BOOK REVIEW | The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Read: October 2016

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard. Goodreads.

It’s always intimidating to read a book that’s so widely well-loved and admired. This is likely why The Name of the Wind sat in my room unread for so many years. I bought it in about 2014 after seeing so many positive reviews. I hadn’t read much—if any—fantasy since marathoning the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series in 2012. Which was probably because I was feeling more than a little burnt out on fantasy novels after completing that particular task. I’d hoped that The Name of the Wind would inspire/motivate me to pick up fantasy books again.

Which it did, if a few years later than I’d originally intended. I loved this book, really all I’m doing here is contributing to its already considerable hype, but still.

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OCTOBER – DECEMBER READING WRAP UP

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Here’s my (slightly belated) wrap up of all the books I read in the last three months of the year! You can read my January-March wrap up here, my April-June wrap up here, and my July-September wrap up here.

As always, let’s talk about the books I’m currently reading before getting into what I have read. I had the very lofty ambition that I would completely clear my currently reading shelf. It’s really no surprise that I wasn’t successful in doing this. So, once again, I am still reading House of Leaves. It’s such a commitment, so I’ve just been prioritising other books. I’m also about halfway through I Am Malala, which I’d hoped to read for the #DAReadathon, but will probably finish up in January regardless. I also got approved for two ARCs, those being Heartless by Marissa Meyer and Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. While these are both sitting on my currently reading shelf on Goodreads, I’m only actively reading Heartless at the moment.

Now, here are the books I have read!

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BEST BOOKS OF 2016

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Hello! I’ve been somewhat absent. Again. I’m trying very hard not to make this a habit, though I’ve really no excuse for my lack of posts. Obviously Christmas happened, and I work in retail, so I’ll let you imagine exactly how fun that was. I’d hoped to get this post up on Monday, but then New Year’s Eve happened and I was, perhaps, a touch hungover on New Year’s Day. Mostly, however, I was very full of cold, so my plans for a productive New Year’s unraveled very quickly. I promise I’ll be better at this (it is, actually, one of my goals for this year).

Anyway, it’s time to talk about my favourite books that I read in 2016! Much like my 2015 favourites, there’s not one single reason all of these books are on the list. Frankly, some of them are poles apart in terms of content and tone. This list basically consists of all the books I gave five stars this year, and some I gave four stars to (I’m remarkably stingy about five star ratings, for some reason). These books aren’t in any particular order, and there’s roughly ten books overall. This is very likely going to be a lengthy post, so I’ll get right into it!

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BOOK REVIEW | Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Read: October 2016

Publication Date: 5th January 2017 (UK hardcover)

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself. Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since first reading about Homegoing in, of all places, a Buzzfeed listicle, I’d been desperate to read it. Homegoing has an incredibly ambitious premise, spanning over 200 years in just 300 pages is no easy task, but Yaa Gyasi accomplishes it brilliantly. This book is astounding from start to finish, not in the least because this is Gyasi’s debut novel.

The novel begins with two sisters, Effia and Esi, who are unknown to one another. They are born to the same mother, but in different villages in Ghana. Effia is sent to be a slave trader’s wife, and Esi is sold into slavery. Each subsequent chapter alternately deals with the descendants of Effia and Esi, with Effia’s descendants mostly residing in Ghana, and Esi’s in the United States. Primarily, this novel is concerned with reverberating effects of slavery and colonialism throughout history.

‘That I should live to her my own daughter speak like this. You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’

One of the many things that’s so impressive about this book is how well-developed and rich each and every character is. There are twelve different perspectives in this book, and Gyasi’s ability to make each of them distinct and engaging is nothing short of masterful. More time is spent with Effia and Esi, I think, than their descendants, though this is necessary to lay out the main themes of the novel. Admittedly, I was surprised at how short these chapters were. Each chapter could read as its own separate short story, were it not for the bloodline that links all of them together. Sometimes I felt that they were a little abrupt, and it took me a moment to orientate myself.  I did find that sometimes I wanted more from certain characters, which is not to say that these chapters were lacking in any way, it’s just that I admired the way Gyasi managed to capture some of the time periods she explores.

Because this novel is, essentially, a history, this is why the shorter chapters ended up working so well for me by the end. It should go without saying that this book is not an easy read, and with it being so short, Gyasi brings the history of slavery uncomfortably close. In having these periods of extreme violence so close to the insidious racism of the present day exposes the long legacy of the slave trade. Homegoing does not permit the distance that, for instance, academic study does. It forces a confrontation with parts of history that we’re uncomfortable with—perhaps, more specifically, that we white people are uncomfortable with. While, of course, progress has been made, Homegoing highlights what still needs to be done.

