Tuesday, 30 September 2014

what I've read this month (September)

 Here's my monthly round-up of what I've read in September:-
(click on the title to see my full review)
  1. Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers 
  2. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere 
  3. Claire King, The Night Rainbow
  4. Robin Hobb, Assasin's Apprentice 
  5. Patrick Ness, More Than This 
  6. Michel Faber, The Fire Gospel 
  7. Robert Harris, Pompeii 
  8. Robin Hobb, Royal Assassin 
  9. Ian McEwan, The Children Act
  10. M.R.C Kasasian, The Mangle Street Murders 
  11. Audery Magee, The Undertaking 

This month I concentrated on diversifying the genre I usually read. I started a new fantasy series that I've really enjoyed, Robin Hobb's Assassin novels. Although Game of Thrones still wears the crown for my favourite fantasy saga, the Assassin books are keeping me entertained and I've come to regard Fitz, the Fool and other characters fondly. If sword fighting, power struggles and magic are your thing, I highly recommend you give Robin Hobb a chance. 

Another highlight  this month was The Mangle Street Murders, a detective story set in 19th Century. A pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Mangle Street was far funnier than I expected. Sidney Grice and March Middleton are an unlikely partnership who's bickering and intriguing backstories kept me amused. The streets and slums of London come to life thanks to Kasasian's vivid descriptions. Thank you again, to Tiziana for the recommendation

The disappointment of the month was Michel Faber's The Fire Gospel. For me, it just didn't live up to the standards of the other Cannongate myth series. 

Is there anything that you read this month and particularly enjoyed? I love receiving recommendations,  so put your suggestions in the comments below or send my an email at bookandcuppa@gmail.com 

Friday, 26 September 2014

banned books and censored literature- is it ever right?

While listing all the banned books I've read I started thinking about my views on censored literature.

My first instinct is to preserve freedom of speech, that hateful books, even those like Mein Kampf, should be available, as even though the views expressed are disgusting, people still have the right to hold these views. Plus books such as these are historical documents, they are revealing of society and culture.

Some of the reasons for banning books is in my opinion puritanical, sex, drugs and swearing in a book written for adults doesn't bother me. If you are sensitive to these things, the solution is simple - don't read the book. Violence, drug taking and sex in literature isn't promoting these activities, it is just portraying human realities.

banned for 'promoting' lesbianism 

Also the banning of these books is obviously influenced by homophobia, racism and sexism. The inclusion of many books on the banned list by African-American women such as Toni Morrison and  Maya Angelo, is act of misogynoir, Black female sexuality is seen as obscene. I'm sure many more explicit books passed through the censors as they cover white, male, heterosexual sexuality, rather than the experiences of women.  

On the other hand- I can completely see why some of the novels have been banned, especially in schools. I am in favour of racial slurs being blanked out, or been moved all together. For example, references to g****w**** or the n-word have been taken out of new editions of Enid Blyton. These words are offensive and inappropriate and should not be read by impressionable children.

Novels such as Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mocking Bird have been removed from schools because of the racist depiction of black people. In both books African-Americans are portrayed as infantile, servile, low intelligence and of need of a 'white saviour'. Without the contextualising these books, and discussing the historic and current impact of racism, these books could be problematic. Therefore, I totally approve of the restriction of these books in schools. However, I don't believe in a blanket ban, as again these novels provide a snapshot in time and are representative of time when these views were common place. In the right hands racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or otherwise offensive novels can be a useful educational tool.

This all just my personal opinion of course, and I'll to hear yours! Leave your comments about banned books and censorship in the comments below.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

I read banned books

I've just discovered that it's banned book week. The whole point of a dedicated week, is to explore ideas of censorship, politics and immorality.

I read banned books, list, censorship, UK banned books, USSR, record, US, reason, literature, photo, photograph

There's a list on banned-books.org that lists a selection of book that have been banned historical or are still censored today. This wiki page also lists banned books.

I thought it might be fun to go through the list and pick out the banned books that I've read:-

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

M.R.C Kasasian, The Mangle Street Murders

The Mangle Street Murders was kindly recommended to me by Tiziana. I'm really grateful for her suggestion, as it turned out to be a really good read, set in  one of my favourite eras, the late 19th Century. 

