Book Reviews · books · Literature

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood: Book Review

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Oryx & Crake is simultaneously one of the most imaginative and intriguing books that i’ve read, however, despite this… I ended up not enjoying this book – and honestly I don’t think you’re supposed to.

The only thing I knew about this book was that it was written by the same author who’d written The Handmaiden’s Tale – and though I haven’t read the book, I became familiar with it because of how well its television adaptation was being received critically, I personally chose not to watch it because of how miserable it sounded, and to be honest i’m tired of consuming content containing unequivocal amounts of misogyny. 

Before I get into my review (Spoiler-free), here’s a brief synopsis:

SYNOPSIS: Published in 2003, Oryx & Crake is a post-apocalyptic work of speculative fiction about a man, once called Jimmy who now calls himself Snowman. He is presumably the last living human on earth and has been left in charge of a group of primitive human-like creatures called Crakers.

REVIEW: This story is essentially a cautionary tale about mans involvement and manipulation of nature. It explores some very dark and disturbing truths about people, systems and technology – some of which was rather uncomfortable to read about. The book starts of pretty slowly and during the first couple of chapters I began to question how reliable Snowman was as a narrator, the more i read the more I began to think about how much this book would have benefited from having multiple points of views, especially considering how detailed this story is.

“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.”

What I did like about this book was its originality and creativity – it’s thought-provoking, engaging and is very blunt about who these characters are as people. I would love to take a sneak-peek of Atwood’s notes on how she came up with some of the ideas for this story because it’s truly impressive. One thing that I really appreciated was how Atwood was able to name or briefly describe a scientific or abstract subject without making you feel as though you need to do further research on it – the context of the story is thankfully enough.

The romance aspect of the novel is both complex and controversial, I personally wouldn’t call it a romance, it read more as an obsessive, manipulative, ill-defined, but passionate relationship of sorts, that I still, as i’m typing this, can’t get my head around, which is why I again feel like this story needed multiple perspectives. Moreover, despite the exposition we get about why the world is the way it is when we meet Snowman, I found it difficult to understand the motivations of certain characters.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about this world – it’s imaginative but also realistic in the brutalist of ways that make you think about the many ‘what if’s’ about our own world which is what I enjoy most about the dystopian genre. If you’re like me and not a frequent reader of dystopian novels but want to read something different, i’d recommend giving Oryx and Crake a read. But know this, if you’re not familiar with Margaret Atwood’s work, know that this is not a story with a (generically) happy or hopeful ending.

3.9 / 5

P.S. I wouldn’t recommend this book for young readers.

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Book Reviews · books · Literature

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By Rachel Joyce: Book Review

SPOILER – FREE! 👞

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If somebody asks me to name a list of my favourite books, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will now be a book that I name.

SYNOPSIS: The story follows Harold Fry, a recently retired man who lives in a small English village with his wife  Maureen. One morning he receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy who is staying at a hospice and is writing to say goodbye. As he is on the way to post a reply, a chance encounter one that convinces him that he must deliver his message to her in person, leads Harold to begin his unlikely pilgrimage from one end of the country to the other to save her life.

REVIEW: I remember picking this book up last year, reading the blurb and liking it enough to buy and then placing it on my bookshelf and expecting it to remain there as a TBR (To Be Read) for whenever I felt like it was time to read admittedly it was very far down on my TBR list. However because I made the decision to read more books that I normally wouldn’t read, I thought this would be a perfect pick.

What I absolutely loved about this novel is that I was able to relate to a married, retired, sixty-something year old English man. Other than being born in the UK I have absolutely nothing in common with Harold Fry, yet through Joyce’s writing, she manages to effortlessly explore the most vulnerable sides of the human condition such as grief, love, faith, adolescence, aging, acceptance and so much more, which makes this story (at least for me) so relatable because it’s not just trying to get you to understand the character but also connect with the characters journey. Harold’s story is told alongside his wife, Maureen who left alone, is also forced to come to terms with her own life which serves as an interesting foil to Harold’s because of how differently the pilgrimage affects them both.

“People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”

Joyce chooses to tell this story through memory, the further Harold goes on his journey the more we learn about his life. It is told in such a way that when there are big reveals about his past, they resonate more because they’re being told through his own visceral, repressed memories and as a result, we get to know these characters on a far more personal level.

