Saturday 29 March 2014

Recent Acquisitions

I've been quite busy on the book acquiring front lately, here's what I've picked up:

Books I Get To Keep:

Most of these were impulse buys from this morning.  I had a pretty tough week at work last week and could not resist the buy one, get one half price deals in Waterstones:
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent - This is one of the books on the Baileys long-list that I am the most keen to read.  I already had it reserved at the library, but couldn't resist this gorgeous paperback edition with black edged pages.  It's the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland, and I can't wait to start it.
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo - I've wanted to read this one ever since it first came out.  Darling lives in a shanty-town in Zimbabwe and dreams of moving to America.  When she finally does, it isn't what she expected.
  • On the Map by Simon Garfield - I love a quirky non-fiction book, and this seems to fit the bill nicely.  It's a history of maps and how we have attempted to make sense of the world.
  • The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker - Another book that has been on my wishlist for the longest time.  It's about two supernatural creatures in nineteenth century New York, and the back cover compares with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  This can only be a good thing!
Mixed in are some review copies:

  • The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel - A non-fiction title about the women married to the famous American astronauts of the 1950s and 60s.  I've seen some great reviews of this one.
  • The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements - Historical fiction set in the English Civil War.  This book promises to include Oliver Cromwell and witchcraft, so I am intrigued.
And finally, some random acquisitions:

  • The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber - Picked up in a charity shop.  The Crimson Petal and the White is one of my favourite books, ever, so the author alone was enough to make me buy this one. The story is about the uncovering of a new gospel, and is from the Canongate Myth series.
  • The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang - Lovely hard-cover version found in Homesense, of all places.

Books I Have to Give Back (Library Books):

  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood - Borrowed so I can read Madaddam, which I own, and which is on the Baileys long-list.  I loved Oryx and Crake, so I have high hopes.
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert - Another Baileys book, and one I am currently half-way through.  It's a historical epic about a female botanist, and so far I am very much enjoying it.
  • Shark's Fin & Sichuan Pepper - I love a foodie memoir, and this one about eating and living in China promises to be very interesting.
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto - Two more from the Baileys long-list.  I hope I get a chance to get to these titles, but they aren't the highest priority on my list.
Have you read any of these titles?  What did you make of them?

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Kindred by Octavia Butler

"I never realised how easily people could be trained to accept slavery."

Dana is moving into a new apartment with her husband when she starts to feel dizzy and nauseous.  The next thing she knows, she is in nineteenth-century Maryland, rescuing a white boy who turns out to be her ancestor, as well as the son of a slave-owner.  Although her visit to the past is brief, Dana finds herself called back more often and for longer, and with each trip the danger intensifies.  For nineteenth century Maryland isn't a safe place for a black woman, especially one used to modern life.  But as Dana spends more time in the past, she feels herself changing as the reality of slavery wears her down, threatening the life she has built in the present.

I was expecting Kindred to be very good, as I've seen many positive reviews of it and know it to be highly regarded, but it went well beyond my expectations.  Kindred isn't just a good book, it's a truly excellent and thought provoking one.  Butler takes the simple premise of a black woman going back to the slavery era and fleshes her out by adding all of these extra dimensions and complications.  Dana has a white husband, and her ancestor is white.  Her relationship with Rufus, her ancestor, is complex, as she deplores the way slaves are treated on his property, but can't help but have a bond with him.  She finds her views changing with the reality of life for slaves, at one point advising others to keep their heads down, to not fight, despite this going against everything she believes in.  The fact that Kevin, her husband, also goes back in time at one point was also an interesting plot device, and one allowed their relationship to be explored fully.

What I loved most of all about Kindred is that Butler doesn't shy away from any of these complications. Of course slavery was wrong, but Butler really explores what it might have been like at the time, how reality and the choices of life were never simple for slaves.  We see why slaves might choose to be raped rather than run away, we witness their horrific punishments, and to a certain extent we get to see a modern woman conditioned to accept slavery through her experience in the society.  Rufus remains morally ambiguous, treating different slaves in different ways and being a realistic product of his time.  It would have been easy for Butler to demonise him, but she didn't.  Reading Kindred really made me think and reminded me that no issue is simple.  Slavery is rightly shown to be horrific, but gritty and complicated too.

