Viper Wine

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Viper Wine (2014) – Hermione Eyre: 3/5

Well I’m going to be honest here and admit that the entire reason I bought this book was because of its cover. It called to me from a distance in Waterstones and I gravitated towards the beauty, grasping it and stroking the smooth cover. Like the majority of characters within Viper Wine, I was enraptured by beauty.

In a nutshell, Viper Wine tells the ingeniously imaginative tale of Lady Venetia Digby and her quest to regain her youth and prestige. Historical fiction with a twist, Eyre certainly surprised me with the addition of modern references, delving into plastic surgery and astrophysics to name but a few. At first I thought it a rather random addition to the novel; the first references jarring my reading experience and leaving me quite confused. I didn’t go into this book wanting to analyse anything or get excited over my knowledge of all the literary allusions, I just wanted to enjoy it. In my spare time I like to read for sheer pleasure and enjoyment. I think, ultimately, I understand the reasoning for Eyre’s stylistic construction of Viper Wine, but I didn’t care enough about the fancy technicalities of her skill as a writer.

Aside from the literary allusions and modern details that came dangerously close to saturating the novel, I found the pace to be tediously slow in some places. Viper Wine is a subtle novel in every aspect. Its detail, plot, characterisation etc. is all very subtle. It is a lovely read, but I found myself distracted far too frequently. For me Viper Wine is one of those novels where, halfway down the page, you find yourself tuning out and wondering what’s for dinner tonight.

She is a wonderful writer though. And that, alone, should be reason for you all to read this book. Plus, I found Eyre’s particular glimpse into 17th Century London absolutely fascinating. Even though I found problems with aspects of the narrative style, Viper Wine wouldn’t be uniquely Viper Wine, without them.

Thank you for reading 🙂

The Martian

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The Martian (2011) – Andy Weir: 4/5

Mark Watney you are a God. I love you. And that is all I have to say.

Wait, actually, no there’s more! There’s more I have to say but I’m finding it pretty hard right now because this book was so goooooood.

Well, long story short: an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney, is stranded on Mars. A huge storm threatens the lives of the crew and, believing he is dead, they have to abort the mission and get off the planet before they all die. For the rest of the novel Watney has to figure out how he is supposed to survive on Mars, by himself, for years and years until the next team arrive… Everything looks pretty hopeless doesn’t it, but Watney is a botanist. The finest in the land, and he is going to survive no matter what it takes.

Did I mention that Mark Watney is hilarious, and for this reason alone I HIGHLY recommend this read. The film with Matt Damon comes out October-ish I think, so if you haven’t already heard about it then you’ve heard it from me so, go, go, go!

If I were to pick one problem with this book it would be the science. Now, I am no scientist, I’m a historian and we do things a little differently. So, I cannot attest to the accuracy of all that is written in The Martian. I can say, however, that it all seemed pretty damned believable to me and I mostly understood it… mostly. Weir would have 5 stars from me, if it wasn’t for the sheer amount of science. It is all highly appropriate to the story, after all we are reading about an astronaut trying to survive on his own on MARS. There is just a lot of science talk, and I mean a lot. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, so if you don’t fancy reading all the technicalities about Watney’s journey then this might not be for you.

That being said, there are many brilliant chapters, interspersed with the logs of Mark Watney, that show what is happening back on Earth and in space with the rest of the crew. This helps to keep the novel from being bogged down with the heavy duty science and plus, the characters are all absolutely fantastic. I just wish we could have spent more time with the crew members.

I think it’s pretty clear that I thought this book was amazing. Thank you all for reading, I hope you go buy it immediately and enjoy it as much as I did!

Assassin’s Apprentice

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Assassin’s Apprentice (1995) – Robin Hobb: 4/5

Why have I never heard of Robin Hobb until 2 years ago? And why did it take me another year before I bought the first novel of her Farseer Trilogy, the Assassin’s Apprentice?!

We follow a young boy, Fitz, the bastard of a Prince, in a land shaken by the threat of raiders and internal deceptions. Fitz is ordered to keep close to the royal family so that he doesn’t threaten the succession. As the King begins to see the advantages of having this bastard under his control, Fitz undergoes harsh, unforgiving training, and becomes entangled in the vicious world of court politics.

Admittedly, this was a slow start for me. I kept putting the book down, and when picking it up again, only read a chapter or so. The other day I finally managed to sit down and actually enjoy this book. It’s safe to say it was completely finished a day later, and I was inwardly cursing myself that I hadn’t finished it sooner. I will still maintain that it was a slow start though, no matter how much the second half picked up. This is the reason for my 4 star rating of what would otherwise be a 5 star book. Some chapters were just far too slow, but having finished I understand why. It all lies in the development of the characters. While this could have been achieved with a much faster pace, this type of ‘bildungsroman-fantasy’ warrants the depth and detail of Hobb’s writing style. I became very attached to her characters, one of which hardly featured at all, but I absolutely loved her!

