 2010
Edition: mass market paperback, published in 2011 by Orbit

The sun has begun to set upon the Third Age.

Perrin Aybara is now hunted by specters from his past: Whitecloaks, a slayer of wolves, and the responsibilities of leadership. All the while, an unseen foe is slowly pulling a noose tight around his neck. To prevail, he must seek answers in Tel’aran’rhiod and find a way–at long last–to master the wolf within him or lose himself to it forever

Meanwhile, Matrim Cauthon prepares for the most difficult challenge of his life. The creatures beyond the stone gateways–the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn–have confused him, taunted him, and left him hanged, his memory stuffed with bits and pieces of other men’s lives. He had hoped that his last confrontation with them would be the end of it, but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. The time is coming when he will again have to dance with the Snakes and the Foxes, playing a game that cannot be won. The Tower of Ghenjei awaits, and its secrets will reveal the fate of a friend long lost.

Dovie’andi se tovya sagain – It’s time to toss the dice.

These final books in The Wheel of Time series are an absolute triumph. Whether it is Jordan’s plot or Sanderson’s writing I am not sure, but they are incredible.

The characters we have been following throughout this series start to intersect and the plot seems to magically come together in the most glorious way. I have enjoyed every page of this tome of a book and this being a re-read somehow helped piece things together.

Mat and Perrin’s storylines show so much strength and character and Rand finally feels like Rand again, even if I feel we do not quite get enough time with him to get to know him again in this book. What we do get is some resolutions to a number of story arcs and a clearer picture of what is to come.

I know how hesitant people tend to be about reading The Wheel of Time series because it is rather sprawling in size, but in my opinion it is worth every single page, even the slower ones.

I am wholeheartedly looking forward to re-reading the final book in a couple of months’ time, especially since this one ended on a number of cliffhangers and I can’t quite remember how it continues.

6 out of 7 stars