Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Heads Up: LitBits

Have I ever mentioned how much I love twitter? Well, I really do love it and this post will pretty much demonstrate one of the reasons why. 

Over Christmas I was browsing my twitter feed, as you do, when I came across a tweet mentioning LitBits. When I see a tweet that mentions books/lit/reading I tend to stop and assess the situation before carrying on browsing the feed. I have added numerous books to my wish list through this practice and it also helps me keep abreast of the goings on within the bookish community. Long story short, I followed the mention of LitBits to their website and was so intrigued by what I saw that I downloaded one of their books there and then. Done deal.


LitBits is the short story imprint of The Other Publishing Company. They publish short stories for kindle from emerging and established authors for a set price of 99 pence (or 99 cents if you live across the border). Their tagline is 'Quick Reads. Great Stories.' and using the story I read as an example, I would have to agree. I read It's In The Box by Jack D'Aragon - a black comedy about a slightly twisted girl who keeps hat boxes in her bedroom but mysteriously doesn't ever wear a hat. It is written in first person from the point of view of the twisted girl (her diary, in fact) and it is a really amusing and thrilling read. 


My first thought was how brilliant these stories would be for a commute. Or even as a palate cleanser between novels (brain cleanser?). My tube journey is around 15-20 minutes, depending on how delayed the Northern Line is, and It's In The Box was the perfect length to start and finish within that journey. I can definitely see myself downloading one or two others for some fast-paced tube entertainment.


If you fancy a short, sharp story that's full of punch I would really recommend checking out LitBits. I'm certainly pleased twitter introduced us - find them at @LitBitsStories.


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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Non-fiction Review: How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

How to Be a Heroine: Or, what I've learned from reading too much.
Samantha Ellis
2014
Chatto and Windus


'But there were perils to loving Mr Darcy. I wish I could tell my twelve-year-old self that not all arrogant men are secretly lovely; some are just arrogant.'

I purchased this book on a complete whim after reading a review in the Literary Review. As it turns out, it was probably the best whim I've had in some time - this book is made of awesome.


On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Ellis found herself in debate with her best friend on the ever contentious Jane Eyre vs Cathy Earnshaw question (I vote Jane, by the way). Realising that Cathy probably isn't all she cracked up to be, Ellis decided to re-read the books she grew up with and look again at her heroines. This book is part autobiography, part reading history and part literary analysis with a feminist bent. 


How to Be a Heroine is a reading memoir which oscillates between a focus on books and a focus on Ellis's life. It is such an interesting look at how our attitudes towards our heroines change as our own lives change. There are books she re-reads and finds that the character she always thought was the heroine was actually not, and books where the heroine is not actually a heroine in any sense of the word. These revelations were revealed amid anecdotes from her life and memories of those first experiences with the Cathy's, Jane's, Lizzie's and Scarlett's of the literary world. 


The range of texts referred to in this book is absolutely huge. Thankfully there is a bibliography organised by chapter to make it easier to add (everything) to my wish list*. Out of this range I was surprised to read about how many female authors created female characters who were also writers. That in itself is not surprising - we all do write what we know - but it is the number of female writers who made their characters retire their pens when a marriageable male came on the scene that did surprise me. Jo March corks up her inkstand in Little Women (though Alcott apparently rectified this gross indecency in Jo's Boys) and Anne Shirley from L.M. Montgomery's series of novels becomes a wife and stops writing. I'm a strong believer in not reading novels out of their own context but I was a little shocked to have those hazy memories of strong, bookish women dashed a little.


Reading How to Be a Heroine has made me want to do my own re-read of the books that made me who I am today. I would love to explore how my own relationships with my heroines have changed and whether I do still cheer for the underdog or the shy, quiet one, or the middle child (Freud would have a field day). I think it is time to raid my shelves and become reacquainted with the books that influenced my own character - Heidi, I'm heading to you first.


