Tome Topple April 2017 – Wrap Up

The last two weeks have played host to the Tome Topple Readathon. This is a readathon in which readers take on the big books, the long books and the all-round daunting books on their book cases. Any book goes, so long as it’s over 500 page and isn’t a bind-up.

As someone with over 150 books on my to-read list, 106 of which are physical copies, this was a chance for me to actually clear some space on my to-read bookcase, and take on the books that do take longer to read.

I posted my TBR for the readathon back when it first started, so now I’m going to talk about the books I managed to read in my two weeks of dedicated big-book reading, and a bit about the experience of it.

So, to start off with, the two weeks turned out to not be as dedicated to big books as I would have liked. I started and completed only one book which was over 500 pages in the course of those two weeks, completed two other previously-started books (only one of which was 500+ pages), started and finished a 200-odd page book, while also starting and getting most of the way through a 700-page book.

In clearer form, the two weeks started off with a bang. I decided to start with Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor as it was top of my list with regards to anticipated books of 2017, and just sounded amazing. It did not disappoint. From the beginning I was captivated, the words flowed and the pages seemed to turn themselves. I read most of this book in the first few days then, unfortunately, work and Easter happened, and I only managed to finish it at the beginning of the second week. Still, slipping back into the story was incredibly easy and I finished the book in one sitting. It received a resounding 5/5 stars from me.

As Strange the Dreamer was not only a tome, but a hard-back as well, I ended up reading two other books while travelling on both the work commute and also on the train home for Easter. The first of these was The Forever Court by Dave Rudden, which I had started reading before the readathon began and is the sequel the Knights of the Borrowed Dark. I did not have much of the book left to read (much to my disappointment) and finished it in the first few days of the readathon, giving it 4.5/5 stars.

After finishing The Forever Court, I moved onto New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (the review for which you can find here). New Boy provided a nice break for the fantasy theme of the week and was a very enjoyable read, even if it was retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy – 4/5.  Both of these were read on my kindle and neither of which met the criteria for the readathon as they were both under 500 pages long.

The next book I finished, however, did meet the criteria and so became my second tome to topple. This was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Admittedly, I did start this book before the readathon began and I was listening to it as an audiobook, but I’m going to say it counts. I was determined to finish this book before the television adaption was released and finish it I did. As with New Boy, this received 4/5 stars.

The majority of the books mentioned above were completed in the first week of the readathon and, for those that weren’t, most of the reading was still done in that first week. After Easter weekend, I found myself in a bit of a reading slump with little energy to read. It was in this period that I read my final book of the readathon The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. I did start it at the beginning of Easter weekend and tore through the pages. On returning to my house, however, with 200 pages to go until the end, I found I was just too tired or not in the mood to read it. And so, in the final week of Tome Topple, I only read 100 of those pages, and I’m still working through the rest today. This was particularly disappointing, not just because I didn’t complete Tome Topple on a high, but also because I really enjoy the Scott Lynch’s books and have adored the previous two in this particular series. Unfortunately, I just ended up reading this book at the wrong time which has hampered my enjoyment a little.

So, that’s it for my Tome Topple wrap up. It started strongly, but I couldn’t keep the pace throughout the whole two weeks, not even with a bank holiday to read through. I did enjoy it for the most part, particularly having that little bit of extra incentive to read some of my larger books, especially as I have a few.  Hopefully, next time I will have a little more success!

Rosie Reviews: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

New Boy

Title: New Boy

Author: Tracy Chevalier

Publisher: Hogarth

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

Source: NetGalley

Review

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier is the latest book in the Hogarth Shakespeare project. This project takes today’s noted authors and asks them to rewrite Shakespeare’s plays for a modern audience. So far, the project has tackled the likes of The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest with authors Jeanette Winterson, Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler and Margaret Atwood respectively. New Boy is Chevalier’s take on Othello.

Before going into this review, I will admit that I have never seen or read Othello – it’s not a play I know much about. I have, however, read a few other retellings so had a vague notion of the plot before going in. That being said, on reading up on the original play after reading, I was impressed by how well Chevalier had been able to capture the essence of the story, and a few key details, in the story she decided to write.

