Saturday, 31 August 2013

Austen in August Wrap-Up and Reviews

It's September tomorrow which means Austen in August is officially over. I have had a wonderful month reacquainting myself with Jane. We'd become somewhat estranged as I explained in this post. I think my attitude towards Austen has changed for the better. I have now read all of her longer works except Mansfield Park and I would not avoid re-reading any of them. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder after all...

Anyway, during this event run by Adam at Roof Beam Reader, I have read Sense and Sensibility and Emma. I only intended to read S&S and then perhaps branch out to some non-fiction but my library let me down on the non-fiction front and I enjoyed S&S so much I though well why not just crack on with Emma whilst I'm it. It has been a great month, I have really enjoyed reading everyone's posts as well as reading the books themselves. And, most excitingly, I was the lucky winner of Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally O'Rourke Smith from a giveaway hosted by Adam. I cannot wait to get my sticky-Austen-loving-mitts round to devouring it. 

Oddly, I never have that much to say about Austen novels aside from the general gushing that seems to be the average reaction and with these two I have been unable to put my thoughts into actual words. So, in quite lazy fashion (sorry), I am including my (very mini) mini-reviews in this wrap-up.

Sense and Sensibility

It's been a long while since I have seen the Emma Thompson adaptation of S&S so I had actually managed to forget everything that happens (score). I had forgotten about all of the Willoughby drama and who ends up with who. It is necessary to mention though that I had not forgotten about Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon...

Generally, I loved it. I was occasionally irritated and I did think it was all wrapped up rather too quickly but I can see what Austen was doing there. I found myself relating to Elinor (not just because of the name) more than Marianne and I think that must say something about me but I just found her to be the more likable character. 


I think I preferred S&S to Emma but I did completely adore Emma for it's comic value. I was continuously amused and, at the same time, continuously cringing at her inability to read situations correctly and her ability to make a mess of most things. 

I thought the characterisation was very impressive in Emma. I really had a sense of the idiosyncrasies of each character and just reading their names would bring them to the forefront of my mind. Mr Woodhouse and his ailments and the talkative Miss Bates I thought were particularly wonderful. And Mr Elton?! What a creep, right?!

My apologies for the brevity of these reviews, my mind has been terribly busy this month and I am already consumed with a longing for Hemingway that is threatening to overwhelm my life...I should really crack on finishing my current reads and just start my spin read.

How did everyone enjoy Austen in August? I will definitely join in again if it's ever run again (hint hint)...perhaps I shall finally get around to Mansfield Park then.


Monday, 26 August 2013

Bout of Books: The End

I think it's fair to say that Bout of Books 8.0 for me has been a semi-flop. Reading wise it has been awesome but in terms of all my other more social goals I have completely missed the mark. Poor effort, Ellie, poor effort *shakes head*. Still, I have thoroughly enjoyed a week of reading and I have made sure to soak up the literary atmosphere from the sidelines.

I finished three books this week (can I get an 'AWESOME'?!): Emma, The Universe Versus Alex Woods and Ransom. I've also been reading some more of the essays in Fifty Shades of Feminism which I am still loving and trying to draw out the reading experience as long as possible. 

Bad news though: I am currently in the middle of a post-BoB slump. Yesterday morning I finished Ransom and have not picked up a book since...DUN DUN DUUUUUN. This is not cool, guys. It's probably not so much of a slump as a 'got-really-busy-went-out-got-drunk-attempting-to-recover-but-have-brainsplitting-hangover' type issue. A self-inflicted slump, if you will. But in a bit I am going to spend some quality time with my bookshelves and settle on my next read. So many choices! Maybe I should just get cracking with my next classics spin book...

To sum up: BoB 8.0 has been awesome, I've read a lot but kept out of the social sphere and now I'm struggling to know where to go from here. Also, I have a terrible hangover. 

How was your week?? Did you achieve your goals or fall a bit short of some, as I have?