The only thing I didn’t initially like about this story was the ending. It wasn’t what I expected… it wasn’t the spectacle I was hoping for it to be  it was stark and realistic which I ended up appreciating because it is how the majority of the book is written.

It’s rare that a book leaves such a lasting impression on me, I am so glad I chose this book to read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light but impactful read. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is truly a wonderful book.

4.9/5
Book Reviews · books

Stephen King’s, The Shining: Book Review

SPOILER – FREE!

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“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.” …
You're going to need a cup of tea for this one!

SYNOPSIS:
Danny is only five years old but in the words of old Hallorann he is a ‘Shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When he and his mother go to live with his father who has become caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow frighteningly out of control. Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that too is beginning to shine…

REVIEW:
When I first picked up this book to read, I wondered whether it could genuinely scare me. I didn’t just want to be creeped out, I wanted to actually feel scared – The blurb and the one-line reviews on its cover indicated that it would, so I kind of went in with a do your best attitude. I guess you’re now wondering whether The Shining is as scary as people say it is… did this book scare Grace?

The answer to that question is YES,  – This book is terrifying! I’ve read a number of horror stories in my time but none until this book has given me a nightmare. (Let’s hope I don’t have to change that last word into a plural)…

One of several things that I really enjoyed about this book was King’s writing. I’m one for simplicity when it comes to narrative styles and after some of the book sI’ve tried and failed to complete because of how convoluted its style was, The Shining was a breath of fresh air. This book contains some of the best character-building i’ve read in a book that doesn’t have a direct sequel. There’s a mundane quality about these characters which makes them feel7 – King makes sure he includes every little detail there is to know about these characters; the good, the bad, the ugly and the down-wright scary. There are no boundaries between the reader and the characters – a part of this is due to Danny’s shining abilities but another part is the way King wants you to truly understand why his characters are the way they are and why they respond to certain situations in the way that they do. Included in King’s detail-oriented descriptions is the big bad of the story – the Overlook Hotel; because of this, the Hotel too becomes a character and its presence lingers menacingly throughout the book. What ultimately sets this ‘haunted house’ apart from its Gothic counterparts is not only how it affects the characters physically but also how it deeply affects them psychologically.

As for what I didn’t like, The book is just short of 500 pages and though I mentioned that I liked Kings detailed descriptions, they did at times significantly slow the pace of the story and I found myself wanting to either skim through these moments or skip these pages entirely. They’re really just bits of information which are important to our understanding of this world and its characters but aren’t necessary when it comes to pushing the plot forward.

Overall, i’d say The Shining is one of the best books that i’ve read in years. It’s an almost excellent book – I don’t think I’ve been this glued to a book in a long time. I would definitely recommend The Shining to any one who wants to read a scary book or a book with intriguing characters or just a book with a solid plot.

4.6/ 5

 

P.S: I don;t think this is a spoiler but the “HEREEEEE’SS JOHNNYYYY!!” line which has for some reason become synonymous with The Shining (film) doesn’t exist in the book.

Book Reviews · Lifestyle

October Wrap-Up! Hauls, Reviews, What I’ve Been Watching… Life?

October is officially over! 🎃 🍂 (Hello November!) The weather’s increasingly getting colder over here in England, the clocks went back last weekend (yay to extra sleep!) and Halloween was a pretty good night! – I hope you enjoyed this past month as much as I did too!

But now, on to my first monthly wrap-up!

BOOK HAUL!

I buy most of my books from charity shops or online, both new and second-hand, I don’t discriminate… unless the spine is falling off or there are questionable stains in or on the book.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I’ve wanted to read this book since I saw it in cinemas a few years ago. I usually read/want to read books before I watch a film or television adaptations, but this story seemed like one that I would enjoy even more in its written form.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This book is a good example of why the back-cover of books with only ☆☆☆☆ reviews should be banned. I wouldn’t have bought it if I hadn’t been intrigued by its blurb!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, i’m not the biggest Austen fan. I’ve only read two of her novels, one which I didn’t initially enjoy and the other which I (to my surprise) ended up liking. I hope I like this one!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
I wanted to read a scary story and considering that it’s the month of Halloween, I thought this book would be perfect to read. The idea of Ghosts also scare me, so there’s that too.