For New Boy takes the tragedy of Othello, with all the drama and betrayal, and places it in the setting of a primary school, with a cast of 11-year-olds (and two teachers). This was probably the most impressive part of this novel for me, particularly with regards to how well it worked. All the themes of Othello were transplanted into this school-setting and everything made perfect sense.

Much like the play, this book takes place over the course of several acts. In New Boy’s case, it took place during the breaks and before and after school. This meant that nearly the majority of the book occurred on the school playground, with very little interference from the adults. And, when there was that interference, it suited the plot and the progression of Othello in the school-setting. I thought the decision to have the book primarily set in those breaks, on the playground, really added to the experience of reading, especially as it was a clear demonstration of the story progressing, without the tedium of lessons. It allowed the characters to interact more freely and helped with both the pacing and the character development.

As with many other retellings of Othello, the main conflicts revolve around race, with Osei (the Othello-character) being the sole black child in the entire school, and jealousy, with Ian (the Iago-character) feeling threatened by Osei’s arrival. Osei is also the book’s eponymous new boy so also carries that weight with him as well. While having no experience of being black (or male for that matter), I could relate to Osei’s experience of being the new student, particularly part way through the school year, and thought Chevalier captured various aspects of this experience really well.

Osei himself was an interesting character – the son of a diplomat, with a calm exterior but a well of emotion inside. This paralleled nicely with Dee, the school’s star pupil, who wears her heart on her sleeve. Their relationship, a cute affection for one another which went no further than typical playground relationships normally go, brought out the uglier sides of students and teachers alike, while highlighting the racism demonstrated by both. The other students played their parts perfectly well as well, being both likeable and unwitting players in the drama which unfolded alike (well, except for Ian who was very much involved).

All in all, I found this retelling to be a really enjoyable read. The story flowed and I found myself moving through it with ease, savouring each moment. It captured the original play beautifully while also creating a story which felt new and relatable. Not only that, but the implanting of a tragedy into a school setting really highlighted how applicable these stories still are today (while also demonstrating that children are just plain cruel).

New Boy will be released on 11th May.

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31706250-new-boy

The Book Depository (I receive a small commission when this link is used): https://www.bookdepository.com/New-Boy–Hogarth-Shakespeare-/9781781090312/?a_aid=rosienreads

 

Tome Topple April 2017 – TBR

At midnight on 7th April, the Tome Topple readathon begins, continuing on until midnight on 20th April, two weeks later. Unlike other readathons, Tome Topple isn’t about reading as many books as possible. Instead it’s for tackling those large, daunting books on your bookcase, just waiting to be read.

Tome Topple was created by Thoughts on Tomes on YouTube and the main goal is to read books that are over 500 pages long (not including bindups, although graphic novel bindups do count). It’s a fairly relaxed readathon where there is no pressure to finish a book; if you just make a head start on that 800 page novel you’ve been putting off for a year, that’s fine.

However, there are a few reading challenges for those who are interested in a bit more of a challenge:

  • Read more than 1 tome
  • Read a graphic novel (graphic novel bindups count)
  • Read a tome that is part of a series
  • Buddy read a tome
  • Read an adult novel

I’m only going to try and attempt three of those challenges: Read more than 1 tome, read a tome that is part of a series and read an adult novel. This is mostly because I’m focusing books that I already own, none of which are long graphic novels. I’m also not doing any buddy-reading with anyone because, while I will have a TBR list, I’m going into this with an open mind and, if I’m not feeling in the mood for a book during the readathon, I’m not going to read it as I won’t enjoy it as much.

