Monday, 29 August 2016


A couple of weeks ago, I turned 30. 

I had a pretty fantastic time celebrating with friends and family (there was a heck of a lot of food and even more wine) but there's still something about the big 3-0 that's pretty unsettling.  I think because at 30, you're indisputably an adult.  At 30, all of those questions that I could respond to with a "not until I'm in my 30s" (by which I mean those about children), I need a new answer to that isn't just "shush".

Things aren't all scary.  I have a job that I love on a solid career path.  I own a house with a man who I'll marry in less than a year's time.  I really can't complain.  And yet still I feel a bit weirded out by the milestone birthday.  Somebody at work was like, "Pfft - your early 30s will be the best.  It's like your 20s but with money".  Which is true but there's a sense of big life changes just not being that far away...

The occasion was much improved by books (as so many occasions are).  I received some pretty damn brilliant birthday gifts from some pretty damn brilliant people (thank you!).  I had to work on my birthday because I'm low on annual leave this year after being paid out for a week when I left my old job in May.  I treated myself to some books to take the edge off.

The piles (that is still in my living room because I'm planning on using it as a sort of mini TBR over the next couple of months) look awesome...

The pile on the left are the books that were gifted, the books on the right are the ones that I bought for myself.  SO from Hanna, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, The Prestige by Christoper Priest and A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.  I'm really excited about all of them, obviously.  Hanna and I have pretty similar wishlists and I always send her books that I either have read and want to force her to read or ones that I haven't read but that I really want to read and want to use her as a guinea pig.  Hanna adopts the same strategy and all is good in the world.  Shades of Grey and The Prestige both come highly recommended from Hanna and I really want to get to them soon.  A Darker Shade of Magic falls into the second category and was one I'd bought for Hanna for her birthday a couple of weeks earlier.  It looks super fun and Hanna's beat me to reading it (and reviewing it) and even though she didn't love it, I'm still planning on reading it soon because the idea just really intrigues me.

Laura added to my burgeoning Penguin English Library editions with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton.  I read Wuthering Heights absolutely years ago and I really want to re-read.  I love these editions and they look gorgeous all together.  I also really love the paper and how easy they are to read.  They're the best.  I've never really heard much about The Man Who Was Thursday but there are secret policemen and an anarchist council and it sounds really, really good.

From lovely Ellie, The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and V for Vendetta by Alan Moore.  I love Sherlock Holmes (who doesn't?) and Orange Pips are a PEL so I can't wait to get stuck into it.  V for Vendetta is a graphic novel that I've been meaning to pick up ever since I started reading graphic novels and comics.  I love the film version and the graphic novel just looks incredible and comes Ellie Endorsed so I know I'm going to love it!

Katie picked one of the books on my wishlist I was the most excited about, Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel.  The hardback is absolutely stunning and it just sounds wonderfully quirky.  It's about a girl who falls through the earth and lands on a giant hand.  I can't wait to read this and have really high hopes for it.

For myself, I headed to Waterstones and took a bit of a gamble that my wishlist was up to date (I opened my gifts later on and figured I could always return/gift on my duplicates if the worst came to the worst).  It's been ages since I just wandered around a bookshop and bought what I fancied so I had a wander around Leeds Waterstones.  I took my time and browsed and it was a super birthday treat.  I bought The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (a retelling of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale), Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie (which I've heard nothing but incredible things about), Arcadia by Iain Pears (which a bookseller noticed I was carrying and stopped me to chat about how wonderful he'd thought it was, which cemented its place on my 'to buy' pile), The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (which is about angels I think and sounds like something a bit different) and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (a non-fiction written by a lawyer in the US about his experiences of race and incarceration that I first saw on Mercy's Bookish Musings and sounds fascinating).

WHEW!  That got long!  Massive thank you to everybody who sent me books :)  I have some real treats in store, I'm sure. Have you read any of these?  Any I absolutely have to pick up right away?

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Review: 'Jane Steele' by Lyndsay Faye

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?

"Of all my murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.  Already this project proves more difficult than I had ever imagined.  Autobiographies depend upon truth; but I have been lying for such a very long, lonesome time" [Page 1]
I think I first heard about Jane Steele on a Book Riot list of upcoming releases to watch out for (which I now can't find, although it also appears in this list of the Best Books of 2016 so far).  Call me morbid but something about the idea of a stabby Jane Eyre really appealed to me and I ordered a copy from my library pretty much straight away.

I was right to: I absolutely loved it.  I was surprised by just how much, to be honest.  I can see why it might not be quite the thing for you if you're a complete purist but for me, it was just how I like my re-tellings/adaptations.  Generally, I don't like 'adaptations' of classics that follow the exact same plot but just modernise the language and give characters new names.  If I wanted to read the exact story of Jane Eyre, I'd read Jane Eyre.  I do, however, like takes on classics that follow some of the plot and have a similar feel to them but that do something new and different with the characters or take the original plot and twist it about a bit.

Jane Steele takes Jane Eyre and injects some violence and a few murders; where the original character might have bowed to convention or absorbed maltreatment, Jane Steele takes action.  The book is written as if it's Jane Steele's autobiography and she addresses the reader in the same confiding way as her namesake, the cover of the version I read going so far as to play on the iconic 'Reader, I married him' with a gaudy 'Reader, I murdered him'.  The writing style is perfect and it works even when it sounds like it shouldn't.

What is clever about this version (and what I think stops it from being gimicky) is that Jane Steele acknowledges that she's a bit of a parody of her literary heroine.  Jane Steele the character loves Jane Eyre the character and her narrative includes wry little references to the original work that stop the similarities feeling trite and over-worked and give a feeling more as though readers are part of an inside joke.
"My boundless affection for the protagonist of Jane Eyre has already been established; and yet, I cannot resist stating that she made the most dismal investigator in the history of literature" [Page 210]
For all of its humour and for all that it is a re-telling, I was totally hooked.  It could easily have been a case of style over substance but it had just the right balance between the outline of Jane Eyre's story and the detail of Jane Steele's.  Every time I picked up this book, I lost an hour.  I read it in a few sittings and when I finished, I genuinely felt at a loss.  Jane Steele is bloody brilliant, obviously, but so are her fellow pupils at the creepy boarding school and the other residents of Highgate House.  One of my favourite books of the year so far, easily.

Overall:  If you're a Jane Eyre fan and don't mind someone taking a few liberties with the story, this book is an absolute must.  It's appropriately gothic and packed full of nods to the original without being anything like a pointless re-hash.  So. Much. Fun.  I've already ordered another of Lyndsay Faye's books (Sherlock Holmes/Dr Watson take on Jack the Ripper...) and I can't wait to read more of her work.

Date finished: 17 July 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in March 2016 by Headline Review