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Bout of Books: Friday

It's official, this time around I have been a Bout of Books slacker. I have been slacking like a pro. Reading wise I've been alright but in terms of generally joining in, which was my favourite bit of May's BoB, I have sucked. Still, I woke up yesterday morning and finished Emma whilst sipping a mug of coffee and enjoying a relaxed wake-up. Just what I needed. So that means I have finished 2 books this week. I am impressed and over the moon.

Yesterday (or rather Thursday night) my Mother popped on the train to come and visit me for a couple of days. Luckily my sister also had the day off so we (meaning I) had planned a delightful itinerary of London-y goodness. We started off with a walk across the river to Tate Britain (FAVE) to explore the new set-up and the Walk Through British Art. It was ridiculously good. So many pretty pictures including my favourite by Vanessa Bell and all the war paintings. 

Then we took a trip to Oxford Street for a bit of shopping. I bought some new running trainers because I have blisters the size of my toes on my toes. Ouch. I've gone back to my original pair (Nike Pegasus) which I've had about 3 times and which has never let me down. Don't mess with a good thing, clearly! I steered well clear of the large Waterstones and managed to escape the day without buying any books. sister bought me this from Tate which is complete literary heaven:

All the bookshops and literary places in London...
To round off a brilliant day we went for a meal at Launceston Place, a shockingly posh (for me) Michelin star restaurant in South Kensington. It is owned by the same company who own the restaurant my sister works in so she wanted to check it out. I was happy to oblige and go with her, obviously. Posh food, posh wine and posh dresses: check, check and check.

So there we go, not much reading and not much blogging going on but much fun had by all. 

Friday's Progress:

Pages read: approx 100
Books read from: Emma, Ransom by David Malouf
Number of books finished so far: 2
One thing about my day: I took in some art and ate a lot (pretty standard as my days go)

How was day 5 for you? Eventful? Successful? A bit of a flop?

Who loves The Woman in White and Wilkie? This is apparently one of the posters for the stage adaptation. Painted by Frederick Walker. Awesome. (Hanging in Tate Britain)


Friday, 23 August 2013

Bout of Books: Thursday

Tuesday and Wednesday were both days that can only be described as failures. I read of course, I do always read, but my heart was not in it so I just kinda gave up on the whole thing in the hopes that come Thursday, when my few days off work start, I'd be back in the mood and raring to go. I was right. Thursday was awesome. I finished a book (I am currently doing my 'I finished a book' dance)! 

I posted my review on Alex Woods pretty much straight after finishing it because I just had to get the feels off my chest. It's been a while since I've been so affected by a book. I loved it.

So anyway, even though it may have looked like I abandoned Bout of Books without even really getting started, I didn't and now I have a renewed vigour for this whole reading thing. How is everyone getting on?

Thursday's Progress:

Pages read: 50% kindle and around 70 pages (ish)
Books read from: The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Fifty Shades of Feminism, Emma
Number of books finished: 1
One thing about my day: I ran 11 miles in pouring rain. It felt good until I got home and then got stuck half-way up the stairs. I am currently catching up on blogging and the like because my legs have seized again and I'm stuck on the sofa. Yes. This is my life. Half-marathon in 2 can do it?


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods
Gavin Extence

'reading for pleasure, as I may have mentioned, was stupendously gay and, as such, was best kept a private vice'

Oh Alex, where to start? I have literally in the last hour finished reading Alex Woods and I knew, once I'd wiped away the tears and eaten a yoghurt for recovery purposes, I had to write about it immediately. This book. THIS BOOK (imagine me, at this point, wildly gesticulating with my kindle in hand and a crazed look on my face). Hang on a min, I'm gunna cry again...

OK, I AM FINE. So Alex Woods was hit by a meteorite when he was a youngun. Oddly, this seems to be the least of his worries when he has a selection of delightful bullies on his back, a penchant for things that get him on the radar of said bullies and a clairvoyant mother (this is Glastonbury, people). He strikes up a friendship with the elderly Isaac Peterson which leads to the remarkable, heartbreaking and comic events that transpire.