M.R.C Kasasian, The Mangle Street Murders, historical detective, Victorian London, Sherlock Homes, pastiche, March Middleton, Sidney Grice, William Ashby, Grace Dillinger, grisly, penny dreadful

The Plot: Sidney Grice, priggish and pompous, is a 'personal' detective, well-known for solving grisly cases. His ward, March Middleton, recently bereaved and new to London, is determined to assist Grice in his investigation, despite his objections. A young woman has been found stabbed over forty times in her own sitting room, her husband, William Ashby, stands accused of her murder. Grace Dillinger is convinced of her son-in-law's innocence and pleads with Grice to discover the real killer.

Rating: 3.5

Monday, 22 September 2014

Ian McEwan, The Children Act

The Children Act  by Ian McEwan is no doubt going to be a middle-class, dinner party conversation starter in the next coming months. Especially as it is so topical, with the recent media circus about Ashya King- a young British boy suffering from leukaemia, who's parents were arrested when they disagreed with the hospital's treatment options.

So if you want to be able to bluff your way through that dinner chat- read on....

Ian McEwan, The Children's Act, hardback, novel, fiction, review, law, refusal of medical treatment, published 2014, opinion,

The Plot: As her own marriage is in turmoil, judge Fiona Maye presides over cases in the family court. Adam, is refusing treatment that could potentially save his life, his objects stem from his strong religious convictions, and his equally devout parents share his wishes. As he is just shy of his eighteenth birthday, ans therefore a minor, Fiona must make a decision about whether or not Adam's wishes can be overturned and treatment administered. Her judgement has unexpected, and significant consequences for them both.

Rating:  3.5/5

Friday, 19 September 2014

Robert Harris, Pompeii

Robert Harris is best known for Fatherland, a novel about an alternative reality in which Hitler won the war, but he has also written loads of other historical fiction.

I'm sure most people have heard of Pompeii, the Roman city which was devastated and then preserved when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. Harris' novel imagines the days leading up to the event with both fictitious and real historical figures.  Pompeii is the first in a trilogy.

Pompeii, Robert Harris, Pompeii, Roman, historical fiction, aqueduct, Marcus Attilius, UK edition, paperback, book review, literature,

The Plot: Marcus Attilius Primus arrives in the Bay of Naples to take charge of the aqueduct that supplies water to 9 towns in the area. A drought and a corrupt millionaire, Ampiliatus, makes Attilius' job all the harder. Will Attilius be able to read the warning signs in time and escape Pompeii before ash and lava engulf him and the town?

Rating: 2/5  
full review under the cut

Thursday, 18 September 2014

fantasy kindle samples

As I mentioned in my review of Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice  I'm looking for a new fantasy saga to get into whilst I wait for the new Game of Thrones (I'm going to have to be patient- it took 10 years between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons). 

kindle, fantasy samples, books similar to Game of Thrones, authors, sword fights, magic, George R.R Martin, mini review, opinions, free

I downloaded a whole bunch of kindle fantasy samples to try, here are my initial impressions:-

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Michel Faber, The Fire Gospel

I'm making my way through the Canongate myth series, so I was really pleased to pick up The Fire Gospel from my local library.

I've blogged about Canongate before, basically they have commissioned well respected authors to retell myths, folk-tales and biblical stories, if you want read my reviews of the other Canongate books click on the titles below:-
Ragnorok  A.S Byatt
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, Ugresic Dubravka
Weight, Jeanette Winterson 

Promethus, Canongate Myth series, Michel Faber, The Fire Gospel, Christian theology, fifth gospel, fiction, novel, UK edition, book cover, review, opinion

The Plot: When visiting a museum in war-torn Iraq, Theo Gripenkerl stumbles upon an ancient manuscript written by a man named Malchus, who personally witnessed the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. When the fifth gospel is published it inflames believers, sceptics and Amazon critics alike.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, 15 September 2014

Patrick Ness, More Than This

After been rather impressed (although not completely won over) by Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy It's been on my agenda to read more of his novels, so I ordered More Than This into my local library.

More Than This, review, book review, Patrick Ness, YA, fiction, Young Adult, adolescent, gay, philosophy, paperback, UK edition, life after death, dystopia, science fiction

It's a YA (young adult, so about ages 13+) and falls into science-fiction/dystopian genre. If you are considering buying it for a child,  be aware it does have some sex in it, it's not really graphic but it is clear what's going on.

