Being brutally honest about books

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

November Wrap Up



  • I had my birthday! I still don't feel 19 yet.
  • Uni ended. I had an exam and got my final results. Now I have 3 months until Year 2!
  • My country had a major earthquake! I didn't feel it though. For those of us who weren't affected, it was great, because it gave the media something to report on other than the US election. Obviously it wasn't great for all the people affected - people's homes were wrecked and it must've been a traumatising time, especially for students sitting exams!
  • I've been applying for jobs. No luck though :(




    Click the covers to go to the Goodreads link.

    Finally finished:
    25810289  13130788
    Read from the start:
    820530  578507  2093070  12389460

    Around the blogosphere

    Cait at Paper Fury finished NaNoWriMo in 3 days!!! How? What?
    Bec at Readers Wonderland told us how to find time to read.
    Puput at Sparkling Letters discussed discussion posts - why you should post them and how to write them.
    Nemo at Young Adult At Heart wrote about why diversity is important to her.

    November was a very good reading and blogging month for me, yay! What did you get up to this month?

    Monday, 28 November 2016

    9 Things I Disliked About Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

    Pretty language doesn't make a book unproblematic.

    I didn't hate everything about this book, but it's so problematic I can't rate it any higher than 1 star. I don't recommend it to anyone. Don't read it. Here's why. (Warning: This review is extremely spoilery so that I can explain my distaste.)

    First, the problematic content:

    There's a romance between an 18-year-old and a 13-year old.

    She's 18, he's 13. Nope nope nope nope nope.

    Sexual assault and rape are handled terribly.

    First, Masha gets sexually assaulted by a 13-year-old she's become close to. While she may be attracted to him (see above) she says no. No means no means no means no. Then, her husband repeatedly rapes her during their marriage. On both occasions, Masha doesn't seem to care, nor does she seem to be affected in any way ever. This is very alarming! What is the author trying to say??

    There's a sex scene with a 13-year-old boy...

    and a 17-year-old girl (not Masha, thankfully). Not only that, but they continue their sexual relationship. A) Both the author and the main character of this book are way too interested in other people's sex lives (Masha talks about her father's sex life!?). B) Given that the target audience for this adult book is women, we don't want to read things like this. It's gross and unnecessary.

    Now the plain bad:

    There's no plot.

    What even happens in this book? It's just the characters telling stories, and stories within stories. Where's the actual narrative?

    The structure is confusing.

    It's not chronological, and goes from this time back to this time forwards to this time with no warning, and there's often no specification of when this section takes place or how it connects to the previous section.

    It's historically inaccurate.

    A couple of quick Google searches told me the author took liberties. Certain events in history don't happen in the book, and certain events in the book didn't happen in history. So why wasn't it hinted in the blurb or an author's note that events were changed significantly?

    The book is confused about its own genre.

    Is it historical fiction? Magic realism? Historical fantasy??? Not even the book itself knows.

    There's a sudden, jarring career decision.

    I hate it when characters suddenly decide they've always wanted to do this job, with no previous dreaming or planning of it. Why didn't you mention it earlier then???

    There's a completely unbelievable plot point near the end.

    Since the book is told in the first person, the reason for this plot point is for Masha and the reader to know about the Romanovs' last months after she left them. An anonymous man turns up at Masha's work in a different country X years later to give her a diary that was smuggled away after the owner died? It's too unbelievable; who would buy that?

    Excessive Summary

    From Kathryn Harrison, one of America’s most admired literary voices, comes a gorgeously written, enthralling novel set in the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire.

    St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

    Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

    Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.


      Saturday, 26 November 2016

      Stacking the Shelves: Library Haul

      Stacking the Shelves 
       Stacking The Shelves is a meme created by Tynga’s Reviews. The following links go to Goodreads.

      I went for a walk because today was lovely and sunny and I hadn't left the house in a week, so I was getting cabin fever. I felt like going to the library, because while I've been good lately at reading the books already on my shelf, the remaining ones didn't inspire me. So I walked to the local public library, which I hadn't been to in a very long time (possibly since March or February, can you believe it?). I expected to get some books on my ginormous TBR list, but alas, I didn't (in fact I only found one of the books on my TBR at the library). Isn't it always the case?

      Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

      I picked up this one for the cover, and borrowed it for the history. I don't have high expectations for the quality of the book (the average rating on Goodreads is only 3.21); I'll be reading it for the history and Russian-ness alone.

