Monday, 4 September 2017

Review: Another's Child




Rachel and Benny, and Yalei and Arik are friends. Best friends. They do everything together - go for food together, go on holiday together, and have children… together? But, unexpectedly, Rachel and Benny ask Yael to take their child, Noa, if they die. Yael is pretty skeptical about the idea. Why would they be better than someone actually related to the child? But, Arik convinces her that the chances of both Rachel and Benny dying at the same time are so small, that why should they offend their friends? Reluctantly, Yael agrees.

Fast forward nine years. Benny and Rachel stayed in Canada, whilst Yael and Arik have moved to Israel. Contact between them has been virtually nil. But a woman named Debbie turns up on Yael’s doorstep with nine-year-old Noa in tow, explaining that she is now Yael and Arik’s responsibility.

From that moment on, Yael’s world is turned upside down. How could she have prepared for this? Surely, they must have changed their will after they moved back to Israel; surely no one can expect her to look after this very Canadian nine year old, whilst she has two boys of her own, and a job to be getting on with? How can she raise a girl she doesn’t even know? There must be someone else to take Noa on. 

But there isn’t. Noa’s uncle is an Orthodox Jew, and therefore not someone the couple would have wanted Noa to grow up up with. Frustrated, Yael is certain there is some mistake: this was a plan hatched years ago - they must have other friends in Canada more suitable to this task than her?

But they don’t. And, from that moment on, Yael starts to divide her life into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Travelling back across the Atlantic to Canada with Noa, Yael tries to find a more suitable adoptive or foster family. But the plot thickens, and the past isn’t as far away as she thought.

This book had a slightly slow start, but I got into after the first quarter or so - don’t lose heart! There are some formatting issues in the Kindle edition, which is a shame, as it breaks up the flow of reading whilst you struggle to work out what time period you are in. The other main critique I would have is the punctuation of direct speech; without using a new paragraph for a new speaker, it can become very easy to lose the thread of a conversation. 

Einat Danon
However, if you can look past these things, the book was a pleasant surprise. It goes much deeper, hits much harder, than I had first expected. The point of view switches heighten interest, as we hear from Noa herself, and her intense dislike for Yael. It can be quite painful to read: this child desperate for her parents to still be alive, and a woman who, at the beginning, is just desperate to get this ‘problem’ out of the way. But the story delves far deeper than that; by the end, the reader really ‘knows’ Yael as a character. 


This is Einat Danon’s debut novel, and, setting aside the formatting and grammar issues, is very promising. I look forward to seeing her work grow in the future.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Review: Bad Ideas\Chemicals

Bad Ideas\Chemicals Bad Ideas\Chemicals by Lloyd Markham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has been likened to some cross over of the following books: A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Naked Lunch, Stand By Me and some others (not all in the same review.)

It’s not. Bad Ideas/Chemicals is a book totally defying categorisation.

Goregree is a half-finished project, discarded by its maker. Or stopped midway because of the unearthing of another settlement there before. Or a conglomeration of houses that somehow managed to become a place. Does it matter? No. The truth is: living in Goregree sucks.

It’s become a joke. The phrase ‘I’m not from round here,’ is passed around by all of its inhabitants. Because, even though some of them were actually born there, no one feels it belongs to them. No one wants it to belong to them. All it has going for it is a Star Trek themed bar, a constant supply of oddballs, and seemingly limitless supplies of GOTE.

GOTE is a ‘Bad Idea/Chemical.’ Made from foetuses whose mother’s have ingested poison from the ‘roaches’ (that look nothing like cockroaches) this drug takes you on highs that no other drug does. It
Lloyd Markham
affects your ‘temporoparetial junction’ (don’t worry - I had to look that one up too), and causes out of body experiences. Everyone’s hooked on it. Eventually, it kills you. Unless you kill yourself first.

Fittingly, the ‘best’ job that you can find in Goregree is working for ‘Mercy:’ the NHS’ privatised company that deals with assisted dying and euthanasia. Particularly fitting for Louie, one of the central protagonists, whose father is dying of alcoholism, and feels like checking himself into ‘Mercy.’ He’s not the only one…

The characters are all whacky, interesting and well drawn. Cassandra walks around in an orange spaceship; convinced she is an alien after seeing a film about ‘Alpha Centurai’ as a child. You’d think that would be weird. Not so much in Goregree. Here, anything goes.

This book is, at times, sardonically funny, but the humour is very black. But don’t take it merely as humour. This book is actually a very well drawn comment on society today: the neglect of social and mental health care, the effects of parenting, and the casual substance misuse that is rife in small towns. Markham isn’t afraid to write about big issues.

All in all, ‘Bad Ideas/Chemicals’ is a unique, warped and very thought-provoking read. One to read in an hour, then ponder over for ten times longer.

Thank you to Parthian Press for the chance to read this book; all thoughts and comments are my own.

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Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: The Goblins of Bellwater

The Goblins of Bellwater The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market,' then you may have an idea of what to expect from this book. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; but it is something to note. If you haven't read 'Goblin Market' (I advise that you do), it's about a pair of sisters, one enthralled and seduced by the goblin's beautiful fruits, but then withers without them. Her sister saves her.

That, in a nutshell, is also the plot for 'The Goblins of Bellwater.'

Personally, I didn't mind knowing what was going to happen; I predicted (correctly) that it would stick to the general story arc of Rossetti's poem, but that was okay with me: there was plenty of other little twists and add-ons that kept it interesting. But if you want a book to surprise you - this isn't for you.

Skye and Livy live in Bellwater, a mostly unspoilt place, with little contact from their parents. Livy works as an 'eco-warrior,' which I really liked, as it resonated with me. Skye, meanwhile, works in a cafe whilst she tries to get her artwork noticed by an agent, someone, anyone! (Sound familiar to any other would-be authors or illustrators out there?) But, this is an updated, modern version of 'Goblin Market' - you've got to have your boys! Kit is what's called the 'goblin liaison;' a curse was placed on his family decades ago meaning he has to pay the goblins in gold each month. The goblin magic means he can steal from anyone, anywhere without the fear of being caught; it might sound fun, but
Arthur Rackham's original illustration for
Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'
Kit has a conscience, and detests his work. Historically, all the goblin liaisons have died young (goblins don't always play fair) and the curse falls to the closest relative, making the curse ever-lasting.

