Friday, 18 September 2015

Book Reviews feat. Richard Wright

August was the month of the readathon for me, pals. I took part in both the Booktubeathon and the Bout of Books 14.0 and, as such, I ended up reading a lot more than I usually would during the month. They were my first and second readathons respectively and I have to say I think I've caught the readathon bug. I really enjoyed the community aspect of working towards a collective goal and I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that it gave me at the end of each week having read so many different things. I would recommend participating in one in the future if you are at all curious! 

I actually also managed to complete my 2015 Goodreads Challenge of reading 30 books during this year having set it at a lower number than last year's 52 books because I knew I was going to spend at least six months of this year finishing off my degree. Whilst there's still a few months left of 2015, I'm not going to reset the counter. I'm just going to continue reading and see where it takes me. If you've read any of the following books, as ever, do let me know what you thought of them and also feel free to let me know what you've been reading of late. 



femme fatale guy de maupassant book review blog

20. FEMME FATALE BY GUY DUMAUPASSANT

FINISHED: 03/08/15 | ISBN: 0141398337 PAGES: 58
A selection of Maupassant's brilliant, glittering stories set in the Parisian beau monde and Normandy countryside.


I featured a few of these Penguin little black classics in my July book haul after being sent them by Penguin, so I thought I'd pick one out for my first readathon of the month as they're the ideal length for a heavy reading week. These editions are a super cheap way of finding new-to-you authors, so I'd highly recommend them. 

This collection was an interesting introduction to a writer that is supposedly referred to as the 'father of the modern short story'. The stories, whilst of their time, had a dark humour to them that I found particularly enjoyable and I was all for the Romantic descriptions of filtered moonlight. Yes sir. 

RATING: ★★



the old man and the sea ernest hemingway book review blog vivatramp

21. THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA BY ERNEST HEMINGWAY 

FINISHED: 04/08/15 | ISBN: 0099908409 PAGES: 99
Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway's magnificent fable is the tale of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. 

Dear God, this was painfully dull! 


I can't help but think that I would've appreciated this more if I liked fishing...or whiney old white men and their complexes?! Yes, the ennui of daily struggles is probably the point but that doesn't really make for an interesting novella. 

Hemingway's writing style works much better on a smaller scale, that's for sure. I'm glad that I didn't pay for this and instead got it second hand from a friend. 

Head for his short stories and give this bore a miss! 


RATING: 

elizabeth smart by grand central station i sat down and wept book review vivatramp

22. BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT BY ELIZABETH SMART

FINISHED: 04/08/15 | ISBN: 0586090398 | PAGES: 112
 In lushly evocative language, Smart recounts her love affair with the poet George Baker with an operatic grandeur that takes in the tragedy of her passion; the suffering of Barker's wife and the children that the lovers conceived. 

Read this aloud, clearly, when time is on your side, and you'll reap the rewards. This novella deserves to be read but not if you aren't willing to put in a bit more effort. 

Smart writes prose poetry that goes beyond anything else I've read in the genre. The language used is poetic, of course, evocative, sure, but it is also incredibly fragile and introspective, taking time to explore love more complexly. I found the reading experience particularly enjoyable with this one as I read it aloud to myself in an empty house. When read aloud you hear the anxious rush of love and subsequent melancholic torment roll off your tongue and hit the four walls, and for me that added to the severity of the tale. There was something quite liberating in reading about a woman who was unashamedly driven and nourished by her own happiness and desires, as that's not usually something that I encounter enough of...as least not without some layer of guilt or judgement accompanying it. By Grand Central made me feel powerful for being able to love myself and others so intensely. That level of self-reflection is what sets a good text apart from others, in my opinion.


It won't be for everyone, that's for sure, but I thought it was beautiful and well worth the £1 I paid for it. 

RATING: ★★ 


black boy richard wright book blog uk
vivatramp lifestyle book blog uk black boy richard wright


23. BLACK BOY BY RICHARD WRIGHT  
FINISHED: 06/08/15 | ISBN: 0099285061 PAGES: 272
Wright's unforgettable and eloquent autobiography of growing up in the Jim Crow South offers an unsurpassed portrait of the struggles against the ingrained racism and poverty faced by African Americans. 

I am so annoyed at myself that I let this sit on my shelf unread for years and years, having bought it for a class at university. This autobiography was fascinating. Wright wrote with such honesty and feeling and, to me, the text was driven by a very human longing to know more, to feel more, to experience more. I was particularly interested in the way he related to blackness, as well as his relationship with literature, and it steadily became one of those reads that I struggled to put down to tend to 'real life' things. 