As well as being thought provoking, Kindred is also a gripping read, with a fast paced plot that escalates quickly and builds up tension throughout.  I read it in just two days, which is unheard of at the moment!  It's a book I'd recommend to anyone, whether you are interested in sci-fi/time travel or not.  And I can't wait to pick up more of Butler's books in the future.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: In this edition, March 2014
Score: 5 out of 5

Sunday 23 March 2014

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

In 1866, Walter Moody arrives in New Zealand, hoping to find his fortune in the gold rush gripping the country.  Taking lodging at a hotel in Hokitika, he enters the bar only to have all conversations around him stop.  He has stumbled onto a meeting of twelve local men, who are discussing the strange events that have been happening recently.  A hermit has been found dead in his house, a prostitute has apparently tried to kill herself, a great fortune has been discovered and a prospector has gone missing.  As Walter listens to the stories, he finds himself drawn into the mystery.  What really happened, and how are the lives and fortunes of all the men intertwined?

I finished The Luminaries late last night and my honest first reaction was to be in complete awe of Catton's skill.  I don't think I've ever read a book as intricately plotted, with so many relationships between different characters.  There are at least sixteen main characters and much of the plot and mystery depends on how they relate to each other, and the things they tell each other, that the other characters aren't necessarily aware of. Not only does Catton manage to keep all of this straight in the mind of the reader, but she also manages to slowly reveal clues and subtly alter our perception of these relationships, to move the mystery on throughout the novel.  I can't even begin to imagine how you would go about planning a book as complex as this one, but I am suitably impressed.

I was also very impressed with the writing.  The Luminaries is a long book and it's not got the fastest of paces.  The writing is Victorian in style, and I found reading it to be a similar experience to reading a good Dickens novel, or like picking up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.  The writing lets you really sink into the book and the world of nineteenth century New Zealand.  Which is a great place to be; I loved the frontier-like town of Hokitika with all of it's prostitutes, prospectors, illegitimate sons, plotting and gunfights.

So on an intellectual level, I was blown away by The Luminaries and can see why it was awarded the Booker Prize last year.  But books are about more than the skill involved in creating them, and thankfully The Luminaries had a good plot as well, with a story that kept me engaged.  Although I guessed some of the elements of the mystery, I enjoyed watching the whole thing unravel and just sped through the last two hundred pages, in order to find out what really happened.

If The Luminaries has a flaw, it is in characterisation.  I loved the more sinister characters in the novel, Lydia and Frank Carver, as well as the ambiguous character of Anna Wetherell, but some of the thirteen men felt a little flat.  I could relate to the Chinese characters because of the way their lives were written about in the book, but with some of the other men, Catton didn't give me any reason to feel attached to them or root for them, meaning that I sometimes felt a bit detached when reading the novel.  This stops me from giving The Luminaries 5 out of 5, but it's still one of the best, most impressive novels I've read in a long time.  I'll be extremely surprised if this one doesn't make the short-list for the Baileys Prize.

Source: Library
First Published: 2013
Baileys Longlist: Book 3/20
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

From now on, you are going to be seeing a lot of reviews of books long-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.  Almost English, the story of a part Hungarian school-girl trying to find her place, is the second off the list I have read.  It's the story of Marina and her mother Laura, living in London with Marina's Hungarian relatives.  Her Dad, Peter, has vanished without a trace, leaving English Laura struggling to fit in with Hungarian family life and Marina just wanting to be normal.  Having decided that the best way to be properly English is to attend a prestigious boarding school, Marina moves to Combe Abbey, only to find that her romantic fantasies of the new person she would become there have little to do with reality.

I was really looking forward to Almost English.  Despite not being an immigrant myself, I am really attracted to stories about the immigrant experience as they appeal to something deep inside all of us, that need to fit in, to belong to something.  The blurb really plays up Marina's heritage and I was interested in the juxtaposition of Marina with her very British boarding school environment.  But Almost English isn't really about that.  It's really a story of emotional insecurity and distance, of a mother and daughter that torture themselves with anxiety but who are unable to reach out to each other.  And it was still a good story, but it wasn't the one I was expecting it to be.

The thing I most enjoyed about Almost English was the character of Marina herself.  I was a painfully awkward, anxious teenager (some days not much has improved!), and I really related to her constant indecision and worry.  Mendelson perfectly captures that teenage experience of feeling like everyone is watching you, that your every move will be criticised and judged by the silent hoards around you.  Combine that with an active imagination and you end up with Marina; someone who thinks herself in love with a boy that she has never even spoken to, who lies awake agonising over a throwaway comment and who attaches great importance to small events.  I could relate to her so well that reading the book wasn't always a comfortable experience!

