Friday, 31 March 2017

March Wrap-up and Favourites

I've been trying to work out this month why in a time when I'm perhaps more interested in books and writing than ever, my blog is quieter.  I know that in part it's because I've had limited free time recently and I've had to make a choice between reading the books or writing about books but it doesn't feel like that's it.  Over the past couple of days (literally), it's occurred to me that it's more that my approach to writing about books just doesn't seem to quite work for me at the moment.  It gives me the chance to explore the books that I want to write about in detail but with others, it makes me feel constrained.  I think for the next month, I'm going to try a few new ways of talking about the books that I've loved and see if that helps!

General musings aside, it's been a completely crazy month.  Work has been insanely busy even by its usual standards and we've had quite a few hectic weekends socially.  We did then get to spend a few days in Italy finalising our wedding plans so it wasn't all rushing about and giving legal advice!

What I've Been Reading

When I sat down to write this, I was set to write about how many books I'd got through.  It turns out, I actually haven't read that many!  Especially when you consider that one of them was a novella that I downloaded and read in the car on the way home from the airport earlier this week.  Anyway, first up was Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  This is a series that I feel as though I should hate but I find myself completely taken by it.  They're science fiction takes on fairytales (sort of) but with an overarching story that's sort of a battle between the Lunars living on the Moon and the humans down on Earth.  It's edgier than I'd thought it would be and this instalment was even better than Cinder.  I'm glad I already own the final two books in the series.  

Next up was Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.  I borrowed this from the library and I'm glad.  I loved The Shining Girls when I read it a few years ago for its blend of murder mystery and the supernatural but this time around I was just baffled.  I really enjoyed some elements of it and the writing was fantastic but I just feel as though I didn't get the main plot.  Or rather, maybe I did get it but I just felt as though it was a bit abstract/surreal for my tastes.

When we were prepping for holiday, I wanted something from my Kindle because I prefer it when I'm travelling and so I started the second book in the St Mary's series, A Symphony of Echoes.  The series follows a department of historians who bumble about travelling through time. The books can be erratic and crash about a bit but they're so much fun that it's hard to care!  On the way home from the airport, I followed this up with the "2.5" novella, When A Child is Born.  It took maybe half an hour and it was a cute story that did a neat job of looking at the butterfly effect.  Not award winning literature perhaps but so entertaining.

Book of the Month:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Making a Murderer.  Somehow I never got round to watching this Netflix series when it first came out but that was clearly ridiculous because it's right up my street. I love documentaries about the legal system and this one looks at how it arguably failed Steven Avery.  It's very well put together and both Boyfriend and I are really enjoying it.

Film of the Month:  The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.  This wonderfully weird fantastical film was completely bizarre but absolutely fascinating.  What was most interesting was that it was intended to star Heath Ledger as a slightly shifty character but filming was interrupted when Ledger sadly died.  The way that the film has subsequently been put together is so clever and it's almost worth watching for that creative feat alone.  I'll warn you, though, it's a weird one!

Recipe of the Month:  This is a bit of a cheat but one of the course on our wedding menu is the absolute best plate of food I've eaten all month and it beats what I've made for myself hands down.  Our pasta course is a potato ravioli with veal ragu and crispy bacon and asparagus and it is divine.  I was already excited but knowing what food treats we have in store for our guests is something else!

Beauty Product of the Month:  My absolute favourite perfume is the Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede.  I have a set of products in the scent to use on the run up to the wedding and a candle for when I need a little pick-me-up.  The smell is so fresh and light and just screams Spring and it is hands down my favourite thing right now.

Album of the Month:  I rediscovered Paolo Nutini's Caustic Love this month and I'd forgotten how much I love it.  It's the perfect blend between songs that you have to sing along to loudly and songs with a political edge.  The song Iron Sky features an excerpt from a Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator and it's incredibly powerful.  If you missed this album when it was released a few years ago, it's absolutely worth giving a try.

