My recommendations: If you liked… (Part 1)

One of my favourite things about book blogging is getting new book recommendations, so I’ve pulled together some of my top recommendations based on other popular books out there. These are all books that I’d recommend based on my own experiences and similarities in theme, writing style or general feel. This is part one, which mainly looks at the fantasy, urban fantasy and dystopian genres. Other genres, such as crime/thrillers and general literary fiction, are still to come!

  1. If you liked… Rivers of London, try Just One Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary’s)

If you like urban fantasy, and in particular the Rivers of London series, you should definitely give Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s a go. Both are great, fast paced, action packed reads and they’re also both really funny and witty.

  1. If you liked… The Road, try The Reapers are the Angels

The Road is a classic, but I don’t see people talking about The Reapers are the Angels anywhere near as much as they should do. Both are set in a future dystopian America where survivors are struggling to get by, but they also both focus on character development and how situations impact on the individual.

  1. If you liked… Game of Thrones, try Malice (The Faithful and the Fallen)

Fans of the GOT books or TV series should check out John Gwynne. If I’m asked for recommendations in this genre I always point people to The Faithful and the Fallen series first. It’s a real fantasy epic and it’s done so well.

  1. If you liked… Wool, try Way Down Dark (The Australia trilogy)

I loved Hugh Howey’s Wool series, and the Australia series by James Smythe echoes that same feeling of claustrophobia and chaos, with great main characters and a whole world of revelations and plot twists that I never saw coming.

  1. If you liked… Divergent, try The Testing

The Testing is a YA dystopian series that I think would be great for fans of Divergent, but it rarely gets talked about. It’s clever, fast paced and a new take on the genre.

What do you think about this list? Do you have any that you’d recommend to me? 

Discussion post: Why reviewing books can be tough

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Most of the time I love writing book reviews. There’s a reason why there are so many more review posts on my site than any other type. However, sometimes it can be harder than you’d think to come up with a balanced review that you’re happy with – for a whole variety of reasons. Here are some of the main reasons I’ve found that reviewing books can be difficult!

  1. You just don’t care about it either way. Sometimes books just aren’t remarkable and don’t inspire any emotions at all. These are filler books – a way to pass the time but nothing to write home about. Or nothing to write about at all in fact. These don’t make for very interesting reviews – if you don’t care and can’t think of anything interesting to say, why should anyone else care about reading it?
  2. You received it as an ARC but you hated it/couldn’t finish it. Sometimes it’s easier to bury your head in the sand and put reviewing books off for a while than tell the publisher that provided you with a free copy that you thought it was garbage and no-one should waste their time on it. If you really don’t enjoy a book, it can be a real challenge to pick out some positives and present the negatives in a way that’s fair.
  3. You read it and liked it but it’s been a few months, you’ve read twenty other books since then and you just can’t remember what was so great about it. Then you either have to spend ages reading other reviews to remember the finer details of the plot, wing it and risk your own review being sub-standard, or get into the whole to reread or not to reread debate.
  4. You can’t review it without including major spoilers. This is hard. Sometimes the best bit about a book or a character revolves around a particular plot twist, but you really shouldn’t talk about it, or else you might ruin the book for others before they’ve even picked it up. It’s like playing that game where you can’t say the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – it’s much harder than you first think!
  5. You’ve just finished a second or third book in a series and realise that you never reviewed the first book. You could go ahead and review it anyway, but you have nothing to refer people back to. The OCD in me feels like things need to be in order and I just can’t review out of order, which means some books unfortunately go un-reviewed!

Do you ever come across similar issues? Do you have any tips for overcoming any of these stumbling blocks?

The problems with updating Shakespeare: Vinegar Girl

I recently read Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, which is based on The Taming of the Shrew and part of a series of books that aim to bring Shakespeare plays into the modern age. It lead me to think about whether Shakespeare can ever be truly updated, or if our values are just too different.

The Taming of the Shrew is widely considered to be one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, due to how women and gender roles are portrayed, and while this plot may have appealed to the Elizabethans, it doesn’t immediately seem like it’s one that would translate to a modern audience.

Before writing this review, I also read the original text of The Taming of the Shrew. Essentially, the story involves a father marrying off his outspoken elder daughter, Katerina, to the first man that comes along, Petruchio. Interested only interested in her dowry at first, Petruchio, often described as a ‘madman’, then resolves to ‘tame’ Katerina. He proceeds to give her a taste of her own medicine by bullying and berating her at every turn, until she agrees to submit to him in every way – even believing that the sun is the moon if he says that it’s so. She then gives a long final speech about wifely duty and obedience. I’m sure there are more complex ways to interpret this play, but I won’t go into them here.

How does Vinegar Girl compare?

The basic premise of Vinegar Girl is very similar to The Taming of the Shrew. Kate lives at home looking after her father and younger sister. She’s happy on her own without a man and can sometimes be a bit spiky and rude. Pyotr needs a green card so he can stay on as a lab assistant to Kate’s father, and the two men come up with the perfect solution – Pyotr should marry Kate. Kate is horrified, but her objections are eventually worn down and agrees to give it a go.