Almost English was one of those books that had a lot of potential but ultimately didn't really go anywhere. The characterisation was excellent but the plot was a bit weak, with too many threads that either didn't tie together, or which felt contrived.  Marina's 'seduction' by her boyfriend's very-British father felt a bit plot-by-numbers, and Laura's anxiety was never fully resolved.  

Ultimately, Almost English failed to live up to my expectations. I needed a stronger plot and more overall direction.  I'll be surprised if it makes it on to the short-list.

Source: Library
First Published: 2013
Score: 3 out of 5

Monday 17 March 2014

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Last year I read Snyder's Poison Study, the story of a young woman given a reprieve from a death sentence in order to become a food taster.  I thought it was a well written lighter fantasy novel with good world building, an interesting plot and a romance that didn't dominate the whole book.  Therefore I was keen to pick up the second book in the trilogy, Magic Study, but unfortunately it was a bit of a let down.

At the start of Magic Study, Yelena is taken to meet her family in Sitia, where magic is still valued, and she can be guided to develop her potential.  But meeting her family isn't all she imagined it to be; Yelena struggles to feel a connection with the unfamiliar lifestyle of her parents and her brother is outwardly resentful and hostile.  Even though her life in Ixia was fraught with danger, she starts to miss the comfort of a structured and ordered society, in which all of the rules are clear. When she journeys to the citadel to be taught magic, her feelings of disconnection grow.  To make matters worse, a rogue magician starts capturing and torturing young women with magic skill, and Yelena is drawn into the attempt to stop him.

Ultimately, I didn't enjoy Magic Study, especially compared to Poison Study.  The main character, Yelena, had seemed to become a completely different person.  In Poison Study she was somewhat headstrong and reckless, but her actions were always thought through.  In Magic Study, she seems to delight in blundering from one horrible situation to another, sometimes on purpose, never thinking about what she is doing.  Most of the book is taken up with her either moping around missing Ixia (where they want to kill her!) or recklessly plunging head-first into a dangerous situation despite her being warned against doing so by every single responsible person in the novel, including a talking horse!  There's a lot of her being kidnapped and then miraculously using her magic to escape, which felt convenient and like lazy plotting.  I was also uncomfortable with the way that rape and rape threats were used in the novel.

Unforutunately, Yelena wasn't the only character who had become a completely different person.  Valek, her love interest from the first novel, and the master of spies in Ixia, is now basically reduced to being a love-sick puppy.  In the first novel, he is morally ambiguous, cold and calculating, but in Magic Study, all this has gone and it seems like the only thing he cares about is Yelena, which is completely out of character.  I found this frustrating and annoying, as why go to all the trouble of developing a more complicated relationship if you are only going to simplify it in this way in the sequel?

As you can tell, I wasn't a fan of Magic Study. I will say that it was easy to read and contained some interesting action sequences, but this wasn't enough to redeem it for me.  I definitely won't be continuing on with the trilogy.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2006
Score: 2 out of 5

Sunday 16 March 2014

Sam Sunday #47: Life Goes on as Normal

Life has been continuing on as normal in the two weeks since my last update post.  Spring has finally started to arrive and it's been nice to have a break from the constant rain and actually soak up some sunshine. We're now half way through the second part of the spring term, meaning that in three weeks time we have a two week Easter holiday, which I can not wait for.  It's not even a particularly long term, but it feels longer than it is as I'm starting to get tired and achy from standing up all day.

We've started to buy things for the nursery and for the baby's arrival now.  On Friday we went to kiddicare with Tom's parents and got the car fitted for a car seat and pram, which my in-laws are very kindly buying for us.  I have a teeny tiny car (old style Nissan Micra), so it was a relief to find something that had a) a car seat that would actually fit in the back of my car without too much hassle and b) a pram that would fold down small enough to go in the boot. We've also chosen which cot we want, and will be ordering all of the nursery furniture in the next few weeks. We still have roughly 12 weeks to go, but lots to do!

I'm making the most of my time before the baby comes by also taking a Shakespeare course online through futurelearn.  We're reading one Shakespeare play a week and then relating the plays to events and themes from Shakespeare's life and world, and so far it's been really interesting.  Last week, I read The Merry Wives of Windsor and it's good to have the opportunity to read the plays in a structured environment, where things are explained!  I'm looking forward to getting to Othello and Anthony and Cleopatra later in the course.

