Friday, 23 October 2015

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State is one of the most compelling novels I've read so far this year.
Gripping from the get go, Roxane Gay tells the story of Mireille, an American born woman kidnapped whilst holidaying with her family in her parent's home country, Haiti. For all intents and purposes Mireille has a perfect life, a happy life but it all comes crashing down on that fateful day when she is violently snatched from her husband and young son outside of her parent's home in Haiti.
The subject matter being dealt with in this book is a tough one... Writing about kidnapping can be hard as you don't want to cross a line but at the same time you want to try and make the story authentic. Roxane Gay crossed lines, but in a good way, and the story felt like the most authentic kidnapping I have read. Having said that, there are a number of parts in this book that can be hard to get through, with graphic scenes of both a violent and a sexual nature. Those aren't things people can always read easily, and even if you aren't fazed by those kinds of scenes, they still aren't easily read, so if you fall in to the category who would rather not expose themselves to such scenes then I would say to steer clear of An Untamed State as a large portion of the book is hard to read given those scenes.
I know very little about Haiti, but the book portrays it as a place where kidnappings are basically a regular business transaction. A girl is taken from a wealthy family, the family pay and the girl is given back. Except Mireille's father doesn't pay, he is a man of his own principles and believes if he does not pay his daughter will be returned anyway. He also believes his daughter is strong enough to get through her ordeal; her gut wrenching ordeal that lasts thirteen days.
There is so much emotion that goes in to reading this book. Seeing Mireille fall to pieces, crumble away from the person she once was, forget her loved ones and the life she once had, is heart breaking. Mireille's father is right about one thing, she is strong, and seeing her come out the other side of her kidnapping is what marks this book up in my estimation. I'm glad the author allowed us to see both sides of the story, and kept the experience as real as possible throughout.
Roxane Gay used a really good writing technique throughout the first part of the book where we saw Mireille present day, being held captive and going through some of the worst possible things imaginable, but flitting backwards and forwards between that and Mireille's life before the kidnapping - growing up as a child, learning of the family that surrounds her, seeing her fall in love with her husband, expanding her family. The love that she is surrounded by in these parts are a stark contrast to her current state of life; this contrast only makes her ordeal all the more shocking.
I don't want to say I enjoyed the story being told, given its nature, but I did enjoy the book as well as Roxane Gay's writing. However, the reason I have only given An Untamed State four stars, not five, is because of the dialogue. Whilst I wholeheartedly fell in to the story, believing all the words told, even forgetting it was fiction at points, a lot of the dialogue - particularly between Mireille and her husband, Micheal - didn't feel real. To me it didn't seem like how a husband and wife would interact, especially after all they had been through together, both pre and post kidnapping. That was literally the only thing that let this book down for me, and if I did half stars, An Untamed State would be a 4.5 stars.
A lot goes in to An Untamed State, a lot I didn't even imagine when going in to this book blindly - it is more than a just a kidnapping and a class divide. An Untamed State explores love in a variety of ways, but especially a secretive way - the things we'll do, say and keep from our loved ones in order to protect them. There is more than just that though too, An Untamed State is a multi faceted novel that will stay with me for quite some time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Ah, what's with all these tough to review books I'm reading lately?! I'll start out by saying Leaving Time is my lowest rated Jodi Picoult book to date, coming in at just three of five stars.... And that was a push at three stars, I was honestly going with a two until I reached the end.
Leaving Time tells the story of Jenna, a teenage girl whose mother went missing when she was just three years old and whose dad currently resides in an institution having done so since the fateful day of her mum's disappearance. Despite her grandma's protests, Jenna is desperate to find her mum and is willing to do anything in order to connect with her once more. Anything, including seeking out a psychic and an ex cop turned private investigator who together make the perfect team, unravelling the mystery that has plagued Jenna for years. 
The general plot of Leaving Time, is good, it's readable, and with Jodi Picoult's conversational style of writing, a page turner even, but what halted my page turning on a number of occasions was Alice, Jenna's mother, scientist and elephant enthusiast. I have nothing against elephants, but at the same time I felt Jodi Picoult was force feeding me a wealth of knowledge about them. There's no doubt she has done her research on the topic, as with any of her other books, but more often than not I felt like I was reading an educational piece on elephants, not a fictional book. In comparison, another of Jodi Picoult's more recent works had the focus of wolves, with them playing just as important a role in the book as the elephants do in Leaving Time and in the case of Lone Wolf, the incorporation of wolf research was done well, whereas in Leaving Time the elephants really were over done.
I kid you not, I was literally dreaming of elephants because I was reading so much about them.
Don't get me wrong, there was definitely a place in the story for all the elephant study, and it didn't entirely take away from the story being told, but it did shift my focus on numerous occasions and I kind of wish it had been kept to a minimum.
Looking passed the elephants, the characters within Leaving Time were well fleshed out with depth and dimension, especially Jenna, Alice, Serenity (psychic) and Virgil (PI). In all honesty, I kind of loved them all as characters, but Serenity is definitely someone I'd like to see more of - I did read an e-book novella that was released in the run up to Leaving Time and I just loved Serenity, her personality and backstory.
Whilst it may seem silly how much the elephant talk bothered me as a reader, what bumped Leaving Time up from a two star to a three was the end - I did not, in a million years, see that conclusion coming. The unexpected element really changed my perspective on the story, turning what could have a run of the mill plot in to something quite brilliant.

