Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky

I knew literally nothing about this book when I added it to my Classics Club list. All I knew was that I wanted to read more Russian literature, and that seeing as I've read Tolstoy and Chekov in the past, Dostoevsky seemed like the next logical step.

I had pretty high hopes for this when the back of the copy I borrowed from work described it as something along the lines of "the most accessible novel of all time". It...was not. I should really know by now that the word of academics on the back of Penguin Classics is to be taken with a hefty dose of salt. But no.

This book is the story of Raskolnikov, an indebted student who comes up with a theory that extraordinary people should be outside the law because they add value to society. In order to prove his theory - and counter his money issues - he decides to kill his pawnbroker. Except when he goes to kill her, he finds that her disabled and well loved sister is there too. So he kills her as well. The rest of the book is basically documenting his spiraling guilt and how this changes him.

I really loved the first fifty to one hundred pages of this book. It was tense and a little disturbing, and I was totally on board with it. And I loved the last hundred or so pages, where Raskolnikov's guilt finally drives him to breaking point.

But the 400-odd pages in between? Yeah, that was a little rough. It was slow and - as with my experience of reading Tolstoy - full of lengthy side plots involving characters I didn't really care about. Everyone seemed to have five hundred different names and nicknames, and I struggled - especially when I was only reading 25 or so pages a night - to keep all the characters straight in my head.

So overall, this came out at middle of the road territory for me. I'm glad I read it, and I can see why so many people rave about this book. But I definitely wouldn't describe it as "accessible".

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde's only novel is a deliciously creepy one, full of the dangers of extreme vanity and always seeking out the beauty in life. My first exposure to this book was approximately a thousand years ago when my little brother's Year 6 teacher(!!!) made it assigned reading for their class. Which, WHAT?!?! Obviously, he couldn't get through it himself, so Mum read it aloud to him and I picked up bits of the story from that.

But I digress.

This is the story of Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man. His friend, Basil Hallward, paints Dorian's portrait and rapidly becomes obsessed with his subject, seeking to spend time with him at every opportunity. But once Dorian meets Basil's popular and somewhat foppish friend, Lord Henry Wolton, who believes that life should be spent pursuing beauty and enjoyment, he becomes equally infatuated and has little time for Basil.

In a moment of weakness, Dorian gives up his soul so that his portrait will grow old and ugly while he remains young and beautiful. What follows is nothing short of scandalous, both for the time of publication and today.

At the beginning of the book, Dorian is basically a blank canvas, easily influenced by those around him. It's his infatuation with Lord Henry's attitudes that ultimately leads him to give away his soul. As time passes and the loss of his soul has more and more of an impact, he becomes a deliciously evil and cold character, almost sociopathic despite having the face of an angel.

It's a book that's full of Wilde's typically beautiful writing, a hefty dose of homoeroticism, and some truly incredible characters. It's not one that I'll read regularly, but it IS one that I'll come back to over the years because it's such an astonishing piece of fiction.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez


I'm going to be honest, friends: this book was MAJOR struggle bus territory for me. M.A.J.O.R. And really, I should have known that going in. Not long after I first published my Classics Club list, a friend emailed me to warn me about this book, and to emphasise the need to read it in physical form so that you could easily flip to the family tree five million times while reading. And hooooooooo boy, was he right.

This book tells the story of one family living in a small town in rural South America over several generations and one hundred years. It's part epic history, part magical realism, and it's a story told completely without dialogue.

It took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that one minute, it felt like historical fiction and the next, there'd be a plague of insomnia and no one in town would sleep for years, or a character would come back from the dead, or it would rain non-stop for months and yet nothing would flood, or a character would suddenly get blown away with the wind while pegging out the washing. In short, it was bizarre.

But ultimately, the magical realism elements were the least of my problems with this book. The lack of dialogue made it a very slow read for me. And that family tree moved completely invaluable, because every generation of characters has THE EXACT SAME NAMES as the generation before it, and it's impossible to keep track of the characters. Especially when one of the Aurelianos ends up having seventeen sons with seventeen different women, and ALL SEVENTEEN OF THEM are named Aureliano. Seriously.

Add in the fact that it features grown men falling in love with pre-teen girls and waiting for them to reach puberty before insisting on marriage, and aunts ending up in sexual relationships with their nephews, and it really wasn't an easy book to read. Or an enjoyable book a lot of the time.