Aside from Shakespeare, most of my reading time has been taken up with the Baileys long-list (an annual tradition for me).  I wasn't that impressed with Almost English but am loving The Luminaries so far.  Of course, all my holds at the library came in at once despite me being different numbers on each reserve list, so I now have quite a few books to get too, and most of them are very chunky!  I'm looking forward to it though, and hoping to discover some gems.

In the last fortnight, I've been reading:


Reviews posted:

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God opens with the return of Janie Crawford to her home town in Florida.  As gossip mounts over where she has been, and where her husband has got to, Janie confides in her friend, Pheoby.  The granddaughter of a slave and the product of rape, Janie is married off young to a man that she doesn't love, but who can provide financial stability.  Unloved in her first marriage and abused in her second, Janie finally begins to find her voice with the arrival of Tea Cake, a man much younger than her, but who respects and encourages her.

There isn't much to say about Their Eyes Were Watching God that hasn't already been said.  It's a very powerful story of a woman finding herself and gaining some independence from the expectations placed on her, and I just loved it.  Janie's life is full of much hardship, so when she starts to realise the value that she has as a person, it becomes moving to read.  The depiction of Janie's second marriage, in which she is constantly dismissed and made to submit to her husband in every way, was particularly well done, and you could feel the life flowing out of Janie as the marriage continued.  When she eventually stood up to Jody in front of the other members of the town, it was a big moment.  The relationship with Tea Cake was well written, and I loved that Hurston showed them as being so accepting of each other, flaws and all.  Hurston never made their relationship too perfect, instead we got an honest portrayal of how two people can support and encourage each other, through the good times and the bad, and how a partner can help you to be yourself.

As I was reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was struck by Janie's strength.  She had been dealt a pretty tough hand in life, but she never gave up, and she always had hope that things would improve.  When something awful happens right at the end of the novel, I still had the sense that Janie would be able to pick herself up and continue her life in a positive way.  This made me think about my own life, and the way that I approach set-backs, and in this way Janie was an inspiring character for me.  I love that classics can do that, can make you reflect on your own experiences.

A lot of Their Eyes Were Watching God is written in dialect, which I thought might be an issue before starting.  But actually it was very easy to get into and I enjoyed rolling the words around in my head, imagining them the way Janie would have said them.  Once I got used to the dialect, I didn't even notice it.

I'm so glad the Classics Club spin selected this book for me.  It's relatively short but it definitely packs a powerful punch, and it's become a new favourite.

The Classics Club: Book 23/72
My list of classics is here.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1937
Score: 5 out of 5

Sunday 9 March 2014

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Madeline is in the final year of a literature degree.  She's reading classic authors and writing her thesis on the use of the marriage plot in the novel, a topic seen as seriously outdated in the university culture of the 1980s.  As she finishes her final year at university and attempts to find her way in life after it, her path entwines with that of two men, Mitchell and Leonard.  Mitchell, a religious studies graduate, is keen to travel the world in search of mystic experiences.  He is also certain that he is destined to end up married to Madeline.  Leonard is a talented scientist promised a research fellowship at one of the most prestigious centres in the country, but his charisma covers a difficult battle with bipolar disease.  As Madeline navigates the stormy path of life after college, will she find herself starring in her own marriage plot, or is the marriage plot truly dead?

I'll be honest - I picked this book up purely because it is by Jeffrey Eugenides.  The Virgin Suicides is one of my favourite books and I really enjoyed Middlesex, so at this point I will buy and read anything Eudenides puts out without a second thought for whether or not the plot is appealing.  With that in mind, my overall impression of The Marriage Plot is that it was very well written (I'd expect nothing less), but much more self-consciously literary than either of Eugenides previous works, and therefore not quite as enjoyable.

I agree with a lot of what Eugenides is trying to say in the novel, mainly that there is still room in literature for a book that tells a simple story, that our stories may have changed with the complications of modern life, but that readers still want a story that tells them something about the dilemma of the characters.  There's a lot of gentle fun being poked at undergraduates and literary criticism in general, which was enjoyable too.  But the whole time I was reading, I felt as though Madeline, Leonard and Mitchell were just vehicles for Eugenides themes, rather than the central drivers of his story, if that makes sense.  They didn't jump off the page and I didn't fully connect with them emotionally.  In marriage plots, you're supposed to really care who the main character ends up with, and although I thought Eugenides' twist on the classic plot device was clever, I didn't feel that connection.