It wasn’t action packed, so if, like me, you’re fooled by the word ‘Assassin’s‘ into thinking there is going to be plenty of juicy assassinations, this this may fall short for you. There are a few action scenes, but I think as a whole Hobb was much more concerned with the development and training of her main character, Fitz. Don’t get me wrong, watching Fitz steadily grow through his training and relationships was indeed enjoyable, though something was lacking in the action department which could have kept the plot rolling forwards at a more tense and fast pace.

Although I am noticing something as I write this… There is a marked lack of emotion in this review, Assassin’s Apprentice hasn’t really inspired any love or excitement within me. It didn’t make me rush to write anything down, or finish the book sighing or tearing my hair out until I get the second installment. I really, really want Royal Assassin but I’m not leaping to Waterstones for it. As much as it was a fantastically well written, thoroughly detailed and delectable epic fantasy, it’s missing that extra something special for me to truly love the novel.

I’m still getting my hands on that second book though; boy can Hobb write fantasy!!

Vicious

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Vicious (2013) – V. E. Schwab: 5/5

Wow. This is such a deliciously dangerous novel, and it undeniably deserves five stars.

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab, follows the journey of Eli and Victor, college best-friends who stumble upon the ‘supernatural’ side of science. Taking life and death into their own hands, they battle their own egos and ambitions and, ultimately, each other.

Vicious is not like anything I have ever read before. Not only due to its subject matter, but to the characters, Eli and Victor. Enigmatic and charming, the two driving forces of the novel are deplorable and also infuriatingly likable. Schwab’s character development is exquisite and thorough, right down to Mitch and his chocolate milk (a personal favourite of mine) and Sydney and Dol, who bring some much needed innocence and sweetness to the novel.

Her writing was addictive, quick and all-consuming. I just can’t get enough of Vicious.

I’m not even sure what else to say about the novel, it was just… wow.

On a side note: half way through reading, my book suffered an unfortunate dowsing that was irreparable and greatly saddening… I don’t think I will ever recuperate from the damage it did to that gorgeous cover.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1993) – Louis de Bernieres: 5/5

I don’t know what I was expecting going into this novel but I was wonderfully surprised. A historical-romance-war novel set in 1940’s Greece, it’s got it all, and it doesn’t fail in any aspect. The history is engaging and insightful. The romance, passionate and consuming. The war, graphic and horrific…
I admit, at times Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was difficult to get through, it would have been easy for me to drop it after the endless paragraphs of political blah, but boy oh boy am I glad that I didn’t!
Yes, there are certain chapters that made me want to bang my head against a wall. Yes, sometimes de Bernieres comes off a tad pretentious and he writes like he’s his own biggest fan, but honestly, he has reason to be. He’s a good writer, he dragged me through so many different emotions during the novel that by the end I was absolutely exhausted, yet not regretting any of it. The middle was delightful. The end, soul-crushing. I had involved myself completely in the characters and their stories and felt everything they felt.
You know you’ve read something good when you can’t stop thinking about it, when you come out of the experience changed.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin changed me.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012) – Benjamin Alire Saenz: 5/5

I finished this book at 2am with silent tears streaming down my face. They were happy tears by the way. I’m not sure if I was more emotional that night than normal, but what I do know is that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of the most touching novels I have ever read.

The novel follows the budding friendship of two boys, Ari and Dante. For reasons individual to each character they are very important to each other, and develop a wonderful bond. Now I must say that this is usually not the type of story I go for at all. Contemporary YA is not a genre I frequently encounter, mainly due to the general writing style of the literature and also because I read to escape the world; I don’t want to be constantly reminded that I’m living in it. When I bought this book it was largely, okay… entirely, due to the title; I was immediately intrigued. Couple that with a quick glance of the hugely positive Goodreads reviews and I was sold. I had no idea what this novel was about, to the point that I actually thought one of the characters was a female, and was pleasantly surprised by the direction the novel took instead.

Now, I don’t want to say that it was about sexuality, as so many others have. Saenz was saying so much more than that to me. I think what I loved the most about the novel was the exploration of the relationships that Ari and Dante had with their parents. I would say that Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is about people; their loves, relationships and their fears.

Initially the writing was not my cup of tea, I prefer a more descriptive style. However, it was absolutely perfect for this novel. I truly felt like Ari was a real, tangible person, and I was privy to his innermost thoughts, which made me feel even closer to the characters and what they were going through.

I will say that this novel may not be for anyone, though I would urge you to give it a chance. At first I thought that I really wouldn’t enjoy it and that it simply wasn’t for me; oh how I was wrong. I could not put it down and felt every emotion that Ari and Dante felt as though I knew them. It takes a special kind of author to enable you to form such a connection to the characters, especially when you have absolutely nothing in common with their lives.

