Being brutally honest about books

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A Reread of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice  

Date finished: 28 November 2015

I first read Pride and Prejudice five years ago (not as long ago as I thought, actually, when I checked Goodreads) and gave it a 3-star rating. 13-year-old me didn't understand the language, but 18-year-old me found it much easier and more enjoyable to read the second time around.

I enjoyed the plot about as much as I did the first time, but as most of you will know, there isn't much to it. The story is very simple, though it is slightly more interesting than some of the other Austen novels (I say this as someone who had read all her works at 16). It's entertaining enough, but it lacks the complexity that I would expect from a classic.

What I got more out of by reading this five years later was the humour. Jane Austen wrote comedy and said herself that she couldn't sit down to write a serious novel if she tried. I didn't understand the wit as a 13-year-old as I found the archaic/formal/euphemistic language very difficult, but I appreciated it a lot more as an 18-year-old and even laughed out loud once or twice. I'm not sure whether it's due to Austen's style or characterisation that makes it so, or a mixture of both, but some of the dialogue is hilarious. While some of the ideas may not be relevant for 21st Century readers, the humour is timeless.

Something I found worth reconsidering while rereading was the characters. Elizabeth Bennet is supposed to be intelligent, while I think she is a very average woman who makes some quick remarks. That's not to say there's anything wrong with her or that I can't sympathise with her as a character, just that in this day and age she would be ordinary, not the special snowflake she appears to be in her society. Mrs Bennet and her three youngest daughters are unbearable, and Mr Bennet, who is meant to be sensible and intelligent as a contrast to his wife, is not much better. In today's society he would be a horrible sexist, and Mrs Bennet even comments on the unfairness and strangeness of his will that prohibits any of his female descendants from inheriting his property. However, while Mr Darcy's rudeness makes it hard to engage with him, his unconventionality and sense of family honour make him one of very few likeable characters in the novel.

The setting of the novel is so well-known I won't go much into it. Suffice to say, it is interesting to analyse from a feminist perspective: the women of the Regency era have very little options and decisions to make on their own, and are expected to marry as soon and as well as possible. This seems very unfair. But when you think about their society, the men have similar restrictions placed upon them, along with other expectations such as serving King and Country. So I won't make a final statement on whether this is a sexist setting or not. Also, we can't force our ideas on a society from 200 years ago as they just didn't have concepts like sexism in the same way we do.

Pride and Prejudice lacks the depth to be great literature but is instead chick lit. However, it's funny and light and has entertained readers for two centuries. Most importantly, it improves on the second reading.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Top Ten Best Books I Read In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme is Top Ten Best Books I Read In 2015 (by only 2015 releases, overall, by genre, etc).

1.
 Ask the Passengers
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

2.
The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

3.
Maya's Notebook
Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

4.
Burial Rites
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

5.

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)

8.
The Color Purple

9.
The Future Collection
The Future Collection by

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Friday, 20 November 2015

Book Tag: How I Read

Thank you Nemo at The Moonlight Library!

How do you find out about new books to read?

Through other bloggers who have reviewed or mentioned new and upcoming releases. Sometimes through my mum, as she's a librarian.

How did you get into reading?

I don't remember; I think I always loved stories and books.

How have your tastes in books changed as you got older?

I don't read Jacqueline Wilson anymore, for a start! As well as the natural maturing of tastes that happens as you grow up, I don't read as much fantasy as I used to and I read more adult novels. I have a greater respect for short stories than epic series now, probably due to a shortening attention span.

How often do you buy books?

Hardly ever. I've been very good this year as I'm too poor to afford it and I don't have any shelf space left.

How did you get into reviewing books?

Younger me set up a Blogger account to keep in touch with her mummy, and since books were the light of my life it made sense to write about them.

How do you react when you don’t like the end of a book?

I have a little rant on Goodreads or Tumblr.

How often do you take a sneak peek at the ending to see if there is a happy ending?

I tend not to anymore. I've ruined a few too many endings for myself doing that, and I've learnt my lesson (mostly)!