I don't want to come off as too harsh, as The Marriage Plot is still a very good book.  I thought Eugenides' portrayal of mental illness in the form of Leonard, and the effect that it can have on the people around you, was very strong and I found these parts of the story gripping.  I loved reading about Mitchell's adventures in India and his struggle to decide what kind of person he was.  As I mentioned earlier, it goes without saying that the whole thing was well written and for quite a chunky book, I just sped through it.

I think that if I hadn't already read The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, I would have adored The Marriage Plot and would at this point be rushing out to find everything else Eugenides had ever written.  But because I have read his previous work, I couldn't help but compare them, and The Marriage Plot just didn't quite live up to expectations.

Source: Personal copy
Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5

Friday 7 March 2014

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

I've been a fan of the prize formerly known as the Orange Prize ever since I was a teenager.  Over the years, I've been introduced to so many great titles and authors, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Barbara Kingsolver and Andrea Levy, to name just a few.  Every year I try to read as many of the long-listed titles as possible and follow the prize all the way through to the winner's announcement.  This morning the long list was revealed, and I'm already excited for all the great reading that is sure to be ahead of me.

My thoughts on the long-listed books and any reading plans (links to goodreads):


  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I've already read and loved this one (my review).  I thought it was a masterful look at what it is like to be a migrant, but as much as it was a 5-star read, it wasn't my favourite Adichie.  Still, I'll be very surprised if it isn't short-listed.
  • Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood - No surprises to see this on the list either.  I loved Oryx and Crake and own this one, but need to read Year of the Flood before I can get to it.  Which will definitely be happening soon.  I have reserved Year of the Flood at the library and I'm number #1 on the list, so my wait should be under a week.
  • The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne - This one was new to me. It's an examination of the darker side of a suburban society as the neighbourhood dogs start to be mysteriously poisoned.  It sounds pretty interesting but hasn't been purchased by my library, so I'm holding fire.

  • The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto - Another new to me title, but one that I'm keen to try.  It's the story of five young people in Pakistan's Tribal Areas.  Position in reserve list: #1, but all copies are currently out.
  • The Bear by Claire Cameron - A young girl must look after herself and her brother after a vicious bear attack kills their mother on a camping trip.  No copies in the library system as of yet.
  • Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter - A mother's story when her son goes missing on a special operations mission on the night of the Bin Laden raid.  Again, no copies purchased by my library system, although I am want to read this one.

  • The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter - Someone from the East India company goes missing in Calcutta in the 1800s.  This appears to be a historical mystery, which isn't normally my thing, but I am going to give it a go.  Position in reserve list #12, and for one copy, so I'm in for a bit of a wait!
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - I'm not surprised to see this one here.  I was already wanting to read this, and will be soon, as I'm #1 on the list.
  • Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies - This seems to be a quirky coming of age tale told in vignettes, which makes it one of the more interesting titles on the list.  No copies available, unfortunately.

  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert - Botany, the nineteenth century and exploration.  It's another long book, but it's definitely got short-list potential. Position on reserve list #1
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent - I was so excited to see this one on the list, as I've been wanting to read it for months.  I've seen so many positive reviews of it on other blogs.  Position on reserve list #15.
  • The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner - A story set in the 1970s about a radical art movement.  No copies at the library, but it's not one I'm overly keen to try anyway.

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - I've never read any Lahiri, although I've been meaning to for years. I will be reading this one as I already have it on my kindle.  Definite short-list potential
  • The Undertaking by Audrey Magee - Hmm, yet another WW2 novel.  I'm not that disappointed that my library hasn't purchased it yet.
  • A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimar McBride - This is a stream of consciousness novel about the relationship a woman has with her brother, who had a brain tumour as a child.  One of the more unusual picks on the long-list.  Again, no copies.

  • Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson - I'm always keen to read novels about the immigrant experience, and this one is centred around a young Hungarian girl attending a prestigious English public school.  I should be able to pick this one up off the library shelf tomorrow morning.
  • Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen - This is a biographic novel about the photographer Rebecca Winter.  I have reserved it, but the library copy is still on order, so the wait is unknown.  Position #6
  • The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout - On the surface, this sounds like a very ordinary story about family life.  I'm not excited about this title, so probably won't read it.

