Rosie Reviews: Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Dunstan

Title: Dunstan

Author: Conn Iggulden

Publisher: Michael Joseph

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

Dunstan is a historical novel which demonstrates Conn Iggulden’s mastery of words. It takes a saint and makes him human and weaves an intriguing tale from the threads of history.

Plot

This novel follows Dunstan from childhood all the way to being an old man who had seen seven kings on the throne in his lifetime. As records from the time period are sparse, the novel does take some artistic license in what it describes; each addition or change really helps build the character of Dunstan that Iggulden wants to portray as well as moving the story along.

While it does take a while for the story to get going at the start, as we’re still being introduced to the characters, getting used to the world through the pages and watching Dunstan grow into adulthood, it is once Dunstan gets his first taste of power that this novel really takes off. The second half is so full of political intrigue, scheming and changes in kings that it made for quite gripping reading.

Characters

The strangest part of this book for me was that I both enjoyed reading about the main character, Dunstan, while also disliking him as a person. He is extremely misogynistic, manipulative and arrogant, caring mostly for his own personal advancement. Yet, there are glimpses of kindness in him, of guilt and sorrow that take the edge off of that hatred; it also helps that those he surrounds himself with are really likable. How Conn Iggulden has written Dunstan here is a lesson in writing complex characters and it helped make me see this figurehead as simply human.

Dunstan is the only character which remains throughout the novel; even his brother Wulfric dips in and out, so we only see glimpses of him from time to time. The other characters are there for such fleeting moments, yet each one stands solid and present in my mind’s eye. Despite their short presence in the novel, you really get the sense of how each one impacted Dunstan and of their own characters as well.

World/Setting

The world-building also added an extra layer of depth to the novel. By the end of the novel I was convinced that I could simply step back through history and understand what awaited me there. The only times where I struggled were at the abbey when Dunstan was a child and whenever the novel moved around the country. I really could have done with a map during those latter sections as I found it really difficult to picture how far or how close these places were. That being said, I was reading on my kindle so I’m not entirely sure a map would have been much help at all.

Final Thoughts

The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed Dunstan. I will admit, I was worried in the first half – I found Dunstan dislikable and there was little else for me to grab onto then; everything else was still setting up and I had not got to know the other characters yet. But, after having read the rest, that first section is really important for making sure future events make sense and it all takes on a lot more meaning. Conn Iggulden’s writing is beautiful; it’s a novel which I think would be a delight to listen to as an audiobook, if simply just from the writing. In all fairness, I would probably buy this book just for the writing ability, but the story within the pages really helps make it shine.

Dunstan is out now.

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32510568-dunstan

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Dunstan-Conn-Iggulden/9780718181444/?aid=rosienreads

 

 

Rosie Reviews: Knights of the Borrowed Dark / The Forever Court by Dave Rudden

Title: Knights of the Borrowed Dark / The Forever Court

Author: Dave Rudden

Publisher: Puffin

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

The Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a novel which constantly takes you by surprise. It takes a storyline we’ve all heard before – an orphan boy discovers he’s part of a secret, magical world – and turns it inside out. Rather than being met with wonder, Denizen is thrown into a magical war that is unforgiving, dangerous and deadly.

Denizen discovers the world is plagued by shadowy monsters, Tenebrous, who thrive on fear and chaos. Only a small group of people have the power to push against these creatures, and it comes with a Cost, one that cannot be undone. Rudden is incredibly creative with how he depicts this, particularly in the Tenebrous themselves; each one is unique and, with that, they step up from being a two-dimensional enemy to a very much present and complex one.

The writing is the perfect balance for a middle grade novel. It captures the world that Denizen finds himself in perfectly, yet in a way that is easy to read and absorb. There were so many twists and turns while the pacing kept me griped to the novel. That being said, it does get dark in places so younger children (and some older ones too, for that matter) may find it a little bit scary.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark kicks off this series with a bang and, with what this book demonstrates of Rudden’s creativity and writing skill, the sequels are going to be equally as thrilling, if not more so. This book wraps up well but leaves plenty more for us readers to get our noses into later on; and it’s a book which will keep you thinking about it even when you’re not reading.

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34844398-knights-of-the-borrowed-dark

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Knights-of-the-Borrowed-Dark-Dave-Rudden/9780141356600/?a_aid=rosienreads

The Forever Court

I am not sure what I was expecting when I started the sequel to Knights of the Borrowed Dark, but after reading The Forever Court, whatever I was expecting was surpassed, trodden on and forgotten.

The Forever Court takes what we learnt in the first book and expands it, twists it into something deeper and more complex. I cannot say too much about the plot, for fear of spoiling previous events, but this book sees a new villain arise, one more terrifying than the Tenebrous we see in Knights of the Borrowed Dark and all the more human. Denizen also continues his ventures into the world of the Knights and, in the process, opens it up to the reader.

Where Knights of the Borrowed Dark works as a set up to the series, The Forever Court takes that foundation and steadily builds upon it. Everything we see is developed in an organic manner – nothing felt forced and the more fantastical elements were nicely integrated into the realistic aspects of the story.

I really liked the addition of the Croits; they were easily my favourite part of the book and I could barely tear my nose away from the page during their chapters. They expanded what we knew of the Knights and Tenebrous while also introducing a sinister cult family element. The Croits’ storyline paralleled nicely with Denizen’s and this kept the pace of the book going while keeping my own interest firmly in place.

If you enjoyed the first book, you will love The Forever Court. It does everything a sequel is supposed to and steps far away from the dangers second novels usually come up against. I am very much looking forward to what the next book has to offer and am only disappointed that I will have to wait so long to read it

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30287713-the-forever-court

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Forever-Court-Dave-Rudden/9780141356617/?a_aid=rosienreads

 

 

The Books I Read in April 2017

I am really pleased with my reading month for April. Not only did I read a variety of genres, but I enjoyed each and every one. I will admit, the books aren’t as highly rated as previous months, but each book did affect me in different ways. I was left thinking about the books long after I had finished reading and most have prompted me to further explore books of similar topics and themes.

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

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 4/5

Kindle

The Forever Court by Dave Rudden- 4.5/5

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – 4/5

Paperback

The Loney by Andew Michael Hurley – 3.5/5

The Complete Maus (Maus#1-2)- 5/5

The Disney Touch by Ron Grover -3.5/5

Life Hurts by Dr. Elizabeth McNaught – 3.5/5

Hardback

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – 5/5

 

I read eight books in April, which, while not as many as previous months, is an amount I’m pleased with. I read a lot of longer books and got to spend more time on the books themselves, rather than charging through them. I’m going to try and keep this balance in the coming months. In May, I already have a few ideas of what I would like to read. From listening to the American Psycho audiobook to having a Pride & Prejudice week to read both Pride & Prejudice as well as the zombie take on the classic, I think I have an interesting reading month ahead of me.

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