Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: The Ruin of Kings – Jenn Lyons

There’s few things I hate more than not being able to finish a book.

I tried with this one, I really did. I wanted to give up after the first few chapters but I persevered because the writing’s not bad, truly. I like the snarky humour, the sarcasm and I even came to tolerate the convoluted non-linear narration.

But writing fantasy is like telling a good joke. If you have to explain the punchline, you’re doing it wrong. There were a lot of telling and explaining in this book. Plot twists were “discovered” by the hero without any build-up whatsoever, and the backstories were so complicated that I gave up trying to keep up.

I’m not even sure what the premise was. I thought I was reading a book about dragons, something that I’m really into as I wait for the final season of Game of Thrones to finish. But there’s ONE dragon in this book and he’s as interesting as an Excel spreadsheet. I was waiting for a ‘Dracarys’ moment but he just went on and on and on about what he would do to the hero when he caught him without actually doing anything. Its very difficult to be bored out of your mind when reading about dragons but this book has achieved that.

The hero, Kihrin, was mildly interesting. He’s got a mysterious past, a somewhat conflicted sexuality and he’s got personality with a capital P. He’s got snark down to an art form and I like how he never lets anyone or anything get him down. He does what he can to get by and makes no apologies for the things he’s done to survive. I love survivors.

Kihrin is – from the little I understood about the backstory- in the centre of a great prophecy concerning the end of the known world. Good premise, maybe. But it all went downhill from there with all the deaths and subsequent resurrections, the massive cast of characters who can take on different forms which makes the cast even bigger than it already is…it was all just unnecessarily complicated.

I DNF’d at about 70%. It had taken me 2 weeks to even get that far and that point my to-read pile had grown too big for me to ignore the fact that I had simply lost interest in this book.

I don’t like giving bad reviews. This could just be all me, really. Other people seem to find it good and kudos to them for being able to keep up. For me, there’s a reason why they say simplicity is beauty. You don’t need all kinds of props and gimmicks in Fantasy, you just have to tell the story.

Also, if you’re going to have a book with dragons, USE YOUR DRAGONS for more than just show.

Overall rating: 2 stars (and mostly because I like the cover!)

Posted in bloggers, Books

Book Review: Mythos – Stephen Fry

There’s something so endlessly fascinating about Greek Mythology.

I can’t put my finger on it. Is it the way the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus are always so much larger than life? Is it the excesses, passions and often violent rage that they exhibit with such alarming regularity? Is it their intense relationship with mortal beings, or the way so many of what we know today have their origins in Greek legends?

Whatever it is, these stories have been a source of fun and entertainment for readers the world over since time immemorial. And with this retelling, Stephen Fry takes a modern, 21st century approach in the hopes that these stories will become more accessible, even to an audience who may not necessarily have any background whatsoever on Greek mythology.

It starts, as these things always does, with the story of creation, moving with alacrity to the birth of the Titans, the cruelties of Kronos and his eventual defeat in the hands of his son Zeus. I don’t need to issue a spoiler alert, do I? Everyone knows how that story turned out. In fact, I’m sure most people have heard these stories in one form or the other at one point in their lives. If nothing else, a lot of us have seen either the Clash of the Titans or Percy Jackson movies.

What’s different about this is the way Stephen Fry tells the story. First of all, its very British. I can almost imagine him writing this (or reading it aloud) while having crumpets and a cup of tea. The language is very current, and extremely funny. I found myself bursting into laughter at the unexpected humour in stories that have always seemed so serious, and I encourage everyone to read the footnotes because they are some of the most amusing things I’ve ever read in my life.

Cupid and Psyche. Persephone and the Underworld. Pygmalion and Galatea. Narcissus and himself. All the stories we’ve come to know so well are all here in this marvellous volume that I know I’ll be rereading in the near future. These are stories of love, ambition, with a side-helping of cautionary tales against the dangers of excessive pride and what the Gods call hubris.