 

MINI BOOK REVIEWS:

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This month I read a grand total of 2 books:

1. Psycho by Robert Bloch

SYNOPSIS:
Psycho follows the story of  Norman Bates who runs a motel on a deserted highway with his mother, however there is something strange about their relationship. Norman’s world begins to unravel when a woman escaping more than just the dreary storm outside, checks in for the night. We soon begin to learn about what really goes on at Bates Motel.

REVIEW:
I really enjoyed this book! I watched the film adaptation years ago, so I pretty much knew how the story went. However even though I liked the film, the book provides more of a psychological look at the characters – particularly in the ways past events can or continue to affect your future/adult self. You really get a sense of why the characters are the way they are. Bloch set’s the tone perfectly from the start, its short length means the story is never dull or full of unnecessary exposition. Moreover, the set up to the big reveal is so well written that it makes me wish that I hadn’t already seen the film! As for the horror? It wasn’t as gruesome in detail but I think that’s what Bloch intended in the sense that he is able to expertly convey and contrast both the thought process of the antagonist as well as his outwardly behaviour which in effect makes this story all the more horrifying. This is definitely my favourite book of the year so far!

“Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk”.

4.8 / 5

2. The Turn of The Screw by Henry James

SYNOPSIS:
The new governess is in charge of two remarkably well-behaved orphans, however she becomes increasingly uneasy after she learns that the man she sees wandering through the grounds is in fact dead like her predecessor. The governess, determined to keep her pupils safe from their evil forces, begins to tether the line between what is real and what she may be imagining.

REVIEW:
This book is wild. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly how I feel about it. I was drawn in almost immediately by the opening chapters. The setting, the characters and the tone were all perfect in creating the typical gothic story. However, for some reason, despite the book being only 120 pages long, I found it quite a challenge to get through. James’ writing style is convoluted, a lot of it I think has to do with how he wants to present the psyche of the governess which makes sense especially regarding the ambiguous ending. Unfortunately, this really hindered my enjoyment of the book; I still found the story to be intriguing and creepy but the ending felt a little lack-lustre.
· I think this book really inspired the whole angelic seeming child who ends up being truly sinister movie trope.


It has been easy to live with them, because they’re simply leading a life of their own. They’re not mine—they’re not ours. They’re his and they’re hers!”

3 / 5

 

NOVEMBER TBR

I never plan what I read, I just go with the flow and pick something on my TBR list. As of yesterday I started reading Between The Acts by Virginia Woolf – so far so good!


WHAT DID I WATCH?

 

 

Crimson Peak  – This film was more gothic than horror (which I liked because I love the gothic genre). Overall, I enjoyed the performances, the cinematography was beautiful and the score was really good but the story unfortunately wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. The ghosts were creepy AsF though!                                                

 Stranger ThingsI have well and truly been on this hype train since I accidentally started watching it on Netflix last summer (thanks automatic countdown). Season 2 was just as good, if not better! The character development, the acting, the special effects and most of the new additions to the show were just great! The actor who plays Will Byers was phenomenal, as was Bob the Brain and also Team Steve anyone? !:) Bring on Season 3!

I of course also watched Hocus Pocus – it’s my own personal Halloween tradition and I loved it as always!

 

LIFE.

Nothing interesting or significant has been going on in my life lately. I went to a wedding two weekends ago which was nice and I got some good countryside fresh air. On a more serious note, I’ve been thinking about changing career paths, since graduating work-life has pretty much been almost the opposite of what I expected it to be and recently I think maybe I need a change. Also, my birthday is coming up soon and i’m turning a quarter of a century – the big 25! I don’t usually celebrate my birthday but as it’s a ‘significant number’ I thought i’d make an effort this year.

 

Until next time : ) 🕸

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GraceSign

 

MINI BOOK REVIEWS:Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness. It’s a game,” I went on; “it’s a policy and a fraud!”
Book Reviews · books · Literature

An Unbearable Journey! ..The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Book Review

Spoilers ahead, featuring a few unavoidable grievances about the film adaptations.