When Skye is seduced by the goblins, she's incapable of talking of anything that has happened to her, incapable, practically, of speaking, except in echoes. Livy, desperately worried about her, asks Kit's cousin Grady to come and spend some time with her, trying to get her open up, and providing her with good solid meals - Grady's spending time in Bellwater with Kit whilst he searches for a job as a chef. So, when the goblin magic compels Skye to choose a mate, she chooses Grady, and not a goblin.

This is not what the goblins had in mind.

But, boy, do they have some fun with it. Two humans ensnared by their curse? - it's just a bonus!

Kit gradually works out what has happened to Skye and, subsequently, Grady, and the plot really starts to kick off. The goblins won't bargain with him, and he knows better than to be tricked into another curse that could haunt his future family for centuries. So, it's up to Livy to sort it out.

I enjoyed 'The Goblins of Bellwater;' in fact, I enjoyed it a lot. Knowing the general story beforehand left me free to pick up on more of the nuances, and the ways in which Molly Ringle had tweaked and updated this Victorian story for our modern era. It's been a while since I've read some good modern fantasy (not quite 'urban' fantasy, as it's set in the wilds), and I thoroughly appreciated the ride. My favourite part was Livy's quest to save Skye. I won't go into details here - this is the part where Ringle veers from Rossetti the most - but it was great fun.

Molly Ringle
To be slightly picky, it all seemed a bit too neat, with all the loose ends wrapped up, but sometimes that can be okay. Sometimes I like a story that has a clear ending and we know where everyone stands. The descriptive passages were brilliant; Ringle has a real artists' eye when it comes to depicting the goblins and other fae. I was slightly unconvinced by Skye and Livy's relationship at times; I felt that Livy's character wasn't quite protective enough of her younger sister. But, these are minor points. It wasn't the most brilliant book I've read this year, but it was a lot of fun.

I've noticed that a lot of reviews state DNF (Did Not Finish), which surprised me. I think this may stem from the predictability of the plot, and, perhaps, the character of Skye who was, at times, one-dimensional. However, the reason she was one-dimensional is very clear: she's under a goblin spell. She literally cannot behave differently.

Start reading this with the knowledge that it's predictable and you'll be okay. If you want huge surprises, then this book isn't for you.

For me, it was great, particularly because of my love for the original Rosetti poem. I really need to read some more fantasy...

Thank you to Net Galley, Molly Ringle, and Central Avenue Publishing for giving me the chance to read this book. It will be released on the 1st of October.


EDITED TO ADD!! Here's a really interesting Q&A with Molly Ringle (thanks to the publishing team for allowing me access to this!) AND read on to the end for something even more exciting!

How closely did you follow Chris:na Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” as a basis for the story?
I call this a book “inspired by” Rossetti’s poem rather than saying it’s “based upon” it, because I did veer from the poem a significant amount. I first read the poem a few years ago, and it intrigued me deeply. It’s evocaAve and strange, and, like a fairy tale, has many symbols and events that could be interpreted as having several different meanings. My assignment to myself was to use it as a jumping-off point for a modern paranormal novel, which would then go its own way as the plot required. What I kept from the poem was the basic surface framework: we have a pair of sisters, grown but on the young side, one of whom becomes enchanted by eaAng goblin fruit in the forest and begins wasAng away as a result, alarming the other sister into seeking a way to save her. Since Rossetti’s poem ends with a fast-forward to the women being “wives” and telling their children about their adventures, and since I wanted to write a paranormal romance anyway, I gave my modern sister characters a pair of men to get involved with, in a double love story with eerie angles that I think match the eeriness of the original poem. Mind you, another interpretaAon of the poem is that the two women aren’t really sisters but lovers, which would be a different route to take and which I think would be lovely to see too!

For those of us who haven’t been there, what is Puget Sound like and why did you choose it as a se<ng for a retold fairy tale?

Puget Sound is a vast area of Pacific seawater, meandering into countless inlets and coves in skinny, deep Lords left behind by glaciers. SeaNle and Tacoma and Olympia lie on its shores, on some of its largest bays, but it also has many wilder and more rural shores, especially on the western side where it backs up against a huge naAonal forest on the Olympic Peninsula. That’s the region where my grandparents bought a vacation cabin decades ago, and where my family has been going for many vacations ever since. I can safely say it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. In order to agree, you have to enjoy a cool, rainy climate and all the thick moss and ferns and mushrooms and huge evergreens such a climate produces, and I happen to love those things. Fairy tales, at least those from Northern Europe, almost all involve a deep dark forest. That’s where the faeries, witches, werewolves, vampires, elves, and all the other interesting beings live. Everyone knows that. I haven’t spent much time in the forests of Europe (alas! I will someday), but I reckoned our Pacific Northwest deep dark forests were more than adequate for housing supernatural creatures. My grandmother used to tell us that the mossy ruins of big tree trunks in the Puget Sound forests were the homes of Teeny-Weenies, whom I always took to be faeries. So I set the story there, at the edge of the Sound, where saltwater meets woods and where the Teeny-Weenies live.

What is the significance of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) in this story?
The four elements are common fixtures in many ancient cultures, and have remained popular into the modern day. One of my favorite TV shows is Avatar: the Last Airbender, which uses the four-element framework brilliantly in its world-building. In reading up on faery lore for this book, I found that scholars oMen classify types of fae under the four elements, and since that appealed to me, I did the same. As one of the characters in The Goblins of Bellwater muses, there’s something human and emotionally real about looking at nature that way, even if we technically know, thanks to science, that nature contains far more than four elements. And in my novel, the only way to break the goblin spells involves respecting and trusting each of the four elements, even when they’re at their most daunting.

Why do you think fairy tale and other myth and legend retellings are so popular right now?
I think they’ve always been popular! Maybe it’s a case of selection bias, because I personally have always been into ghost stories, fairy tales, and other supernatural lore, but it seems to me that human culture has never stopped telling such stories. As scholars of fairy tales will tell you, reading and writing about fantasy and the paranormal may look like escapism from reality, and sometimes I tell myself that’s what I’m doing, but in truth these stories end up giving us all the useful lessons about real life that any good stories do: empathy, courage, love, respect for nature and community, and the importance of thinking fancifully and creatively.