So, now we’ve got the background covered, here are the books I’m planning on reading:

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – 532 pages

This book was one of my most highly anticipated books of the year, as I loved Laini Taylor’s previous series Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It follows a daydreamer, Lazlo Strange, who longs to discover what happened to the lost city of Weep. A hero called the Godslayer appears and Strange realises it’s his chance to fulfil that dream, or lose it forever. At least, I think that what’s the book’s about based on the summary. It sounds really intriguing and is the first book in a new duology so fulfils the challenge to read a tome that is part of a series.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – 722 pages

This is a long one, but also one I’ve been desperate to read for a while. It’s the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence and, with the fourth book coming out later this year, it’s about time I get caught up. I won’t give away any plot-points, but this series follows Locke Lamora, a highly skilled con-man, who ends up getting on the wrong side of the Bondsmagi of Karthain. I love this series, however have only listened to it as an audiobook. I have this book in both paperback and audiobook format, so I do have options on how I will read it during the readathon. I would, however, like to see how I enjoy the printed version of this series in comparison to the audiobooks. This book will, hopefully, fulfil the read more than one tome challenge. It will also fulfil the two other challenges I’m doing – read a tome that is part of a series and read an adult tome (this is an adult fantasy novel).

As well as the two books above, I have the following back-up books. These are there for if I find I’m not in the mood for fantasy or if, by some miracle, I finish the two books above and have time to spare.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 635 pages (although I only have it on audiobook). I’ve already started this book and will be listening to it in the background throughout the two weeks as I want to be ready for the tv show at the end of this month.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – 554 pages. I’m surprised by how long it is taking me to get started on reading this book, and I would like to read it soon, although I know it’s probably going to be quite intense.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – 534 pages. Of all the books listed, this is the one I know the least about but is also one of the most intriguing. I’ve enjoyed the Margaret Atwood books I’ve already read and am looking forward to reading more.

I could go on – I have a lot of books that are over 500 pages long that I would like to read, but I think by including them all, my choice on what to read might be too impossible to make. That being said, I did find it difficult to initially start deciding what books I wanted to read for this readathon. As, while I do have a lot of books over 500 pages long, I also have a lot of books which are just under 500 pages and nearly impossible to tell them apart just by looking at the book on the bookcase.

Let me know if you’re going to be taking part in this readathon (or if you’re going to be taking part in any others) and what you’re planning on reading. I know I’m looking forward to having an excuse to do nothing but sit and read long books for two week (when I’m not working of course).

Rosie Reviews: Jane Eyre – The Play

Last Friday was the anniversary of Charlotte Bronte’s death and it seemed only fitting to spend Saturday afternoon sat in the Oxford Playhouse watching an adaption of her novel Jane Eyre. This particular performance, the Polly Teale adaption, was part of the young players’ festival and was performed by the amateur Oxford Playhouse 17/25 Young Company.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read Jane Eyre, so my knowledge of the story was a little rough and I think I probably would have benefitted from a refresher prior to the play. That being said, the play did do a good job of capturing the main elements of the story, particularly the madness of the wife and Jane’s independent nature, even if it was lacking in the details.

The play did start on a peculiar note with two characters on stage playing Jane Eyre – one, the physical Jane Eyre; the other, her conscience or mental state. I did find this a little confusing to start with, especially as they interacted with one another and it took a while before the relation was made obvious. It did make for an interesting twist to see the mental storm inside of Jane compared to her outward appearance. This, however, did not last long and the character of Jane’s mind gradually evolved into Rochester’s wife, highlighting interesting parallels between the two characters particularly where it wasn’t clear who the person was playing – Jane Eyre, or Rochester’s deranged wife. The member of the cast playing these characters was the only one who was on stage the whole time and both cast members did manage to have the presence and acting ability to remain in character throughout. I did, however, think the first actress to play the role pulled it off better, being more wild and uncontrollable whereas the second actress came across as more cold and calculating.

And there were two actresses for that role, as there were for all the others. The most bizarre part of this play, the biggest twist, was that the cast all changed roles in the interval. In the first half, one person was playing Mr Rochester and, in the second, he was playing a minor character. This was the same for all the cast. I don’t know why they did it, but it was really jarring and caused a lot of confused glances and puzzled whispers across the audience. Having got used to who played each character in the first half, it made the second feel more of a parody of the first. It didn’t help that, while the first Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre were very good, the second ones did not quite pull it off. I don’t think this switch was the best choice the director could have made and it would have been better to have the two line-ups on separate performances as it did make me enjoy the second half less than the first.