I’ve already started on the follow up to this book and its just as good. Meanwhile, be sure to check out Mythos on Amazon or your local Waterstones. Its so so good.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in Books, Lifestyle

My Winter-Spring Reading List

A friend was asking me for book recommendations earlier this week and it made me go back to my bookshelf to check out what I have, only to realise I have a freakin’ stockpile of books I’ve bought but haven’t had the time to read yet.

I need help. I have a disease. A disease where I need to follow the compulsion to buy books every time I go into a bookstore. I always leave Waterstones asking myself: WHAT THE HELL HAVE I JUST DONE?!?

(This is usually after having just forked over at least 50£ for a bunch of books)

I’ve now imposed a ban upon myself: I am no longer allowed to buy books until I finish the unread ones currently sitting on my shelves.

So, without further ado, here’s my 2019 winter-spring reading list:

Becoming – Michelle Obama

This one I’m halfway through, and I personally can’t wait to blog about this incredibly inspiring book. A must-read, especially for strong independent women trying to find their place in the world.

Mythos – Stephen Fry

The story of the Greek Gods told in Stephen Fry’s inimitably funny, humorous and tongue-in-cheek style. Mythology as seen and narrated from a 21st century perspective. This should be fun!

Heroes – Stephen Fry

A companion to Mythos, this time covering the Age of Heroes: Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts etc.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

This one intrigued me so much when I pick it up, because its the Iliad as seen through the eyes of the women who had to live through those turbulent times. For once, Achilles and his damned heel won’t be the centre of attention.

The Queen and I – Sue Townsend

What happens if the institution of monarchy were suddenly abolished and the Royal Family had to move to and adjust to living a life in the Midlands? It makes for great comedy, I’d imagine!

Fire and Blood – George RR Martin

The long and bloody history of the Targaryen dynasty, starting from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III. I love love love Game of Thrones, and although this doesn’t cover recent history (like the reign of Mad King Aerys) I still can’t wait to read this.

Time’s Convert – Deborah Harkness

Going back to the world of A Discovery of Witches, which, incidentally is now a major tv series! Haha

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

As I understand it, nine people go into some retreat where nothing is at it seems and the retreat leader seems to have nefarious and sinister plans. Oooh.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

About a woman who goes through husbands like I go through socks, except her husbands end up dead so maybe that’s not the most fitting analogy. Lol

City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

A book about a girl who can see ghosts, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Because I need to read a classic every once in a while.

The ABC Murders – Agatha Christie

Recommended by my sister and also now a tv series!

Victoria – AN Wilson

Because I love hearing stories about women who rise to the occasion, and Victoria has always been one of my favourite monarchs.

One Day in December – Josie Wilson

Rounding things up with a little story about love and serendipity.

Hope you all find something in this list to enjoy!

Posted in Books, LGBT, Paranormal, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: The Dark Artifices Trilogy – Cassandra Clare

All the potential in the world will not amount to anything if there’s a flaw in the execution.

It pains me to say it, because I am a huge fan of the ShadowWorld and all things connected to it, but this trilogy did not quite live up to my expectations.

Maybe that’s my fault. I’ve been looking forward to Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs‘ story ever since they were introduced in The Mortal Instruments series.

I’ve wondered for so long about the secret behind the parabatai bond and why those who have undergone the ritual were forbidden to fall in love, which is the basic premise of this trilogy.

But while the relationship between these two was explored and discussed ad infinitum, I feel like Cassandra literally lost the plot about halfway through the second book.

I feel like she lost sight of why she was writing this book in the first place and the series took on a life of its own.

And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and while I did love discovering the world of the Faerie and the existence of other dimensions, the overall plot got too cluttered in the end.

That’s not to say that this series was bad.

I think the problem was that she tried too hard to please fans both new and old. There was a massive inclusion of characters from previous books, and I get that she was trying to tie all her past series in some way, but it all just got a little bit much.