What are the goblins like in this book?
In keeping with both the “Goblin Market” poem and the bulk of faery lore, they are mischievous and villainous. They laugh a lot, but they are decidedly laughing at you, not with you. They steal, and in particular they lust after gold. Like other fae, they enjoy making deals with humans, but humans would be wise not to enter into such deals, as the obligation tends to be heavier than it sounds at the outset. These goblins go further than merely these, too; they assault and sometimes steal away humans and turn them into fellow goblins, and at other times enchant them into wandering unhappily in the woods until they waste away and die. Although the goblins are sometimes amusing in their level of witty rudeness, they are nearly all amoral and highly dangerous to get involved with. Only a scant few of them, who were once humans, manage to retain any human empathy. However, not all of the fae in my book are this cruel—the goblins are the worst of the lot! Others are willing to be quite helpful to humans as long as they are respected in return.

What kind of magic system does this book involve?
In this book, my main characters are ordinary humans who can’t do any magic, but they become involved in the dealings of the fae realm, which is a bit like another dimension. It can be entered or glimpsed by summoning the fae (which includes goblins), who might or might not answer you. But you’re luckier on the whole if they don’t, because many of them are treacherous, and the realm itself is a wilderness containing many uncanny dangers. From the point of view of the human characters, the magical rules and the cultural norms of the fae are nonsensical, almost inexplicable, but since some of these people have fallen under curses, they have to step in among those dangers and work with the rules as best as they can anyway.

What do you find most challenging in writing a novel?
At first, it’s usually getting to know the characters. I tend to start with a general idea of who they are, but then when I begin writing, I realize there’s too much I still don’t know about these people and therefore they aren’t coming across as real yet. It slows me down in the early stages while I take breaks to write notes in which I interview them and figure them out. I also have a perennial problem with writing antagonists. They have to do fairly awful things (being antagonists and all), but I still want them to feel like real people (or other beings), and therefore I have to get into their heads and figure out why they would feel justified in doing such a thing. It’s not a comfortable place for my mind to go. I suppose that’s why I gravitate more toward romance and lightheartedness: I much prefer spending time with those who love and laugh.

What are the easiest parts of wri:ng a novel for you?

No part of the process is exactly easy. But someAmes lines will occur to me seemingly out of nowhere when I’m writing, and they’re perfect for the moment; or I’ll find my characters talking to each other in my head when I’m not writing. And I love those moments, because for them to have come to life in my imagination like that, it means I must have done sufficient groundwork in figuring out the world and the characters. So although the groundwork is the hard part, it pays off and leads to easier parts later!

How did the writing of this novel, a fairly short stand-alone paranormal, compare to the writing of the Persephone trilogy?
It was far simpler! The Persephone’s Orchard trilogy had dual Amelines, for one thing: the ancient world in Greece, and the reincarnations of those people in the modern day. For another thing, it had far more characters, both in original and reincarnated versions. And for any series, you need to have plot arcs that stretch over the whole series as well as smaller ones that get wrapped up within each volume; and you have to keep the whole thing internally consistent in terms of mood and themes and character personalities. It turned out exhausting enough that I didn’t want to write another series again anytime soon. So I picked The Goblins of Bellwater as my follow-up project: small cast, straighaorward plot, and simple timeline. Most of the action takes place within about six weeks, in this small town, which is indeed a contrast to the millennia of world-spanning events covered in the trilogy!

Would you want to live in any of the fictional magical worlds you’ve created?
Strange though it might sound, I’d love to visit the Underworld as I wrote it in Persephone’s Orchard and its sequels. I made it much less scary, for the most part, than it is in traditional Greek mythology; and besides that, I love caves and glowing things, and definitely would be interested in a ride on a ghost horse as long as an immortal was keeping me safe during it. As for the fae realm we see in The Goblins of Bellwater, I’d like to catch glimpses of it, and of the fae themselves, but I wouldn’t want to actually enter the realm. Too perilous!

What are you writing next?
One of the genres I love, and haven’t written enough of myself, is male/male love stories, so I’ve been working on a couple of those. One is contemporary, no magic or supernatural stuff, and it’s undergoing the feedback-and-revision stage right now. Another will involve a fae realm like that of The Goblins of Bellwater, only in a new location in the world, a fictional setting I’m creating. I still have to figure out how this place works and what its magic system is like, in addition to getting to know the characters, but I’m excited about the idea and it has definitely taken root in my brain.

What are the most magical places you’ve been to in real life?
Puget Sound and its surrounding forests and mountains—which is why I chose the area for the enchanted lands in The Goblins of Bellwater. Also some of the forests and meadows in the Willameite Valley in Oregon, where I grew up. Oregon and Washington are both overflowing with natural beauty and I’m spoiled to have spent most of my life here. In addition, some places in Great Britain have felt quite magical to me, such as Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies) in Inverness, Scotland; or Old Town Edinburgh with its many close alleys and dark medieval buildings and brick-paved streets; or Westminster Abbey, not only because of its beauty and its many graves of astoundingly famous historical figures, but because when I first visited it as a 19-year-old, I’d never been in any building anywhere near that old before (having grown up in the Pacific Northwest), and it blew my mind. 


Wasn't that fun? I love that some of her inspiration comes from here in the UK, even though she's from across the pond; I'm also really excited to read some male/male romance - something I love but there isn't enough of (except in poorly written fan fiction...).

So, wanna have the really exciting bit now? There's a GIVEAWAY going on! For each of the four elements, there's a prize connecting to them; for more information and to enter, just follow this link:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/4e6fad2119/?

Good Luck!

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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: History of Wolves

History of Wolves History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'History of Wolves' is, as you probably guessed, not really a history of wolves. Just in case any there are any biologists getting excited out there!