Trigger warning: homophobia, death, suicide, rape(implied), child abuse

The Plot: After drowning, Seth wakes up alone in a barren English suburb, he assumes to be hell. As he dreams about the most horrendous events of his past, and forges for food in abandoned supermarkets, he begins to wonder if there is more to the afterlife than first appeared.

Rating: 2.8/5
(ha- I know this is an unusual number to rate a book, but it is closer to a 3 than a 2, but when I compare it to other books that I've given a 3 to it doesn't quite make the grade)

Full review under the cut:-
*spoiler warning*

Friday, 12 September 2014

Is it worth the struggle?

Feeling like Carrie Bradshaw, I got to thinking is it ever worth is struggling on with a book?

 Nowadays, I only read for pleasure, but I still find myself soldiering on with books I'm not enjoying. There are several reasons for this:-

  1. Habit- some of the novels I studied throughout school and uni really didn't interest me, but I had to read them for my course, and I think I'm still under the impression that if I've started something I should finish it. 
  2. Recommendations- If the book has won lots of awards or has been lent to me by a friend I feel like maybe they know better and it's worth persevering
  3.  Trend- 50 Shades is complete trash- poorly written and problematic, but I read them because I didn't want to be out of the loop. I wanted to know if they were as good/bad as everyone said
  4. Needs Must-  I read a lot, and sometimes if I'm away, or haven't managed to get down to the library it's slim pickings and I'll read whatever is available- even if it's not any good
  5. Duty- similar to my first point, I feel like I should read some books because their 'classics' and meant to be enriching. However, I've come to the realisation that the classics are heavily dominated by old, dead, white men and their enduring regard is influenced by patriarchal, classist and racist ideas.  

Take my recent library haul- two of these books went straight back. Whit I didn't even open, I read the back again and really didn't fancy it. I attempted A Girl is a Half Formed Thing but the fragmented, experimental style really didn't do anything for me. 

I do wonder if I have perhaps been too hasty however. For example when I started The Knife of Never  Letting Go I couldn't bare it, but have the first 3 or 4 chapters I was hooked. Or at the age of 11 when I was first handed Harry Potter by my teacher I was resistant, as I wrongly assumed that it was about train-spotting. 

On the other hand for some unknown reason I read Martina Cole's Two Women  until the end even though I was completely disgusted by it.  

To make a more informed decision about what is and isn't worth reading I'm going to adopt the 100 page rule. Basically I'm going to continuing reading (even if it's a struggle) and if it hasn't improved, or I'm not enjoying it, I'm going to put the book down and try another. 

What do you think? Have you ever read something to the end and wasted your time? Or, are you glad you stuck with it? 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Robin Hobb, Assassin's Apprentice

As George R.R Martin is a notorious slow writer, I'm trying to find an alternative fantasy series to get into while I wait for the next A Song of Ice and Fire. Robin Hobb has been highly praised by George R.R. Martin, so I thought her Assassin series was worth a go.

Assassin's Apprentice, Robin Hobb, George RR Martin, fantasy, series, Fitz, review, book

The Plot:The Kingdom of the Six Duchies is heading towards civil war, and further problems arise when is comes to light that the King-in-waiting has fathered a bastard son, Fitz. He is raised in the castle keep, resented by the populace but cared for by the gruff stable master, Burrich. As Fitz approaches adulthood, by order of the King,  he begins his secret training to become an assassin including an eduction in the Skill, the ability to ability to infiltrate and influence people's minds. He also shows a taboo affinity with animals, known as Wit.  

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Claire King, The Night Rainbow

The Night Rainbow by Claire King is the sort of book your mum might read (though to be honest I tried to pass this on to mine, and she rejected it). It's all about mother/daughter and sibling relationships and childhood. Though there is family strife, and grief over the death of a beloved husband/father, it's a gentle kind of book, full of simple childish pleasures, and is devoid any explosive drama or abrupt occurrence.   

review, The Night Rainbow, fiction, novel, literature, review, book, opinion, plot, paperback, cover, UK edition, Pea, Margot, Claude, childhood, motherhood, South of France

The Plot: Five-year-old Pea and her younger sister Margot play in the sweltering heat of rural France. Their mother spends her days in bed, worn down by pregnancy and paralysed by sadness over the death of her husband. When Pea meets Claude in the meadow, she wonders if he can cure her mother's unhappiness and become her new papa, but Claude has a secret sadness of his own.