Thank you for reading!

The Demon King

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The Demon King – Cinda Williams Chima (2009): 3.5/5

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima promised everything that I love about fantasy, and in many ways, it delivered.

A solid, adventure that I literally could not put down, it had me intrigued and captivated every step of the way. The characters, although sometimes contradictory and annoying (pointing fingers at the princess here) were, for the most part, believable; with the main character, Han, showing depth that I have no doubt will be even further developed in the series.

The first in The Seven Realms Trilogy, The Demon King follows Han, a reformed thief, and Raisa ana‘Marianna, a princess yearning for the freedom to make her own choices away from the bore of court life. Intertwining these two, vastly different, characters together is a mysterious amulet, with a dangerous power that may threaten the stability of the Queendom. Non-stop adventure ensues, with plenty of mysteries to keep your brain ticking.

The review sounds glowing so far doesn’t it. I’m not quite sure myself why I gave The Demon King three stars instead of four. There were just a few, really quite annoying, aspects of the novel that prevented me from loving it. I liked it, and I certainly do not regret reading it at all, but I didn’t love it. Here’s why:

  1. ‘Swag’. No. Just no. I don’t care if the main character was the leader of a ruthless street gang. I don’t care if he’s an exceptional thief with stomach-fluttering charm. Under no circumstances is it ever acceptable to find ‘swag’ in a book’s vocabulary; the fact that it was used seriously made my insides quiver even more. Sorry Cinda.
  2. The romance (if you can even call it that) was a bit ridiculous. I know I’m not some blushing sixteen year old anymore, but I’m certain that the romantic antics I witnessed in childhood were absolutely nothing like the ones in this book. For those of you that have read The Demon King I might sound like a picky cynic, but a princess snogging every guy she finds half attractive was a bit weird to me. That might be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not far off the mark. I don’t know whether it’s because each romance seemed to be plucked out of thin air with no build-up whatsoever; it was all just too forced and unbelievable to me. The thoughts from the characters themselves about the romance were also a little odd. I don’t know, the whole thing just confused me…
  3. And then we come to the big reveal of Han’s identity at the end. Trying to explain this without riddling the review with spoilers is difficult. Let me just say that, although this is indeed a fantasy novel (and with all of them you expect there to be certain revelations), this particular reveal felt as though it was thrown in there. The reveal regarding Princess Raisa’s maid was another such instance. The abruptness of these revelations may have been due to the writing, however, I feel that altogether they were unnecessary. The novel would have been much more involving and believable (and less like a soap opera) had these not occurred.

That being said, I did actually find The Demon King immensely enjoyable. The next book in the series sounds as though it will be equally so, if not more, and I will continue reading.

If any of you have read The Demon King I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on the romance aspect. Surely I can’t be the only one that found it all a tad weird?

Thank you for reading 🙂

Tipping the Velvet

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Tipping the Velvet (1998) – Sarah Waters: 3/5

I am in two minds about this book…
The prose is wonderful, and keeps you wanting more – in fact once I started reading I was hooked. Nancy’s journey is so bizarre that you’re left thinking where the hell the novel is going next and it’s riveting, honestly. But after I finished I felt deflated, which is definitely not the effect that I think Waters was aiming for.

On first look it seemed to have the makings of a genius piece of literature; theatre, music halls, ‘oysters’, 19th Century London, steamy Lesbian sex… Honestly what’s not to love?! The novel takes you on one hell of a ride, through England and even a few seedy professions, but love it I did not.

I think my un-satisfaction with the novel comes from the characters, I just wasn’t that interested in them, even Nance. The only character that really sparked my interest was Diana, and she was deplorable. Kitty started off wonderful, and then by then end of the novel she was a bitch (harsh but true); even Nance started to REALLY annoy me. I get that she went through a lot, I really do get it, but I didn’t like her. Yes, she became a deeply structured character, but she meant nothing to me.

And then there’s Florence. I really didn’t like Florence. I feel as though I was supposed to, Waters was leading up to her character as Nance’s ‘happy ending’ throughout the novel, but I didn’t like her at all. Due to this, the ending did absolutely nothing except leave me disappointed, and frustrated that I felt disappointed.
I really tried to love this book, and like I said, it was well written and had some marvelous description (especially that of the costumes). I was transported back in time to the gloriously rich world of Nan King and enjoyed it. But by the end I wondered if it was really worth it.

I wonder if upon re-reading my feelings will change, but for the moment the entirety of Tipping the Velvet’s 3 stars lies with Water’s gorgeous writing and the fast-paced movement of the novel.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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I was alerted to Taylor’s first installment of the ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ trilogy a couple of years ago whilst browsing Goodreads and I am ashamed to say that despite the raving reviews it seemed to be getting, I was put off a little by the cover. Not the cover pictured above but the black one with the bright peacock-blue mask. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I couldn’t help it, it’s just another factor that will help me reach a decision on which book to buy: ‘The Night Circus’ with just as many rave reviews and a gorgeous cover, or, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’… You can tell me off all you like but I will unashamedly admit that a book’s cover can make all the difference in the world to me.