It is, in fact, a sombre, somewhat compelling, coming-of-age novel. The central protagonist, Linda (or 'freak' or Madeleine), has grown up socially isolated and emotionally undeveloped: living in the last vestiges of a failed commune with people who may, or may not, be her parents. The story enfolds over three time spans, each eleven years apart: Linda as a teenager, then in her twenties, then in her thirties. Reading it as Kindle edition it was sometimes confusing which time period we were falling in, and that was one of the problems of the novel.

It starts very promisingly. Linda virtually lives in the middle of nowhere, so when a family move into the house across the lake from her, they are an immediate object of interest. When the father goes away for work, Linda 'accidentally' bumps into the mother and son: Patra and four-year-old Paul. Quickly, she becomes immersed in their life, acting as babysitter for Paul and companion for Patra. Here, again, Fridlund has set the age differences eleven years apart: a clever mirroring for the overarching plot.

Emily Fridlund
But the real action happens in Linda's teenage years. She's not a natural babysitter; she doesn't even really like children. Her own parents are distant from her; her mother doing this deliberately by the kid just plops down into my lap. Boom. And later: He just schootched over automatically, let his body flow into mine, worked his way in - bit by bit - into my lap. He never stopped studying the puzzle. Paul's family are a very demonstrative family, and Linda doesn't understand it at all. But I loved Fridlund's description of Paul - exactly how a child his age and how he had been raised would act. There are moments of prose like this which are really beautiful to read.
calling her 'CEO' from quite a young age, and her father is brusque, although well meaning. Her vague memories of the commune before it split up are her only experiences with children and, as a child herself, she doesn't find Paul endearing or sweet, merely exasperating for the majority of the time. There are, however, some heart warming moments when she feels moved by him. I particularly liked Fridlund's use of body language:

There is a theme running throughout of the difference between action and thought, which is mirrored in the story with her teacher and a classmate. I enjoyed teenage Linda's musings on the subject, and her later musings on what actions she could have done differently to stop the tragedy (don't worry, that's not a spoiler.) "Maybe if I’d been someone else I’d see it differently. But isn’t that the crux of the problem? Wouldn’t we all act differently if we were someone else?" Because, as you will find out if you read the book, there is also a big importance placed on non-action. I'll say no more - no spoilers!

The book becomes more exciting in the middle section, as you will find out. We know from the very first page that Paul dies. This is, of course, a tried and tested way of creating intrigue: you really have to keep reading to find out what happens, even when you suspect (too early on for my liking). Patra's husband returns, and Linda feels shoved to one side. It turns out that Paul's parents are Scientologists, although Linda wouldn't really understand what that means. The tension builds and climaxes in this centre passage, leaving the remaining pages somewhat lacklustre.

There were things I liked about 'History of Wolves', and things that I didn't. I found the plot line with her teacher and another student unsatisfying and unfinished, leaving me feeling as though I had missed something. The same too with Linda as she is as an older woman, both in her twenties and thirties: the barely fleshed out relationships with her boyfriend and roommate respectively. There were certain parallels with the teacher story (Mr Greirson) which were fantastic - but just weren't developed enough. It left me feeling very frustrated.

I think all of the points I have made have probably been covered in other reviews, but this is my tuppence on the subject. As a debut author, Fridlund has a while to grow her plot developing skills, and I hope she does - because the language is beautiful.

On the LongList for The Man Booker Prize (the first one I've read this year), but I don't think it will make it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic Monthly Press for the opportunity to read this book. It is now on general release.

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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Review: All Things New

All Things New All Things New by Lauren Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I've read by Lauren Miller - and I don't think it will be my last. Her word-smithing is beautiful. (I think that's a word!) It's another teenage 'issue' fiction book, but it didn't bore me in the least, despite the plethora of books of that ilk being reeled out at the moment. This book has something different - difficult to pinpoint, but thrilling to read.

Jessa suffers from panic attacks. She has done since about eighth grade when her parents divorced. When her dad moved away, her mum forced her into therapy. Jessa's confused, but there's one things she clears about: she does notwant to talk about it. So, acting becomes Jessa's talent. Before, she got good grades and made her parents proud. Now, her grades are suffering, but as long as her mum can't seeher panic, it's not a problem. Right? When she finds Wren, her boyfriend, things become easier. He likes her in a simple way. She's pretty, and she knows what to say when. Who cares if it's all an act?

When Jessa overhears at a party that Wren has been cheating on her, her world splinters. That same night, she is in an awful accident. She can remember it - but not vividly. Because, after the accident, Jessa suffers from aphantasia. This is something I've never come across before, and it greatly interested me. She has memories, but no accompanying pictures to them. Inside her head, all there is is darkness. Outside, the world becomes a riot of colour - something apparently common for people suffering from this condition - but within her head there is nothing. But it gets worse. Jessa begins to realise that she's hallucinating. Hallucinating injuries onto people - scars, burns, bruises. When she
Lauren Miller herself
eventually confides in a doctor, it's suggested this is because she cannot cope with her own disfigurement; the accident has left her face badly scars and she refuses to confront mirrors. But is that all there is to it? Because the injuries change, and they're not similar to her own. Not everyone has scars, only people who are damaged on the inside. Is Jessa seeing their insides then, their souls? No, that's impossible. But the school counsellor, Dr I, is very open to any interpretation and it leaves Jessa wondering. Why can she see bruises on her new friend's Hannah's face, which keep getting worse, when no one else thinks anything is wrong? Why is Hannah's twin brother, an upbeat happy-go-lucky kinda guy, scarless - despite having a hole in his heart and a dangerous blood clot?

Oh, there's so much more to this story - but I can't write anymore without giving away any spoilers. I'll just say this - each time you think you have the measure of it, Miller turns everything on its head. Each time you think that Jessa's wrong - maybe she's right. It's a rollercoaster ride of a book. I found myself explaining the entire plot line of this book to someone and was practically bouncing as I described it! It's absolutely fascinating, the whole of it: the aphantasia, the hallucinations, the relationships, the philosophy, even her English class studying 'A Picture of Dorian Gray.'

The ending is superb. Miller leaves you with the choice of what you want to believe. This wasn't the book I expected to read.

And for the romance lovers out there - don't worry, there's something for you too!

All in all, a huge thanks to NetGalley and to Three Saints Press for the opportunity to read this. Please, go out and buy a copy - what are you waiting for??

