Review | The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind (2007)
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Gollancz
Read: 7th – 15th April 2017
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is the first book in the evocatively named The Kingkiller Chronicles, a sure-to-be-epic fantasy series which mimics the storytelling tradition of oral myths and legends. Framed through the device of a Chronicler writing down the deeds as recounted by the enigmatic protagonist, Kvothe, The Name of the Wind is a story which slowly but surely draws you into its world and magic until you are hooked without realising how on earth you got there. And then you realise: here be dragons.

‘Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.’ (Synopsis from Goodreads)

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Review | Hard Times

Title: Hard Times (1854)
Author: Charles Dickens
Read: 29th March- 4th April
Genre: classic
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Published in 1854, Hard Times is one of Charles Dickens’ shortest novels and presents a pretty damning indictment of mid 19th-century industrial society, taking a swipe at the social and political philosophies of Bentham and Mill, but ultimately failing to deliver an engaging or cohesive plot that would match the opening chapter’s brilliance.

“Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”

Hard Times tells the story of Coketown, a fictional 19th-century Northern industrial town which plays home to a host of polluting factories and their downtrodden employees, all overseen by factory owner Josiah Bounderby and his friend and Utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind, the schoolmaster who seeks to stamp out any sense of imagination or Fancy from the town’s schoolchildren. On the outskirts of the town cavorts Mr Sleary’s circus, a troupe of performers whose antics could provide a nice sense of distraction for the downtrodden ranks of Coketown’s population.

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Review | The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

Title: The Song Rising (2017)
Author: Samantha Shannon
Read: 19th – 25th February
Genre: fantasy; dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The third book in Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season series, The Song Rising sees Paige and her not-so-merry band of clairvoyants venture outside of the Scion-controlled environs of London’s streets and into a much darker and deadlier world. The stakes are raised, the risks are higher, and the outcome is a riveting and heart-breaking addition to this ongoing dystopian/fantasy series.

“War has often been called a game, with good reason.
Both have combatants. Both have sides. Both carry the risk of losing.”

Immediately following on from the shock cliffhanger of the second book in the series, The Song Rising marks the third outing of dreamwalker Paige Mahoney and her voyant friends and foes alike. Having battled against the other cohorts in the scrimmage in The Mime Order, Paige is now crowned Underqueen and rules over the criminal underworld of London. However, though her victory means she can finally spread the truth about Scion and its Rephaim masters, with it comes the unenviable task of uniting the fractured gangs into a community that is able to survive the oppression it faces on a daily basis. To be a clairvoyant is treason and so every member of the Mime Order commits a crime by simply existing.

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Review | Wishing for Birds by Elisabeth Hewer

wishingforbirdsTitle: Wishing for Birds (2016)
Author: Elisabeth Hewer
Read: 21st January 2017
Genre: poetry
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In this breath-takingly beautiful debut collection, Elisabeth Hewer displays a sense of lyricism and astuteness that make her poetry sing.

“Rebellion sits well on you
like a red coat
or the gilt gold burnish of youth”

Collecting together sixty poems, Wishing For Birds covers topics that range from the most personal and individual to the national and social, displaying in the process Hewer’s keen grasp of how to introduce and weave (at times, unusual) imagery into the “narrative” of her poems. Some of her poems look outwards, to the world around her, others look inwards, and others look back to the past. Some poems span a mere couple of lines, some are longer, but all are penned in a distinct voice which encapsulates Hewer’s spirit – the girl who (it seems) wishes for birds.

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Review | The Tearling Trilogy by Erika Johansen

Title: The Tearling trilogy:
The Queen of the Tearling (2014)
The Invasion of the Tearling (2015)
The Fate of the Tearling (2016)
Author: Erika Johansen
Read: 1st-6th Feb | 6th-11th Feb | 11th-19th Feb
Genre: fantasy; dystopian; young-adult
Rating: 5/5 | 4/5 | 3.75/5

Spanning three books, Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy tells the story of Kelsea Glynn, the exiled Queen of the Tearling who has been raised in secret for many years in order to protect her and her family’s claim to the crown of the kingdom. The land of Tearling represents a utopian project – the mastermind behind it was William Tear, a man who believed in a socialist system which he thought would lead to a more just and happy society, having experienced quite the opposite in America. In many ways, Tearling treads the boundary between fantasy and dystopian, for William Tear’s utopian society is (as is often the case) rarely that simple. As someone who enjoys exploring the political and social ramifications of how dystopias happen as opposed to the actual dystopia itself, the Tearling books were right up my alley, and might just be up yours too.

“The future was only disasters of the past, waiting to happen anew.”

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Review | We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

weshouldallbefeministsTitle: We Should All Be Feminists (2014)
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Read: 24th-26th February 2017
Genre: non-fiction; feminism
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

We Should All Be Feminists is a short, adapted essay of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk on the subject of twenty-first century feminism, gender, sexuality, and her own experiences as a Nigerian woman, that forces readers to confront issues of everyday sexism and prejudice that are so deeply ingrained in modern society that they aren’t even immediately apparent as worthy of examination. At several points in this short book, I found myself stopping to reconsider the ways I thought about myself or about other women and checking that initial, socially-ingrained knee-jerk response – all of this, despite the fact that my own life is very different to Adichie’s. That is the mark of a very good TED talk and, indeed, book.