      St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

      Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

      The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

      I have some other Sarah Waters books on my TBR since I read and loved Tipping the Velvet earlier this month. So I knew the chances of me enjoying this one were pretty high. I don't really know anything about 1920s London (1920s New York, yes), so this will be interesting.

      It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

      For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class', the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

      Ancients by David Lynn Golemon

      I love ancient mythology (especially Greek) so this book had me at "Ancients" and "Atlantis". My sister took one look at it and asked if it's about Stargate. It's not, but it looks very similar. It also looks exciting, but guess what? I just discovered it's the 3rd in a series! I just hope that it can be a standalone as well.

      The lost city of Atlantis is the stuff of legend. A vast treasure of secret knowledge and unimaginable wealth. An entire civilisation that disappeared for unknown reasons, forgotten in the mists of time. But now, battle lines are being drawn to claim the immense power which once resided there.

      On one side, led by Colonel Jack Collins, is the Event Group - a top secret government organisation made of the most brilliant soldiers, scientists and historians on earth, all dedicated to discovering the truth behind the world's greatest unsolved myths. They must take down a shadowy conspiracy of men fuelled by hatred who want to unleash a weapon which could change life as we know it forever...

      These are all fairly different books, although they all have elements of history. Is anyone surprised by that? I'm not. 

      These also aren't small, read-in-a-day books, but I have until 9th January to read them, so I should get through them. Better start now...

      Have you read any of these? Do you often borrow or buy a book only to find it's the middle of a series? What books have you bought or borrowed this week?

      Thursday, 24 November 2016

      My 2016 Reading Stats

      2016 has been a worse reading year than 2015, but I can blame that on uni - you read a lot more for uni than you do for school, and this ruins a) your time for reading for pleasure and b) your enthusiasm for reading. I've read 18 books total! (But two of these were over 1,100 pages long...) That's 6,633 pages.

      But while this hasn't been a good reading year, I have been reading more in the past few months, especially this November. So that's something to be happy about. (Reading makes me happy, and I've noticed I've been happier since I've been reading more these past few months.)

      My reading so far this year comprises:
      • 8 Adult books 
      • 8 YA books
      • 2 poetry books (both were related to Sappho)
      • 4 contemporary/fiction books 
      • 6 fantasy or sci-fi books  
      • 8 historical or history-related books
      • 7 books with any LGBTQ characters (excluding the poetry)
      • 0 books published this year (2016)
      • 9 books published 2010-2015
      • 6 books published 2000-2009
      • 3 books published before 2000

          I've written 7 reviews (only 7? It feels like more!) and given:
          • 6 three-star ratings
          • 9 four-star ratings
          • 3 five-star ratings 
          That's no one- or two-star ratings! So while I haven't reach much, what I've read has, on average, been very enjoyable. I've DNFed 3 books that just weren't for me, so most of my reading has been worthwhile.

            I've also added 57 books to my TBR list, which sounds like a lot! But I've also culled the list a couple of times this year, so even though the number sounds bad it's not as terrible as you'd think (although I still feel the need for a reader's retreat). Most of the culling was of YA - I'm just not as interested in it as I used to be, which you might've noticed from my blog over the past year or two.

            So overall, I haven't read much in 2016, but it's not all bad because I found a new favourite book (War and Peace) and finally read Sappho and Sarah Waters for the first time!

            As for next year, I don't expect the number of books I read per year to increase until I've got my degree, but we'll see how the next 2 years go. Anything could happen!

            How's your reading year been? Good, bad, interesting, surprising?

            Tuesday, 15 November 2016

            Top Ten LGBTQ-Related Films

            Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is movie freebie, so here are ten films that feature LGBTQ characters and themes.

            Links go to IMDb pages.

            4. Camp Belvidere (2014)

            5. Bound (1996)

            7. V for Vendetta (2005)

            10. The World Unseen (2007)

            What are your favourite LGBTQ movies? What's on your to-watch list? (I still have to see Carol and The Handmaiden...)

            Sunday, 13 November 2016

            Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

            The punny quotes on the outside and inside covers killed me.


            A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
            This is the second book I've read this year about the Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE. The two were very different - the first was YA and centred on a romance, while this one was adult fiction and took place over 4 days. I rated both 3 stars, so neither was particularly special.

            As mentioned, Pompeii takes place over 4 days - the 2 days before the eruption, and the 2 days during. Because of this, it's fairly fast-paced, making it easier and more fun to read. Before the eruption, the plot centres on the maintenance of the Aqua Augusta, the huge aqueduct that supplied water to the Bay of Neapolis, where the book is set (there’s a map of the area at the start of the book, if you were wondering). Then, of course, it's Vesuvius's time to shine, in great detail.