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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: The Scandal

The Scandal The Scandal by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead and pulled the trigger.'

That (and the cover) was all I read before I clicked 'request' on NetGalley. I didn't read anything else about the book at all, which is very unusual for me; I'm generally quite circumspect in my reading decisions. But this had me hooked. I'm not sure why. There are so many enthralling one liners for books that don't turn out to be that good that I always make sure I read more than the 'tag-line.'

Actually, in this case, I'm glad I didn't. Because I would have discovered that it centres around ice hockey. A sport. Sporting books are really not my thing: I don't play sports and watching them on TV or supporting a team is my ideal of hell. Luckily, no one else in my household watches sport, but if they did I'd retreat upstairs with a book instead. So, I wouldn't have requested it, and I would never have read this book.

I'm so glad I didn't read further.

Okay, it's 'about' ice hockey. But it's not, not really. It centres around ice hockey, but that's not what the book's about. Of course it's not. So, what is it about? How can you answer that? There's never one single thing a book is about (unless it's completely one-dimensional). This book covers an entire kaleidoscope of issues: from determination and perseverance, bullying and racism, powerful white men and powerful white women, friendship and rivalries, disappointment, hard upbringings, good upbringings, good choices, bad choices. Not really about sport.

Did I mention I'm glad I didn't read any more of the blurb?

Image courtesy of: https://crazychessgirl.files.wordpress.
com/2013/03/2013-03-09-16-55-17.jpg
Originally published under the name of 'Bear Town,' this Swedish writer takes us on a whirlwind ride. (And a shout out to the translator whose name I can't find anywhere. I've mentioned it before, and I'll keep mentioning it, but translators deserve more credit. I can't even find their name! I think that's not on.) Bear Town is rural, down-trodden, forgotten. It's a small town in a big forest: no one's interested in it. Financially, it's a terrible place to live, but people still do - from the richest in their big detached houses, to the poorer (mostly immigrant) population in flats. But Bear Town wants to make it big, free itself from isolation. And there may be a chance.

Through the teenage hockey team.

What a heavy weight to fall on the shoulders of these teenagers, each struggling in their own ways with all the problems that puberty brings, and more besides. The strain also falls onto the coaches and the managers, mixing with their problems and allegiances. But this year the team are amazing. There's small, fast Amat; Benji who has no fear of pain; Bobo, big and overpowering; Filip, new and unsure; Lars; William. And Kevin. Kevin: the superstar, their sure ticket to making Bear Town a 'real' place again, a mark on the map.

There are other characters too, the women. Because hockey is a 'men's' sport, the women are left to organise, to cheer them on, to clean the rink, to make the coffee, to drive the cars. But these aren't any women. They're from Bear Town. And if there's one thing that can be said about people from Bear Town, it's this: they're strong.

There are some stunningly portrayed relationships throughout this book: Kevin and Benji. Maya and and Ana. Sune and Peter. Benji and his sisters, particularly Gabby. Amat and his mother. Maggan and Filip's mum. Fatima and Kira. Benji and a nameless musician.

Nothing could go wrong for this team, they have everything going for them. Except that something does happen. Something that turns the town upside down. And the old saying 'don't mix hockey with politics' just doesn't hold true anymore.

I highlighted lots of lines from this book on my e-reader, which I don't usually do. There were a LOT of good one-liners. Great ones, in fact. But it made me wonder: can an author rely on those pithy statements? Do we need so many sentences to make us really think; is there a limit to the amount of soul-searching you can pack in one book? I think the answer is yes; some of the lines could have been left out, just to balance the book slightly; it feels overwritten. Still, here are a few:

What happens to a town that doesn't grow? It dies.

People are good at feeling shame in this town. They start training early.

How big is the world when you're twelve years old? Both infinite and infinitesimal.

[His] mum always said that every child is like a heart transplant. [He] understands that now.

Sometimes life doesn't let you choose your battles.

The love a parent feels for a child is strange. There is a starting point to our love for everyone else, but not this person. This one we have always loved, we loved them even before they existed.

'Do you want to hear my best advice about being a parent?' 'Yes.' '"I was wrong." Good words to know.'

There are few words that are harder to describe than loyalty. It's always regarded as a positive characteristic... many of the best things people do for each other occur out of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.


Image courtesy of: https://
marthebijman.files.word
press.com/2015/12
/fredrik-backman1.jpg


Every day can mark a whole lifetime or a single heartbeat, depending on who you spend it with.

All their lives, girls are told that the only thing they need to do is their best. That that will be enough, as long as they give everything they've got... Children need the lie to be brave enough to sleep in their beds; parents need it to be able to get up the next morning.

...he was immortal in the eyes of the other boy.

David hates himself for not being better than his dad. That's the job of sons.

Big secrets make small men of us.

Loneliness is an invisible ailment.

Bitterness can be corrosive; it can rewrite memories as if it were scrubbing a crime scene clean, until in the end you only remember what suits you of its causes.

Hockey is just a silly little game. We devote year after year after year to it without ever really hoping to get anything in return. We burn and bleed and cry, fully aware that the most the sport can give us, in the best scenario, is uncomprehendingly meagre and worthless: just a few isolated moments of transcendence. That's all. But what the hell else is life made of?


There's a taster. There's a lot more of that. So, yes, it is melodramatic - in the extremes at times. But it is also a complete page turner. As I was reading this on an e-reader, I didn't really get an idea how long it was, but it's actually quite a hefty book at over 400 pages. Don't let that put you off. These characters and moments will stick with me. I enjoyed it immensely. And this is classed as YA, but can definitely be enjoyed by adults. Probably half the characters are adults!

Thank you Fredrik Backman. You gave me one hell of a ride.

Hey, and don't judge a book because you don't like sport. A decent book is never about one thing.

View all my reviews

Thanks to @PenguinBooks for using my quote!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Review: Judas

Judas Judas by Amos Oz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first read by Amor Oz, who is (although I didn't realise it at the time) a hugely prolific author. I found it hard to get into, and would probably not have believed you at the start if you told me I ended up giving it a well-deserved four stars! Let me explain.