Activity of the Month:  Obviously, our trip to Florence.  We planned our wedding, we ate the most delicious food, we travelled around Tuscany and we drank many glasses of chianti.  Lucca and Arezzo are beautiful (not as beautiful as Florence, obviously, but beautiful in their own ways) and the whole trip was a perfect little prelude to our wedding trip in about 8 weeks (i,e, SOON!).

I hope all of you had wonderful months of March and are enjoying the first hints of Spring.  Let me know what you're reading! 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Review: 'The Roanoke Girls' by Amy Engel

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful.
Rich.
Mysterious.
Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl.

But you won't when you know the truth.

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family's rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls.


But what she doesn't know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice...


I was in the mood for a thriller after pondering my way through Maus and this sounded right up my street.  I know there are a lot of them around right now but I wanted a real page-turner.  Something that might not feature the most sophisticated plot or the most elegant writing but something that would keep me gripped.  In a sense, I got what I wanted, even if what kept me turning the pages was morbid fascination and not curiosity.

The novel is set in two time periods, one where Lane is fifteen and newly arrived at the Roanoke estate and one where Lane is an adult, drawn back to Roanoke to assist with a police investigation into the disappearance of her cousin.  In doing so, she has to face down some of her own demons and brave what sent her running from her family in the first place.  Tucked in between these two narratives are snippets told from the perspective of the earlier Roanoke girls.

I enjoyed this at first.  There's a mystique about the Roanoke family, something lurking in the family's history of women who have either died tragically young or run away.  The writing is decent and it's very readable.  The atmosphere is oppressive and tense and Lane's terse exchanges with her now estranged family are such a stark contrast to the warmth in the chapters showing her teenage years that I was dying to know what had happened.  For perhaps a third, I had to keep reading.  Then I learned the secret at the heart of the Roanoke family and I wished that I hadn't.  It is, frankly, repellent.  I have no problem with writing that pushes boundaries but, if I'm reading something challenging, I at least want to feel as though it's handled well.  Actually, I don't think that it was that it was handled badly, just that it wasn't properly explored.  We're told about why it's believable and why nobody just did the right thing but it just doesn't feel realistic.  It's too extreme.  Too much. The fact that the family is rich and that they're all beautiful and charming just makes things a bit too easy. It feels relentless and reading it was emotionally exhausting.  Harrowing.  I kept reading because I hoped that there would be balance or pay-off at the end.  There was in a way but not enough to offset the general queasiness I'd felt while reading.

It's hard to write more about this without spoilers.  I suppose if nothing else it was powerful.  It's a hard hitting novel that doesn't pull its punches and it definitely had an impact on me.  The characters are varying degrees of damaged and unpleasant but the supporting characters at least are interesting to read about.  While Lane is trying to help find her cousin, she has to face up to her past and spend time with some of the people that she hurt the first time she ran away.  It fits in with her story and I quite liked the take on small town America.  If there'd perhaps been a little less emotional trauma and a little more criminal investigation, I think the net result would have stronger.  As it was, I felt like reading this was more of an ordeal than I like in my fiction!

Overall:  Grim.  If you're actively seeking out something that will give you a pretty full on story breaking all sorts of taboos, you'll get that with The Roanoke Girls.  If you're not in the market for some extreme emotional manipulation and sexual abuse, this probably isn't the book for you.  It wasn't really the book for me, unfortunately.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  26 February 2017
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley - thank you, Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Thriller; Mystery
Pictured Edition Published: on 7 March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

February Wrap-up and Favourites

I knew it had been a while since I'd written anything vaguely book-related but I didn't realise it had been nearly six weeks!  February and what's already gone of March has been so busy.  It turns out that working pretty solid 50-60 hour weeks, planning a wedding, trying to maintain a semblance of a social life and finding time to actually read some books doesn't leave a great deal of time for writing about books.  We're away in Italy soon for some wedding planning so a break is in sight but I'll only be vaguely hanging on here for a while, I think!

What I've Been Reading

For a month that was so full of other stuff, I actually managed to get a fair amount read.  First on my list was Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan.  I wrote a bit about this in my last wrap-up but the first time I read this as a teenager, I remember being bored by this instalment in the Wheel of Time series.  This second read through had me wondering why!  I didn't give it the five stars I gave the three preceding books but it was still a solid 4 stars.  After that, I received my first Moth Box in January (which I'll talk about properly another time, hopefully) and picked out one of the books to read straight away.  I went for Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, which is the story of a young girl in a small religious community in rural Wisconsin and how she copes when she learns a secret about her best friend.  The writing was stunning and I loved the book, perhaps all the more for knowing that it wasn't one that I ever would have picked out on my own.  I've ordered another box for March and I'm really looking forward to seeing what's in it.  

THEN I finally read the devastating Maus by Art Speigelman.  It's a graphic novel account of the author's father's life and experiences as a Jewish man during the Second World War and it's every bit as hard-hitting as it sounds.  I can't believe it's taken me this long to finally get to it! An easy 5 stars.

Last up were two books that I don't think could have been more different if I'd intentionally gone out to pick up polar opposites.  Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a relatively frivolous cyborg retelling of Cinderella, and then The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, a new thriller.  I liked the fairytale retelling a surprising amount and was supremely grossed out by the thriller, to the point that I just can't recommend it.  A bit of a rough end to the month's otherwise great reading!

Book of the Month:  Maus by Art Spiegelman

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Medici: Masters of Florence is this month's winner.  It's about the rise of the Medici family in Florence and the history of the city.  I'll admit that we started watching it because it's set in Florence and that's where we're getting married this year but we continued watching because it's actually rather good.  It stars Richard Madden of GoT fame and Dustin Hoffman so it's not quite as small fry as it sounds. 

Film of the Month:  I haven't been to the cinema in a while and I actually can't think of a single film I watched during February!  What a bust.  Actually, I did watch a naff Kate Hudson romcom one night while Boyfriend was out but it was not good and I'm not naming that even if it is by default my favourite of the month.

Recipe of the Month:  We've been watching Gino d'Acampo's Italian Escape series recently (seeing a theme?) and I've made this dish of pasta shells with guanciale, potatoes and tomatoes a few times in recent weeks (except with serrano instead of guanciale).  It's easy, properly comforting because it has both pasta and potato and it's delicious.

Beauty Product of the Month:  I have quite greasy skin naturally and most moisturisers just destroy my skin and have me breaking out all over.  Lush's Vanishing Cream is now an absolute staple in my routine.  It smells like lavender, which I love, and it's super light so it'll soak in quickly and leaves no grease.  Perfection.

Album of the Month:  I was eagerly awaiting the release of Rag 'n' Bone Man's album, Human, and I was not disappointed.  As I learned last month, I have no clue how to write about music but I do know that I love his voice and how the album is a mix of styles, some hip hop, some soul and some more...rocky tracks?  I don't know but I do know that if you liked the single Human, you'll probably really like the album so I'd recommend giving it a try.  It's the kind of album that you put on and happily listen to all the way through without realising where the time's gone!

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Activity of the Month:  A new item that I've largely created just to say how much I loved the London Bookshop Crawl.  Bex has been running it for a while but February was the first time I could make it. Hanna and I got the train down to London in the morning, shopped all day and rested our feet on the way back up and compared purchase notes.  I bought about 10 books and I've so far read one so that's something! My stand out shop of the day was easily Persephone Books, which was adorable and crammed full of unique-sounding books from lady writers of old.  If you ever get chance to go, do!  I also loved getting the chance to meet bloggers who I've been chatting to for years (like Katie and Ellie BookWorm), even if I didn't get to chat to all of them as much as I'd have liked!

And that (finally) was February!  March has continued on with a similar theme of being terribly busy but it's starting to clear a little bit.  Sort of...tell me about books to distract me!  :)