How to Be a Heroine is an utterly delightful, insightful and eye-opening read. Reading books about books always reinvigorates my love of literature and this has done exactly that, albeit in a very different way. This book has made me want to assess my own reading history and the relationships I had with fictional characters and see how much has changed. I think it could be a very startling and refreshing experience.



Who do you vote for in the Cathy vs Jane debate? Have you ever re-read an old favourite and been shocked by what you've found?



*I've been following the #readwomen2014 campaign on twitter and I think this book is a perfect place to look for reading recommendations. It certainly made my wish list and re-read list double in size in a matter of hours. 


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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Forgotten Books

A couple of weeks ago I received an email telling me about Forgotten Books, an online library which has literally got over 480,000 ebooks in it's virtual stacks (I'm not kidding). My initial reaction was something along the lines of 'holy shizzle there is a book website thingy that I don't know about and should therefore explore immediately'. So off I trotted to have a cursory examination of the site and delve into the wonders of a virtual library. Safe to say, I got lost in there for a while. 

Can you imagine what a 480,000 books looks like? I really can't, but I'm thinking it would not be a suitable library for a London flat. Enter Forgotten Books. As the title suggests, many of the books on here are completely obscure and generally unknown. I came across some pretty interesting sounding books, such as these under the self-help category: 'How To Be Happy Though Married', 'Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion', and 'Self-Help With Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance'. I mean, come on, those sound awesome. It isn't all archaic entertainment, however. Other categories include fiction, poetry, drama and philosophy. A huge number of the books on my Classics Club list are on the site and I've been able to have a sneaky read of a couple of pages to help me decide which classic to go for next (I'm tempted to go with The Scarlet Letter, if you're interested). 


Perhaps the most interesting/useful/entertaining element of the website is the search function. This would be a brilliant resource for study and one I wish I knew about when writing my dissertation. The search function allows you to look for keywords in books, titles, authors, pages, and images. There is also a fascinating word data feature which uses graphs to show the usage of every word in the English language throughout publishing history. I had hours of fun with this. Predictable as ever, I searched for 'suffragette' within books and discovered that the word is most commonly used in fiction whereas 'suffrage' is used most commonly in non-fiction. As a lover of visuals, I enjoyed getting a little nerdy over the accompanying graphs which plot how frequently the word appears. Unsurprisingly, 'suffragette' was used with increasing frequency from 1900.





I also did a cheeky image search for Wilkie Collins. Just look at him - what a babe. And yes, there are a number of Wilkie's on there which I am more than tempted to read (I Say No caught my eye).






Forgotten Books is a membership based website. A vast amount of the books can be read online for free (with a page or two omitted, as on Google Books). With a membership there is a 'Book of the Day' feature sent by email and you can have access to the entire downloadable library. The books are fully formatted to be downloaded as kindle ebooks or as pdf documents. Very handy. It's definitely worth checking it out, if only to have a play with the search features and have a giggle at some ancient self-help titles...


www.forgottenbooks.org


Does the idea of a virtual library appeal to you?



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Saturday, 18 January 2014

This Week in Books

I have had a very unintentionally bookish week. I've been reading a fair bit and buying even more. I had myself a lunchtime trip to Waterstones, a trip to Foyles today and a trip to my favourite, the South Bank Book Market. It has been a goodun. 

To the books! 


From Waterstones I bought How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis and Careless People by Sarah Churchwell. Ellis's (feminist) reading memoir was reviewed in the December/January Literary Review (love that magazine). I started this straight away and I'm already more than half-way through. It is so brilliant. I also couldn't resist picking up Careless People (I have zero powers of self-control, as you can see). Since reading Z, which I reviewed yesterday, I've fallen into another little Jazz Age obsession and I've had this on my mind for some time. So, couldn't resist. Plus, it is a totally gorgeous book.

The Novel Cure (bibliotherapy at its best) and the two Lonely Planet Guides are from Foyles. I had a lovely day mooching around London with my sister today which included a trip to Foyles to pick up guides for our trip in May. Liv bought us a trip to Amsterdam for Christmas and we're planning on having a night in either Bruges or Brussels in the same week. I'm so excited to visit the newly renovated Rijksmuseum (it's the art nerd's time to rear it's head now). Any recommendations for things to do (and bookshops to visit) in either city would be much appreciated!