Monday, 19 October 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

If you saw my last week's 'It's Monday' post then you'll know I was delving in to a Jodi Picoult novel - Leaving Time. I wasn't too sure what to expect from this book, Jodi Picoult was once my all time favourite author, but as I've got older and discovered more authors, and as her works have progressed, I've found I've enjoyed her books less and less. I admire the way in which she tells a story and the depth she gives to characters, but having changed paths from her original writing, I just find the books to be a good read. Leaving Time was just that, a good read, coming in at three stars. I've written my review already and will be sharing that this coming Wednesday.
After finishing Leaving Time on Friday, I moved on to another library borrow, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I went in to this one blind almost, knowing nothing of the book prior to reading the blurb in the library - often times this is the best way to go in to a book as you don't have expectations. So far, at close to half way through, An Untamed State is shaping up to be powerful read.
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a wilful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.
What are you reading this week?

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Set in a dystopian future, The Word Exchange explores what a fully digitalised world would be like and the consequences that come from relying heavily on devices and electronics.
I've struggled with how to write this review, as I have such mixed feelings on the book and I don't want to share too much in depth information on the plot, so I decided the easiest way to share my thoughts would be to split it in to two - the things I liked, and the things I didn't like. I'm starting with the things I didn't like, because ending on a positive is nice, right?
Things I didn't like
Disconnection from characters.
I felt no connection with the characters in The Word Exchange, none whatsoever. Well, unless you count wondering where Doug is as a connection. We learn a lot about the characters in the book, but I didn't feel a depth to them.
Not fearing what will happen to Anana.
Multiple times throughout the book Anana, the main character, finds herself in a number of compromising and life threatening situations, but I didn't feel gripped by these because I knew Anana was safe and well by how the book is told - with Anana herself referencing things from the future.
Bart's journal inserts.
I fully understand why Bart's journal was written the way it was, with word flu being present throughout - so words muddled and such - but from a reader's perspective, it was really annoying to read. So much so that at one point I was close to just putting the book down.
Fanciful writing.
Sticking with the writing in the book... There was a lot of words used within this book that I had to look up. I don't know if I need to expand my vocabulary a little, but on a number of occasions I thought the author was getting fancy with her choice of words. I understand, with the book predominantly focusing on words, that the author would need have a competent knowledge when it comes to words, however having to keep looking up words whilst reading takes away from that reading experience.
The length.
As I mentioned in my most recent It's Monday! post, I just barely finished this book in a week. Although that is pretty typical for me, it was by putting reading as a priority in my spare time that made that possible. The Word Exchange felt incredibly long, and I do think it could have been chopped down by a good few pages and still have the same effect, if not better because it wouldn't seem like a chore getting through the book. Honestly, I thought it was never ending. It didn't help that Goodreads informed me this book was 320 pages long, when in actual fact it is longer than that.
Things I did like
The general premise.
The overall premise of The Word Exchange is possibly one of my favourites from the year. As I touched upon at the start, the book explores what is almost a fully digitalised world with a Meme being your constant companion - not only does it work as a traditional mobile device (communication tool) but it also understands you as a person, reading your mind and being one step ahead of your wants/needs. As with any technology, there is always going to be updates, except the Meme update sends the world in to chaos.
