Bookworm #3 – The Past Lives, Grey Areas and Sexual Tension Edition

15th November 2013 4 comments

When was the last time I did a Bookworm feature? I’ve actually been reading a few books – not enough in my opinion but I’ve been so busy with uni it’s been hard. So I’ll just do the favourites of the books that I’ve been reading these past few months.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Goodreads Link)

Life after Life - Kate Atkinson

Author: Kate Atkinson
Title: Life After Life
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Purchase: Book Depository, Amazon
Rating: 4/5
Summary:  What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath. During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. With wit and compassion, she finds warmth even in life’s bleakest moments, and shows an extraordinary ability to evoke the past. Here is Kate Atkinson at her most profound and inventive, in a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

My Thoughts:

I absolutely love the cover of the book – I’m glad that Australia got this edition rather than the other one because I think this one captures the essence of the book perfectly.

This book is simply amazing. It explores the concepts of ‘past lives’ and ‘renewal’, with a wonderful lead character and beautiful writing. We are introduced to Ursula, who was not even given the chance to be Christened with her name, when she dies. But she returns. And dies again. With each subsequent life, she lives longer and we begin to see a very special child. The initial retellings of Ursula’s life could have turned out monotonous, but Kate Atkinson manages to avoid that because you want to see what happens to Ursula in her next life – what small, but significant decision that would impact her life.

I loved the characters. And I definitely loved unity of the family relationships, I’m a sucker for those.

Vicious by Victoria Schwab (GoodReads Link)

Author: Victoria Schwab
Title: Vicious
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal, Fantasy
Purchase: Book Depository, Amazon
Rating:  – 5/5
Summary: Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

My Thoughts:

STOP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS BOOK.

This is probably one of my favourite books of 2013. Incredibly clever, beautifully written with ambiguous morals – what is not to love about this book? I had nearly written this book off when I noticed the ‘Young Adult’ tag (not that I don’t read ‘YA’ books anymore, but I’m wary) –  I personally  don’t think it is actually YA.

The book’s structure is interesting – jumping from present and past tense. It surprisingly was not at all distracting and the transitions back and forth were extremely smooth – the book flowed very well. There was never a dull moment.

As I previously alluded – there are no ‘heroes’ in this book. No good vs bad. And this is what I absolutely loved about the book – it didn’t try and box characters into the stereotypes. Victoria Schwab did a superb job on the characters and fleshing them out. I loved Victor and his gang!

“Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human”

Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre (GoodReads Link)

Author: A.A. Aguirre
Title: Bronze Gods (Apparatus Infernum #1)
Genre: Fiction, Paranormal, Fantasy, Steampunk
Purchase: Book Depository, Amazon
Rating:  –  4.5/5
Summary: Hy Breasil is grimmer than it used to be.

Before the Architect closed the door, there were regular crossings, and a great war decimated both humans and Ferishers. The native fae who refused to treat with the invaders faded; their bodies withered and died, stranding them as hungry, angry spirits that haunt the countryside.

That means there’s always trouble brewing in Dorstaad.

Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko work for the Criminal Investigation Department, keeping citizens safe from things that go bump in the night. He’s a hardboiled cynic with an uncanny sixth sense; she’s determined to justify her promotion as the first female detective in her division. Together, they’re trying to keep a black tide from drowning the city.

But when the second body surfaces, murdered with the same type of infernal device, the entire CID must face the truth. There’s a madman on the loose, twining magic and blood… and only Mikani and Ritsuko can unravel the intricate, lethal conspiracy before the Royale killer completes his macabre plan, unleashing old, forbidden magic on an unsuspecting populace. If the maniac succeeds, it could mean the end of everything…

My Thoughts:

Okay, I was taking a dig at the book when I labelled this the ‘sexual tension’ book. There is unresolved sexual tension however A.A. Aguirre creates two brilliant characters that you can’t help but fall in love with and root for!

Ritsuko and Mikani begin as co-workers and friends – I love watching their interaction. They somewhat remind me of Castle and Beckett from the ABC TV series, Castle; which would certainly explain why I loved their relationship so much. Just like the latter mentioned characters, their romance is a subtle and slow one – I’m eagerly waiting the next book to see if they will finally take the plunge.

But the book isn’t a romance one – there have been murders and Ritsuko and Mikani are forced to figure out who the murderer is (again, reminds me of Castle, haha!). The world-building is flawless and I loved the world very much. A combination of steampunk, noir and faeries? Count me in!

