Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

When my parents came to visit my sister and I last year, I spent an afternoon at the Imperial War Museum with my father. I could not believe that I’d gone 5 years in London without visiting this museum; I’ve always found the First and Second World War fascinating, the latter even more so after a trip to one of the German concentration camps in 2012. Anyway, the museum has this area where they built a replica of the trenches that became the everday reality of the British troops. Visitors will have the chance to walk through it and try to imagine what life must have been like during those 4 long years of war.

I don’t remember exactly how I felt going through those trenches. I think I may have been too much in a rush to get to the Jewish holocaust memorial in the other floor to really give it serious thought. I never thought about how tragic it must have been for these men, most of them fresh out of university and in an alternate life where peace reigned supreme might have been capable of great things, to have their world reduced so dramatically. I don’t understand war: the terms trench warfare, fronts and lines are terms that I vaguely get. 

What I do know is that wars always end up being a senseless waste of life. Its such a great thing to be able to fight for love of your country, but the more I read about The Great War (World War I as it is known in the UK), the more I think that nothing could have been worth the wipeout of men from both sides. Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong drives home the facts of  what those men went through, the degradations they subjected themselves to, the experiences that tested the very existence of their humanity.

I don’t know why anyone would classify this book as a love story. I was greatly misled in that sense and in a way, I don’t mind. If this had been another novel of lost love during the war I would have been able to brush it off. But what I really got from reading it was a brutal account of what the men who were there went through. The most touching moments of the novel came not from the main love story but in the stories of friendship and courage among the British soldiers. I was moved by how they tried to achieve normalcy and carry on even though they know that they’ve seen too much to ever lead normal lives again. 

The noise of their laughter roared like the sea in his ears. He wanted it louder and louder; he wanted them to drown out the war with their laughter. If they could shout loud enough, they might bring the world back to its senses; they might laugh loud enough to raise the dead.

I think this book isn’t so much about Stephen Wraysford than it is about the horrors of war and how our understanding of what these men have been through is disproportionate to the gratitude that they are owed.  I’ve heard the word shellshocked before and I never realised where the term came from but really, Sebastian Faulks painted a really clear picture of the psychological effects of having gone through battle after battle, and how even survivors simply existed rather than lived for a long time afterwards.

Essentially, the theme of the book is that life goes on and you will find a way to carry on. The author also suggests that everyone has a built in survival instinct. At the point in your life where death becomes imminent you will connect with the world and find a reason to live. I think that’s a very beautiful concept. I like Sebastian Faulks’ prose, I find it very lyrical.  

The end scene of Stephen Wraysford’s life was beautifully done. I won’t give it away but its reminiscent of the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad in 2015, which still reduces me to a sobbing mess each time I see it. It will reduce war to at its most basic reality: those enemies are fathers, sons, uncles, husbands, lovers, friends…just like you they had dreams, passions, ambitions. It is the war that made monsters of men I think. I find myself thanking God that I live mostly in a peaceful time but do I really? Have any of the wars really ended? I don’t think war will ever truly end until we learn something from each one that’s ever been fought. And we haven’t. Therein lies the reason why novels like these are still so resonant and relevant. 

BBC did an adaptation of this novel starring Eddie Redmayne which has now gone on my list of things to watch. Also, a similar book on The Great War was written by Vera Brittain called ‘Testament of Youth’, although this one’s more autobiographical. 

Enjoy, bookworms 

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles 

If you’ve followed my blog since I’ve resurrected it, you’ll know that every review I make will inevitably be linked to some kind of anecdote from my childhood. Far be it for me to disappoint readers at this stage.

My love of detective novels sprang from the days when I used to rummage through my older cousins’ collection of Nancy Drew novels. I loved how she would collect clues, make deductions and ultimately unmask the culprit and it would turn out to be someone that I wasn’t expecting. I always tried to play the game of whodunit but Nancy was always one step ahead of me. I loved those books. Every time I got good marks in school, it was a toss-up whether I would ask for a new Nancy Drew novel or the latest Sweet Valley installation. Sometimes I was able to sweet-talk my mum into buying me both.

From The Mystery of The 99 Steps to the books where she collaborated with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew was a constant companion during my teenage years.

And that was a good thing because I think she influenced me to take pride in my intelligence, never mind the fact that she was also a leggy strawberry blonde. Anyway, I grew up loving whodunit and crime/mystery books. I bought all 45 installations of JD Robb’s In Death books for more than just the Eve and Roarke storyline, I genuinely love a good mystery. I am still waiting with bated breath for the next installation of the Cormoran Strike novels.

Dear JK Rowling, I know you’re probably busy with the Harry Potter prequels and being a scriptwriter and such but I need you to write the next Cormoran Strike novel please.

I was looking up things to do last month because I was really really bored and I wanted to participate in something that I can be passionate about. So I thought I’d join one of the book clubs that meet regularly at Waterstone’s Piccadilly. There’s an Armchair Murders Book Club that meets once a month and it was after one of those meetings that it came out that I, bookworm extraordinaire, have never read an Agatha Christie novel.