The peculiar start and the change-over at half-time were the main grievances I had with the play. The rest of it was enjoyable to watch and the cast did very well with limited props and a basic set. I enjoyed the decision to have the cast play the animals – the horse was quite entertaining to see, although I did feel a little sorry for the one cast member dressed up like a dog. It is a play I would see again and it’s a play which made me want to go back and reread the book. More so since the play left out the one, concluding sentence which should really be in any Jane Eyre adaption and which would have brought the play to a perfect close: “Reader, I married him”

Play Rating: 3.5/5

 

The Books I Read in March 2017

March has been a really good reading month for me. While I didn’t read the books I had initially planned to read, I thoroughly enjoyed those I did read and all of them are ones I will likely read again. I did stray away from my goal of reading a greater variety of books – those I read this month were mainly fantasy novels, but those were varied in themselves (from urban fantasy to alternate reality to high fantasy) and I did read one mystery novel to break things up a bit.

 

As ever, for reference, the way I rate is as follows:

1-Unable to Finish ; 2-Did not enjoy ; 3-Liked ; 4-Really Liked ; 5-Loved

 

Audiobook

The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May – 5/5

 

Hardback

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza – 4/5

 

Kindle

Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken – 4/5

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus – 5/5

Ink & Bone by Rachel Caine – 4/5

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – 5/5

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden – 4/5

 

Interestingly, compared to February, the majority of the books I read this month were read in eBook format. This was mostly due to the time I spent on trains and travelling, which is where I normally read my kindle. Things have also been quite busy in the evenings, so I’ve not had as much chance to read any print books.

In April, I think I’m going to try and read more print books. I’ve not made as much of a dent in my TBR book case as I would like and there are so many books on it that I really want to read. I also have the month to finish listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman in preparation for the t.v. adaption, so that will be my audiobook of the month (although I am hoping to listen to a few more).

 

Rosie Reviews: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister

Title: Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: HarperCollins UK

Genre: Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

Red Sister is the first book in a new trilogy by Mark Lawrence, Book of the Ancestor. Having read a previous book by Lawrence, I went into Red Sister expecting it to be good. I was not, however, expecting it to be as good as it was. I struggled to put this book down and, when I finally had to, I was itching to pick it back up again.

Plot

Red Sister revolves around a convent of nuns where the inhabitants are trained to be assassins, control magic and worship the Ancestor. Everything about it sounded fantastic when I first heard about this book and, from the first line, it lived up to that (believe me, the first line of this book is probably one of my favourite first lines yet). While Red Sister does have a self-contained plot, it is very much the first book in a series and the build up to both are beautifully intertwined – there is very little distinction between the two.

The big bad of the novel appears throughout, although is not completely obvious to the end, along with the over-arching story-line. The novel is filled with twists and turns, not least a prophecy that turns the trope on its head, many times over. While there were some predictable aspects, I actually found that they worked both as a surprise and if you knew what the twist was all along. The novel is interspersed with three flash-forwards, each of the same moment and each partly related to the story in question. I loved these parts of the book as they added something extra that made me want to keep reading even more.

Characters

The characters of Red Sister really added to the world-building and plot development, not to mention that the vast majority of them were female. The main character is a girl called Nona who comes from a desolate village and a rough background; she is wild with a strong temper and unwavering loyalty but with a lot of uncertainty about herself and her place in the world. The girls she surrounds herself with are distinct characters for the most part; however, there are a couple which I did get muddled up (although whenever that did happen, there was always a reminder a few sentences later about which was which). I had the same experience with the nuns – a couple stood out, but I did get a few confused. The main disappointment with the characters for me was the abbess – while incredibly strong at the beginning, she gradually disappears from the plot and I would have loved to see more of her throughout the book.