There's essentially no plot a lot of the time - it's just a long rambling history. And while the writing was often beautiful - and don't get me wrong, there really were some BEAUTIFUL moments - there just wasn't sufficient payoff for me to find this book anything but a struggle.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey, written by Anne, the most overlooked Bronte sister, tells the story of a young woman who decides to become a governess after her father speculates and loses all their money. She works first for a horrible family with horrible children, then for a family with teenage daughters more in need of a companion than a governess. And then she falls in love, because of course she does.

In a lot of ways, this book feels a hell of a lot like Jane Eyre Light. Agnes isn't as passionate or compelling a character as Jane is, and there are - thankfully - far fewer mentally ill wives hidden in the attic. But Agnes is still quiet and loyal to those she loves, exactly like Jane.

It's quite a short book, and at times the story falls flat simply because it IS so short. Certain scenes could easily have been expanded upon to truly bring life to the characters. The writing, while it lacks Charlotte's turn of phrase and Emily's dark passion, is compelling in its own way. And despite being Jane Eyre Light, I found myself invested in Agnes' story and wanted her to get a happy ending.

So despite the inevitable comparisons to its more well known cousin, Agnes Grey is definitely worth the read, if only to the experience of reading all three Bronte sisters.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Diary of Anne Frank - Anne Frank

I first read this book, as so many of us did, in my early teens. And at the time, I don't think I really appreciated just how significant a document it actually is. So I'm incredibly glad that I chose to reread this book as part of my Classics Club project.

It's always hard to review published diaries, because no matter how well-known they are, the fact remains: the author never intended them to be read by anyone other than themselves. Diaries are a place to dump the emotions you can't discuss with anyone, the thoughts you need to just get out so they're no longer floating around in your brain. Especially when you're a 14 year old girl.

So you'll find hundreds of reviewers out there complaining about how whiny and annoying this book is. Which, in some ways, I understand. Anne's a 14 year old girl. And to some extent, ALL 14 year old girls are whiny and annoying.

But I'd like to see any of those reviewers trapped in a tiny apartment with seven other people for YEARS, constantly fearing for your life, not knowing whether you'd be caught or blown up in an air raid, or starve to death if something happened to the people who were protecting you. I'd like to see those people go through what Anne Frank went through, and still retain the amount of optimism that flows through her writing. Because it really is astonishing.

It's not always an easy book to read. But it is a hugely significant one, capturing not only what life was like for Jewish people in Holland during the early stages of the war, and just how quickly things changed, but in capturing very clearly what life was like for one small group in hiding, and the lengths that people were willing to go to in order to keep them safe.

So yes, Anne was an occasionally whiny and annoying 14 year old girl. But considering that she was a 14 year old girl writing a diary? Her writing was often poignant and astonishing, and this book should remain a must read for everyone.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lysistrata and Other Plays - Aristophanes

I first heard of Aristophanes at some point in high school, while studying something cheerful like Antigone or Medea during VCE. And in comparison, Greek comedy sounded like a hell of a lot of fun, which is why I figured I may as well add some to my Classics Club list, especially after hearing Lysistrata referred to as essentially a feminist story.

This collection started with The Achanians, which is essentially arguing for peace during a long war with Sparta. Next came The Clouds, which basically takes the piss out of the Greek philosophers. And finally, I came to Lysistrata, which features the women of the various Greek city states deciding that the quickest way to end a war is to withhold sex.

Of the three, I think The Achanians may have been my favourite. All three featured a hell of a lot of dick jokes, but The Achanians also involved a lot of poking fun at the other city states, which was still pretty damned funny thousands of years later. That said, Lysistrata is definitely a rare classic in that it's very female dominated and revolves around women having agency over their bodies, so it was definitely a pretty great read as well.

I had a few issues with the translation in this one. Obviously, a lot of the humour wouldn't translate well to modern English - thankfully, Penguin always provide plenty of footnotes on that front! - but Alan H. Sommerstein made the decision to make the Spartans have stereotypical Scottish accents and mannerisms, and the Corinthians have stereotypical Irish accents and mannerisms. Which DID work moderately well - it gave a sense of how the Athenians felt about each of their neighbouring city states. But at the same time, it was totally bizarre to have characters with Scottish accents talking about Zeus and Athena and Poseidon.