Seeing as I live in Britain and was attending a book club whose members were primarily British, you can imagine the looks of incredulity and aghast that I received after I let that little fact slip out. Agatha Christie is a British national treasure; I think she might have been made a Dame or something. She’s so famous that even though I’ve never read any of her works, I do know of her. So the manager at Waterstones decided we’d remedy this little affliction of mine then and there and proceeded to place Agatha Christie’s first published work in my hands with the strictest instruction to buy it. Like immediately. I was pretty sure I would be refused entrance to my favourite bookstore if I didn’t comply, so buy it I did.

So I’ve only just finished the book last night and boy, was it an experience. Have you ever watched an episode of Sherlock? Yeah, the feeling is the same. Halfway through the book I gave up on trying to pretend I had a brain and decided I would just let Hercule Poirot solve the mystery for me and enumerate the ways in which I have been too obtuse to see the clues to the murderer’s identity. I would enjoy the book far better that way.tumblr_nr92xgTYYd1uzk74go1_500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is set in a country house in Essex. Emily Inglethorp has been poisoned in her own house and all evidence seemingly points to her new husband, 20 years her junior. Hercule Poirot has been brought in by his friend Hastings to help solve the mystery. Did the husband do it? Could it be either one of her stepsons? Or perhaps, the butler? I’m kidding.

The book took me on a wild ride of seemingly innocous instances that turned out to be significant and events that were made a big deal of but turned out to be inconsequential. There was a point when I had no idea what was going on, all I knew was that I was thoroughly entertained. Hercule, like many men who are too intelligent, is also a little bit crazy I think. He reminds me a little bit of Sherlock as portrayed in the tv series. giphyPoirot would go off on tangents that would turn out to yield frutiful information, he would notice everything, he’d already anticipated how each person would react and had forestalled it with a countermove of his own. Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I would think the current incarnation of Sherlock was influenced by the Dame rather than Sir Arthur.

There were no high-tech gadgets involved; Poirot used good old-fashioned observation and powers of deduction. Ok, so some of the plot twists were a little too contrived and convenient. But they weren’t far-fetched. In fact, I suspected one of the plot twists halfway through the book but there were a lot of red herrings that led me astray.

All in all, I found it a really great book, a real page turner, unputdownable. I really liked her prose, it was easy to read and the writing was elegant. I particularly liked how she used her experience of being a pharmacist (not to sure if it was a pharmacist or a nurse) during the war in the use of poison as a murder weapon. I was also really intrigued by the insight into the approaches to medicine during that time period, it makes me appreciate just how far we’ve come.

I’m surely going to read the other Hercule Poirot and maybe the Miss Marple books as well if this book is any indication of the rest of the series. Thank you Waterstones for the recommendation!

Posted in Books, Paranormal, romance

Book Review: The Irin Chronicles – Elizabeth Hunter

In anticipation of the upcoming release of the fifth book in this series, I thought I’d post a review of three of my favourite novels of all time. I accidentally discovered Elizabeth Hunter because Amazon was giving away one of her books for free, and I ended up reading everything that she’s ever written. I like paranormal romance but I find that recently a lot of them are all parodies of Twilight, and all these teenage love triangles where the main female character is just so fantastic, where everyone is so in love with her but she somehow remains insecure about herself, where everyone wants to protect her at the cost of their lives but she insists on putting herself in danger – I just find it all so ridiculous.

Elizabeth Hunter writes about sensible, empowered women. They’re beautiful sure, but she makes it clear that what makes them beautiful is their character. They’re empowered not just for empowerment’s sake, nor is it just to prove a point to their male counterparts, but because they actually have a goal to get to. In short, she writes about the kind of female that’s relatable and liable. She’s been one of my go-to authors for the past year now. I think she’s really underrated.

Now. The Irin Chronicles.

First of all, this story is set in Istanbul, a place that I’ve always wanted to visit but have never gotten around to yet.  In the first book, called The Scribe, (buy now, its free on Amazon Kindle store!!!) we meet Ava Matheson – a professional photographer who hears voices in a language that she doesn’t recognise as well as read emotions when she’s around other people. She’s tried every therapy known to man, and her continuous search for a cure has led her to Istanbul. Here she meets Malachi, a warrior with a past: he belongs to an ancient group of scribes called the Irin who are descended from archangels.

An Irin warrior is strongest when mated to an Irina.

irin-irina
photo credits to thebreakfastblogdotnet.wordpress.com
The Irina are the female descendants; they’re called “singers” because their voices hold magic – such as the power to heal or see the future among others. Millions of years ago, the Grigori – the Irins’ ancient enemy – started a “purge” where they lured all the Irin warriors to a false war so that they can secretly kill all the Irina who have been left vulnerable. A few escaped, but since then there have been very little Irina presence in their world. And the younger warriors have never even seen one. This is a shame because the Irin’s touch is fatal to a mortal woman. We’re talking centuries of celibacy here. Needless to say, these Irin warriors are all a broody, moody bunch of pent-up sexual frustration.