One of my favourite parts of this novel is that while there is very little romance in the novel itself, the only relationships we really see are between women. No-one’s defining characterisation is their sexuality, it’s just part of who they are, and the main character is bisexual. On top of that, no-one else in the novel displays having any issues with same-sex relationships at all. Although it would have been nice to see the LGBT parts of this novel in a slightly more prominent light, I thought it was written really well and made sense given the focus on the plot on the training and primary story-lines.

World/Setting

For those who have read Mark Lawrence’s previous series, this will be a chance to see where else his writing will take you. It’s set in a completely different world, with new characters, new threats and an intriguing magic system. While it is a little difficult to get your head around at the beginning, the glossary is helpfully at the front of the book, and everything is gradually explained as the book progresses.

The only part that I did struggle with was getting a grasp of the land. While the land was explained, mostly in the context of the religion, I am still not entirely sure of the structure of the corridor, or planet itself. A map would have been incredibly helpful on that front (I was reading on a kindle – the print books may have that map).

That being said, I did really enjoy the world in this book. While the setting was mostly contained within the monastery, we do get to see glimpses of elsewhere through flash-backs and the odd venture away from the convent. I found the magic system really intriguing – based off of four tribes which arrived on the land, each with their own traits (giant, speed, magic and ability to see the path). While expressing the traits are rare, even rarer are those who show more than one. Everything about the magic system gives so much potential for future developments and, alongside the religions depicted in the novel, it makes me very excited to see what else Mark Lawrence will bring to the story in the next book.

Final thoughts

I came out of this book ready to read the sequel, desperate even. Which, given that Red Sister is not yet out, means a fair amount of impatient waiting. Mark Lawrence’s writing and world-crafting ability really shone in this book. Nona was a brilliant lead, the plot was gripping and the world felt like I could practically step into it. It’s exciting  and I would highly recommend it to any fantasy lover out there.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence will be released in the UK on 6th April 2017.

Rating: 5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25895524-red-sister

The Book Depository (I receive a small commission if this link is used): https://www.bookdepository.com/Red-Sister-Mark-Lawrence/9780008152291/?a_aid=rosienreads

 

Top 3 Anticipated Reads -Q2 2017

We are fast approaching the end of March and I would have to say that I’ve done pretty well on my book-buying ban in the last few months. Aside from what I’ve received in FairyLoot boxes, I’ve managed to stick to buying only one book a month (although, to be fair, that’s not really helped with my massive to read pile).

Today, I’m going to look ahead at the months to come, and what books there are on offer. In keeping with the one book per month theme, and to stop this post being rather long, I’ve selected one book released per month.

April

4th April 2017: Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

  • I have only read one book by Mark Lawrence, but that book was enough to make me thoroughly excited about the release of Red Sister, the first book in his new series Book of the Ancestor. Set in a different world to his previous trilogies, Red Sister follows a female lead with a violent past who is brought to a convent to be trained as an assassin. It sounds thrilling and one I am very excited to read.
  • Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25895524-red-sister

May

16th May 2017: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

  • I have heard nothing but praise for Renee Ahdieh’s books, despite not having yet read one. That praise alone has me highly anticipating the release of her next book Flame in the Mist. Set in Japan, it is about the daughter of a Samurai who, on her way to an arranged marriage, gets caught up in an assassination attempt. Mariko decides to take things into her own hands and infiltrates the clan that had set out to kill her. Everything about this plot calls to me and, if the hype is anything to go by, it will be an amazing read.
  • Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23308087-flame-in-the-mist

June

13th June 2017: Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

  • As this is the sequel to This Savage Song, there is not really much I can say with regards to plot without spoiling the first book. That being said, my anticipation for this book stems from my high regard of anything Victoria Schwab writes. I have yet to read a book of hers that I have not enjoyed, and so I have very little doubt that this book with survive the ‘curse of the second book’ and be brilliant in its own right.
  • Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32075662-our-dark-duet

So, those are my three anticipated reads for quarter two of 2017. What are your anticipated reads for the months ahead?