The first book started out okay, I thought the main plot of that was interesting and really rich in Shadowhunter history. But then it all slightly veered from the road that I thought it was going to go and it never quite totally got back on track.

There was a little too much focus on the romantic elements, especially in the latter half of the second and most of the third book. Even in the midst of the apocalypse, people still found the time to worry about their love life. Go figure.

So the book wasn’t brilliant, but there were elements of it that were beautifully crafted.

I like how Cassandra Clare continues to preach the importance of inclusion and acceptance in her books. The tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders could almost be a parallel for the current state of the world, prejudice and all.

I love how there’s no shortage of diverse couples in this book. For Cassandra, love is love is love is love. She’s always been a big supporter of the LGBT community and that shines through in her book.

FURTHERMORE, there’s an added element in this book that I thought was absolutely RISQUE for what is essentially still a YA book. I wasn’t sure whether it was entirely appropriate but I have never advocated author censorship, and that part was so beautifully done that I think it might actually end up sending the right message to teens.

Intrigued? Read the book to find out more.

The characters were well-developed. I love the tight-knit relationship of the Blackthorn family and how their love for each other evolved over time as a result of trials and heartbreaking loss.

I like how this series showed that the world is not black and white, and that no one is all good and all bad. I love how it showed that, despite all the evil in the world, everyone is still capable of doing good things in the name of love and family.

I understand that this review is probably not that coherent. To be honest, I’ve yet to decide whether I loved it, liked it or regretted it. And may I just say that the books were a whopper? The last one was nearly as thick as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix!

This series is a far cry from The Infernal Devices trilogy, which will remain forever my favourite, but ultimately, and I’ve literally just decided this, its still a good series. And I look forward to the next one, and the continuation of the Blackthorn saga.

Rating: Solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Love In The Time of Cholera

Its funny how some books turn out to be exactly what you expect it to be, and how others  can totally disarm you by telling a story that you didn’t know you needed to be told.

When I first picked up this book, maybe a couple of years ago, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. For some reason, it just didn’t feel like my cup of tea. I was told that this was one of the greatest love stories of all time, so it really should have been up my alley.

But whether it was because I read a book by this author when I was younger that confused me so much that it put me off reading any more of his works, or simply because I didn’t feel like reading a grand love story at the time, for some reason I couldn’t find the will to start the book.

So I sold it at a car boot sale and told myself if its meant to be, the book will find its way back to me, just like in the movie Serendipity.

Fast forward to November of 2018 and I was perusing the used books section of Powell’s in Portland of all places, and I came across a battered copy of Love In The Time of Cholera. It wasn’t MY copy of the book of course, this isn’t a movie people, John Cusack will not be making an appearance here.

But it finally felt like the right time to read this book that I’ve been hearing so much about. I was ready to read about the grand passions of a girl and a boy experiencing love for the first time, going through trials and tribulations before finally getting their happy ending.

So imagine my surprise when I realised this book was essentially about growing old, and finding – at the twilight of your life when imminent death is all but a certainty – a love that’s been “waiting” for you to acknowledge it. Like, I’m sorry, but I totally wasn’t expecting THAT.

Instead of the sanitised scenes found in most romance novels, where its probably a crime for Prince Charming to fart or take a shit, we have graphic descriptions of sagging skin and bowel movements. There was a scene about ENEMAS for crying out loud. Why in the world were people so enamoured of this book? What is so romantic about putting cream on someone else’s bedsores? If I wanted to read about that, I’d crack open one of my nursing textbooks.

The further on I get with the book, though, the more I realised how similar I was to Florentino Ariza, the male protagonist of the story. He thinks love is all about the grand passions and poetic love letters and midnight serenades. He has kept the flame of unrequited love going for fifty one years, nine months and four days, and he prides himself on having suffered that long in the name of true love.