The final three books were brilliant finds from the Market. I always manage to grab at least one new Virago Modern Classics as they have such a good selection. I could go crazy on them but I'm extending the excitement by limiting myself to one each visit. Then I did break out into a slight jig when I spied the Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi. Peirene books are wonderful and I've fancied reading this one in particular for a pretty long time.

I've given up trying to be careful about my book buying habits. I know one day I'll either run out of space or money but, whichever comes first, I'll still be happy knowing I am utterly surrounded by books. 

Anyone else been buying any books recently?

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Friday, 17 January 2014

Review: Z by Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
2013
Published by Two Roads
367 pages

I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because I want to be as original as the First Flapper.


Read as part of Leah's Jazz Age in January.



'Now, finally, at long last, the Ferris wheel had stopped turning. I'd ridden by choice - I'm not saying otherwise - but that doesn't mean I didn't need to, and want to, get off after a while.'

I have wanted to read Z ever since it first graced the shelves of our bookstores in delicious hardback. I love these fictional biographies (fictographies? biofiction?) - they're so much more than historical fiction in the way they probe so deeply and in such well-researched detail into the lives of their stars. It's like reading their journals and seeing them come to life. Granted, it is not all 100% accurate, but there is such energy there and if a writer can catch the energy of a real life person (particularly someone like Zelda) and put it down on paper without it diminishing or fading then the results are startlingly beautiful.


I am occasionally prone to fits of Jazz Age obsession which are typically triggered by reading a piece of fiction/non-fiction relating to the period. For that reason, I know the story of Scott and Zelda fairly well, but I have never seen it written down in such a sensitive, revealing and emotive way. This novel is an absolute gem. 


A little way into the novel Zelda remarks that 'it's almost like we're grownups'. I think this alone describes their early lifestyle so perfectly because they did act like teenagers who played at being adult. The novel and their lives is a whirlwind of alcohol, parties, dancing, fighting and art (in all it's forms). 


'What I realised in doing it, however, was that maybe we didn't know quite as much - about anything - as we thought we did.'


Fowler doesn't delve too deeply into the psychological troubles that plagued Zelda in later life. She does address them and in some detail but much of it is glossed over and the telling of it lacks something that the first half of the novel has. And yet, it is the second half of the novel and the exploration of both Scott and Zelda's descent into alcoholism and madness (or not, as the case may be) that most interested me. Zelda was often (unfairly, I think) given as the reason for Scott's literary downfall. Now, though, it is seen as mutual and more people are considering how they destroyed (this is a harsh word and not quite appropriate but I can't think of the best word right now) each other. This latter idea is explored in the novel with many references to women's rights thrown in (which I loved). Whether or not they were each responsible for the woes of the other, Z is a portrait of two people who are so intensely in love with each other that it becomes almost too much to handle. 


I've been working on this misguided assumption that the Jazz Age was a good time for women. How wrong I was. I think I forget when thinking about the 20's that it was still the 20's - a war may have intervened but attitudes from before still reigned. Reading Z, I have been astounded to find that these women were just as stuck as ever, still slaves to their husbands, sexually tied to whichever man feel like possessing them. Even Zelda, the First Flapper, was in a marriage which definitely did not seem all that jolly. Women's issues are picked up and explored at various points in the novel (feminist high five) and I found some attitudes really revealing. My love for Hemingway has certainly faded - I knew he was a misogynist but I always struggled to imagine it. There is no struggling here.


I've found it really hard to write this review - it is such a detailed and heartbreaking novel that I'm not sure I could do it justice. Scott and Zelda pretty much defined the Jazz Age and their ever-so-public life has been widely examined. I do think this book adds something to that wider examination in that it focuses on Zelda, her own place as an artist in the world and the female point of view. Z gives Zelda the centre stage in telling her own story (no matter how inextricably bound up in Scott's story it is) and my biggest hope is that is persuades people to pick up Save Me the Waltz and truly see life through her eyes. Am I suggesting you read Z? Yes, I am. And Save Me the Waltz, of course.



