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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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Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman, and his struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

”Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is.”
My first experience with Ernest Hemingway and it wasn’t terrible... nor was it amazing. It just felt very middle of the road for me.

I’ll start with what I did like. Hemingway’s writing is so simple and to the point, yet he can convey quite a lot with so few words. I also greatly admired the old man himself (Santiago, not Hemingway lol) - his perseverance and strength is truly something to behold!

I had been doing some research after I finished and was a bit dismayed to find that Hemingway had said this story isn’t an allegory for anything. The old man is just an old man. The sea is just the sea... and so forth. However I find that I like it more when I interpret it a little deeper. So I’ll just pretend it means something...

In terms of the negatives... fishing isn’t really my forte. (Is that obvious?!) Terms were being used that I didn’t understand, and I find the act of fishing itself very boring. So it wasn’t always the most invigorating read - in this case, I was thankful it was short.

Overall, I’d say I liked it slightly more than I disliked it? But in no way does it put me off reading more Hemingway. I’ll definitely give him another chance! 3 stars.

Johann
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