The year is 1959, winter in Jerusalem. Shmuel, a student, has had his life turned upside down. His father's financial issues mean he cannot support him any longer which coincides with his long-term girlfriend leaving him for her previous boyfriend, the 'taciturn hydrologist,' Nesher Sharshevesky. Dismayed and heartbroken, Shmuel leaves the university behind him; his thesis on 'Jewish Views of Jesus' had come to a block anyway. Drowning in self-pity, his intrigue is piqued by a sign put up, asking for a companion 'with modest conversation skills and an interest in history' to a 'seventy-year-old invalid, an educated and widely cultured man. He is able to take care of himself and seeks company, not assistance.' As Shmuel has been a member of a Socialist group, recently disbanded, he fancies himself a good talker and with bed and board included, this job seems right.

Gershom Wald, the invalid, turns out to want someone to argue and debate with or perhaps, more accurately, to listen to his homilies. From his little attic room, Shmuel puzzles over the arrangement of this house. Gerhsom lives with his ex daughter-in-law Atalia, whose husband's death is never spoken of. Neither is her father's, although Shmuel gathers that at one point that they had all shared the house together.

This book has a slow start, and I struggled to get into it. The language can be quite long-winded at times, as well as repetitive: Shmuel's walking is described as:

'His head was thrust forward as if he were butting the air or forcing his way through obstacles, his body bent forward and his legs hurrying so as not to be left behind...'

multiple times (although paraphrased.) I felt like saying 'enough already! We know how he walks!' But this was a minor thing in relation to the novel in its entirety.

Essentially, there are three strands of plot woven cleverly through the book. On a surface level, there is Shmuel's current circumstances, his gradual intoxication of the unreachable, elusive Atalia, and the uncovering of parts of her world. She is a woman not meant for men, and says so boldly. Previous tenants have come and gone, fallen in love with her, and sent away; Wald warns Shmuel about this, but also recognises its inevitability.

We also learn a lot about Jerusalem in the winter of 1959-60, and the years leading up to it: a fascinating history lesson in Ben Gurion and the setting up of Israel as a state. Knowing very little when I went in, I now want to learn more; I always believe that any well-written novel makes the reader want to read further. Wald and Atalia's late father had completely opposing views: Wald believing that Ben Gurion was right and violence was necessary for Jews to reclaim their homeland, whereas Atalia's father, perhaps naively, was adamant that a peaceful settlement could be arranged. When Atalalia's husband died, silence severed the house. Shmuel's job is to partially alleviate this historic silence.

The third strand is where the title of the novel comes into play: Judas. Through their debates, and through Shmuel's musings and his thesis, Judas is central character, but off-stage. Shmuel, himself atheist, poses the proposition that without Judas Christianity would not exist.

...if there had been no Judas, there might not have been a crucifixion, and had there been no crucifixion there would have been no Christianity.
Source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/

What a fascinating concept! - and not one that I have ever considered before. Shmuel begins to
believe that Judas Iscariot was in fact the most loyal of Jesus' disciples, believing in him more than he did himself. Did Judas want Jesus to be crucified to prove to the world he was the son of God? Even though Jesus cries that his Father has forsaken him, Judas encourages him to return to Jerusalem. Judas waits for Jesus to saved and when there is no immediate revelation, he hangs himself.

What a thought-provoking, and thoughtful novel. Oz has a lovely turn of phrase, using different words to pose the same old cliches we often hear, such as the chicken/egg scenario:
...question posed by the rabbis of old: how was the first pair of blacksmith's tongs made?

There is so much depth to this novel, and I strongly urge anyone to read it. I'll leave you with one line that has stuck with me:

We [Jews] are all Judas. Even eighty generations later we are all Judas.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel.

View all my reviews

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: Behind Her Eyes

Behind Her Eyes Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, this is Britain's answer to Gone Girl. A fantastic woman-centric thriller with twist after twist. In my opinion, it's a lot better than Girl on the Train. And very different to Gone Girl. So, although it may appeal to readers of those books, be aware that this is something slightly else...

Louise is a single-mum, living in London. Despondent after her divorce, she meets someone in a bar and they feel a certain 'something.' All it is is a kiss. But to Louise, this is major. Her 'man-from-the-bar' has added to her life, the thing that was missing: lust, and excitement.

So, trust her stupid luck that this man turns out to be her new boss at the private psychiatric clinic she works as receptionist. Dismayed, she hides from him on his first day, but realises this can't continue. And it turns out that David is married! Repulsed by the idea, Louise is determined to put him to the back of her mind. But things don't work out quite as planned.

Shortly after, she meets Adele - David's husband. Alarm bells ring. How can she be friends with someone who she's lusting after? But Adele seems so lonely, and so effusive in her offer of friendship
Sarah Pinborough
that Louise can't say no. Bonding together over their gym and spa sessions (David and Adele are rolling in money), the friendship grows deeper. But unfortunately, so does Louise's relationship with David.

It starts with pretty innocent flirting, but quickly he ends up in her bed. Disgusted by herself, what can Louise do with the mess she's got herself into? How can she be sleeping with her friend's husband? And there seems to be a sinister side to David: not only does he appear to be drunk so often, but Adele is afraid of him. Never said aloud, but Louise isn't stupid. Not being allowed your own credit card? Having to make timed phone calls twice a day to check on her? Something isn't right in this marriage.

When her son Adam goes away with his father for a month, Louise is determined to get to the bottom of this. What hold has David got on Adele? Why has he prescribed her so much medication? And at the same time, she finds a revelation of her own; Adele seems to have a solution to her night terrors. But even that is strange. An old notebook written by a teenager, in a book apparently gifted to Adele by David? Nothing adds up. Louise needs to know.

And she's got in far too deep to get out now.

This is a fast, pacy compelling read. Pinborough really knows how to make you keep turning the pages; the twists come thick and fast. It is partly told from Adele's point of view, and partly from Louise's, with occasional flash backs to Adele's time spent at a rehabilitation centre in Scotland after the death by fire of her parents. In this way, the reader feels as though they have reliable narrators. But, still nothing adds up. It's infuriating! - which makes you keep reading.