Have you read Z? Or Save Me the Waltz? Are you as intrigued by Scott and Zelda as I am?



This post was supported by Grammarly. I have been playing around with the website and it is such a brilliant tool for checking grammar and plagiarism (I still have that fear of plagiarising built in from uni). I think it is a really good service and one I will continue to use to save myself from falling into any embarrassing grammatical traps (apparently I am prone to wordiness). 
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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Blog Tour: The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth

The Assassin's Mark
David Ebsworth
SilverWood Books
2013
326 pages

'The facts are always written by the winning side. Don't you know that? Of course you do. You're a journalist Mister Telford.'


Set in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, The Assassin's Mark is an expertly paced thriller with extra thrills (seriously). Rather than get over-excited and give the plot away I'm going to let the blurb do the talking:



'September 1938. Spain's Civil War has been raging for two years, the outcome still in the balance. But rebel General Franco  is so confident of winning that he has opened up battlefield tourism along the country's north coast.
           Jack Telford, a reporter and self-professed Socialist, finds himself with an eccentric group of tourists on one of the War Route's yellow Chrysler buses. Driven by his passion for peace, Telford attempts to uncover the hidden truths beneath the conflict. 
         But Jack must contend first with his own gullibility, the tragic death of a fellow-passenger, capture by Republican guerrilleros, a final showdown at Spain's most holy shrine and the possibility that he has been badly betrayed. Betrayed and in serious danger.'

The Assassin's Mark starts as a formulaic crucible story - there is a bus and a group of less-than-trustworthy individuals. You just know something is going to go seriously wrong (which it does). Ebsworth uses this crucible with skill and keeps the tension simmering just below the surface throughout the novel, rising during each new stop on the bus tour. 

The key element of this type of thriller is characterisation and Ebsworth gets it spot on. Each character is given depth and history and their individual personalities are revealed and developed as the story progresses. I definitely have a preference for character-led novels and here there is a good balance between character and plot. The main character Jack Telford is an interesting one. A journalist for a left-wing paper and more or less the only non-fascist in the group, the action is seen through his eyes. We are privy to his inner thought which are very journalistic and questioning - you can imagine that we are reading his news stories as he is writing them.

The Assassin's Mark appealed to me as history nerd as well as a reader. Ebsworth demonstrates his research into the Spanish Civil War brilliantly without it overpowering the story. Rather than outweighing the story, the facts enhance it by adding another layer of meaning and reason to the characters actions. I enjoyed reading the lively debates between characters and I was pleased that there was a good exploration of the Civil War and the run up to the Second World War. I often find politics a bit (very) dry and my eyes do tend to glaze over but that never quite happened here. There was enough of it to be interesting and not too much that it fell into a judgemental political retrospective. 

The Assassin's Mark is a well balanced and well paced thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie (I even noticed a sneaky homage in there. Unintended maybe, but I appreciated it nonetheless). This is a book for anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War or anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel with a smattering of historical tidbits. 

What do you think? Does this mix of history and mystery appeal to you?




A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author for the purposes of this blog tour.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mini Reviews: Wilkie and Chevalier

Over Christmas I gave myself the treat of reading books by two of my favourite authors. We all know Wilkie is up there but I'm not sure I've mentioned how much I love Tracy Chevalier and her novels (I probably have but just go with me). I was a little behind with TC, having discovered her after reading Falling Angels, her third novel. I also have to admit that I have not read Girl With a Pearl Earring - I do not doubt that the book is better (aren't they always?) but, having seen the film, I never felt the urge to read the book (I would never be able to get Firth out of my head). I actually studied Falling Angels (Suffragette high-five) in sixth form and compared it to George Gissing's The Odd Women and, considering it is a book I studied, I loved it and still do. Basically, what I'm trying to say in a ridiculously meandering and roundabout way, is that Tracy Chevalier is a darn good writer and storyteller and if you've not read anything by her then I don't see why you're still reading this when you could be rectifying the sad state of your literary experience.