Rating: 3.4/5
Full review (as always) under the cut:-

Monday, 8 September 2014

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

I've been expanding my reading horizons recently, first with a Western  now with fantasy. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is all about an alternative London, LondonBelow a subterranean world full of monsters, personified tube stations and people who have fallen through the cracks.

Although this is the first of his book that I've read, Neil Gaiman is a publishing phenomenon who has won numerous awards. Neverwhere started life as a 90s tv show, but frustrated by the contrasts of this medium and the quality of the programme, Gaiman wrote the novel to expand the universe and retell the story.

London, LondonBelow, Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere, review, paperback, UK edition, book cover, fantasy, magic, Door, Richard, floating market, fiction, tube station, Angel Islington
The Plot: When Richard Mayhew comes to the aid of a young woman huddled and bleeding on a London street, he is thrust into a perilous situation. Through his charitable act of kindness Richard aligns his fate with Door, who is running for her own life as well as trying to avenge to deaths of her family. Together, Richard, Door, Hunter and the foppish Marquis de Carabas navigate through the fantastical LondonBelow. They seek help from an angel called Islington, by first they must evade the sinister Mr Coup and Mr Vandemar and the other threats of the underground cit
Rating: 3/5
full review under the cut:-

Friday, 5 September 2014

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

Oooh, we're only on the 5th and I've already got some good books to share with you.

First up is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, a Western populated by ruthless hardmen, cheaters and ne'er-do-wells.

The Sisters Brothers, review, book, Western, American frontier, Califronia gold rush, Patrick DeWitt, fiction, novel, history, Charlie, Eli, UK edition, paperback, Man Booker

The Plot: The notorious brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, have been hired by the commodore to track down and kill Hermann Warm.  As their journey takes them through gold-rush California they meet a an eccentric cast of characters and Eli begins to have doubts about the mission and his profession.

Rating:  3.5/5

Full review after the jump:-
The Sisters Brothers, review, book, Western, American frontier, Califronia gold rush, Patrick DeWitt, fiction, novel, history, Charlie, Eli, UK edition, paperback, Man Booker

Thursday, 4 September 2014


Hatchlands is just up the road from Clandon (see pictures from my trip here) so we paid it a quick visit whilst we were in the area.

Hatchlands, Admiral Edward Boscawan, National Trust, Cobb family, Georgian, visit, Sussex, UK, day trip, photograph, pictures, historical property, architecture,

Unfortunately, just like Clandon, photographs are forbidden inside the property, so I only have a few pictures to show you.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Samuel Selvon, The Lonely Londoners

The Lonely Londoners was written by Trinidad-born author Sam Selvon, and like most of his later work focusses of the experiences of West Indians emigrating to Britain in the 1950s and 60s. As I said in my monthly round-up for August, I was introduced to the book by my sister's boyfriend, which I'm really pleased about, as I really enjoyed it.

Sam Sevlon, paperback, The Lonely Londoners, review, UK edition, modern classics, penguin, Trinidad, West Indies, literature, immigrant experience, fiction,

The Plot: Newly arrived in London, Henry 'Sir Galahad' Oliver is met at Waterloo Station by Moses, who has already lived in the city for years and is willing to share his hard won knowledge. London can be an unwelcoming place, with hostile locals, but 'the boys' (young men from the West Indies)  come together in dance halls and run-down rented flats to form a supportive community.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

library haul

I've just been to library and picked up a huge heap of book:-

  1. The Night Rainbow, Claire King: This written from the perspective of a 5 year old child, so it could be hit or miss. It's all about the girl's mother coping with grief after the death of her father. 
  2. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride: This was shortlisted for tons of awards, so I'm hoping it will live up to the hype. It is a stream of conciousness about a young woman's relationship of with her brother and the consequences of his childhood brain tumour. 
  3. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt:  The cover design is what drew me to this book. The Sisters Brothers are two mercerises hired to track down and kill a man in the American Wild West.  
  4. Whit, Ian Banks: I've read a couple of Bank's novels and enjoyed them, particularity The Wasp Factory, so though I'd give this a go. It's about a teenage cult leader who ventures out amongst to Unsaved to bring her cousin back. 
  5. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman: Recently I've been trying to find some fantasy to read, Gaiman is a bestseller of the genre so I thought this was worth ago. The blurb is intriguing- an alternative London set beneath the city full of magic and peril.   
  6. Sky Burial, Xinran: I have an interest in China and Tibet (I spent my gap year there) and an interest in funeral rites so I'm really looking forward to reading this one.