The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.

In this, Homegoing has the benefit of informing people who were perhaps previously undereducated in the injustices suffered by black people, particularly in the United States. I knew about some of the things Gyasi discusses in the novel, but I was never truly aware of the extent of it. For instance, one of the vignettes deals with forced labour in mines, and while the white men are sent there for crimes as awful as murder, black men are sent there for something as minor as not crossing the street as a white woman passed them. It’s an eye-opening read for many reasons, and Gyasi weaves history into her narrative effortlessly.

Homegoing is a novel that should leave you feeling heartbroken, but I think that, first and foremost, is should be a novel that inspires thought and discussion. Gyasi is giving voice to many suppressed or underdiscussed aspects of history. As Gyasi discusses in the novel itself, history is frequently a story that’s being told, and it’s important to consider who has control of the narrative. Homegoing, then, readdresses history, and discusses it from frequently marginalised perspectives.

We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was supressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.

Gyasi is truly an incredible talent, and I really look forward to reading anything she writes in the future.

 

Halloween Read-a-Thon Wrap Up

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If you saw my TBR post, you’ll know that I participated in Lauren’s Halloween Read-A-Thon last month. This was the first readathon I’d ever participated in and I had so much fun! It was so cool checking the tag on Twitter and seeing what everyone else was reading, and it worked out to be a great source for horror recommendations! I also found that it really motivated me to read, when otherwise I’d have been putting even more hours into Skyrim, so that’s always a plus!

I managed to read three books over the course of the readathon. I was hoping to read more, but hit a wall with House of Leaves. Maybe the real horror of this book is that I will be reading it for all eternity. Jokes aside, for the most part I am enjoying it, and it is really cool, but it’s also a huge time commitment, and there’s no way I’m lugging it all the way to work with me. I also started The Loney, and could have finished it before the end of the readathon, but it’s not really what I was expecting, and I’m finding it a little slow and hard to get into. I’m aiming to finish both of these books in November –actually, I’m hoping to completely clear my currently reading shelf in November –so I’ll check in when I do finish them.

Now, though, here are mini reviews of the three books I did read! The covers of each will take you to their respective Goodreads pages.

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JULY – SEPTEMBER READING WRAP UP

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It’s time for me to do mini-reviews of all the books I’ve read over the last three months! You can read my January-March wrap-up here, and my April-June wrap-up here. My reading definitely slowed down over the summer, owing to writing the bulk of my dissertation during July and August, so the only reason I’ve actually been able to keep on track with my goal of reading 50 books this year is because I read a lot of comics/graphic novels over the last few months.

I started the last post by discussing the books that I said I was currently reading in the last one, and yes, I’m still not finished with either The Lies of Locke Lamora or House of Leaves. I’ve only recently picked up The Lies of Locke Lamora again, and I am really enjoying it, it’s just that I’ve been getting distracted by wanting to read other things. Hopefully I’ll definitely get around to finishing House of Leaves this month, as it’s on my TBR for Lauren’s Halloween Read-a-thon.

Now onto the few books I have read!

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BOOK REVIEW | Holding by Graham Norton

31364727Read: September 2016

Released: October 6th 2016

Genre: Mystery, Crime.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis: Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret. Goodreads.

I received this book from Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I heard about Graham Norton’s debut novel, I was very intrigued to read it. Not only because Graham Norton is such a popular, well-loved presenter here in the UK, but because I was genuinely interested in the premise. Norton’s novel takes place in the quiet Irish village of Duneen, a village that is shaken by the discovery of human remains on an old farm. The village quickly decides that the remains belong to Tommy Burke, the former love of Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross, who disappeared years ago after a confrontation between the two women. The novel primarily follows Duneen’s only police officer, Sergeant PJ Collins, as he works to uncover the mystery behind the bones.

Time didn’t pass in Duneen; it seeped away.

The mystery, however, falls secondary to the amazing cast of characters. They’re clearly the focus of the book, and each one of them is incredibly well rendered. The principal focus is on PJ, Brid, and Evelyn, but every character that features in the novel, however minor, feels distinct and believable. Generally speaking, I don’t mind if a character feels “unrealistic”, but I loved that each character in this book felt like someone you could just bump into on the street. Life in a small village is also wonderfully described. Living in a small town myself, I could definitely relate to everyone being involved in everyone else’s business! I loved that everyone in the village was convinced that they had solved the mystery before the police had even arrived, and how bizarrely excited everyone was that a murder had possibly occurred in their village.