The concept really makes you think about your usage of technology and the ways in which you rely on it, and that comes from someone who really isn't clued up on technology and electronics - I don't own an iPhone like a large portion of the world's population, in fact I don't even have a smartphone, and those are by choice so the reliance on a Meme within The Word Exchange really makes me think about where the world is going - even though the story is fictional, a fully digitalised world is something that could very well come about sooner than we think.
I think the premise alone would make The Word Exchange a really good book club read.  
The mystery of Doug's, a lexicographer for the North American Dictionary of the English Language, disappearance.
Doug's disappearance is the main story running through The Word Exchange, and I was hooked by it. He seemingly upped and disappeared, with virtually no trace, and Anana (his daughter) alongside colleague and friend, Bart, unearth a number of clues leading to the ultimate conclusion. The way everything pieced together worked really well in the way of a mystery.
References to Alice in Wonderland.
Although only a little thing, I really liked all the references to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Although only filtered in here and there, they play in large part in Doug's disappearance and give the book that special touch.
All loose ends tied up.
With any book, I like everything to be tied up neatly in a bow at the end, and Alena Graedon does that in The Word Exchange - I had no unanswered questions. I do think this is one of the reasons why the book felt quite long though.
Reading through my review, I think certain aspects would make more sense to those who have read the book themselves, but hopefully it provides a good insight in to The Word Exchange. I'm not entirely sure if the positives outweigh the negatives for me when it comes to this book, but I would recommend The Word Exchange if you were looking for a slightly different dystopian type novel.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Every year I say I'll read some spooky read or other befitting of Halloween during October time, and pretty much every year I fail at it. Not this year though, and when it came to picking what books exactly, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson was right up the top. I'd been wanting to explore Shirley Jackson's writing for some time now and The Haunting of Hill House is one of the titles I see recommended a lot if you like gothic classics and mystery reads.
From the start, the general premise of the book is set out for you. Dr Montague has invited a number of guests to a remote haunted house in order to partake in a social experiment of sorts, hoping the specifically selected guests would lure out the supernatural in the house. Despite inviting a considerable number of guests, only three are able to join him - Eleanor, Theodora and Luke, who wasn't really invited but more forced along being heir to Hill House some day.
Throughout the book we get a good sense of the individuals staying within in the house, and how and why the supernatural may manifest whilst having them as guests of the house. We also see a few more faces in the book than the main four, including a couple who maintain the house as well as Dr Montague's wife who joins the party close to the end of the book.
Having now read the book, I will think of The Haunting of Hill House as a ghost story... Although it almost really isn't at the same time. It's hard to explain that without inserting spoilers in to my review, but Hill House inhabits it's inhabitants to an extent.
With any book involving a haunted house, you'd expect bumps in the night and passages that grip you with fear. Naturally these are found in The Haunting of Hill House, but the story being told is so much more than that. It isn't always easy to scare with words, but Shirley Jackson does that extremely well because alongside her words you need to use your imagination... And honestly, your imagination is often the most scary thing of all.
If you're looking for a creepy read this Halloween, I'd highly recommend The Haunting of Hill House. Also if, like me, you enjoy a good ghost story for a cosy winter read, again pick this one up. Being a relatively short read, you could easily get lost in The Haunting of Hill House in a matter of a few hours.