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins



'Alone! Alone on the frozen deep!'

I stumbled upon a copy of this lesser known Wilkie in Glasgow and obviously picked it up immediately. It is a novella that was first released as a play and performed by Wilkie himself and Charles Dickens. This novella has everything: an ill-fated arctic expedition, a guilt-ridden psychic, love triangles (ish) and  a sacrifice in the name of love (Richard Wardour was the influence for Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, FYI). The pacing was nice and swift - just what you'd expect from a novella - but not too fast that the climactic scene swings by with no notice. The women were a tad, well, over-feminine in their personalities (hysteria is involved) until they suddenly decided to go against stereotypes in a really pleasing way (ships are involved).

I'm not going to say it is Wilkie's best and I will be the first to admit that it is nowhere near as good as his other works. Having said that, it is a brilliant piece of melodramatic fun and absolutely perfect as a pick-me-up for these chilly winter nights.


The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier



'It is less distracting in the silence'

I think my little flurry of excitement above more or less indicates my reaction to this novel. There is something about Chevalier's stories that make you not want to stop reading. They have a very quiet power - there is no extreme drama or endless cliffhangers to keep me turning the pages but I keep turning them with relish nonetheless. I think it is the people she creates. They are so real you can imagine them as someone sat on the bus with you or someone you would pass walking down the street. Honor Bright, the focus of The Last Runaway, is no exception. I loved her as a character. I loved the way she made her decisions and thought about her religion deeply. She is a woman of her time and of her religion and it is important that she doesn't always make the 'right' choices but falls prey to family pressure. Having said that, she is not a wet blanket by any stretch of the imagination. 

I think a shout out for Belle Mills is also necessary. As a support character she is brilliant - to the point and with a completely no nonsense attitude to life. Her presence definitely made the novel much more lively. 


This novel gave me a really fascinating insight into the Quaker religion and the Underground Railroad. Both I knew very little about (I actually knew nothing about the latter) so as well as this being a lovely piece of fiction, it was also truly informative and has piqued my interest in a new to me subject.



Ok, so they were less reviews and more a jumble of random thoughts but hopefully you get the gist. Sometimes even my thoughts are incoherent.


Have you read The Frozen Deep or The Last Runaway? 



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Monday, 13 January 2014

Bout of Books: Wrap-Up

Right from the beginning I had planned for this Bout of Books to be a relaxed one. I made a few goals but they were fairly flexible and unspecific. The general plan was just to make more time for reading. For the first four days I definitely succeeded in this aim. I was helped along by the cold weather as I ended up cosied up in bed with my book unusually early just to get warm (I was not complaining). I read as usual on my commute (though it's only 30 minutes) and on my lunchbreak. 

Then I hit Friday...as much as I wanted to be reading, life just got in the way. My Dad was in London on Friday night and then it was my brother's birthday at the weekend so we had him and his girlfriend round for Saturday night. I also had a friend round for the weekend (busy flat) and we spent hours on Saturday in the Science Museum (they have a flight simulator which is actually the best thing ever). Then yesterday was spent snuggled up on the sofa attempting to get over my hangover. We watched movies (Star Trek and Ghostbusters) and then finished the day with a huge roast. Safe to say, I didn't make it to Sherlock time.


Even if I missed the second half of the week a little, Bout of Books 9.0 was another brilliant week. I visited some new blogs, shared the bookish enthusiasm and had a rip-roaring good time in general. Amazing.


Books finished: 2 - The Lie and It's In the Box

Books read from: The Lie, It's In the Box, The Assassin's Mark, Z

Although I didn't quite finish the books I had intended, I made good progress with all of them and I suspect I'll finish both The Assassin's Mark and Z this week. I'm loving everything I'm reading at the moment and long may it continue.