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I first attempted reading The Hobbit around 7 or 8 years ago but never really got into it. I then gave it a second go shortly before the release of the first Hobbit film (I still don’t understand why a 364 page book was split into 3 films) and again I wasn’t able to get through more than a chapter or two. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pick up The Hobbit again and this time, give it a real go, and I have to say this book isn’t at all what I expected.

Synopsis: The Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien’s introduction to the spectacular world of Middle-earth. It follows the adventures of a reluctant hero – Bilbo Baggins, who accompanies the wizard Gandalf and 13 Dwarfs on a quest to regain their lost Dwarven kingdom from evil dragon Smaug.

It’s been long while since i’ve read any high fantasy novels and this one definitely took some getting used to. Despite being familiar with the world (mostly through The Lord of the Rings movies) I really didn’t know what to expect and by that I mean Tolkien’s writing. For starters, i’d forgotten that this was a children’s book. The opening chapters make this quite plain in both the tone and writing style which was both simple and easy to read. Moreover the style of the book also lends itself better to be read aloud – because there are so many names, locations and creatures to remember, I found myself often re-reading sentences or going back to check if I had missed something. Not to mention the songs throughout, which again I think would be more appreciated by a younger audience.

Another major thing that caught me of guard was the journey itself, which takes up pretty much the entire book. I’d based my expectations for this part of the story on the films, which was my mistake because it really made me wonder why this book was titled The Hobbit: There and Back and Again when really it should have been called The Hobbit: An Unpleasant Journey or The Hobbit: An Unbearable Journey or The Hobbit: A Journey I Could Have Avoided If I Had Just Listened To My Own Advice And Stayed At Home.. as we’re so often reminded by the protagonist. It’s literally the worst journey I’ve ever read about – setback after setback with only very few triumphs. I suppose it does show the amount of tenacity the characters have, but for a children’s novel the story itself is rather bleak.

Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?

I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly fond of the main characters. Bilbo I liked because we spent the majority of the novel through his point of view, I found even Gandalf to be annoying at times. What’s more I didn’t think I would come across a character that could surpass the broody, A Song of Ice and Fire’s (Game of Thrones) Jon Snow but the character of Thorin Oakensheild – King and leader of the dwarfs, I think definitely takes the cake. On a more positive note, the world building is truly fascinating and the different beings and creatures we’re introduced to throughout the novel make you want to learn more about their history and how they came to be – it’s things like this that really bring to the forefront Tolkien’s extraordinary ideas and the depths to his imagination.

Lastly, (and this is me just being nit-picky) I was really looking forward to reading about Legolas who appears in the adaptations, unfortunately, there is no Legolas… none at all. If by chance you haven’t read The Hobbit or seen any of the Hobbit films, I would advise you to read the books first before seeing any of the films.

Overall, though I liked learning more about Middle-earth, The Hobbit was not quite the enjoyable read I was expecting it to be.

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3/5
Book Reviews · books

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol 🗝 : Book Review

Spoiler free!

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Prior to The Lost Symbol, the only book I’d read by Dan Brown was The Da Vinci Code. I was aware of the controversy surrounding the plot and I even had people suggest that I not read it I went to a Catholic school so I could understand why those trying to deter me did so. But curiosity got the better of me and I like a good story, so the inevitable happened. I ended up really enjoying The Da Vinci Code, I don’t think I’d ever read a book that merged so much fact and fiction, based it in reality and made me think beyond my imagination. The Lost Symbol offered something similar so naturally I was very interested.

Before I get into my review let me give a brief summary: The story follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building by his mentor Peter Solomon – a prominent Mason and philanthropist. Within minutes of his arrival, the night takes a bizarre turn – his mentor has been brutally kidnapped and Langdon is forced into a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, freemasonry and unseen truths… all under the watchful eye of Brown’s most terrifying villain to date.

 Now… Where. To. Begin… Firstly, this book is not for the faint-hearted, it’s one that requires a more than average amount of time and attention. There is a lot of information thrown at you, some which is useful in furthering the plot, some that you may be familiar with if you took a history or a religious studies class and some that requires you to have Google search open by your side. With that being said, one of my favourite things about this novel is the way Brown combines historical facts with fiction. Because he includes real organisations, artwork, monuments and most importantly real places he writes in a way where there is just the right amount of plausibility that the reader begins to question where the fact begins and the fiction ends.  