Monday, 12 October 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

As Monday rolls around, I've barely just managed to finish reading my book choice for the past week - The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. I had quite high hopes for this particular book and I came away feeling a bit 'meh' about it to be honest. There were things I liked, things I didn't, and elements that hindered the enjoyment of my reading experience. Writing a review of The Word Exchange isn't going to be easy, but I'm hoping to have one up on Friday.
Whilst reading The Word Exchange, I did briefly pick up another book as I needed a little bit of a break. Because I knew I didn't want to commit to a whole other book, I picked up The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales from my shelves and read three of the short stories within. I think I'll be dipping in and out of this for the duration of the month.
This week I'm starting afresh in the way of book material, delving in to Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. There was once a time where I'd instantly rush out to read Jodi Picoult's latest offerings but as I've found my reading zone a little more and discovered many a new author, I'll just pick up her works as and when I see them at the library. That's not to say I don't enjoy her writing anymore, as I do, but I have found I prefer earlier works to her newer stuff and so I no longer auto buy the books when they're released.
Jenna Metcalf was with her mother the night she disappeared in tragic and mysterious circumstances, but she remembers nothing.

Over ten years have passed, and still Jenna reads and rereads her mother's journals, hoping to find some clue hidden there, in the meticulous recording of her scientific research with elephants.

Desperate for answers, Jenna uses all her savings to recruit the aid of a private detective - and a psychic.

Jenna knows her mother loved her. She knows she would not leave her. And she will not rest until she finds out what happened that night. In her most gripping mystery since House Rules, Jodi Picoult brings us a powerful story of a young girl's determination to uncover the truth, however shocking and life-changing it might be.
What are you reading this week?

Friday, 9 October 2015


A couple of weeks ago I shared a post hauling some library books and outlining my book buying ban. In that post I briefly touched upon my to be read pile and how I hope to make a dent in that whilst on this ban of mine. I thought what better way to keep track of working through my TBR than to write about it here.
So this is my original TBR post. Listed below are all the books that currently sit on my unread shelf (accounted for at the time of writing this 30/09/15) and every so often I will check back on the blog as well as refer to my Goodreads page and make an update on how I'm doing with working through my TBR.
(Side note - my TBR is literally books that I own to be read, not books that I perhaps hope to read one day)
In no particular order, the books... I counted 29 in total.
The Complete Collected Short Stories: Volume One by Roald Dahl (I'm actually part way through this as I read it sporadically)
Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales (Much like the Roald Dahl short stories, I read this sporadically too)

I guess in many respects I'm lucky to have minimal space when it comes to my book collection because I know if it weren't for issues with space my TBR would probably be a lot larger than it is. It's probably also worth noting that I've only included books on my actual shelves, none from my Kindle. I very seldom read on my Kindle - I couldn't even tell you the last time I picked it up - so it seemed kind of silly to include those books.

How many books do you have on your TBR list?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

I was looking for a book to get me out of an almost slump, and Garden Spells was the perfect one to delve in to - I got lost in Bascom and the Waverley family.
Bascom, North Carolina, is a small town with quite the history, especially when it comes to the heritage of families. The Clark's are renowned for their sexual prowess, the Hopkins are known for their maturity and nature to date older women, the Matteson's are all about family and the Waverley's - the focal family of the story - have a gift of some kind, varying from member to member.
At the start of Garden Spells, Claire Waverley is living life the only way she knows how by keeping to herself and her constant of routine. Sydney, Claire's younger sister, is running from her abusive husband, with child in tow, and returning to the only place she's ever known as home - Bascom, back to her childhood home, and her sister Claire.
The two sisters haven't always seen eye to eye, and so the reunion isn't full of pleasantries, but as the story continues we see a bond form between the two that is lovely to read. Being back in one another's lives does wonders for both sisters and both Claire and Sydney pull from each other in order to develop as individuals.
Alongside the story of building bridges, there is romance for both Claire and Sydney. Watching Claire fumble with falling in love for the first time, allowing someone to get close to her, makes for interesting reading and feels almost relatable. Whilst Claire is busy falling in love with the next door neighbour, Sydney is rebuilding her life with daughter, Bay, when romance unexpectedly hits her. There is depth to Sydney's arrival in town with former high school friends uneasy by her reappearance due to a first love from many years ago.
It's safe to say love and romance are very central to the plot of Garden Spells.