As with any crime or mystery novel, it’s easy to succumb to temptation and try to figure out the entire plot before the book guides you there. In this case, however, I let myself be taken along by the mystery, and I’m very glad that I did. While it isn’t difficult to figure out what actually happened as the novel progresses, I was surprised by some of the turns that it took. It would be very easy for a book that is primarily about life in a small village to become very twee, but this book wasn’t afraid to venture into very dark territory.

The people of Duneen felt they had been cheated. The wind had been taken out of their sails, their lives robbed of excitement.

The writing itself is brilliant; Norton’s prose is extremely good. As I’ve already said, the characters are wonderful, but I think my favourite thing about this novel was how well it captures mood. Without spoiling anything, there’s a real excitement in the village when the bones are first discovered, but later on there’s a shift in energy, and the whole book feels different. This, alongside the excellent interactions between the characters were what I liked the most. It was also interesting to see how different characters reacted to or perceived things. For instance, Abigail, Evelyn’s sister, has spent the entire time believing that Evelyn has been better off without Tommy in her life, but it’s clear to the reader, and to PJ, that Evelyn is miserable, and has been for a very long time. Small details like this really helped to bring these characters to life.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed by this book. It’s a very charming, cosy mystery novel, so if you’re looking for an immersive, character-focused read, then this is definitely one for you. It was a genuine pleasure to read, and I really look forward to seeing what Graham Norton writes next!

BOOK REVIEW | Sofia Khan is Not Obliged — Ayisha Malik

25707621Read: June 2016

Genre: Romance, Comedy

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis: Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be  a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Sofia is thirty years old when she breaks up with her potential husband, Imran, after he asks her to live with his parents and a hole-in-the-wall. Sofia works in publishing, and when she relates this story to her co-workers, her boss becomes very interested in the different aspects of Muslim dating, and proceeds to ask Sofia to write a book about it. What follows is mostly insights into Sofia’s life as she writes the book, though the book itself doesn’t particularly have priority, it is the starting point for a lot of the situations Sofia gets into.

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APRIL-JUNE READING WRAP UP

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As I may have mentioned before, monthly wrap ups don’t really work for me because my reading pattern is so erratic. Because of that, I decided to do one of these posts every three months instead (for now, at least). If you’re interested, you can read my first wrap-up here.

I’ll start off with a brief update on the books I said I was currently reading in the last post. First off there’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which is still on my currently reading pile. I haven’t abandoned this one, it’s just that I’ve had other books that I’ve had to read. I’m sure I’ll be picking this one up again soon. I also said I was reading The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, which was an assigned book for my Haunting the Contemporary module. I DNF’d this book. I was about 200 pages or so into it, and nothing was happening, and there were other books that I wanted to read more. I might pick this one up again in the distant future, but for the moment I don’t feel bad about not finishing it.

Now onto the books I actually have read!

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BOOK REVIEW | A Court of Mist and Fury — Sarah J. Maas

17927395Read: June 2016

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/New Adult Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Synopsis:

 Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses last year, I couldn’t wait for this book to come out. At the time, I was really enamoured by Sarah J. Maas’ writing, and was totally blown away by how much it had improved even from Heir of Fire. While I loved ACOTAR to begin with, I began to have some issues with it later on, particularly regarding certain interactions between Feyre and Tamlin, but I was still eagerly anticipating the sequel. After Queen of Shadows, however, I began to get worried. I really didn’t enjoy it, and thought there was a massive dip in both the writing style and the way Maas was handling her plots. I started to worry that perhaps A Court of Mist and Fury wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. Indeed, rather than reassuring me, the inundation of glowing reviews actually made me even more worried, because I’d seen the same thing happen with Queen of Shadows. When people who hated the first book said that they loved this one, it got my hopes up, and I got excited about reading it again.

I’m saying this because I’m really sitting on the fence with this book. There were parts I really liked, and parts I really didn’t. Really, I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve found that there are just things I don’t like about Maas’ writing more generally.  Because of that I know that I run the risk of sounding a little unfair in this review, and honestly, some of the things I didn’t like about this book are probably entirely petty on my part. But an honest review’s an honest review. I can completely see why people love this book, and there were a lot of things that I really liked about it. It’s just that unfortunately, the things I didn’t like distracted me from them. I’m going to start with the negatives, so we can end this review positively. There might be vague spoilers. I’ll try to flag them as necessary, but it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’ve yet to read the book and don’t want to be spoiled.

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