            Pompeii promises four POVs, so I went into it expecting to be drawn into the lives of four different characters, however character - Attilius, the engineer - is the focus and the others' perspectives are minimal. This disappointed me, I have to say. As well as this, none of the characters are particularly interesting, developed, or otherwise special. It's hard to care about characters who don't interest you.

            The protagonist, however, is something of an antihero, so that made a nice change from the archetypal guy who has to save the people (maybe it's to do with him being Roman...). I love flawed characters, antiheroes especially.

            Sadly, this book fails the Bechdel Test. The one "main" female character, Corelia, has a mother, but they don't seem to speak to each other, even though they're not estranged or anything. You'd think a young woman in a Roman society would want to talk to other women - her mother, her maid, even girls her own age - but nope, doesn't happen, even though seeing how Corelia interacts with her own gender would add some much-needed depth to her character.

            On the plus side, there’s no romance! The book takes place over 4 days, so that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was such a relief. There’s a bit of saving a damsel in distress, but they barely know each other so I’ll happily ignore any romantic connotations that might entail.

            Something I enjoyed in Pompeii was the scattering of historical details. I did wonder a lot about what was fact and what was fiction (eg. which characters are real?) but the author did plenty of research. I loved coming across little details such as mentions of the erotic Pompeiian frescos, of Spartacus, of Augustus and Livia, of throwing slaves to the eels. Call me a Classics nerd, but it doesn't take much to make me happy. It's the little things.

            To conclude, I don't know why this was a bestseller, as the characters are flat and the writing is nothing special. But I'm so desperate for books about Greece & Rome that I'll take what I can get.

            Add it on Goodreads

            Wednesday, 9 November 2016

            The good, the bad, and the ugly: The Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles #7) by Isobelle Carmody

            The Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles, #7)
            Exciting ending makes up for slow rest of novel.

            The good

            • Elspeth (protagonist) isn't hung up on her missing love interest, and Gets Shit Done.
            • The whole Habitat plot at the start was interesting, although it could (probably should) have been a separate book in its own right.
            • More worldbuilding - we get to see more of the physical and cultural world Elspeth lives in.
            • I guessed one of the plot twists 50 pages before it was revealed - I love it when I'm right!
            • Exciting last 250-300 pages
            • Cute ending
            • Overall, the story is a good conclusion to the series, however...

            The bad

            • Too many characters, and after so long I couldn't remember who they all were.
            • Too much dystopia, not enough fantasy in a time when every other YA book is dystopian (however, it's interesting to get a combination of the two).
            • The dialogue is too formal even between characters who are close - realistically, people use contractions. 
            • I can't remember any LGBTQ representation in the book or the whole series. If there's any, it's not made explicit or positive. It's a long series with lots of characters, and The Red Queen was published recently in 2015, so there's no excuse.

            The ugly

            • Needs significant editing and proofreading (Isobelle Carmody asked fans to let her "hone and polish and conclude this last book at my own pace" but it seems she didn't succeed, as it's riddled with typos as if it's a first draft - which it might be).
            • Twice as long as any book needs to be
            • Slow-paced for the majority (eg. there's no running until 250 pages in)

            The summary

            After years spent struggling to balance her desires with her responsibilities, Elspeth Gordie has fully embraced her role as the Seeker. Battle-scarred and lovelorn, haunted by memories of her beloved Rushton, Elspeth is not prepared for what she finds at the end of the black road she travels: the Compound, a lost community with a startling secret. As Elspeth strives against her captors, she learns that Rushton and her friends have fallen into the hands of the deadly slavemasters that rule the Red Land. And worst of all, as Elspeth stumbles, the Destroyer creeps ever closer to his goal: awakening the cataclysmically destructive weaponmachines that Elspeth has been charged with stopping. Has all her sacrifice been in vain?

            Full of romance, action, and suspense, The Red Queen is a worthy finale to such a breathtakingly elaborate series.

            Add it on Goodreads

            Tuesday, 1 November 2016

            A New Favourite: Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

            Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien

            I watched the 2016 BBC mini-series a few months ago, which made me want to read the book. In case you don't know, the book is a monster, and it took me exactly 2 months to read. I read the ebook, not the physical book pictured, for this reason.

            War and Peace takes place in Russia during the wars with Napoleon (1805-1813, although the epilogue happens in 1820). It was first published in 1865, making it historical fiction. The book's mostly about four aristocratic families during this time. I loved it. I'll try to avoid very specific spoilers, but if you don't realise that characters are going to die, go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph.