That’s not to say he’s been completely abstinent. Love doesn’t preclude a man’s need for sex after all (insert eyeroll here), but he justifies his actions by telling himself that while he has shared his body freely, his heart has only ever belonged to Fermina Daza.

Fermina Daza in contrast is much more sensible. For me, its through her eyes and through her story that we get a more realistic picture of what it is to be in love.

Its through the description of her marriage that I realise why this book has won not only a Nobel Prize but also the hearts of those who truly understood what the book was trying to say. Now I’m not very good at conveying something I feel so strongly about, but I think its important for me to try in the case of this book.

You see, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from this brilliant piece of work is that love is at its most beautiful when its real. The secret of long-standing marriages is that the couple has found a partnership that goes way beyond initial attraction and chemistry.

Its the kind of partnership that withstands the test of time, that means you are able to love your spouse even when you can’t stand the sight or idea of them (something that I think is bound to happen when you’re sharing your life with someone).

Love is about the daily minutiae of married life, the many opportunities you have to learn about one another’s habits to the point that it becomes as automatic as breathing to wash someone’s bottom when they can no longer do it themselves.

Love is about the ups and downs, the many twists and turns, and its about the personal sacrifices you make in the name of something that is bigger than yourself.

Love is about the immense loneliness of losing the person who’s been by your side through the years, and how you feel the pain of their absence in a way that is similar to how an amputee feels about their lost limb.

Love knows no time, and certainly no age. It isn’t the sole property of the young. Love can find you in the most unexpected moments, often when you’ve stopped looking. It may not be how you imagined it to be, but it will be love all the same, even when you’re so close to dying that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime, and anyplace.

I will not spoil the book for those that haven’t read it yet, but the one thing I will say is that it was an incredible joy to read it. The writing flowed so beautifully and it is immensely quotable of course.

This is definitely one of those books that you should read at least once in this lifetime.

Three out of five stars.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t. This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by – of all things – a pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

63202476-clockwork-wallpapers

WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting. 

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

bryan-callahan-14-katsu
Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities? 

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in bloggers, Books, Lifestyle

Save The Culture

Dear Complete Stranger,

A mutual friend of ours asked me to send you a copy of my favourite book as part of a drive to save the lost art of reading.

You don’t know me from Adam, so you probably have no idea that asking me to pick a favourite book is like asking a mother to choose a favourite child.

Every single book I’ve read and kept on my shelves meant something to me once upon a time. They were an escape, a reason to laugh, to cry and to feel; a reason to hope when all seemed lost, an inspiration to do more than I could, to be more than I am.

I think there’s power in the telling of a story. Any story. From The Boy Who Lived and Edward Cullen to Sherlock Holmes and Mrs. Danvers, from Middle Earth to Narnia: each story encourages us to believe in the innate goodness of man, the dangers of greed, and the redemptive power of love.

They tell us that we are not alone in our experiences. There are people out there who share in the joys of our triumphs, and there are people who have gone through the same trials we have and have lived to tell the tale.

So whether its that secondhand book I bought for a quid or that beautiful illustrated hardbound copy of the first book in the Game of Thrones series: I love them all. But I suppose the idea is to pick ONE.

IMG_1362

I picked the one that I thought you’d enjoy the most, and its truly one of my favourite books of all time. Also, I own multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice because, DUH, Mr. Darcy.

I participated in this project on a leap of faith. I have no idea whether others will pass it on the way they’re meant to. But the idea that somewhere, somehow, someone is looking at their bookshelf and picking out their favourite book so they can send it to me? I think its magical.

So I hope you enjoy Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve read it before, I hope you’ll have a good time reliving the longing gazes and silent yearning, as well as the satirical commentary on society, that Jane Austen does so well.

To all other strangers out there, if you’re reading this blog and you love books as much as  this stranger and I do, let me know in the comments or email me to ask about how you can participate in the #savetheculture project.

At the very least, it’ll free up a space for you to buy more books!

Cheers, bookworms. xx