Do you use bookmarks in your books?

Yes, although a lot of my reading is done on my e-reader, which remembers where I'm up to without me having to tell it, the clever thing.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Top Ten Book-to-Movie Adaptations I'm Looking Forward To or I Still Need to Watch

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme is Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I'm Looking Forward To or Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I Still Need To Watch.

  1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I loved the book and I can't wait for the film!)
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Now that I'm 18 I'm old enough to watch it and compare it to the book.)
  3. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (I just need closure for these films, to be honest. I can barely remember what happens in the books.)
  4. The Martian (I haven't read the book, but my sister and my mum loved it and the film, so I should probably watch it.)
  5. Paper Towns (I don't remember this book as anything special, but I should watch the film out of obligation.)
  6. Insurgent (No-one talked about this movie so I didn't even realise it had come out. I loved the books and the first movie so it's a must-see.)
  7. The Looking Glass Wars (These books were really cool, so I'm curious as to how the film turns out, if it gets made.)
  8. The Ruby in the Smoke (I actually watched what I think was the second (TV) movie before I read the books. Now that I've read them all I need to watch the (TV) movies, in order. Billie Piper in Victorian costume? Yes please!)
  9. Anna Karenina (I haven't read the book, but I've watched an older movie adaptation, and now I want to see the newer one. I can't resist Keira Knightley.)
  10. The Three Musketeers (I read the book last year, and I'm thirsty to see Matthew Macfadyen,
    Logan Lerman, Luke Evans, and Orlando Bloom all in the same movie! I'm also interested in the TV adaptation.)

Update

I changed my blog theme again because I wanted the labels on my posts to be visible and I also wanted my sidebar info to fit without having to zoom out. Even though I tried making the font bigger on this new theme that didn't seem to work, but zooming in once makes the text readable.

I have also changed my alias to Alexandria, as that's my pen name. I may as well use the same name across all the websites I use that don't require personal details. I plan to change my real name anyway, some day.  

Another change is that I turned 18 three days ago! I don't feel any older yet, so we'll have to see how that goes. Officially I have finished high school, but I still have exams on at the moment and there is an optional graduation dinner next month (my school doesn't seem to know if it's in New Zealand, the UK, or the USA). So that's an important milestone I have reached.

And here's for some good news: I'm catching up to my reading goal for the year! I'm only two books behind schedule now.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

My Reading Stats in 2015

This year I have read fewer books than any other year. There are several things that have got in the way of my book reading: school, TV shows, and fanfiction (both reading and writing huge amounts). I knew these would interfere with my reading even at the start of the year, so I set a fairly low Goodreads reading challenge of only 40 books. With only a few months to go, even though I just finished a 600-page novel this afternoon, I'm four books behind schedule.

So far this year I have read:
  • 2 books for school 
  • 27 books total
  • 10,309 pages
  • 16 YA books
  • 11 Adult books (I'm finding YA not mature enough, now I'm nearly 18)
  • 2 books published this year (2015)
  • 15 books published from 2010-2014
  • 7 books published from 2000-2010
  • 3 books published before 2000
  • 8 books with LGBTQIA characters (that is not a coincidence, in fact it's a factor that made me want to read some of these books in the first place)
  • 2 non-fiction books
I have given:
  • 1 two-star rating
  • 7 three-star ratings
  • 17 four-star ratings
  • 2 five-star ratings 
I have reviewed 7 books, which averages less than one review a month, which is pretty bad, but they were all positive reviews. This year I have given high ratings to nearly every book I've read. This is partly because I didn't finish 3 books as I wasn't enjoying them, but must also be because I picked interesting and unique books. 

So far this year I've added 30 books to my to-read list and only bought one book for myself. That's good self-control on the latter but definitely not the former. I haven't bought books this year because a) I don't have enough money, b) I don't have bookshelf space, and c) I already have a bunch of books I own that I need to read before I buy any more. 

Of course, summer's coming up, so after my last ever school exams (I finish high school in less than two months, eep!) I should be able to use December to catch up. I don't like to lose a challenge, so I will finish those 40 books.