How was your Bout of Books? Did you achieve your goals?





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Friday, 10 January 2014

Bout of Books: Thursday

Thursday was another fast day for me (gnawed left arm off) and I was so BUSY. I'm one of those slightly odd people that thrives on being busy and pressure so I had a pretty good day (apart from the whole not eating thing). Unfortunately, being busy does not leave a huge amount of time for reading. I missed my usual lunch hour fix and I didn't get to bed until late so I'm thinking I managed just under an hour of reading, if that. Still, some reading is better than no reading, AMIRITE?

I'm really getting into The Assassin's Mark, the action is all hotting up and I can tell it's going to be unputdownable towards the end. I think I'm going to stick with Z for Friday though, a day away from Scott and Zelda is all I can manage! Givemethejazzage!



Number of pages read: 70
Books finished to date: 2
Books read from: The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth

Working lunch in Starbucks

How was your Thursday?

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Bout of Books: Wednesday

Wednesday was a very uneventful day. I went to work, went to the gym (not a great experience given the influx of resolution-runners), did some tinkering on the old blog (CSS/HTML confuse the actual hell out of me), read a little and then conked out.

I'm really enjoying Z so far (I'm about 100 pages in). There are some really fascinating insights into their relationship and I'm interested to see how it continues. I have read bits of Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda (a collection of their letters) and Zelda's Save Me the Waltz so various elements are quite familiar. I think Fowler has done such a brilliant job of making Scott and Zelda such energetic and authentic characters. No doubt I'll have a ton of thoughts when I've finished!


Number of pages read: 120

Number of books finished so far:
Books read from: Z by Therese Anne Fowler, The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bout of Books: Tuesday

Today was my first fast day (I've started the 5:2 in an attempt to get healthy again), which, much to my surprise worked really well for a readathon day. I was so distracted by the books that the fact my stomach was attempting to digest itself did not (always) register with me. Books make an excellent distraction.

Number of pages read: 30% kindle, 50 pages (I think)

Number of books finished: 2 (technically)
Books read from: It's in the Box, The Lie, Assassin's Mark

I finished 2 books today *victory dance*! The Lie by Helen Dunmore was completely brilliant and, when I've finished processing it, I will be cracking on with reviewing it and trying to persuade everyone to read it. I also finished a really short novella/short story from LitBits called It's in the Box by Jack D'Aragon. At only about 16 pages, this was perfect for my tube ride home and I'll be talking more about LitBits soon (genius idea).


How was your Tuesday?





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Blog Tour: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
Jennifer Cody Epstein
W.W Norton and Company
Paperback publication date: January 2014

'"It's war, buddy," he'd said. "Anything's possible."'

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a sweeping tale that follows three men as their paths cross and entwine to change the life of a young girl. It is devastating and harrowing but at the same time poignant and beautiful. From the blurb:


'One summer night in pre-war Japan, eleven-year-old Billy Reynold takes snapshots at his parents' dinner party. That same evening his father Anton- a prominent American architect - begins a torrid after with the wife of his master carpenter. A world away in New York, Cameron Richards rides a Ferris wheel with his sweetheart and dreams about flying a plane. These three men will all draw together to shape the fate of a young girl caught in the midst of one of World War II's most horrific events - the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo.'

Perhaps my favourite element of this book is the way the separate narratives weave and converge. I have a soft spot for multi-narrative novels and this one does it so brilliantly. Each narrative is different and self-contained so much so that each could form a novel in itself, but rather than staying separate they link in really subtle and interesting ways. This is definitely a symbol laden novel - there are objects and ideas that crop up in each narrative time and time again, like the hawk and the 'come home to me safely' ring. I really like this because of the way it links the seemingly disparate characters.

On the cover there is a quote from Vogue that talks about the novel's 'romantic serendipities'. I love the word serendipitous anyway, but it is actually the most perfectly apt word to describe the relationships in this novel. It is romances, love affairs and unusual friendships that link the various narratives together and gives an emotional power* to The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.