On the whole, this collection was funnier than I was anticipating - I thought it would be more like Shakespeare's comedies, where they're hilarious in person but on the page, they tend to be pretty dry, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing out loud while reading it, and I'm definitely glad I put it on my Classics Club list!

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lady Audley's Secret - Mary Elizabeth Braddon


I first read this book back in my undergraduate days. I went through a big Wilkie Collins phase after studying The Woman in White for first year English, and so I took to loitering around the 823.8 section of the university library to see what else I could dig up of a similar ilk. Obviously, Braddon and Collins weren't far apart on the shelves. Plus, one of the Wilkie Collins books I read included an "if you like this, try _____" section at the back. This was one of the books listed.

I remember at the time thinking that it didn't really compare to Collins' writing, and I was probably right. Mary Elizabeth Braddon isn't QUITE in the same class as Wilkie Collins. But despite being the lesser writer of the two, she still manages to spin one HELL of a story.

Lady Audley's Secret revolves around Robert Audley, a young barrister. Accompanied by his friend George, he pays a visit to his uncle, who's recently married a much younger woman. When George disappears mysteriously shortly thereafter - with a trail of clues leading to suggest that he may have returned to the Australian goldfields - Robert gets it into his head that his new aunt is involved.

So he takes it upon himself to start investigating Lady Audley's past. He rapidly discovers that things don't entirely add up, especially when he takes into consideration the circumstances of George's disappearance and the fact that George left without leaving any plans in place for his young son. As the story progresses, Robert finds himself in an increasingly dangerous quest for the truth.

I really enjoyed this book. It was definitely a page turner as far as I was concerned, full of great characters and exciting adventures. Sure, Lady Audley's secret turns out to be a little bit of an anticlimax. But Lady Audley herself is a fabulous and incredibly conniving character, who'd probably be classified as a sociopath in the modern world. And I honestly can't work out if I think her fate was well deserved or not.

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable and occasionally creepy mystery, and I'd definitely recommend checking it out, especially if you like Wilkie Collins' writing.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Saturday, December 5, 2015

November reading wrap up

Another month in which I continue to be terrible at blogging. I'll remember how it works one of these days, you guys. Hopefully...

In the meantime, let's wrap up my reading month!

Books read: 35. It's beyond ridiculous.
New vs rereads: 18 vs 17. HURRAH. Although this was mostly the product of a decision to spend the last 6ish weeks of the year rereading my favourite books rather than rereading things I'm only half interested in because I feel like I have to.
Most read genre: This one was the product of much work, but it's not contemporary!! It is, in fact, a tie between sci-fi and fantasy.

Favourite book: As far as rereads are concerned? Persuasion by Jane Austen, because it's my favourite book of ever. If we're talking new books? I suspect The Martian by Andy Weir has taken out my favourite pick.
Least favourite book: Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich. Totally unnecessary Christmas special-y novella that suddenly added a bunch of paranormal elements to an existing world with zero explanation.
Favourite cover: OH GOD SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM. I'm going to make it a three way tie between the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray, and Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas.

Diverse Books Project: It's...going. I've been making a concerned effort to pick books from outside the western world, especially the US, UK and Australia. But it's proving difficult to find (read: physically get hold of, not discover) books that are set in Africa, Asia, and South America that AREN'T literary fiction. And where time limits are involved, literary fiction isn't usually my friend...

In November, I ended up reading 2 graphic novels, 2 non-fiction books and 31 novels. There are links to all of my Goodreads reviews below.

5 stars

Persuasion | Soulless | Every Breath | Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone | Gone Girl |

4.5 stars
Cress (Lunar Chronicles, #3)Manners & Mutiny (Finishing School Series Book 4)
Cress | Manners & Mutiny | Ten Thousand Skies Above You | Winter | Attachments | Sabriel | The Martian |

4 stars
NimonaBrave New World Career of EvilBecause You'll Never Meet Me
Nimona | Brave New World | Career of Evil | Because You'll Never Meet Me | Trafalgar | The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf | Lady Audley's Secret | A Breath of Frost | I Kill Giants | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets |

3.5 stars
Pyramids (Discworld, #7)
Pyramids | Monument 14 | Uprooted | The Flywheel |

3 stars
Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse, #9)21 PromsPreloved
Dead and Gone | 21 Proms | Preloved | Shadow of the War Machine | Swahili for the Broken Hearted | Sky on Fire |

2 stars
Visions of Sugar Plums (Stephanie Plum, #8.5)
Visions of Sugar Plums | The Ice Limit | End of Days |

What did you read in November?