How about you guys? What have your reading patterns been this year?

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium Trilogy #3) by Stieg Larsson




The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millenium, #3)
 Date finished: 11 October 2015

I just finished the last book of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, and I'm worried that I'll never be able to enjoy anything I read ever again. I feel that no other book will compare in complexity and intrigue. It's by no means a perfect book but it is one of the most fascinating and gripping reads I've had in a long time. 

The story picks up right from where The Girl Who Played with Fire ends, which is a good thing, because the previous book ends on a cliffhanger. The plot is complex, even more so than in the prequels, and takes you on a real journey of ups and downs - just when you think it's going one way, a single piece of information discovered by a character turns it around. The result of Lisbeth's trial (what I consider the first of two climaxes of the novel) is more or less what I expected, although the chapters from the trial are still necessary for us to see the extent of the deception inside the Swedish Security Police.

As with the rest of the series, the writing is very dry. I won't go too much into that because I'll just be repeating what I've already said in my reviews of the first two books, but we are spoon-fed a lot of information. I felt exhausted after reading an almost 20-page explanation about one character and the Section, only for him to be virtually killed off a couple of chapters later. We don't even see the characters working that out on their own, we are just given the dump of information, which interrupts the flow of the story.

The ending is nice. The plot is resolved in the epilogue and the last chapter, but in the last page and a half of the epilogue the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist, the two protagonists, is finally resolved as well. The characters themselves don't change much, if at all, but because the series focuses more on an amazing plot than character development, that doesn't matter. In any case, Lisbeth remains amazingly resourceful and Blomkvist just as clever and confident to the point of cockiness as she does. It's only while writing this that I'm realising how similar they are.

Since this is the last book in the series, I didn't like that there new characters introduced, adding to the long long list of minor characters. One of them is a blonde police officer whose role seems mostly to fall in love with Blomkvist and show up his one flaw: his inability to commit to a woman. Although she does get some cool police action.

This book and the series in general includes very cool use of technology, most of which goes over my head, but it's impressive. However, the series is dated, confined to its early to mid 2000s setting because past events are always given a specific date, and it's possible that in ten years it won't be relevant anymore.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is a great conclusion to the memorable Millennium trilogy. The series is not for the faint-hearted, the common theme being violence towards women and violation of their rights, but it's like nothing I've ever read before, and I would recommend it to readers over 16 who enjoy the crime genre. Now, another author has written a sequel, , and while reading the reviews I considered not bothering with it, partly out of respect and partly because of other things people have mentioned, but I decided that I will read it, if only for the purpose of reviewing. So my adventures with this series are not over yet!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

New blog theme

I was getting sick of the old-fashioned themes provided by Blogger and my previous theme had absolutely no connection to what I blog about, so I did a little search and I found some very nice free themes made by other people for Blogger users to, well, use. I'm finding Typefocus by NewBloggerThemes.com clearer and easy to read, and way more professional and modern-looking than my old theme. It's not as customisable, which sucks because there are certain things I would love to change but can't, but I much prefer it to the old one. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Top Ten Books That Would be on My Syllabus if I Taught Historical Fiction 101

Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme is Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 (examples: YA fantasy 101, feminist literature 101, magic in YA 101, classic YA lit 101, world-building 101).
1.
Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I reviewed this the other week and gave it a pretty high rating, so it has to make the list!

2.
 The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

More mythology than historical fiction, but it's still all shades of awesome. I reviewed this one too.

3.
The Ruby In The Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1)
The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

There might not be much to teach, but it's still excellent. The students would probably end up finishing the series without me needing to say so.

4.
The Watch That Ends the Night

Everything they need to know about Titanic they would learn from this book. I reviewed this last year.

5.
The Sultan's Eyes
The Sultan's Eyes

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore


The Girl in the Mask
The Phantom of the Opera
The Silver Blade
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, #1)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Date finished: 22 August 2015

Ask the Passengers is one of the best novels I've read in 2015, and as you can see from my previous reviews, I've read some pretty good books this year. It's so good that I read it in one day, unable to put it down.