As is magic... Or the unexplained. The magical elements inside Garden Spells are unusual, but useful. I haven't really read anything like it.

Claire has her magical garden, with an unpredictable apple tree and the gift of creating amazing dishes from the edible plants in her garden that have the ability to do certain things - i.e. Lavender raises spirits, rose petals encourage love and honeysuckle allows you to see in the dark. Claire has made a rather successful business as a caterer many thanks to her garden.

Sydney has always tried to brush off being a little bit different, shrugging away from the Waverley legacy, but upon returning to Bascom she embraces her family name and her own ability of being able to tell things about a person just by their hair - this makes her a master of her craft, hairdressing.
Whilst I enjoyed seeing how the main characters progressed throughout the story, the minor characters played just as important a part within the book. In fact, it is a minor character that I would pick as a favourite, and that is Evanelle. Evanelle is a Waverley too, although not technically immediate family, and she has the gift of needing to give people items. It seems rather silly and insignificant, but the items Evanelle shares with others always plays an important role in their future. Learning a little about her gift, how it came about, and how it impacts on Evanelle herself was one of my favourite things about Garden Spells.
For someone who enjoys character driven plots, Garden Spells is an amazing read. However, if you like writing that is a little more lyrical then this wouldn't be for you. The author's writing is easy to read, concise, and tells the story simply. It is the magical elements, the plot, and the characters that carried me through.
Garden Spells isn't the kind of book I'd automatically pick if giving someone a book recommendation, but I'd happily read more when it comes to the Waverley family.

Monday, 5 October 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This past week was quite successful reading wise for me with two books completed. The first book I read was Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and the second one, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Both authors were new to me and The Haunting of Hill House was the first of my planned spooky reads what with Halloween approaching; I have one more spooky read ahead of me this month.
I've a bunch of library books sitting waiting to be read and so that's what I'm turning to this week. I've already started reading The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon, and so far it is all I'd hoped for having heard a lot about it last year. Whether I'll get through more of my library books this week is debatable as on average I do tend to read the one book a week, but I am eyeing up Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult as a possible next read.
A literary adventure for booklovers, a dystopian thriller about the digital age and a love story set in a world threatened by the disappearance of language.


Imagine a world in which books, libraries and newspapers are things of the past. A world in which we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but have become so intuitive as to hail taxis before we leave our offices and even create and sell language in a digital marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and they're hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. Then one evening, Doug disappears and Anana discovers a single written clue: ALICE. It's a code word Doug devised to signal if he ever fell into harm's way.

Joined by Bart, her bookish colleague, Anana's search for Doug will take her into dark basement incinerator rooms, underground passages, secret meetings, and ultimately to the hallowed halls of the Oxford English Dictionary - the spiritual home of the written word.
What are you reading this week?

Friday, 2 October 2015

September Reading Wrap Up

September was a funny old month for me in terms of reading - at one point I had three books on the go at one time!

My aim for September was to complete reading The Maze Runner trilogy - just the trilogy, none of the extra books. Technically speaking, I failed this goal of mine, however it was willingly so. After dedicating a lot of the month to The Maze Runner trilogy, I ending up DNF'ing when I got to the third book, The Death Cure. I was a third of the way through I'd say, which seems a silly point in which to give up reading, but I just really wasn't interested in the outcome. I hadn't connected with the characters, nor the plot, enough to truly care. I wasn't particularly hooked from the get go - there was a lot going on in terms of plot, and half of the time I felt entirely lost! If it wasn't a trilogy, just a standalone book, I would have given up long before I did and it's that thought that made me put it down for definite.

Read In September
Reviewed In September
I have quite the stack of books to work through during the month of October including some more haunting reads in line with Halloween approaching. I'm starting the new month off with a library borrow - The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. This particular title is newly in at my library, and I was the first to snag it. I've been wanting to read The Word Exchange for a while now so I was glad to find it.
What books did you read in September?
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