Bookworm #2 – Time-travelling and Fairy Tales

7th April 2013 8 comments

I had plenty of time to read during my placement at Thursday Island – with the multiple flights etc. More historical fiction as well 🙂 Yeah, I never used to be too into historical fiction but as I grew older (I sound super old now), it’s becoming one of my favourite genres (if you can’t tell). I actually used to read a lot of YA but quite frankly, I’m trying to stay away from it now. Not that I despise it – but I find it so disheartening nowadays . I look at all these books and inadvertently cringe when I read the blurb. They feel like cookie-cutter versions of each other (and Twilight). There is always a girl and a “mysterious, dangerous boy” that she knows is nothing but trouble but can’t help but feel irrevocably drawn to him. I’ll admit, I do have a thing for mysterious, dangerous guys who are enigmas but it’s just off-putting to pick up a book and read the same blurb over and over again. Doesn’t mean that I won’t read a good book if it presents itself…but yeah.

Ranting aside, let’s take a look at what I’ve been reading:

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (Goodreads Link)

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Author: Susanna Kearsley
Title: The Firebird
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
Rating:  – 4/5
Summary:  Whoever dares to seek the Firebird may find the journey — and its ending — unexpected.

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images; glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s first Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving — known as “The Firebird” — is worthless. But Nicola’s held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth, and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left, and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia.

There, in St. Petersburg — the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia — Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption…an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives

My Thoughts:

Yes, I’m more so interested in historical books nowadays and reading the summary of this book – a parallel book – I immediately gobbled it up. This book is told from two main characters – Nicola from the present and through Nicola’s gift of catching glimpses of the past, Anna. You know that feeling when you begin reading a book and you just know that it’s going to be a good one? This is the feeling that I got when I started reading Chapter 1 of The Firebird.

Did it meet my expectations? Yes it did indeed!

Nicola is a wonderful character, with a gift that she doesn’t want to use but is prompted to in order to help a dying woman. I enjoyed watching her interactions with Rob as well, you honestly, he’s so patient and a sweet guy. Their relationship is sweet but it isn’t the focus of the story and takes the back-burner as another character, Anna, is introduced. As we began to delve more into Anna’s world, I found myself finding more interested in Anna’s story than Nicola’s unfortunately (hence the 4/5) but I suppose that is because we get to watch Anna grow up into the strong, intelligent woman that she becomes.

Definitely a brilliantly read 🙂

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth (GoodReads Link)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Author: Kate Forsyth
Title: The Wild Girl
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Fairy Tales
Rating:  – 4/5
Summary: Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm.

It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.

Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’ and ‘Six Swans’. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen’s father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.

Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

My Thoughts:

I was EXTREMELY excited for this book! Like super duper excited! I was away at Thursday Island while the book was released and lamented over the fact I had to wait a whole week before sinking into this book. I had absolutely loved Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and when I heard that she was writing another historical novel, I was eagerly counting down the days.

With so much hype, how did book fare?

I liked it a lot. It was an interesting to read a novel about Dortchen Wild, who I hadn’t even know existed. Dortchen Wild existed – she was actually the wife of Wilhelm Grimm, one of the Grimm Brothers. Yes that’s right, the Grimm Brothers!  Kate Forsyth once again demonstrates her ability to shine the light on the forgotten women in European history.

A warning though – the book does have a turn of darkness in it, which may make some uncomfortable. If you’re familiar with the tale ‘All Kinds of Fur’ (or Deerskin by Robin McKinley – a novel based on the fairy tale) it treads along those lines. Kate Forsyth however doesn’t tread on it for no good reason, or to add some ‘drama’ – in fact, in the after word she explains her reasoning which I found incredibly well thought and researched. Intrigued? Well here’s a copy of the afterword and what Kate has to say about it.

Spoilers ahoy!

Spoiler (A Section from Kate Forsyth Afterword):

“While researching Dortchen’s stories, I read a study by a psychologist about the therapeutic use of fairy tales to help victims of abuse. The psychologist had noticed the key differences between the first version of ‘All Kinds of Fur’ which was written down by Wilhelm Grimm and rushed to the printers in October 1812, and the later, edited version of the story, published in the 1819 edition. Victims of abuse who read the 1812 version always identified strongly with the girl in the tale, and thought that the king she married in the end was in fact her father. The later version very carefully made it clear that the father-king and the bridgegroom-kind were different men. The first story was identified as a tale of incest fulfilled. The second was a tale of incest diverted.

Later, I read a book by the eminent fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes in which he speculated that the reason Wilhelm Grimm changed that particular story, and other incest tales in the collection such as ‘The Maiden With No Hands’, was that he himself had been abused as a child. But why, then, would he have included them in the first place I wondered. It occurred to me that perhaps that it was Dortchen, his future wife, who had been abused, and that Wilhelm, once he realised this, had changed the story as a kind of gift to her. He certainly included a veiled reference to her as a ‘Wild deer’ in the final version of ‘All Kinds of Fur’.”

Any book recommendations?

Posted Under: 4-stars, books, on my bookshelf

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