The plot is pretty simple, but nice. I think I'd read somewhere that it's a character-heavy rather than plot-based novel, but I enjoyed its simplicity - it's more realistic, considering the 21st Century, small-town America setting - you don't expect huge tragedies or monstrosities, or quest for the good of mankind. Instead, you get petty teenagers, small-minded townies and family getting in the way of a girl who just wants to be herself. I don't want to spoil anything, but there is a happy ending that will make you grin. There are a couple of points that didn't seem to be resolved, such as a court appearance that didn't happen, but I loved the plot in general.

The protagonist, Astrid, is a very cool character who I could connect to. She's smart, perceptive, and funny, a non-mainstream teenager who doesn't want to be labelled by her peers. I think one of the reasons she's such a success as a fictional character is that so many of us can relate to her, no matter who we love or where we're from. I don't know how you could read this book and not love her.

Most of the supporting characters aren't as loveable, including Kristina (Astrid's dishonest best friend), Dee (Astrid's pushy love interest), and Ellis (Astrid's selfish sister), and I disliked many of their actions, but their behaviours are justifiable and Astrid forgives them, so you can't help forgiving them too. The parents are far from perfect and understanding, but how many parents are? As Astrid herself philosophises, nobody's perfect. Her relationships with all these characters are rocky, but in the end everything is sweet.

The writing is beautiful, a requirement for me giving a five-star rating. Sometimes first-person point of view in the present tense gets old, but no other style would be suitable for this novel. Astrid's voice is fantastic and it feels like a teenage girl could really be telling this story - it doesn't feel like a middle-aged woman trying and failing to write about teens, it's authentic and not overly complicated just for sophistication. I even laughed out loud once or twice, as it's funny too.

This isn't your usual kid-realises-they're-gay LGBT teen novel, because there is so much more in it. I especially loved the Greek philosophy aspect, when in YA books I usually find it a bit pretentious of a young character to be that philosophical, but it's done in a neat way that instead of hurting my brain made me go along with it because it made sense. I also enjoyed the whole sending-love-to-the-aeroplane-passengers idea because even though it's unusual, it's believable, as people do have quirks like that. Of course, I did like the questioning-your-sexuality part too, which is the main theme of the book after all, but these other ideas make it wonderful and unique.

There are so many reasons why Ask the Passengers is worth reading, some of which I've probably forgot to mention, but I can't recommend it enough to fellow teenagers and young adults, and any people who don't like their identity being put into boxes by society. Astrid questions the paradox that nobody's perfect, but this book is pretty close to it.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Date finished: 12 August 2015

Where do I even start? This is a novel based on a true story about the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, sentenced to death for her part in the murders of two men. It’s dark and grim, definitely not what you’d want to read on a summer holiday. But it’s so well-done that despite its bleakness it’s a beautiful book.

As it’s based on a true story, it’s not as if the plot can be full of improbable adventure. Instead, we see how Agnes lives out her last few months before her execution, and through flashbacks and her stories to the reverend and her host family we find out about her past. There are also documents from the case that give an idea of how criminals were treated at the time, which made me uneasy. The author does a great job at retelling Agnes’s story and, as she says in the author’s note, provide a “more ambiguous portrayal of this woman” so that we sympathise with the protagonist. Without flashbacks the plot would have no substance and it would be very boring to read, but the backstory and the eventual recounting of the events leading up to and during the double murder make it interesting and even gripping.

The most obvious thing to comment on is the writing. Even the blurb calls the prose beautiful and cut-glass, and that’s correct. So is the comment from author Madeline Miller (whose book The Song of Achilles is one of my new favourites – check out my review here), which definitely convinced me to give Burial Rites a go. The language is stunning. The words and sentence structures themselves aren’t too complicated, but the use of imagery is amazing – I’m in awe of the author’s ability to string together such wonderful similes. Even if the story doesn’t excite you, the book is worth reading for the writing alone.