It's hard to sing the real praises of this book without giving away the final twist. Each time you get to the 'end,' you think you have it worked out. But, the punches keep flying and it's only in the crucial last chapter that you know the whole truth. I won't say anything more than that, you'll have to find out for yourself. But it's a shock to the system. I was mulling over this book for ages, flicking back to see any clues that had been left. It's definitely something that could be read twice.

The one criticism I have of it, is that some of the language is just too melodramatic. To give an example: '... I still felt stabbed in the guts with a shard of my own broken heart.' Thrillers are, by their very nature, dramatic - but this is too much, I almost laughed! With a few edits like this out, this may even have been given a five star review.

Overall - excellent: go out and get a copy!

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this brilliant book.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Review: Paper Butterflies


Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BAM. That's how this book hits you.

From the very first page we are introduced to June, at this point five after her mother has recently drowned, surrounded by her new family - stepmother Kathleen and stepsister Megan. Her dad is still around but works, so Kathleen is the main caregiver, and she follows the stereotypical fairytale step-mum: maliciously, uncomprehendingly cruel. Every time June thinks something is going to change, she's let down. 'Oh, look! She's made me a lovely birthday tea with a nice cake!' But all this is an elaborate way for Kathleen to further her torture of June. Unfortunately it's not exactly a fairytale ending with a prince to ride off into the sunset with, but she does find some escape.

She meets Blister, a boy from a house of seven, and finds her salvation. As much as possible, she spends her time with him and with his welcoming family who are the antithesis of her own. Although she tells Blister a little of what goes on at home, June cannot tell him the full story. And no one else knows. She berates herself later for not telling, but how can a child blame themselves when they are that scared? June is convinced that no one would ever believe her. But, as the years go by, she lets Kathleen know she is not beaten, fighting back by not reacting or small acts of retribution. But it doesn't stop.

One form of abuse that I'd never really considered before is the way Kathleen forces June to eat. To eat and eat beyond satiation... 'She wants me to be fat.' So, June's life at school is even harder, when children tease her and call her names. She feels embarrassed eating in front of Blister's family:

'I know what they must think. I want to tell them. I want them to know that me being a bit overweight isn't my fault. That I don't want to eat everything Kathleen puts in front of me but fear makes me do what she says.'

And that's what keeps her quiet: fear. But what child could speak up for themselves in that situation, however hard June berates herself in retrospect.

This is a painful read. It feels odd to give it four stars, meaning 'I liked it,' because I didn't exactly enjoy reading it. But Heathfield has created an entirely compelling read, with a horrific unexpected climax. The ending, a note from Blister (giving away no spoilers), is beautiful. Throughout, you are really inside June's head, and you feel her embarrassment, her shame and her righteous anger. That's the mark of a good author.

But I would definitely warn people away from this book if they have experienced any form of abuse themselves. I can't speak from experience, but I imagine it might be too hard to read.

Apart from abuse, it is also about the power of friendship, and that's the redeeming quality here. Blister and June's friendship starts as childishly innocent, and gradually morphs into a deeper relationship of love. It's wonderful to watch them blossom despite the world around being so dark.

I devoured this book in a day. (Well, an afternoon and a morning). It's a very fast read. I would recommend it, but with that caveat: not for anyone with personal experience, or for people who are particularly sensitive. This book hurts.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this. I really want to go out and get Heathfield's debut novel now, but maybe I'll have to wait until I've got through a few more in my TBR pile...

Excellent. Four stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Round up for Bout of Books



Whew, made it to the end! So, I didn't manage the challenges on most days :( Disappointed by that. BUT I did manage to read quite a few galleys from NetGalley and some reviews, which is what I really needed/wanted to do. It was a good kick up the butt - I need to keep on top of them!

So, the weekend was my no wi-fi away time at a really nice Safari Tent from Canopy and Stars in Devon. (That's not an affiliate link by the way.) I've never done 'Glamping' before and rather scorned people who do, but this weekend it was pretty necessary - FREEZING. We had a gorgeous log burner (and oven) which heated the tent up, but it rained a lot, so we spent most of the time in playing board games and reading. Which was nice. Pretty views. But it really isn't camping. So, sort of disappointing, but it wasn't my choice, it was a consensus. And camping in the weather we had would've been GRIM, so I guess it worked out.


Anyway, that's not what you're here for - it's books! So, while I was away I read: Ink by Alice Broadway, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertelli and Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan (which was a Galley my sister in law picked up from me - but a paper one. BLISS.) Haven't had time to write any more reviews which is a shame...

So, half of Friday, Saturday and Sunday:
Books read: 3
Galleys read: 1
Reviews written: 0 :(
Pages read: 1052

Today is a free challenge, so I thought I'd do a collage of all the books everyone in the tent was reading over the weekend for a bit of fun. There were five of us, and I'm sure I missed some books, but this'll do :)



Anyway here comes the GRAND ROUND UP:
Books read: 8 (one I'd already started - War and Peace)
Reviews written: 5
Pages read: 2056

Pretty pleased with that. I would've liked to have seen 7 reviews, but with being away for the weekend it wasn't that likely. And 5 galleys is good progress :) Overall, not a bad week for reading! I have no idea how many pages I'd read in an 'average' week; that sounds like quite a lot, so probably not that much!

I hope everyone else has enjoyed themselves, and thank you to BOUT OF BOOKS for hosting! I may be back in August, depending what's going on that week.

In the meantime, happy reading!


Friday, 12 May 2017

Bout of Books: Day Five



Well, I didn't think I'd manage to do a post today but I'll do a half post as there's still most of the day to come. After finishing Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,' I immediately started on the next of my NetGalley reads: 'A Tragic Kind of Wonderful' by Eric Lindstrom. And I finished it by accidentally staying up half the night, AND I've managed two reviews (well, a review and a mini review)! All before lunch! Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

I jumped on 'A Tragic Kind of Wonderful' because I'd read Lindstrom's debut novel 'Not If I See You First' which I found suprisingly moving. Her second book is... something else. It's very, very well written but for younger readers, I would perhaps approach it with caution. Or readers with mental health problems. It may hit a little too close to home.

Once I'd started it, I just couldn't stop, and I wish I had actually. I wish I'd drawn it out a little more because it deserved that rather than being swallowed in one gulp. There's just so much packed into this book (it comes out later this month I think) and I feel I, as a reader, did not do it justice. To see my full review click here.