I cried and cried at this book. I'll be honest. There was a passage on pg99 in my Vintage edition, that you can read above, about strength and endurance that moved me beyond words. Whilst it is obviously very personal to Wright, it felt like he was speaking my truth. I was seeing myself upon a page, for the very first time, and I felt overwhelmed. This book is incredibly special - not only does it encourage its readers to educate themselves and engage with the struggles of others, it also encourages them to create safe spaces for their own truths and their own struggles. 


An autobiography that is still as important as it was on the day it was published. You should read this. 


RATING: ★★
wide sargasso sea jean rhys book review vivatramp

24. WIDE SARGASSO SEA BY JEAN RHYS 

FINISHED: 08/08/15 | ISBN: 0393308804 PAGES: 171
A sensual and protected young woman, Antoinette Cosway grows up in the lush natural world of the Caribbean. She is sold into marriage to the coldhearted and prideful Rochester, who succumbs to his need for money and his lust. Yet he will make her pay for her ancestors' sins of slaveholding, excessive drinking, and nihilistic despair by enslaving her as a prisoner in his bleak English home. 

I really enjoyed Jane Eyre when I read it for university a couple of years ago so I thought I'd read Rhys' take on the character of Bertha, having heard so much about it over the years. 


Rhys tried to tackle some huge ideas here, including racism, colonialism, mental illness and power, and I just felt like all of these ideas were trying and failing to take precedence, causing a lot of unnecessary noise or, at times, too little of an impact. It hasn't put me off Rhys, as I know lots of people really enjoyed her other novels, but it has left me feeling a little bemused to say the least.  


I'll leave you with a note from my review notebook: 'Rochester still a right twat'.  


RATING: ★★
the loved one evelyn waugh book review vivatramp

25. THE LOVED ONE BY EVELYN WAUGH 

FINISHED: 09/08/15 | ISBN: 014008233 PAGES: 127
Set against a background of embalming-rooms and crematoria and the unforgettable Whispering Glades Memorial Park, The Loved One is as ludicrous as Decline and Fall, as incisively shocking as Vile Bodies and - underneath the laughs - as moving as death itself. 

This was a funny read with many loathsome, yet weirdly interesting, characters set in the fantastic Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Whilst I couldn't particularly get on board with the characters at times, I really enjoyed reading about Joy Boy's work in the morgue and I would recommend it to fans of Waugh's witty writing style.


This was a nice way to while away an afternoon - even if I did feel very sorry for Aimee and the bad rap she gets with men. I've now got to turn my attention to both a Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited, which both sit unread on my shelves. 


RATING: ★★



swamp thing graphic novel review vivatramp uk book blog

26. SWAMP THING BY SCOTT SNYDER 

FINISHED: 09/08/15 | ISBN: 1401234623 PAGES: 168
Following the events of 'Brightest Day', Alec Holland has his life back...but the 'Green' has plans for it. A monstrous evil is rising in the desert, and it'll take a monster of another kind to defend life as we know it! 

I was meant to be finishing off the Booktubeathon with Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek but I wasn't feeling it so I picked this up off of Luke's comic shelf and sunk my teeth into it for half an hour or so. I wasn't expecting much, if I'm honest. Simply because I had never read anything on The Swamp Thing before, and it's a really terrible name for a superhero lets be honest! However, I have to say I did quite enjoy the reading experience! It was actually the first superhero comic I've ever read!


I really enjoyed the graphic art style despite it being quite different to what I usually enjoy. The plot was full of tropes but it didn't bother me. It was intriguing enough to pull me through and feel interested in what the second volume may have to say. I can't review it within a wider context, simply because I know so little of its history, but from a stand alone point of view: the story moved at a great pace, had an excellent antagonist and was full of enjoyable horror. I liked it!  


RATING: ★★


perfume patrick suskind book bloggers uk vivatramp uk book blog

27.PERFUME BY PATRICK SUSKIND*
FINISHED: 20/08/15 | ISBN: 0241973619 PAGES: 272
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift - an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the 'ultimate perfume' - the scent of a beautiful young virgin. 

Viva veterans will remember that I reviewed The Pigeon by Suskind back in January 2014, and I gave it five stars. I had been waiting to read Perfume ever since so, naturally, I came to it with incredibly high expectations. It met them. It surpassed them. 


Perfume is disgusting, horrific and wrong, and yet Suskind writes it in such a way that makes it impossible to pass up. As horrified and uncomfortable as it made me feel, it was exhilarating and it reminded me just how skillful Suskind is as a writer. It's best to come at this novel with as little knowledge as possible, so pick it up when you can and let me know how you get on.