“Language can be very adept at hiding the truth”.

Despite the unusual circumstances, the characters are both well written and realistic. The mystery itself was solid and I remained engaged for most of the book. Again, Brown is incredibly good at using historical facts to move the plot forward, however, he tends to incorporate them to serve as cliff-hangers (and there are many) – which despite their momentary intrigue do not always payoff as the game changers we are led to believe that they are.

One of my biggest criticisms is the length of the book – it easily could have been around 150 pages shorter. For me, its lengthy feel is due to Brown’s inclusion of so many POV characters. For example: Brown will write one POV chapter about a character finding out about a plot point and then write another chapter about another character also finding out about the same plot point but under slightly different circumstances – he does this multiple times throughout, and at times with several characters which makes the story feel repetitive.

I have long since stood by the saying – “A story is only as good as its villain” – In this case the antagonist has a lot more of a presence than I’m used to, which for me made the character, though impressive in his execution, even more unlikable. Is he intriguing? Yes. But is he compelling throughout? No. – This was pretty much how I felt about the book overall.

Don’t get me wrong, The Lost Symbol is fascinating and interesting and thought-provoking and i’ve definitely learned things from this book, that I otherwise would have never looked up on my own (not to mention the plot twist which I did not see coming) but this unfortunately doesn’t supersede some of the issues I had with the book.

If you’re interested in semiotics, noetic science, linguistics or US history, then The Lost Symbol will definitely be a treat. If not, make sure you have Google or whichever search engine you prefer to use by your side!

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3.4 / 5
Book Reviews · books

It’s Sherlock Time! A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: Book Review

Mild spoilers ahead…

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I usually have trouble separating characters from their on screen counterparts, especially if i’ve enjoyed watching them. In this case however, I was surprised to find that my imagination for the most part remained intact and was not clouded by the faces and performances of the most recent iteration, à la the BBC series. With that being said, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into – I thought, I knew the story and well… I was wrong! Going forward I need to remember that the word adaptation can be presented in the loosest of ways. I implore you do the same.

A Study In Scarlet (1887) is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first book in the Sherlock Holmes series. It introduces readers to the pairing of our narrator Dr John Watson and the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes who shortly after becoming acquainted, are summoned to a South London House by the news that a man has been found dead. This grim discovery is complicated further by the complete absence of wounds on the body or signs of a struggle and the word “RACHE” – German for ‘revenge’ – being written in blood on the wall. The only piece of evidence to accompany the scene is a woman’s wedding ring. 

The book, not including the intro, is only 141 pages long and within them Doyle manages to produce a multi-layered story with an intriguing set of characters. As well as his coherent and well structured writing style, the intricacies of his characterisation of Sherlock and hence his deductions make you wonder whether Doyle himself were a detective at some point during his life. Sherlock is impressive as is Watson’s ability to be endearing; moreover, while the narrative is written to adhere to our two protagonists adhere, Doyle is also able to –  however small of a role – provide the reader with just the right amount of characterization to have you both care and understand their motivations. 

“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.”

During the second part of the book there is a huge jump in narrative voice and setting which completely caught me off guard. It’s jarring because it has almost nothing to do with either Sherlock or John, the story instead shifts from a Who narrative into a Why narrative, and though it eventually ends up tying up with the overall plot, it feels like you’re reading an entirely different novel.

Overall, I found myself rather enjoying how Doyle decided to write this book. Despite being presented as a detective story, it is in fact, one of revenge and in writing these two contrasting but connecting parts, Doyle rather inadvertently asks for you to choose which account you prefer and whether the crime can be now viewed as justifiable. To make the decision somewhat challenging he writes them in a way to leave the reader to decide whether certain characters should be viewed as perpetrators or victims. As for me, I like both parts equally the same, was the crime justified? Perhaps. The outcome implies a more objective resolution but really it’s up to you to decide. 

If you want to get into detective fiction, I highly recommend you give A Study in Scarlet a read!

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4 / 5