Today, so far:
Books read: one
Galleys read: one
Reviews: two
Pages read: 288

I've decided not to bring my Kindle at all to our wifi free weekend, so no gadgets at all (apart from my camera.) So, back to lovely lovely pages. Although it means I won't have read that many Galley books as I intended to. It just fell on the wrong week. Still, I'm not disappointed in myself and that's what's important.

AND I've managed to squeeze in the challenge for today! Wow, I surprise myself. But I really need to get going now - leaving very soon and there's a small chance I haven't packed...

Rainbow Spine


All Brilliant books you should read (well, the blue one isn't brilliant, but it's still a laugh):
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty
One by Sarah Crossan
The Archon by Catherine Fisher
The Extraordinary Journal of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Roman Puerolas
Bloomability by Sharon Creech
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green



I'll be back Sunday! Happy reading everyone!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bout of Books: Day Four



Well, I knew I wouldn't have much reading time today and so it's come to past. The first day I've only been reading one book! And no review :( Not doing well...

'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' was an enjoyable read. Well, enjoying is always a funny word when it comes to hard books. The first half was plain old enjoyable, but knowing there was a very nasty undercurrent. When everything comes out it's visceral in pain and sheer boldness. And a twist I didn't see coming. It's a brave debut novel. I'll be looking out for more on Gail Honeyman.

So...
Books read: 1
Galleys read: 1
Reviews written: NONE
Pages read: 228

Now, I'm going away from Friday to Sunday to on off-grid, no wi-fi place. So, no more updates and I'll probably be able to read one (short) galley book before my iPad will run out of juice. So, this is my last post until Sunday with the wrap-up! I've enjoyed taking part, although I wish I'd had more time to catch up on what everyone else is reading. I'll probably spend some time reading through what other people have been reading next week, so expect some late comments!

Too late to do today's challenge - and it was a pretty hard one too! I'm sure I'll spend the sleepless parts of tonight thinking about it, but it's certainly an interesting one.

And I'll write a review of 'EO is Completely Fine' when I find the time. Looking forward to being off-grid, reading by candle-light etc, just wish it hadn't coincided with this week. Maybe I won't bring my iPad at all... Just read real paper books. After reading 3 e-books in a row, I'm rather desperate for the feel of pages.

So, I'll do my round-up post on Sunday! Happy reading everyone.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Bout of Books: Day Three





Books read: 1 (One of us is Lying)
Galley books read: 1
Reviews written: 2 :)
Pages Read: 367


Quite a full day's reading today, which is good because I know I'll have hardly any time tomorrow. I finished 'One of Us is Lying' which comes out soon. Right. Put it on order. It's that good. Loved it. You can read my review here or see for yourselves... (Don't worry, no proper spoilers, only things you find out in the first 50-60 pages)

And I wrote another review for a NetGalley book I read a while ago: 'Flight of a Starling.' Review here. So pretty pleased with myself today. Started on 'Eleanor Elephant is Not Fine' which comes out later this month; when I requested it from NetGalley, I didn't realise what a big release this was going to be! So far, very intriguing, but I'm annoyed I won't be able to have much time tomorrow.

How's everyone else doing? Remember, it's not a competition - I'm more proud of actually catching up on reviews than the reading!




Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Bout of Books: Day Two

How are all you other readers doing? Come drop me a call if you like - it'd be nice to know I'm not alone (although I can see you all, it's nice to have some interaction.)

So, today's challenge is 'Not a Font.' I thought this would be a fun one, and fairly easy too, but it was really hard to find something that couldn't be considered a font for the title page! Lots of weird and wacky fonts, but at the end of the day, they're still fonts. Here's what I managed to come up with - not great!



Books read: 1 (New Girl by Tracey Chevallier, absolutely amazing)
Galleys read: 1
Reviews written: 1
Pages read: 299

Hope everyone's still going strong!


New Boy by Tracey Chevallier


Everyone knows Othello, right? If you haven’t, go away and read a summary online somewhere.

Are you back?

Okay. Picture this. All the characters are eleven and it’s America in the seventies. Othello’s the new boy on the playground and, worse for him, he’s black. Desdemona is one of the popular girls and generally considered to be the prettiest girl, and she’s ace at holding the ropes for ‘jump-rope.’ Cassio’s the popular guy, the jock, and Emilia is the best at jumping rope in the school. Iago’s not that popular, but he sure has a lot of power. He gets other kids’ lunch money off them, and his sidekick, Rod, who’s not the sharpest tool in the box, is at his beck and call. Brebantio is one of the teachers. Add in a few extras. Oh, and the handkerchief is a pink pencil case with strawberries on it.

You picturing it? Sounds mad, right?

But. It. Works.

Click here to read the full review on GoodReads.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Bout of Books: Day One



Now, I've been perusing around to see how people format this, and it's so variable that I'll have to go with the flow... a tall order for me! I quite like things being planned out.

So, there's a challenge each day, and today is introduce yourself in six words:

Book-lover-library-wanderer-word-hoarder

Or, a more literal one:

I am twenty six years old. 

Take your pick!

Today was finishing off The Grand Novel: War and Peace. Did you know that the working title was 'All's Well That Ends Well'? I think I like Tolstoy's final choice!
Well, it was easier than I expected until I reached the epilogue, which wasn't a story; it was Tolstoy's opinions on the way that history 'works' and the roles that individuals actually play in it. I have to admit to skimming some of that, but the rest of the book was great and I wasn't too challenged, which was a pleasant surprise. I did struggle somewhat with remembering all the names and who was who, but I made myself a bit of a list and it got easier and easier as the book went on.

So, I conquered Tolstoy! I know that most real readers will have read War and Peace much earlier in their lives, but I feel a sort of sense of achievement.

Tolstoy's own notes!


On the subject of my goals... well, no Galleys read OR reviewed. But hopefully I'll be able to get started on that tomorrow.

Books read: one
Pages read: 352 (although I'm not really worried about pages read)
Galleys read: none
Galleys reviewed: none

See you tomorrow! Off to look at some more blogs! Well done for getting this far :)