Flash forward a couple of years and I’m still hearing rave reviews and book-tubers telling me that I must read this book! I had a look on Amazon, saw the price of £2.80 with next day delivery (and this remarkably better cover) and in seconds this little gem of a novel was ordered.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011) – Laini Taylor: 4/5

Perhaps one of the easiest books I have ever rated, this is a solid 4 for me, with only a few niggling problems that prevent a 5 star rating. The first thing that drew me into this book was the protagonist. Karou is a blue-haired, teenage art student living in Prague (such a gorgeous setting creates instant interest) with an unusual side job. She collects teeth. More specifically she collects teeth for a half-human man named Brimstone, whose gruff demeanor reminds me somewhat of an angry bear cub. Karou is a special female YA heroine for me, principally for the fact that she isn’t ANNOYING! I have read so many young adult novels that have simply had me tearing my hair out due to a whiny, bratty, silly protagonist, and it completely ruins my enjoyment of the book. Karou isn’t my favourite heroine of all time but she certainly isn’t the worst and, along with her wonderfully unique friend Zuzanna (the ‘rabid fairy’), I am inclined, as a reader, to sympathize with her plight and root for her all the way!

This is definitely one of the most interesting plot lines that I have ever read, with a fantastical world created that I have certainly never come across before. What I was most surprisingly pleased with was the writing. Taylor’s style is wonderful with just the right amount of delectable detail that really propels the story. If it wasn’t for this shining factor I probably wouldn’t have been all too pleased with the book. The romance was whimsical and passionate but a little too love-at-first-sight for me, and I have trouble connecting with such romances in most novels. I loved the first half of the book, but the introduction of the romance lost some of the impact for me. Although, to put it simply, the way Taylor structured her prose was a joy to behold and was most likely the reason for my complete satisfaction upon finishing.

That being said I did have a problem with one aspect of her writing. It became glaringly obvious halfway through that she is a fan of, what I can only describe as, repetition for emphasis; repeating phrases or particular words (immediately after the original phrase) to create tension or heightened emotion. When I first started reading I had no problem with this; her technique worked. However seeing it on every other page just became a bit too much and it started to lose its effect quite quickly, annoyingly taking away from some of the more emotional scenes.

Overall though, this was an immensely pleasant read; YA literature done right, and I have spent the last day and a half twitching and itching to get my hands on the second book!

I would definitely recommend for those interested in contemporary fantasy, with a pinch of well-written romance.

Went a Little Crazy in Oxfam…

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Well, okay, maybe not that crazy. Come on I only bought four… They came to a grand total of £2 though so I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself!

It may surprise you that I actually know nothing about any one of these books. Of course I’ve seen the movie for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ advertised but, shock horror, I haven’t seen it yet. Which is terrible really because I have a pretty big thing for Leo. Basically all I know about these four books is what I’ve read on the back cover. If you know me you’ll know that this is quite a depart from the norm. I don’t usually delve into any book without reading hundreds of reviews about it first on Goodreads, then after that ritual I’ll spend about an hour in Waterstones deciding which one I want. So I’m going in completely blind here guys and it’s actually quite exciting! Here is the list of the following books I purchased today:

  1. ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ – Alexander McCall Smith
  2. ‘The God of Small Things’ – Arundhati Roy
  3. ‘Girl Reading’ – Katie Ward
  4. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – Jordan Belfort

Surprisingly the one I’m most looking forward to reading is ‘Girl Reading’, and I’ll tell you why. It is structured into seven main chapters, with each chapter focusing solely on one woman. Each woman is from a different time period with the dates ranging from the year 1333 to 2060. I have no idea if any of these stories overlap or if they remain as stand alone chapters from that particular character’s perspective. Not being a huge fan of a structure that essentially encompasses short stories I’m really interested to see how this novel develops. Of course I’m going out on a whim here in thinking that each chapter will be like a short story in relation to the novel, so if any of you know anything about this book and have had a fabulous reading experience of it, please let me know I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve resolutely decided to not read any in depth reviews for any of these books. It’s going to be difficult but I’m determined to go into each of these blind, without my reading experience being hindered by any expectations. This is obviously a completely new undertaking for me so I’m really excited! Stay tuned for the reviews that will doubtless follow, based on my current ‘to-read’ list I’m not sure when I’ll get around to these but hopefully I’ll be able to get stuck in soon!

Thanks for reading guys, I’m sure I’m not the only one that frantically stalks the charity shops and comes out with armfuls and armfuls of books every few months… okay every few weeks…