K xx

Monday, November 30, 2015

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

This book was part of a very long list of suggested reading that my English teacher handed out when I was in Year 10. Obviously, given that "dystopian" wasn't really a genre in 1998, my teacher told us that it was a classic sci-fi story, and I immediately dismissed it as too boring to read because sci-fi novels meant spaceships, and that meant snoozeville. 

Oh, fifteen year old Kirsti. How foolish you were. 

In a lot of ways, it's not surprising that this book ends up on banned books lists as often as it does. The dystopian society that Huxley created is a fairly disturbing one. Humans are grown in laboratories, and their social status determined before they're even created. Those doomed to be menial Epsilons are cloned dozens of times and bred to be stupid and unquestioning, living only for the drugs provided to them by the government. Meanwhile, the Alphas and Betas receive hours of subliminal messages as children about how much better it is being their caste. 

All children are encouraged to participate in "erotic play", which creeped me out more than a little bit, and the whole society has a very casual attitude to sex. Relationships are discouraged in favour of a string of hook ups with people at your own level in society, and the whole world is basically a capitalist's dream.

The "real" world - where people form relationships, have children, and grow old - is confined to reservations for Indigenous populations, and these reservations are treated almost like a zoo by the Alphas and Betas. And yet it's the "noble savage" character who shows the most signs of what readers at the time of publication would consider a civilised attitude. He quotes Shakespeare, is disgusted by the decadence and throw-away attitude of the "civilised" world, and wants nothing more than a monogamous relationship and to know his father.

It's a disturbing book a lot of the time, and the ending was particularly chilling. Basically, I was expecting to be bored by this, but I found it the complete opposite.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

This book has been on my radar for years. I think the first time I heard about it was that Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts movie, Conspiracy Theory, in which Gibson's character can't calm down unless he has a copy of it, and in which the government apparently uses library patron histories to identify serial killers based on who borrows The Catcher in the Rye. Or something?? I haven't seen that movie in years, so I may be wrong.

Anyway, I put off reading this book for YEARS because a tiny part of my brain was convinced that if I borrowed it from my local library, I'd be flagged as a serial killer. But basically, all I knew about the book was that the main character is called Holden Caulfield, and it's J.D. Salinger's only novel.

And I kind of wish I'd left it that way. I was on the struggle bus with this book essentially from the get go. The opening few chapters - the stuff before Holden leaves school - reminded me a lot of Dead Poets Society, and more specifically Charlie. Seeing as Dead Poets Society is one of my favourite movies, I was moderately interested in the story.

But then Holden left school, and things went rapidly downhill. We're trapped in Holden's head for endless pages with few other characters to break things up. And this was hard for me, because I didn't like Holden AT ALL. He's full of rich white boy problems, where everything is someone else's fault. Holden always thinks he's in the right, despite however much evidence is stacked up against him. Essentially, I couldn't stand him or the narrative style.

I REALLY didn't like the writing. Admittedly, it's a product of the time. It's set in the late 1940s and is told by a teenage boy, so the amount of misogyny that comes through in the story is almost to be expected. But the amount of repetition in the writing drove me up the wall. Holden will make an observation about another character, then insert an anecdote about that character doing the thing he observed them doing, then repeat his observation. Like, "The girl could dance. [Insert long winded anecdote about said girl dancing here] I tell you, the girl could dance."


By the end of the book, I just flat out didn't care, and when it featured a total non-ending on top of all the repetition and angst and misogyny that I'd already had to wade through, I was tempted to throw the book across the room.

I feel like this is a book that's more enjoyable if a) you study it in school and can unpackage all the things that Salinger is trying to say, or b) you're an angsty teenager when you read it. So maybe if I'd read this as a teenager, I'd see the appeal. But as an adult? NOPE.

On the plus side, this book marks the half way point for my Classics Club project!

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

Remember when I used to review my Classics Club books in a timely fashion? Yeah. Me too...

I'd reread The Day of the Triffids just prior to creating my Classics Club list last year, and I absolutely adored it. So it made perfect sense to put another John Wyndham book on my list. Last month, I finally got around to reading it. (But not reviewing it. Because I'm the worst.)