It is not a book to read if you're in the mood for a jolly piece of light fiction. This is an emotional, powerful, often disturbing and frequently thought-provoking read. As much as I know about the two World Wars, I have never looked into the Japan element outside of GCSE history (that was a LONG time ago). There is this whole other part of the war that is utterly huge and utterly devastating. I really am grateful to Jennifer Cody Epstein for writing about the firebombing of Tokyo and educating me along the way.


This is a book that pull you in, shakes you up, and spits you back out again with a new knowledge of the past and a new outlook for the future. The easiest way to describe how I felt when reading this book is 'involved'. I was right there, within its pages, suffering the hardships and joys along with the central characters. It's a long time since a book held me that fiercely. If you don't know what I mean then just read it, like, now.

About the Author

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.

For more information, please visit Jennifer Cody Epstein’s website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.



For other stops on the tour take a look at the tour schedule.


Thanks for HFVBT and the publisher for providing me with a copy to review.



Have you read The Gods of Heavenly Punishment? If not, would you?



*I don't want to say it made me cry because I feel like I'm always talking about how books make me sob like an actual heartbroken baby. But, sod it, I'm not ashamed to admit that certain sections of this book made me positively well up. SO GOOD.


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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

TBR Pile Challenge 2014: The List

I mentioned in my Challenges 2014 post that I will be signing up to Adam's TBR Pile Challenge this year. Initially I was thinking that yes, I really need to make some headway with the embarrassingly large pile of unread books threatening to take over my house. Then, over the New Year, I had a slight epiphany about my bookish habits and decided that rather than feeling tied to my TBR, I am going to celebrate it and make the most of the treasures I may have lurking in its depths. For that reason, I am now approaching the challenge with a renewed vitality and definitely renewed interest in what my stacks have to offer.

The List

1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

2. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)


3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)


4. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (1984)


5. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)


6. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee (1959)


7. Uncanny Stories by May Sinclair (1923)


8. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940)


9. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (2005)


10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)


11. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)


12. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow by Mrs Oliphant (1890)


The Alternatives:

1. Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes (1999 - collated by Persephone)

2. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (1847)


I am really quite excited by this list but also feeling quite anxious about one or two (Woolfy, I love you but Orlando just seems terrifying). I am really looking forward to seeing how this 'discovering my TBR' goes and perhaps now is the right time to get to the couple of books on this list I've had on the pile since I was 15 (I'm now 23...).





Have you read any of these? Do I have any in common with your TBR Challenge list?


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Bout of Books 9.0: Monday

Well, Monday was actually the worst day ever (exaggerating slightly but go with me). It started when I woke up at 4am in a cold sweat, tangled in my duvet and absolutely terrified of whatever was trying to eat me in my dreams (I have my suspicions that they were triffid-like beasts. I distinctly remember tentacles). I got myself back off to the land of nod and then managed to drag myself out of bed at 6.30am for work. It was raining. Really hard. And there were gale-force winds (not conducive to umbrellas). My journey to the tube was damp, to say the least. Apparently my shoes have holes in. I'm on the tube, reading Helen Dunmore's The Lie, happy as Larry when they announce that my tube station for work is closed due to a 'person under the train'. Not the most upbeat way to start a Monday. Work was not much better (I was forced to show my angry face), but enough moaning, books are better than moaning.

Pages read: around 40 pages and 35% kindle

Number of books finished: 0
Time spent reading: 2 hours (ish)
Books read from: The Assassin's Mark and The Lie

It's safe to say that my day got considerably better once I'd stepped out of work and even better again when I climbed into bed with my hot water bottle and book. I do love cold and miserable winter nights.



How was your Monday?



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Sunday, 5 January 2014

Reading Resolutions


Well, 2013 was QUITE a year. There were changes, upheavals, bad points, low points, moments of exhaustion, moments of achievement and things that I will never forget and always be thankful for. I lost a job, walked out on another, moved to London, ran two half-marathons (technically a marathon, surely?), lost some friends, made new friends and realised the person I'm meant to be. It was a year full of stresses that I am still recovering from (I can do this) but also a year full of positivity and achievement.