As opposed to the Shakespeare original, Kate’s developing relationship with Pyotr does feel genuine. He shows a real interest in getting to know her, and he’s also the only person who can see through her sister’s fluffy nonsense. Language and cultural barriers, as well as Pyotr’s single-minded devotion to his job, are used to excuse his offensive or neglectful behaviour, in contrast to him setting out to be deliberately hurtful, as Petruchio is in the play.

Kate never really comes across as a shrew, as she’s perceived to be in the play. While she may be somewhat socially awkward, she’s doesn’t seem to be particularly headstrong or independent – in fact to me she seemed more like a put-upon doormat right from the opening page. Of course this may also be true of Shakespeare, depending on how you read it.

Kate gives a similar final speech, although this time it’s about how Pyotr is just misunderstood, along with men in general. Although it mirrors Shakespeare, it felt contrived and unbelievable.

There’s no doubt that Kate and Pyotr are the main stars of the show here, while the rest of the cast felt a little one-dimensional. Other characters, such as Bunny, the sister, and her suitors, seem to have lost their purpose in this update, and could easily have been removed entirely.

Conclusions?

Some parts of Vinegar Girl did make me laugh and the dialogue between Kate and those around her is actually really witty and amusing. It’s a testament to Anne Tyler’s writing skills that I didn’t dislike this book more. But at the end of the day I just didn’t believe real people would behave or react the way they did in this book. Some actions, conversations and decisions felt forced in order to move the story in the right direction. The concept of needing to marry to please your parents or gain independence also feels outdated, given that this book is set in modern day Baltimore.

Even though I can acknowledge why the play might be problematic to update, I found it frustrating to read. I would have loved to have seen more character development. It’s a relatively short book at just 240 pages, and if it was longer and given a bit more love I might have enjoyed it more.

Compared to other attempts to bring The Taming of the Shrew into the modern world, such as 90’s teen rom com 10 Things I Hate About You, I think Vinegar Girl unfortunately falls short.

What are your thoughts about updating Shakespeare? Have you read/watched any modern interpretations that you think have worked particularly well?

 

Top 5: Favourite book quotes

Top 5 quotes

I’ve tried to narrow down my favourite book quotes into one compact list here. I could very easily have included lots more, but these are some that stand out for me, either because they’re inspirational or because they capture an idea perfectly… Continue reading

To reread or not to reread?

Discussion - rereading

Last month I reread a couple of my favourite books (ahead of the release of the last book in a series) but before I did this I had a real internal struggle about whether or not this was the best way that I could be using my reading time. Here are some of the pros and cons I debated over.

Pros:

  • Rereading is comforting. I know I’m going to enjoy it. There’s usually a reason I loved the book in the first place. The characters are familiar and it can be great escapism – like watching Home Alone every Christmas.
  • You notice things you never noticed the first time around. The first time reading, I’m usually focused on the plot and what’s going to happen next. The second time is for all the tiny details that I might never have noticed if I hadn’t committed to a reread.
  • It helps refresh your memory of books and revive your enthusiasm when there’s been a gap between releases. I’m particularly bad for forgetting everything that happened in a series and feeling totally lost when I pick up the latest release.
  • Personally, rereading books can help to lift me out of a reading slump. Sometimes I can’t decide what to read next or struggle to get excited about anything, but falling back on an old favourite for a bit of a break can be really helpful in pushing past this.

Continue reading

Flame in the Mist – Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the MistThe story: Mariko is on her way to be married to a member of the royal family when her carriage is attacked and her companions murdered. Disguised as a boy, she sets out to find and infiltrate the notorious Black Clan, defend her family’s honour and discover who wants her dead and why. At the same time, her twin brother will stop at nothing to find her again, while others are scheming away in the background to manipulate events to suit their own agendas.

My thoughts: Mariko is a strong main character, and over the course of the novel she undergoes a real transformation. Disguised in a male dominated environment, the characteristics she was always taught to value above all others are useless and she has to learn from scratch the practical skills that others take for granted. As the novel progresses, she also has to come to terms with various home truths about herself and the world she was brought up in, casting off her privileges to become her own person for the first time in her life.

As a female in feudal Japan, she feels that her life has been mapped out for her based on duty and honour. She feels that her gender has her boxed into a corner with no other options available. However, her experiences and the characters that she meets help her to redefine herself, her relationships with the people around her and her place in the world. Continue reading

Golden Son – Pierce Brown

Golden SonThe story: Having made it through the Institute and secured a patronage from one of the most powerful men on Mars, Darrow has continued his studies in warfare and leadership. This goes further afield than his own planet and includes commanding fleets of ships in epic space battles. He’s fully embedded in the Gold ruling classes, while also working hard to break it apart from within.

My thoughts: I’ve read enough YA thrillers to know that sometimes they fall down flat when they try and move past the trials of book one into the wider universe of their fictional book world. Golden Son manages this feat magnificently, despite having a far vaster and more complicated world than any other series I’ve ever read.

Where in Red Rising we were focused on just one tiny part of the universe Pierce Brown has created, in Golden Son we see much more of it. We also learn more about the structure of society and how it all fits together. Politics and strategy play a far greater role in this book, and there’s an emphasis on how all actions and decisions have consequences. Continue reading