Firstly, can I just big up the West Country a moment? The novel is set in the South West of England, mostly in a small village near Glastonbury, and I would be lying if I said this wasn't the first factor that endeared me to Alex. I'm a Somerset girl so this pleased me very much.

Now, even though I have read many many sparkling reviews of this novel, the turn of events completely caught me by surprise. Either nobody included any spoilers in their review or I just glossed over but it proper caught me out. The subject that is the focus of the last third of the novel is one I feel very strongly about so I was very interested to see it included. There may have been a moment of 'yes, human rights!' fist-pumping occurring. Particularly because arguments surrounding the issue are presented wonderfully without becoming preachy. It is precisely this aspect of the novel that had me completely overwhelmed by feels of various varieties.

I think the characters are all brilliantly well-rounded. Alex's mother and his friend, Ellie (YES), though really only minor characters, are entertaining and provide a much needed contrast to Alex's personality. Mr Peterson is a grumpy old chap who has a massive heart and a love of Vonnegut. Alex is a bit too familiar at times, I feel like I've read his character before, but I am so completely in love with him (in a sisterly fashion, of course) that I don't even care. 

The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a gut-wrenchingly happy/sad book about friendship and the power of friendship even when the pairing is an unusual one. Alex Woods makes death about life and has given me a whole new way of considering 'the end'. I laughed, I definitely cried and I contemplated the universe more than I ever thought I'd want to. A stunning novel. Read it. That's definitely an order.

'In life, there are no true beginnings of endings. Events flow into each other, and the more you try to isolate them in a container, the more they spill over the sides, like canal-water breaching its artificial banks.'


Monday, 19 August 2013

Bout of Books: Monday

II must say yesterday was a very understated beginning to Bout of Books. For me, at least. I don't feel like I have read any more than I usually would. I read on the tube journey too and from work (including reading whilst walking from the train to the staff entrance of my workplace which is not without obstacles and obvious peril), I read on my lunch break and I read for a couple of hours in the evening. I'm definitely looking forward to the end of the week when I can really get cracking with this reading business.

Although it was a bit of a 'meh' day I did semi-participate in the twitter chat which was AWESOME. It was so fast my eyes went all fuzzy but it was so worth it. Mostly for the potential twitter domination by the Ellies. 

Monday's Progress:

Pages read: failed to count...perhaps around 70 plus 20ish% of kindle
Books read from: Emma (giggles), The Universe Versus Alex Woods (FEELS), Fifty Shades of Feminism (fist-pumping and bra burning)
Number of books finished: 0
One thing about my day: This evening I listened to every single Linkin Park album one after the other - clearly feeling nostalgic for teenagedom.

How was your Monday?


Classics Club Spin #3

Drum roll please...the spin number is 4 which means I will be trying to read Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms before October 1st. Oh Hem, let's be having you! This fell into my 'please, please oh pretty please' category so, obviously, I am pretty overjoyed. 

Did anyone else get lucky with their number 4?

Happy reading! I'm going to go and have some alone time with Hem now...


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam: Women's Prize Longlist

Bonnie Nadzam
Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist

I finished Lamb this morning, tucked up in bed with a mug of coffee I was surprised to find had gone cold. It has been playing on my mind all day - did he? Didn't he? I am completely stumped by this novel. Rendered speechless (that's a first).

'His mind was unwinding like a spool of loose thread. What a man she rendered him, simply by being a girl who could be picked up and moved: what he wanted to be, what he ought to be, what was most unintelligible and unplanned and true in him when he carried her out of her fettered world to this. How powerful she was as long as she asserted no will of her own.'