There are so many New Year phrases that are slipping into cliché like, 'new year, new start' and 'this will be my year' but, honestly, screw those misery guts who moan at such clichés. I am fully embracing them both. Last year was rocky, but it paved the way for what I will achieve this year (I will get a job, I will get a job) and for that reason I am making 2014 MY year and it will be my new start. So there.

In bookish terms, 2013 was AH-MAZING. Pat yourself on the back, all you lovely people who made it extra special.
  • I read 79 books (can I get a cheer?). I actually don't know whether that is a good year in the grand scheme of my reading life because it is the first year I kept a record but I'm going to take it as a darn good year and do some excited fist-pumping.
  • I joined the Classics Club and read 16 books out of my list of 66 (more fist-pumping).
  • I took part in some amazing challenges and found new authors, new books and new genres that I loved (yep, even more fist-pumping).
  • I hosted a readalong of The Moonstone (#readWilkie) that was beyond awesome (you know the drill...fist-pumping).
Now, enough looking back. Looking forward is the way, well, um...forward.

I'm actually fairly happy with my reading habits at the moment (apart from when I end up reading too many books at once). I think I have this blog and the process of blogging to thank for that. It's possible that I read much less spontaneously nowadays (I no longer just read what takes my fancy in Oxfam or what my Mum passes on). But I don't see that as a negative thing - I think I read much more widely now than I ever have done before (obviously you lovely lot are also to thank for that).

I have always been a reader; I remember being called a bookworm and loving it even though it was said in a somewhat derogatory way. In the past year or so my love of reading has grown exponentially and I think my main resolution is to not lose that. I don't want there to be any pressure associated with reading. I don't want to feel tied to a TBR pile when there are so many brilliant new books coming out continuously (that said, I think Adam's challenge is an excellent way to rediscover lost gems that are languishing within my shelves). I'm a book collector and my TBR will be there until I want it. I want to enjoy books.

In a nutshell, 2014 is going to be beyond brilliant. I am going to read. I am going to travel. I am going to learn new things. I am going to meet new people.  I am going to beat this. And, most importantly, I am not going to worry.


Happy New Year from Milly :)



What are your reading resolutions for 2014?

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Bout of Books 9.0 - The Goals

Bout of Books 9.0 starts tomorrow, January 6th and as much as I tried to be sensible and not join in this time (so much stuff on, guys), I can't resist a week of bookish delights. In fact, I'd like to see a bookish person who could resist. This time, instead of going a bit crazy daisy with the goals, I'm going to keep it relaxed and carefree. As reading should be.

The Goals

  • Read for 2-3 hours a day (commute to and from work, lunch break, evening)
  • Discover new to me blogs and have some enthusiastic chats with you lovely folk
  • Finish at least 2 of the 3 books I currently have on the go
The Books
  • Z by Therese Anne Fowler - I'm reading this for Leah's Jazz Age in January and loving it so far
  • The Lie by Helen Dunmore - WW1 fiction? Absolute winner. I'm reading this for the sheer joy of it but I will always be reviewing it over on Centenary News when the books page I'm editing launches (which is soon and I am SO EXCITED)
  • The Assassin's Mark by David Ebsworth - this is for a blog tour. It's a historical novel set in the Spanish Civil War (something I'd love to know more about)
Kindle case is shamefully dirty...well used, even.
So there we have it, a relaxed Bout of Books which will hopefully encourage me to finish at least one book (whoever thought it was a good idea to read multiple books simultaneously was wrong. Wait, that was me...).

Are you joining in? What are your main goals?


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Bout of Books 9.0 - Sign Up

Bout of BooksI was really unsure whether to join in with Bout of Books 9.0. I keep giving myself too much to do at the moment but hell, I cannot resist. I'm finding it terribly exciting that this will be my third (time sure does fly).

The 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, January 6th and runs through Sunday, January 12th 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 9.0 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

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