            The good

            • An epic story of people fighting for their world and what or who they love (hence the similarity to Tolkien)
            • A rich, engaging setting (just like Tolkien...)
            • Philosophically rich (also like Tolkien) which is interesting when explored through the characters
            • Interesting, complex, developed characters (I found them much more complex and developed than those in Austen or Tolkien - Tolstoy just seems to know people incredibly well)
            • Interesting, complex, developed female characters (although women in this setting know their place, the women of War and Peace include some fascinating characters. However, there was one sentence about a woman who "slew hundred of the French", so they weren't all sitting at home. Awesomely, this woman actually existed.) 
            • It made me laugh (one character doesn't pronounce his Rs, a bear gets tied to a policeman and thrown in the river, several characters are (unintentionally) very very gay to a young 21st Century reader...)
            • It made me sad (lesson learnt: don't get attached to emo Russian princes)
            • Heaps of drama (similar to Jane Austen - particularly the family and relationship dramas)
            • Heaps of angst (between Pierre, Andrei, and Marya, there is a lot of melancholy)
            • Foreshadowing. Two characters' deaths (which I knew about because of the mini-series) were foreshadowed in one chapter, and it broke my heart.
            • Tolstoy's similes, metaphors, and analogies are entertaining. Sometimes, they help you to better understand a situation. Sometimes, they're less simile and more description of what's actually happening.

              The bad

              • Russian characters all have a bazillion names (thanks, Russian naming customs) which is very confusing. When you add in the fact that this translation Anglicises certain names, well...
              • Polish characters' names aren't even pronounceable  
              • Rumoured incest (however, I don't think they actually have an affair, unlike in the mini-series) 
              • Certain characters disappear for no reason and there's no word on what happens to them (one family lost two of their grown-up children, but we don't know anything about their reaction. Another minor character I grew attached to, due to her being so mysterious, disappeared after the last chapter - there was no mention of her in the epilogue, even though she'd been in the background the whole book. What?)
              • Structure - similar to Tolkien, sometimes when there's a change of POV, the book goes back in time a bit, which is confusing.

              The ugly

              • It's ~1300 pages long! No book has the right to be that long.
              • The scenes about war strategy and philosophy, and about history, are incredibly boring and I didn't follow. It's okay when they relate to certain characters, but sometimes they're just essays that don't specifically relate to the book.
              • The epilogues. That's right, epilogues. Plural. The first epilogue was set about 7 years after the end of the book, and it didn't give me warm fuzzy feeling about the characters' fates, although some of them were described as being happy. The second epilogue was about 40 pages of Tolstoy philosophising about history, and may as well have been published separately. I've seen people say to skip the epilogues, and I agree: the last 100 pages can be skipped without losing anything.

              The conclusion

              • I've found a new favourite book! How exciting! 
              • I know I recently talked about not judging intelligence by the books you read, but I feel smarter after reading this. 
              • Strongly recommend to fans of historical fiction and classic literature.
              • Will I read it again in my lifetime? Not sure. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll think about it. 

                The summary

                Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

                The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

                Add it on Goodreads

                October: a busy month

                Winter's out, summer's in!


                I was hardly active on this blog last month. If you missed me, here are the possible reasons why:

                • University ended, so I had all sorts of assignments due! (Now I only have one exam next week, on the 7th (which is also my birthday...) and then I've completed my first year of uni!
                • I was sick during almost the whole last week of uni, which is also when I had two assignments due, so I didn't have the energy to blog. 
                • I was participating in my second Femslash Exchange! This is a yearly gift exchange when you create F/F stories (mostly fanfiction, but original work is a category too) or art, and receive one in return. I wrote three things this year, which was really fun.
                • I was binge watching a British sit-com. 
                • I was reading War and Peace, one of the longest novels published. I'm hoping to finish it today, so stand by for a long review!


                Top Ten Villains on TV

                Top Ten Characters I'd Name a Cat After


                Just this and nothing else. Well, except for stuff I had to read for uni. And fanfiction.

                Posts around the blogosphere 

                Aentee at Read At Midnight hosted #CritYourFaves, which I sadly found out about too late to participate in.
                Berls at Fantasy Is More Fun asked what unimportant elements draw you to a book.
                Jordon at Simply Adrift discussed what makes you WANT to read a book blog. I fail miserably.
                Reg at She Latitude posted about the 'Not to Read' Pile. I found this very relevant as I'm forever adding to and culling my TBR list.

                How was your October? Productive? Busy? Fun??

                I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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