Anyway, Malachi meets and becomes fascinated by Ava and as time went on, he begins to suspect that there’s more to her than meets the eye, but he’s afraid to dream that she might be the one girl he’s allowed to touch, that she could be a potential soulmate or reshon. Added to that, the Grigori have taken to following her around as well. The search for the truth about Ava’s past leads them to various parts of the country, and their romance blossoms in the process. However dangers lurk everywhere, and the Grigori are only waiting for the opportunity to strike and finish off the Irin race once and for all. I have to say, I really really love this series. I’m almost afraid of sharing it to the world because I would be crushed if others didn’t like it because I loved it so much. The first book ends in a cliffhanger that had me starting the 2nd book almost immediately. I was 1-clicking the Kindle store on Amazon like nobody’s business.

 

The second book, The Singer, was even better than the first. Ava and Malachi are separated by seemingly insurmountable forces, and there is a sense of urgency in the book where you’re not sure if they’ll ever be together or if they do, if things will be the same. And then when they are reunited, its not the kind of reunion that you would expect and its even more heartbreaking than the separation.

the-singer1
photo credits to thebreakfastblogdotnet.wordpress.com
On top of that, the story started in The Scribe gets equal airtime with the romance and we begin to sense that this story is bigger than Ava and Malachi, and that this has been planned (or fated) since before they met. We are introduced to other surviving Irina, and you can just feel the feels when they talk about their past before The Purge, and you can really sense the reverence with which this women are treated among The Irin.  We also learn a little bit more of Ava’s past, which is important because even among other Irina, she is…different.

 

 

The last book in the series is The Secret, where we finally learn the truth about Ava’s past and the Irina fight to reclaim their rightful place in the Irin world. We also learn more about The Grigori, who are actually sons of The Fallen – archangels who never went back to heaven because they became ensnared by the temptations of the human world, as well as the kind of power they hold over mortals. The Grigori become real to us readers and Elizabeth does a great job of showing their side of the story but not excusing everything they’ve done. We learn a secret that the Fallen and The Grigori have been hiding, and it all finally comes to a head in an epic battle in Vienna. I reread the climax of the story twice because I was’t so sure I fully grasped it the first time around because I read it so fast, I was THAT excited. It was a very satisfying end to the series, I loved every minute of it.

There is a beauty in Elizabeth Hunter’s writing that I can’t put into words. Her writing just flows, its so easy to read. Their is also a sense of the spiritual in her writing. I remember asking once if she’s Catholic because I can just feel a sense of appreciation for a being higher than ourselves in her writing. Whether that’s the Christian’s God or something else, you can really feel that respect she has for the spiritual. Also, Elizabeth is my friend on Goodreads and she’s replied to me when I emailed her about how much I love her writing AND she liked my review of her books. I love that she’s that connected to her readers.

There is a fourth book but it features a different couple. I don’t recommend reading it as a standalone, but I will probably review that book together with the upcoming 5th book.

Happy reading, bookworms!

Posted in Books, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: When Its Real – Erin Watt

Sometimes certain books just land on your lap at the precise moment in your life when you need that book’s story the most, and this is one of those books for me.

There is nothing earth-shatteringly original about this book. Its very premise has already been done thousands and thousands of times in the YA genre. Ordinary girl meets famous boy and somehow, she alone is immune to his charms; she alone can treat him like a normal human being and make him feel like there is more to him than fame, fortune and good looks (because of course he is always good looking). Thus love story ensues. Cue meet-cutes, kissing and chases on the ocean shore.

The above paragraph may make it seem like I am mocking this book. I AM MOST DEFINITELY NOT. I think that only snobbish people will knock a book down because its not “literature” or because its not original or because it adds nothing new to the genre. Well, I happen to think we read books, fiction in particular, so that we can be transported to another life or another world where we can forget about our own sets of woes and problems and read about somebody else’s for a while. Unlike our own lives (and unless we’re reading, say, a bloody trilogy), we know that some kind of resolution will always come in the final pages.

For me, there are two kinds of “good” books: the kind that make you think and change your perspective of things and the kind that just make you feel good. When It’s Real falls into the latter category. Its well-written, just the right amount of sappy, not so much angst that it makes you want to throw the book across the room, and its so damn cute. There’s also a little bit of a message there about the hazards of social media. My friend told me when I started this blog that I have to relinquish all my rights to privacy once I put myself out there. And that’s just me with a handful of followers and with complete control about what I do and do not share with the wider world. Think about those popstars who dont have that option, that choice. I wonder if they really know what they sign up for when they chased fame and glory. 

Jimmy Kimmel does a portion on his show called Mean Tweets which always crack me up because celebrities get to read what people say about them on Twitter. Its funny but at the same time I can see where some of those tweets can really hurt, and they’re really really personal. So this book made me think about that. 

If I have one (or two) complaint, its that I feel like the “conflict” was a bit sudden and extremely contrived, and the ending may have been a bit rushed. But other than that, great book!