David Lamb is in his fifties. Tommie is eleven. They form a rather unusual friendship/bond/relationship. I don't want to say any more than that because it is such a delicately complex novel and the slightest thing could spoil it. The blurb poses the question 'there's nothing wrong with that, is there?' That is a question that stayed with me throughout as I attempted to decipher the relationship, suss out any clues of unacceptable behaviour, and figure out what the word choices and plot points may be implying.

I think I enjoyed it. It's really hard to say. I think perhaps I am ambivalent towards it because of its ambiguity. It finished and I was, to put it succinctly, pretty much like 'wtf just happened?!' It's one of those. Not that I am complaining, I think it is very clever of Nadzam to write a novel that has no obvious conclusion and leave it to the reader to decide (I guess the outcome depends how much CSI you've watched). I would have liked to know but I definitely think the novel's power comes from us not knowing anything with any certainty.

Considering the lack of a whirlwind, thriller-y plot the novel moves very fast. Or rather, I was inclined to read it very fast. There is so much suspense, so many things being implied, and so many possible endings. Lamb is deluded, manipulative, destructive (and damaged himself) and calculating. As a reader, getting a glimpse of the bigger picture but not getting the bigger picture, we are manipulated along with Tommie. This reader manipulation is definitely the result of some impressive writing. It's a short novel so I thought I'd fly through it but I did not at all. It was a quick read but one to savour at the same time. Nadzam has quite the way with words. The desolation of the landscapes and the people is evoked wonderfully. I read and re-read sentences and paragraphs over and over just to suck in the images.

A bit of a rambling review I know, but that does reflect my thoughts completely. I think it is a brave novel, one that poses more questions than it answers and one that really does make you think about when a friendship might become inappropriate. It does earn its place on the longlist, I think, for sheer originality of plot as well as the wonderful writing. I would definitely recommend it if you fancy a book that completely messes with your head. Clever stuff.


Friday, 16 August 2013

Bout of Books 8.0: The Goals

Bout of BooksBout of Books 8.0 is nearly here! Who is just as over-excited as me? Anyone? Every one participating I hope, otherwise I look a little odd...

Anyway, I am really looking forward to this bout of books. Since moving to London I have had more time than ever to read and I have been really thoroughly enjoying it. As much as I love the old socialising, sometimes you can't beat a night in with a good book, some good background music and few cheeky snacks (tonight's snack of choice is an entire packet of bourbon biscuits...oops). This week I am going to try and beat my successes of last time. I'm thinking it won't be too hard because I now work slightly less hours, I have tube journeys, and this time around I'm not reading an entire novel in verse. That did kinda slow things up a little. AND the really exciting thing is I'm only working three days this week. Yep, that's right folks, I'm rocking out a Monday-Wednesday week. I have two days of holiday followed by the weekend followed by a Monday bank holiday the next week. Five days off! It's gunna be a goodun. Granted, these two days are suddenly wide open to due a significant and not very nice change in my circumstances (girl got dumped) but, as some of you may know, I'm always on the lookout for a silver lining and I think bout of books is that silver lining. Bringing me one step closer to fulfilling my ambition to read ALL THE BOOKS.

I've got myself an entire week of!

To the goals:

  • For the days I am working I will continue on with my normal reading schedule - tube journey to work, lunch hour, tube journey home and an hour or so before bed.
  • On Thursday (after a juicy lie-in) I intend to spend the day chillaxing to the max with a book in hand. ALL DAY.
  • Over the weekend I will aim to read for 3-4 hours a day or more if I can manage it around cleaning the flat, training for the run, attempting to be social and doing various bits of writing I have to finish.
  • I will hope to participate in one twitter chat (if my brain can handle the crazy-awesomeness of that again)
  • I aim to visit many many blogs, comment lots and spread bookish and nerdy enthusiasm to all corners of the globe. Erm...yeh.
  • Obviously I will be tweeting away throughout.
To the books:
  • August is Roof Beam Reader's Austen in August and I am currently about halfway through Emma for that. I aim to finish that this week if possible.
  • I am going to show my kindle some lovin' and read The Universe Versus Alex Woods as it has been languishing on there for some time and Sarah's review has pretty much made it a crime for me to leave it any longer
  • Once I have read this two I will tackle some non-fiction for my own non-fiction challenge
  • After that it will be a free-for-all!
I am trying not to plan too much what I am going to read because I just know that if I do I will get all stroppy and wannabe rebellious and point blank refuse to read anything at all. As you do.

What are your plans for Bout of Books 8.0??


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Classics Spin #3

Another Classics Club spin I hear you say? Well, why ever not?! I loved the first one and completely adored the second so I am inevitably cheered by the prospect of a third. Let's be havin' ya.

The idea is to pick twenty books from your classics club list. On the 19th August a number between 1 and 20 will be announced and you have to read the book corresponding to that number in your list and read it before the deadline (October 1st). Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The List:

Please, please, oh pretty please!

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
2. No Name by Wilkie Collins
3. Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
4. A Farewell to Arms by Earnest Hemingway
5. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

No. Just no.

6. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
7. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
8. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
10. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert

Well, if I must.

11. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
12. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
13. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
14. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
15. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Oh, go on then.

16. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
17. Razor's Edge by W Somerset Maugham
18. Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
19. The Stranger by Albert Camus
20. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Well I certainly know which one I want and which one I definitely don't but I will not tempt fate by speaking of it...Bring on Monday, I can't to find out the number.

The suspense gets me every time. I love it.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: War Books

This week's topic is top ten books with 'X' setting and the idea is to choose your own setting. I've not talked about war books too much yet on this blog even though they are my absolute favourite (hands down winner type thing). I find it really hard to explain what it is about novels written during a war or about a war I find so intriguing. Whilst the majority of war novels grab me, it is WW1 novels that I really cannot resist. I find WW1 so unbelievably addictive. It feels weird and slightly inappropriate to call it an addiction but that is what it can feel like. And I don't think I'm the only one. Pat Barker has written some of the most exceptional historical fiction about the First World War and I know she has described it in a similar way and Susan Hill described it as being haunted. But, someone stop me before I get way too involved...I'm trying to save the gritty enthusiasm for a separate post (yes, you should be excited).

So, my top ten books set in World War 1:

Regeneration by Pat Barker

This is the first of the triology and my favourite of the three because it is set in Craiglockhart Hospital and I have a little literary obsession with Craglockhart (I blame uni). I would highly recommend all of Pat Barker's war novels, each one is amazing and heartbreaking.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

Heart pulled out, sown back in again, pulled back out...and on it goes. So good. And such an interesting subject.

Not So Quiet...Stepdaughters of War by Helena Zenna Smith

Written in the 30's, this is one of my favourite female war novels. It is not strictly accurate but the emotions are there. Plus it is a very clever response to All Quiet on the Western Front.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I have no words. THE FEELS. I was inconsolable for days.

The Forbidden Zone by Mary Borden

Not for the faint-hearted. This collection of stories still gets to me and I've not read them for over a year. They come right from the front line and Borden does not hold back.

Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

This had me in tears on the tube. Need I say more?!

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn

A delightful mix of war and suffrage. All of his novels are wonderful.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Favourite novel ever. The writing, the story, the characters, the ending...oh my days, it's just too much.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

It's a classic for good reason. Everyone should read it and if you don't cry at THAT horse bit there is something wrong with you.

Journey's End by R.C. Sherriff

This is a play rather than a novel but it just has to be listed here. When I saw this performed I was overcome with convulsive sobs. Then I had to pull myself together to interview the actors...Read it, then see it, then read it again.

I realise my description of most of these books involves some form of sobbing or heart-wrenching emotion but WW1 has that effect on me every time. But that does not make my obsession falter for even a second. I don't think I'll ever get over it.

Has anyone read any of these? Or have any to recommend? I am always on the lookout for books to quench my WW1 thirst.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Non-Fiction Review: Craving

Omar Manejwala

I'm going to put my hands up right now and admit that I am an eater. There, I said it. I love food. I love eating. And eating is something I do a lot of. Probably more than I should (I love how running ALMOST manages to give me an excuse to eat - I have to store energy for a race, surely?!). Sometimes I merely crave food just for the hell of it or for unknown reasons. Mostly I crave chocolate or liquorice all sorts. Occasionally I crave things like avocado or tomatoes. In general I tend to give in to these cravings but Craving by Omar Manejwala has actually given me another way to approach this annoying habit.

I first saw this book over on Should Be Reading and thought it looked very interesting (and pretty much what I need) so I could hardly refuse when I was asked to review the book.

I was slightly apprehensive when I first sat down to read the book that it would veer way too much toward the science of craving. Whilst it does do that, it is written in such a way that makes it accessible. 

It is a very overview-y kind of book. It covers all manner of cravings from food to alcohol to the internet to cigarettes. This is both a strength and a (very slight) weakness. I was very interested by the general sections of the book and the sections that relate to my own craving bugbear but I did skip through sections which focused on other cravings which are irrelevant to me. Still, I think the way this book caters to so many groups of people whilst still maintaining a good level of general information, is very clever.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is thoroughly affected by a craving of any sort (though if you have one which is covered in the book, I would recommend it even more). It is sciencey and sometimes quite dry but there are some very useful tips in there and some very enlightening little tidbits. It certainly opened my eyes to cravings and why people have them and how to overcome them.

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy to review (and helping me with my own craving in the process).


The Wild Girl Blog Tour: Interview

I've got a little treat for you today! I was given the opportunity to ask Kate Forsyth, author of The Wild Girl (see my review here), a few questions and I'm going to share her answers with you. If you're a fan of fairy tales, be prepared to want to devour a few right now. If you're not a fan, be prepared to become one. 

1. This is your second novel centered on fairy tales and you are doing a doctorate about the re-telling of fairy tales - just what is it about fairy tales?

Fairy tales are stories of triumph, transformation and true love, and so they speak to the most basic human longings and desires. We all want to win against all the odds, we all want to believe it is possible to change our world for the better, and we all wish to be loved. Nothing is easy in fairy tales, though. That’s important too. The heroes and heroines have to deal with sometimes unimaginable impediments to their happiness (their hands being cut off, being turned into frogs or beasts, having to climb mountains of glass) and so that helps us to feel that, perhaps, our own obstacles can be overcome too.

2. What inspired you to tell the mostly unheard of Dortchen's story?

As soon as I read about Dortchen, I knew I had to write a novel about her. I was utterly electrified by her story. She’s nothing but a footnote in the occasional musty old academic journal – and yet her life was full of everything I love in a story. Romance, passion, drama, heartbreak, struggle, and, finally, triumph. Plus, of course, the fairy tales! I never knew that so many of my favourite fairy tales had been told to the Grimm brothers by the one young woman, yet her name was unknown. I feel very strongly about the power of stories to shape and change our lives, and Dortchen’s life was such an extraordinary example of that.

3. Which female fairy tale character do you find the most intriguing?
I find many of the heroines of fairy tales of fairy tales intriguing … and also, I must admit, many of the villains. My novel BITTER GREENS is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale (interwoven with the true life story of the fascinating woman who first told the tale). I was inspired to write that book because I felt so many emotional and psychological resonances with Rapunzel, having spent much of my childhood locked up in a lonely hospital ward, with only one narrow window to look upon the world. I was, however, also very troubled by the witch and her motives, which were never explained in the tale, and so BITTER GREENS is told partly from the point of view of the witch as well as Rapunzel and Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the 17th French writer who first wrote the story. I’m deeply intrigued by tales such as ‘Síx Swans’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, any tale that mingles joy and terror, brightness and shadows, beauty and strangeness.

4. Do you have a favourite fairy tale?

I have a few. ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Six Swans’, ‘Beauty & the Beast’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, plus many lesser known ones. I love Romany tales, and wove quite a few into THE GYPSY CROWN, and I love Scottish fairy tales as well, and drew upon Scottish folklore in THE PUZZLE RING. Both of these are children’s books, and entwine history, mystery, and magic together in the way that I love to do.

5.  Whenever I think of retold fairy tales Angela Carter springs to my mind (and no doubt everyone else's). Was she an influence on you? Did you have any other influences?

BITTER GREENS has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ which pleased me enormously, as I’m sure you can imagine. She was not really an influence on me, however, although I have read and studied her work. I think I was more influenced by fairy tale retellers such as Robin McKinley and Juliet Marillier, and historical fiction writers such as Philippa Gregory, Tracy Chevalier, Geraldine Brooks, Sarah Dunant and Joanna Harris. They all bring the worlds of their novels vividly to life, which is something that’s very important to me, and they all explore the forgotten lives of women. Their books are page-turners, and yet serious in intent and tone, and they are not afraid to shine light into some dark corners of the soul.

6. Did you find telling a story about arguably the 'ultimate' storytellers a daunting task?

Oh yes! In so many ways. People revere the Grimm brothers, and so much is known about them – and so little about the woman who told them their tales. The research was enormous, the problems at times insurmountable. And the emotional cost of the book was soul-shaking. I spent so long inside Dortchen’s skin, it was difficult at times to pull myself out. I began to dream I was her …

7.  What's next? Do you have anything in the pipeline?

At the moment I’m having enormous fun writing a five-book fantasy adventure series for kids (I tend to alternate between adult and children’s books). Then I plan to rewrite one of Dortchen’s tales, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ (a Beauty and the Beast-variant), setting the novel in Nazi Germany. That will be another intense, dark, soul-shaking book, but extraordinary to research and write.

8.  On a slightly more general note - what has been your favourite read so far this year?

I could not possibly choose only one! I read so much and so widely. So I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve picked my 12 favourite novels for adults for the year so far. They’re all wonderful! PS: I put them in order of reading, not in order of preference.

The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland

Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh
The Venetian Contract – Marina Fiorato
Nine Days – Toni Jordan
The Darling Strumpet – Gillian Bagwell
The Perfume Garden - Kate Lord Brown
The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell
The Ashford Affair – Lauren Willlig
Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl
A Spear of Summer Grass – Deanna Raybourn
Longbourne – Jo Baker

Oh look, another load of books to add to my wishlist!

Thank you so much to Kate for such a wonderful interview and brilliant answers. And obviously, thank you for introducing me to Dortchen Wild...time to dig out my Grimm collection.

Thanks Kate!

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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Blog Tour Review: The Wild Girl

The Wild Girl
Kate Forsyth

'Do you not know that story? It's about a little brother and sister who get lost in the forest, and find a witch's cottage made all of gingerbread. I'll tell it to you, if you like.'

I love fairy tales. Like, proper love them. Reading The Wild Girl, a book about fairy tales and written through fairy tales, was pretty much a totally joyful experience. The writing, the story, the woman question, the fairy tales - so, so good. It was heartbreaking, uplifting and brilliantly informative.

Once there were six sisters.
The pretty one, the musical one,
the clever one, the helpful one, the young one...
And then there was the wild one.

Dortchen is the wild one. Under the shadow of her ruthless father (a nasty piece of work if there ever was one), and against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Dortchen and Wilhelm Grimm fall in love and begin piecing together a pretty special collection of stories and tales.

This book is written so brilliantly. The fairy tales are woven with such artistic precision into perfect points throughout the story. Some of the tales are familiar, others are not at all and some are remnants of the stories they have become. Although we all know the famous fairy tales so well, the way they are merged into this novel makes them seem really quite new. They become part of Dortchen's story not just some independent collection of stories that just turned up somewhere one day. Dortchen's story is an interesting one and I would love to find out more about it. You've gotta love the female underdog who secretly has power over all the men but hides it so well until BOOM she kicks out and shows them all how awesome she is. I love those women.