  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - No surprises here either.  I've tried to read The Little Friend in the past and not got on with it, so I've been avoiding this book until now.  Hopefully I'll enjoy Tartt more on the second try. I am #38 on the reserve list.
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld - This appears to be about a hermit living in Australia.  I'm #2 on the list.
My initial reaction to the long-list is that it looks to be shaping up to be a good year for the prize this year.  There's a lot of big name authors (Atwood, Adichie, Tartt, Lahiri) and titles (The Luminaries, Burial Rites).  Have you read any of the titles?  I'd love to know your thoughts on them if you have, to help me prioritise!

Tuesday 4 March 2014

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind had been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I bought it back in 2005, because so many of my friends and family were loving it.  This book came highly recommended from no less than five different people, and that's ultimately the reason why I didn't read it for so long.  I kept hearing how amazing it was, and later on it drew comparisons to novels I love, like The Historian, and I thought there was no way it would be able to live up to my expectations.  So it languished on my shelf for many a year, until I started my TBR challenge in January and decided that enough was enough; The Shadow of the Wind was going to get read!

In the opening pages, Daniel is taken by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona, and told that he can choose just one book to take away.  Daniel chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and falls in love with the story immediately.  But as the years pass, Daniel notices that others are obsessed with Carax and his novels too, and that events from the story are starting to blur with real life.  With the help of his friend Fermin, who is recovering from being tortured during the Spanish Civil War, Daniel embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery surrounding Fermin.

The Shadow of the Wind is an enjoyable book.  It's fast paced and full of unexpected twists and turns, that will keep you guessing.  I thought I had several elements of the book worked out, only for Zafon to turn things on their head and surprise me yet again.  The whole ending section came as a shock, and I love it when that happens, as it makes the reading experience that bit more gripping.  The gothic atmosphere of twentieth century Barcelona is wonderful, and there's just a hint of magic pervading the whole novel, which makes it a delight to read.

Ultimately, The Shadow of the Wind suffers from having an amazing opening section, that the rest of the book can't quite live up to.  The passages where Daniel visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books are just wonderful, full of the joy of reading.  I could spend hours just imagining the kind of books that I might find there;

"A labyrinth of passage-ways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive, woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry."

Although the rest of the novel is very good, there's nothing quite like that opening chapter, and this is the part I will remember in the future. Consequently, I felt a bit let down by the rest of the story.  Another issue I had is that the middle section felt bloated compared to the middle and end, as the mystery develops more slowly. Sometimes I found it hard to keep track of all the different characters, especially as Daniel and Carax's lives began to parallel.  Their love stories in particular were very similar, and I kept getting the two ladies confused, as they may as well have been one person.

I'm glad that I finally read The Shadow of the Wind.  It's a magical book full of twists and turns, that is sure to please anyone who likes gothic fiction.  It's not earned a place amongst my favourites, but it was a very enjoyable way to spend a few evenings.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: In Spanish, 2002
Score: 4 out of 5
TBR 2014: Book 2/12

Sunday 2 March 2014

Sam Sunday #46: Birthday Edition

As you can tell from the title of this post, yesterday was my 28th birthday.  I spent the day with my husband before going out for a meal with both our families in the evening (that's my sister with me in the photo above). It was a really lovely day, completely switched off from the stresses of everyday life.  As my present this year, I've ordered some new glasses, which should be arriving in the next couple of weeks.  I've got a tortoise shell and purple pair coming; I usually wear contacts but have got a weakness for glasses, particularly if they are brightly coloured!

Last week I returned to work after the half term break and I'm starting to find it pretty tiring now, standing up all day.  Aside from the Easter holidays, I have 10 working weeks left until my maternity leave starts at 37 and a bit weeks, and hopefully the time will pass quickly.  I'm trying to sit down as much as possible, but it's difficult when you have thirty eight year olds to contend with all day long!  Thankfully I had my last parents evening before maternity leave on Thursday, so hopefully there will be no more 13 hour days.

Pregnancy wise, everything is going well.  I had my 25 week midwife appointment on Friday and everything was as it should be.  Once again the baby was very active during the appointment, so it's become clear that he's definitely a wriggler!  I'm mainly just feeling hungry all the time and very hormonal.  

In terms of reading, I'm going through a good phase at the moment.  I had a bit of a reading slump at the end of last year, but 2014 so far has been full of good books and I'm loving reading as much as possible.  Last week I finished The Shadow of the Wind, which is another book knocked off my TBR list for the year, and I'm now finally reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  It's unsurprisingly a very good book, but so far I'm not loving it as much as Virgin Suicides or Middlesex.  

This week, I've been reading:

Review posted: