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Saturday, 14 September 2019

Book Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A maintenance man called Eddie dies and is sent to heaven, where he encounters five people - some known to him and some not - who each teach him a lesson.

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”

If heaven truly exists, I sure hope it’s exactly like this! What sounds better than meeting up with loved ones who have gone before and have them explain to you the meaning of your life?

Religion and whether or not you believe in heaven or the afterlife is obviously a very personal thing and therefore I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to everyone. The book wasn’t overly religious nor was it preachy either, and I do think non-religious people could still enjoy the story, but that’s up to each reader to decide!

I do believe in God and I do believe in the afterlife - and I feel like that’s a difficult thing to openly admit on here, but I feel like it’s necessary to explain why I loved this book. It was a total comfort blanket for me - my beliefs are a way of coping with my dad’s death.

This is really a very touching story about the impact we have on those around us. The style and writing is simplistic, but it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and once again I was grateful to read a weepy book like this by the pool with sunglasses to hide my tears.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy or if you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, then give it a chance! 4 stars.

Johann
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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

An impoverished ex-student in St Petersburg, Rodion Raskolnikov, formulates a plan to kill a pawnbroker for her money.


“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”

I’m still in shock over how much I enjoyed Crime and Punishment. SHOCK. I feared it would take me WEEKS and that I’d be begging for it to just end... but I flew through it in less than a week and quickly found myself looking at which Russian classic I wanted to tackle next!

All I can say is, if this one has interested or intrigued you, but it has intimidated you... do not be afraid!! It is incredibly accessible and bingeable. The perfect introduction to the Russian classics.

There is so much going on that it’s almost impossible to cover it all in a review. There’s a crime... and there’s punishment. And so much in between! The idea of temporary insanity, the effects a guilty conscience can have, questions about morality... and so on and so forth.

In terms of the characters, they were all so complex and well-fleshed out, and not always likeable, but my favourites were the ladies! Dunya, Raskolnikov’s sister, was the standout for me. She is so intelligent and strong-willed, with oodles of compassion for others. I also really liked Sonya, the love interest of Raskolnikov, and her dedication to her family, and found her mother Katerina to be an absolute hoot at times! Porfiry, however... god, some of his monologues were PAINFUL. I wanted to scream at him to get on with whatever he was saying!!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, something I struggled with at the start was all the names and interchangeable nicknames etc. Thankfully my edition had a handy character list at the beginning, with each of their alternative names. But once I got into it, it was fine! Just be prepared to struggle with that at first.

Overall, a fantastic read that leaves you with a lot to think about. I’m glad that I tackled it and even more glad that I loved it! 5 stars.

Johann
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Saturday, 24 August 2019

Book Review: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Ingrid Magnusson is sent to jail for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, leaving her daughter, Astrid, to enter the foster care system.

“If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
White Oleander is pure poetry. The writing is absolutely exquisite - it’s one of those books where you keep pausing just to inhale really moving and poignant prose. I would happily read anything else Janet Fitch has written/will write, as she has blown me away!

The mother/daughter relationship between Ingrid and Astrid is complex, flawed and difficult. The influence that one person can hold over you is quite scary - even though Ingrid is in prison, she still exerts this weird control over Astrid from afar. Her relationship with her mother is something that Astrid struggles with, as well as the lack of a father during her youth. Fitch handles these themes and topics with a deft hand, I really didn’t want this one to end.

Following Astrid through a sequence of different foster homes is really heartbreaking, but each new home brings vibrant and strong characters, each with their own issues. Claire in particular was a standout for me, I loved the relationship that formed between her and Astrid, even though Claire herself was also a fragile soul.

I would 100% recommend this to anyone who loves reading about complicated family dynamics, in particular the frayed relationship that can exist between mothers and daughters. This book was fantastic!

I’m also still fangirling over the fact that Fitch messaged me personally on goodreads to say she enjoyed reading my reviews and was looking forward to reading more! I’ll mark that down as one of my greatest bookish moments! 4.5 stars.

Johann
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Friday, 23 August 2019

Book Review: Inferno by Dante

The Inferno tells the journey of Dante through Hell, accompanied by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil.


”They yearn for what they fear for.”

Dante’s Inferno presents one of those incredibly frustrating scenarios where the plot, imagery, themes etc are all fucking insane, but the prose made me want to claw my eyeballs out. I looked at how long the actual poem was and thought “that’ll take me about 2 days?” WRONG. Over a week. This may have been due to the fact that I was also reading the accompanying notes at the back alongside each canto, but I needed to read those or I would have been utterly clueless the majority of the time.

In terms of the nine circles of Hell, all of that stuff was INCREDIBLE. There was actual POOP on one level! It was all so dark and visceral and BADASS, but I couldn’t help but wish that I was reading a graphic novel of this instead, or even an illustrated edition, as I’d love to have experienced this alongside some epic illustrations.

It’s not often that a book makes me feel dumb, but this one did. It was just a LOT of hard work, and I don’t necessarily like to feel like that when I’m reading for pleasure. So I’m not sure if I’ll ever pick up Purgatorio and Paradiso... I don’t know if I could put myself through that again.

However, I’m glad I read it and I was a huge fan of the imagery and ideas, which is why my rating isn’t a lot more savage - 3 stars.

Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A fictionalised retelling of the story of Grace Marks and the part that she may or may not have played in the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 when she accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper.

”If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”
This is a fantastic mix of true crime and historical fiction! Atwood blends the two wonderfully, even including actual excerpts from reports and books, as well as pictures of the two charged with the murders. Atwood’s research and attention to detail is very apparent, although I held off on reading about the true crime case that inspired the novel until after I had finished.

The story kicks off with Grace in Kingston Penitentiary, serving her sentence for these murders. That is until Doctor Simon Jordan becomes involved in her case and tries to unlock some of the memories that she claims are hidden away. What unravels is a slow-paced yet addictive read, brimming with sex, violence and commentaries on both class and gender. And I could not get enough!

My overwhelming reaction to this book was to simply be in awe of Atwood’s writing and wit. She provides such sharp astute observations that are equally intelligent and droll - I definitely sniggered on more than a few occasions.

To summarise, Atwood is a goddamn queen. Alias Grace surpasses The Handmaid’s Tale as my favourite Atwood to date and is up there in my top 10 books of the year so far! I loved every single page! 5 stars.

Johann
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Sunday, 18 August 2019

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five is about Billy Pilgrim’s survival of the firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war during World War II and is often cited as one of the most enduring anti-war novels of all time.

“How nice — to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”
Let me be real here - it’s times like these that I am so thankful for bookstagram. Never in my life would I have picked up this book if it wasn’t for this platform... and I am so incredibly glad I did as it surprised me in the BEST way possible.

You think this book is about one thing... and then it kinda goes down a different path that I did NOT see coming and all of a sudden there’s science fiction thrown into the mix?! Whaaaat! Yet it works SO WELL. These may even have been my favourite parts of the book!

The narrative is non-linear as we jump back and forth in time and yet it doesn’t feel disjointed in the slightest. There’s a lot of repetition as well, which again, doesn’t bother me, because Vonnegut just executes it all so seamlessly and effectively. A lot of it is just downright absurd and crazy, but if I’ve said it once I’ll say it a million times... it just works!!

I simply adored so many of the messages in this book, whether it was the anti-war stance, the commentaries on life and death, or just the fact it makes you stop and think. And it’s so goddamn funny.

There are so many books that I’ve read during my 30 before 30 challenge that I’ve thought “well, once was enough! I shan’t see you again...” but I will definitely revisit this at some point. It’s got a hold on me.

So it goes...

4.5 stars.

Johann
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Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Book Review: The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Forced to flee from her hometown, Catherine Goggin finds herself pregnant and alone at just sixteen. Having settled in Dublin, she gives her newborn baby over to a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun. And so begins the story of Cyril Avery...


"...life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face."

Reasons why you NEED this book:
- it is incredibly engrossing. Once you start you won’t want to put it down!
- it is laugh-out-loud funny. That Irish sense of humour!
- it would be a fantastic read for #pridemonth
- it tackles so many heavy issues from the oppression of the Catholic Church in Ireland to the violence and terrorism inflicted by the IRA to the HIV/AIDS crisis... it covers it all!!
- the story spans for decades from Cyril’s birth to when he reaches old age and every single stage of his life is depicted in such a heartfelt and real way
- it will crush your heart in the best way possible; books like this are the reason why we read in the first place.

This is truly one of those books where it’s hard to convey in a limited number of characters how brilliant it really is. Such memorable and well-written characters who are not without their flaws. They are all painfully human.

I love my country, but also recognise how backwards it can be in some regards - we’ve come a long way but there is still plenty that needs to change. Reading about the history of Ireland and the attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community in the 1960s is hard, there’s very little to be proud of - yet Boyne balances it perfectly with the right amount of humour so that it doesn’t become TOO depressing.

In a nutshell, if you haven’t read this one, you must! It’s a beautifully written epic saga laced with emotion that I will be shouting about from the rooftops for a very long time. I’m quite literally recommending it to everyone in my personal life.

And I got to buddy read it with one of my favourite people, Gemma!

ALL THE STARS.

Johann
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