The Chrysalids is a dystopian novel, pure and simple. Set a thousand years in the future, it tells the story of a group of young people living in an isolated community on the island of Labrador. The mainland, we're told, is a wasteland and the community prides itself on weeding out any genetic mutations, whether they be in plants, animals or humans.

As a child, the protagonist, David, witnesses a friend and her family being cast out into the wilds because said friend has six toes on one foot. This makes him uncertain about the way he's been raised, and when he and a group of other children develop telepathic abilities, they try to keep things quiet for as long as possible.

At its heart, this is very much a Cold War novel. It plays on the fear of the 'other' that was so prevalent in the 1950s, as well as including a nuclear apocalypse. It focuses on the destructive nature of Western society and its futile attempts at perfection.

One of the things I liked best about this book is when the characters find out about Zealand, a technologically advanced Utopia far across the sea to the south. And the reason I liked this so much is simple: so much of the time, dystopian novels are very US-centric, and I always find myself wondering if the rest of the world is in the same predicament or if they're all fine and just watching the chaos unfold. Here, clearly, it's the latter. So I loved that recognition that the rest of the world still exists.

On the whole, this was a short but important story, and it's definitely one I'll reread in the future.

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Monday, November 2, 2015

October reading wrap up

Seriously, you guys. When the hell did I get so bad at blogging? I've been meaning to write a couple of reviews for Classics Club for like A MONTH and I still haven't done it. At least it's vaguely near the start of the month so this one is timely??


Anyway, let's wrap up my reading month, shall we?

Books read: 35. I honestly don't know how else I have time to do anything else.
New vs rereads: 24 vs 11. Pathetic.
Most read genre: Once again, contemporary. Though crime and historical fiction were both only one book behind!
Favourite book: If rereads count, then it's Fangirl. Always and forever. But of the new books I read this month, Ink and Bone by Rachael Caine was definitely the stand out.
Least favourite book: No contest at all. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I only reread it because we were recapping it for Snark Squad.
Favourite cover: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Glorious.

Diverse Books Project: It's plodding merrily along. I'm up to the last few weeks now, and it's getting a little tricky to find books that are easy to access but that aren't set in the US. But I shall persevere!

In October, I ended up reading 3 graphic novels, 3 non-fiction books and 29 novels. There are links to all of my Goodreads reviews below.

5 stars
FangirlInk and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten HolyThe Adventures of Superhero Girl
Fangirl | Ink and Bone | Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy | The Adventures of Superhero Girl |

4.5 stars
Carry OnThe Masked Truth
Carry On | The Masked Truth |

4.25 stars
Lady Thief (Scarlet, #2)The Rest of Us Just Live HereFingersmith
Lady Thief | The Rest of Us Just Live Here | Fingersmith |

4 stars
The Epic Adventures of Lydia BennetOneFuriously HappyDumplin'The ChrysalidsFlat-Out Love (Flat-Out Love, #1)NationScarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)The Girl on the TrainMagic Shifts (Kate Daniels, #8)The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog (Amelia Peabody, #7)Something Rotten (Thursday Next, #4)Civil WarLion Heart (Scarlet, #3)The Last Days of the Incas. Kim MacQuarrieWhen We Wake
The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet | One | Furiously Happy | Dumplin' | The Chrysalids | Flat Out Love | Nation | Scarlet | The Girl on the Train | Magic Shifts | The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog | Something Rotten | Civil War | Lion Heart | The Last Days of the Incas | When We Wake |

3.5 stars
Of Love and ShadowsFlat-Out Matt (Flat-Out Love, #1.5)Jackaby (Jackaby, #1)The God of Small Things
Of Love and Shadows | Flat Out Matt | Jackaby | The God of Small Things |

3 stars
Six Geese A-Slaying (Meg Langslow, #10)Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum, #8)Necropolis: London and Its DeadThe Doomsday Key: A Sigma Force NovelThe Girl from the Well (The Girl from the Well, #1)Full Bloom (Full #5)
Six Geese A-Slaying | Hard Eight | Necropolis: London and its Dead | The Doomsday Key | The Girl from the Well | Full Bloom |

2 stars
The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye |

1 star
Twilight (Twilight, #1)
Twilight |

What did you read in October?

K xx
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