The history aspect of the novel I found very interesting. I know nothing about the Napoleonic Wars and this actual makes me not want to because they sound brutal. I've only got room the brutality of WW1 in my head right now. Still, I think Kate Forsyth paints a really good picture of the struggles of the period and life in Germany under French rule. I would not want to live there. But I do love how the stories then become like lights in the darkness. Not only for the reader but for the characters themselves - the process of storytelling becomes a little escape from Herr Wild, from poverty, from the wars and momentarily from reality. Because of this historical background The Wild Girl is occasionally very violent, almost uncomfortably so but not in a way that made me not want to read it. More in a way that made me hope for a good resolution and that made me even more invested in the characters. Seriously, it's been a while since I have cared about characters as much as I cared about Dortchen and her sisters.

I was really interested in storytelling at uni so I love the emphasis on storytelling in the oral forms and how the novel explores how stories change and develop through the generations. The stories are even adjusted through each volume of the tales to either appease society, make the stories more child friendly or for more personal reasons relating to Wilhelm and Dortchen (I really love Kate's afterword and her interpretation/explanation of these changes). I think considering the significant role of storytelling in the novel, the traditional happy ending could not be avoided. It is what you expect, what you hope for and it is exactly what the book needs. I have never wanted a happy ending more and neither have I been more satisfied by a happy ending.

I know at it's core the book is about significant romance in the history of storytelling but I was very pleased that the romance does not overwhelm the story. By which I mean it is not overwritten to the point that I (as a person without much romantic feeling) am forced to gag. The balance between the love bits and the life bits is just rather perfect. Plus there is just such an awesome undercurrent of women's rights that I was, more often than not, properly fist pumping the air in agreement with whichever girl was kicking metaphorical ass at that point in time. Usually Hanne. Hanne is awesome. 

The Wild Girl is a brilliant piece of historical fiction. It is a wonderfully written novel with an engaging (and emotional) story. It is a book to be devoured in very few sittings, with a box of tissues on hand and no one around to judge you for sobbing your heart out.

And finally, how beautiful is that cover?!

Interested in which fairy tale is Kate Forsyth's favourite or which female character she finds the most intriguing? Or even her top reads this year? Yes? Check back on Thursday to read my interview with Kate.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Austen in August

It's August 3rd which means Roof Beam Reader's Austen in August event is well and truly underway. I'm pretty excited right now. It has been a while since I last read an Austen (Persuasion at uni, I think) so I am really looking forward to getting stuck in. 

No doubt along with many other readers, Austen (and Daphne du Maurier if you're interested) was kind of my first foray into the classics. I read my Mum's copy of Pride and Prejudice when I was in school and basically adored it. Considering good old Jane did provide me with a way in to the classics, I did not go around madly consuming all her novels. I have only read P&P, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and some of her shorter fiction/juvenilia. It is almost an embarrassment to admit to my lack of Austen knowledge. Something needs to be done about this, like, NOW. 

Enter Austen in August. For this event I am going to be reading Sense and Sensibility. I have only planned the one read because I only have one Austen on my Classics Club list. But I am not precluding the possibility of maybe just having a sneaky re-read of Persuasion if S&S makes me feel so inclined.

Since their releases I have also been very interested in reading Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen and John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen? I have just filled out the application to join my local library so I think, if either are available at the library, I may read some Austen related non-fiction too. August is after all quite a long month.

We all know I love to tweet (sometimes excessively, I'll grant you), so I will be tweeting away using the official event hashtag #AusteninAugustRBR

Who else is joining in with this event? Are you as excited as I am?


Thursday, 1 August 2013

It's happening...Bout of Books 8.0

Bout of BooksThe Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 19th and runs through Sunday, August 25th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 8.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So. Damn. Excited.

May. Need. Calming. Down. With. Physical. Force.


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