If you like macabre tales of obsession, this is a must read. It is now one of my favourite books. Read it. 


RATING: ★★

FINISHED: 21/08/15 | ISBN: 0141189576 PAGES: 121
Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life -- the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom. 

In this calming read, Hesse explores ideas of sanctuary, the self, love and death. He uses simple language, allowing his characters to really guide the stories. Whilst some of his characters aren't particularly likeable (hello Siddhartha) I couldn't help but wish them well. There were parts of this tale that really resonated with me, particularly the passage on pg110 of my edition that talked about goal making and how in creating such rigid resolutions we were limiting our experiences. It gave me quite a bit to think about and that seemed to be the overall theme of this read. 


Whilst it is brief, this story offered a wealth of introspection for me as a reader. I enjoyed it and can imagine myself re-reading it somewhere down the line. 



RATING: ★★

hideous kinky esther freud book haul blog uk vivatramp

29. HIDEOUS KINKY BY ESTHER FREUD* 

FINISHED: 22/08/15 | ISBN: 024197366x PAGES: 192
Two little girls are taken by their mother to Morocco on a 1960s pilgrimage of self-discovery. For Mum it is not just an escape from the grinding conventions of English life but a quest for personal fulfillment; her children, however, seek something more solid and stable amidst the shifting desert sands. 

This was a semi-autobiographical tale told from a child's perspective - a narrative voice that can be difficult to not only get right but to also sustain. Whilst I enjoyed the evocative descriptions of busy Moroccan streets and the family dynamic, I think I was hoping for something a little more plot heavy with this read, or at least something that felt like it was going to stick with me for a little longer. I wanted more insight into what it was like to be a child without a strong sense of home and I wanted to feel like I too was part of the trip. I did, admittedly, warm to it slightly towards the end but I wouldn't really call this an essential read. 


If I'm brutally honest, it was a bit forgettable. The cover is beautiful though...


RATING: ★★ 



burial rites hannah kent book review vivatramp lifestyle book blog uk

30. burial rites by hannah kent  

FINISHED: 26/08/15 | ISBN: 1447233174 PAGES: 355
Northern Iceland, 1829. A woman condemned to death for murdering her love. A family forced to take her in. A priest tasked with absolving her. But all is not as it seems, and time is running out: winter is coming, and with it the execution date. Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes's story. 

Burial Rites was the talk of the town when it was first published but I waited around to find a cheap charity shop copy and, luckily for me, the gods granted my wish. If you're looking for a thriller with a big reveal, this isn't it. It is, however, full of wonderful character studies, rich history and poetic prose. It was infinitely readable - the sort of book that will keep you up into the early hours for 'just one more chapter'. It's a slow burner and that may be a deal breaker for some but I actually found that quite endearing, particularly when paired with its brooding melancholic tone. 


This was a seriously impressive debut novel by a young author, and you could tell as you were reading it that buckets of research went into telling this tale faithfully. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for whatever Kent writes next, that's for sure. 


Burial Rites was so immersive to the point where it felt incredibly filmic. Read it before it inevitably gets adapted. 


RATING: ★★

What did you read during August? Did you also take part in the #booktubeathon and #boutofbooks? 

If you'd like to scroll through all of my book blog posts then you can. Or, alternatively, you could just flick through my book reviews instead.

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 *These books were sent to me for review purposes 
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4 comments

  1. So many classics! I really want to get into them :) Ive heard a lot of mixed reviews on Burial Rites so I'm glad you liked it

    http://georgianicolaou.co.uk

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  2. I've had Native Son by Wright on my wishlist for ages, that passage from his autobiography has definitely bumped it up my to buy list! I really enjoyed Burial Rites too (if you can enjoy it!)

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  3. Congratulations on meeting your Goodreads challenge! I set myself the target of 25 books this year, and I'm neeeearly there. I was in the biggest reading slump from January - June but within the past couple of weeks I've read a ton and I've been loving it!

    P.S I really love the way you lay out your book reviews. I never usually notice because I read your posts on my phone but I'm on my laptop today and I think it looks really lovely:)

    Lauren x
    http://whatlaurendidtoday.blogspot.co.uk/

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  4. This is definitely one of your best mini reviews! You write so perfectly, and your reviews of By Grand Central Station and Black Boy were incredibly moving. I've had the former on my shelf for two years now but haven't given it a chance. After reading your review of it I definitely will! I also added Black Boy to my goodreads 'to read' list. It sounds like everything I need to read.

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