“My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.
All of us, women and men, must do better.”

Coming in at just under 70 pages, Adichie’s text is short and succinct but nonetheless packs a punch for it. She eloquently and anecdotally charts her own experiences as a young woman alongside those of her friends and family, using these examples to illustrate that the problem (if we may call it that) of sexism and discrimination is rarely ever solely down to the natural inclination of the person in question but rather how the person was raised, how they were conditioned to think, and what values they were taught by their parents and, indeed, society itself. Culture is people and people are culture though, so it is only by striving to be better people that we can affect change.

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Review | Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norseTitle: Norse Mythology (2017)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Read: 12th-13th February 2017
Genre: retellings; short stories
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Norse Mythology is a short-story collection that charts the many weird and wonderful stories that make up Scandinavian folklore and mythology, featuring well-know deities such as Odin, Thor, and Loki. The influence of Norse mythology on Gaiman’s work is apparent to his readers, and it therefore seems like a logical step for Gaiman to retell some of the well-know myths for himself. For fans of mythology or, indeed, the contemporary portrayals of said deities on-screen, this book provides an insight into a rich mythological background which is often contradictory or confusing, but a great ride, if you’re willing to go along with it for the duration.

“Do you wonder where poetry comes from? Where we get the songs we sing and the tales we tell? Do you ever ask yourself how it is that some people can dream great, wise, beautiful dreams and pass those dreams on as poetry to the world, to be sung and retold as long as the sun rises and sets, as long as the moon will wax and wane? Have you ever wondered why some people make beautiful songs and poems and tales, and some of us do not?”

I adored Norse Mythology, I knew I would, because I enjoy mythology (though I’m more familiar with Greek myths and legends) and I’ve briefly dipped my toes into various Norse mythological tales – but who hasn’t heard of Mjollnir, for example, in this day and age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Admittedly, I do enjoy learning about the intriguing character of Loki, so it’s not a leap that I would adore hearing more of his antics via one of my favourite authors’ retelling of the wily trickster’s shenanigans. Familiar tales of the creation of Thor’s hammer, the various lands branching off Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the nine worlds, and Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle at which several major deities will fall.

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Review | Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

talkingasfastasicanTitle: Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between (2016)
Author: Lauren Graham
Read: 21st January 2017
Genre: non-fiction; memoir
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

No one can deny that Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can was released at the perfect time for maximum exposure; with Netflix’s Gilmore Girls revival premiering in the same month, every fan of the show was eager for more. More episodes, more behind-the-scenes, more Lorelai Gilmore. (In fact my one critique of the book would be I would have liked a little more!) But that is what this is – it’s a funny, light-hearted, and, at times, heart-warming memoir of the woman behind Lorelai Gilmore, Lauren Graham. If you like Lauren, you will like this memoir, which seems like an obvious thing to say but let’s just establish that now. If you don’t already like her, I wouldn’t say this is ground-breaking and will change your mind. It’s for fans of Lauren, fans of Gilmore Girls, and (I presume) fans of Parenthood, though I still haven’t got round to watching that yet. Although this book reminded me of that fact, it principally just reinforced why I love Gilmore Girls so much.

“Because who wants to Fast Forward anyway? You might miss some of the good parts.”

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Review | A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

acotarTitle: A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Read: 1st – 7th January 2017
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A Court of Thorns and Roses tells the story of Feyre, a young woman who innocently kills a wolf whilst hunting in the woods and pays the price for it when a rather beastly creature comes knocking on her door (almost literally) to demand payback for the killing of one of his brothers. The wolf was actually a Fae and Fae don’t take too kindly to humans, or so says the history of the world in which humans were subjugated and Fae constantly lurk, threatening this unsteady peace treaty. Feyre is taken prisoner by the Fae Lord, Tamlin, and forced to return with him to live in his magical court in a land that is lethal to humans. But her feelings towards Tamlin change from loathing to passion as she finds herself sinking deeper into the Fae world, and discovers that everything she has seen there is not quite as it seems.

Disclaimer: I invite you to read my rating and decide for yourself whether you want to read a review from a person who decidedly did not get on with Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses. In fact, I wouldn’t call this a review, it’s more of a rambling rant.

To sum up my feelings towards ACOTAR, I will take a leaf from the book of Jeff Winger in the TV show Community “To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal, and I would never take it away from anyone… but I would also never stand in line for it.” (Although, lbr, Paul Rudd is great, you get my point, right?) I would never try to take ACOTAR away from anyone who enjoyed it but I would never stand in line for the next book’s release. I would also like to review all the problems I had with it so that people who didn’t like it don’t feel alone like I did until I went on Goodreads. Also, there are spoilers everywhere in this review, seriously, this is your only warning, do not read if you haven’t finished the book. This lengthy disclaimer aside… let us return to this rant/review…

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Review | The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

planetTitle: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (2015)
Author: Becky Chambers
Read:  11th-19th November 2016
Genre: science-fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet  is a science-fiction book that does not read at all like I expected from a sci-fi story. Sure, the entirety of the action takes place in space and on a spaceship. Sure, the characters are a diverse mix of “alien” races. Sure, the spaceship crew’s job is to punch wormholes into space to allow for quicker space-travel but, somehow, it’s not at all sci-fi.

“Humans’ preoccupation with ‘being happy’ was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief.”

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