Agnes is a believable character, and I liked that she is strong but not invincible – she gets on with her life, facing terrible hardships and losses, but her response to the reality that she is about to be executed is very human – she is terrified, and this moved me. Agnes is in her mid-thirties at the time of her execution, but her age is not too important and even though I’m half her age I still felt for her, which is no mean feat for the writer. The reverend, Tóti, is likeable too, as is Steina (not so much her sister Lauga), and Margrét becomes more accepting and forgiving towards Agnes, even though she is very against Agnes coming to live with her family at the beginning. Most of the characters are not very nice, however, but they are still portrayed realistically and are important to the plot to be written that way, so I think the overall characterisation is excellent.

This is the fourth book I’ve read this year with a Scandinavian setting, but Iceland in 1828-1830 is a new one for me. We see the poverty and hardships the ordinary people faced just to survive, as well as the public opinion towards criminals, which is all very interesting and serves to develop the characters. The Icelandic character and place names are distracting in terms of pronunciation, but at the start of the book is a guide for some vowels and diphthongs, which helps a bit. The map is also useful in figuring out where the locations mentioned are in relation to each other.

This is an adult book, which I’ve been finding myself reading more of lately, but despite the mature themes (unhealthy relationships is not the only one) and occasional graphic imagery, I think it would be fine for anyone over sixteen to read. If you’re a fan of historical fiction with a bit of crime thrown in, Burial Rites is definitely worth picking up.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Top Ten Authors I've Read The Most Books From


Top Ten Tuesday is an awesome weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Posting a day late because I haven’t had internet for the past twenty four hours.

1. Tamora Pierce (24)
Mistress of fantasy, I started reading the Song of the Lioness quartet in 2010 and couldn't stop. 

2. John Marsden (14)
Why is Australian fiction so good? We will never know. I actually saw John Marsden speak at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival in 2014. He was very funny. 

Her books aren't necessarily good, but they make me laugh. Out loud.  

I'm not a big manga fan, but I absolutely loved her A Devil and Her Lovesong series. 

Isobelle Carmody. Sigh. One of my favourite fantasy authors, but doesn't seem to be able to just finish a bloody book.  The first Obernewtyn book was published in the 80s and the last one still isn't out yet. It's a similar story with Legend Song. She came to my school to speak to the Year 9s two years ago, and I still haven't forgiven my sister for listening to a talk about one of my favourite authors when I wasn't invited because I was Year 11.

Words can't describe how much I love her Shadowhunter books. I'm undecided on whether to read her next series, but I love her already published books. I saw her at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival in 2011 and she signed my copy of City of Fallen Angels

7. L.A. Meyer (11) 
The Bloody Jack books are fantastic - they're historical fiction with action, romance, and humour. Definitely recommend.

I started reading his CHERUB series, which I really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. 

It's been a very long time since I read his books, and I think they'd be too young for me now, but I especially loved his Warrior Princess books.  

10. Carolyn Meyer (9)
She writes historical YA fiction, mostly about quite mainstream queens when they were young, but you do learn a lot about those characters.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Ultimate Book Tag

Let's say I was tagged by Alise at Readers In Wonderland (though I wasn't individually tagged).

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?
 
Yes. I can't read in the car at all. I can barely look down at all without feeling dizzy.


2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

 
Moira Young's in the Dustlands trilogy. She writes with the grammar and spelling that her characters use, and it's very original. (Although I later read The Color Purple, which does the same, but I read Dustlands first!)


3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer. 


Harry Potter.
1. I've actually bothered watching the films.
2. It's not about vampires.
3. It's not about an annoying American teenage girl caught in a love triangle. 

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is in it (besides books)?

No, I don't, although sometimes I bring a bag to the library if I'm intending to get out lots of books. (Which rarely happens these days.)

5. Do you smell your books?

Not usually. 

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

I don't mind either way - sometimes illustrations are a nice break, but sometimes they just waste space and make the book longer than it has to be. 

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

I loved Romeo's Ex: Rosaline's Story by







































































I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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