Northern Lights (His Dark Materials)

My first memorable encounter with this series was surprisingly at university. At the time, this was on Basil’s reading list as part of one of her courses. On our walks to campus in the early mornings, I used to demand for there to be conversation (much to Basil’s exasperation). So naturally we discussed Northern Lights (amongst other topics such as Boethius). Let’s just say that whilst she could appreciate certain elements, Basil did not exactly hold a favourable opinion of the book as a whole. Therefore, I wasn’t particularly inclined to read it and soon after, I had forgotten all about it.

Fast-forward a handful of years, and I was on the prowl for a book after my social plans had fallen through. Funnily enough, someone recommended that I watch the TV show as they had enjoyed it immensely. I finished the first episode and had a load of questions. Which naturally, made me go the book seeing as it was bound to have more detail in it.

I didn’t know what to expect but can say that I was somewhat pleasantly surprised. One aspect that I absolutely loved was the concept of daemons and how they are essentially part of your soul. But it wasn’t just this, it was the fact that so much thought had been put in to this or maybe I’m just reading too much in to it. The way children’s daemons keep changing forms may be reflective of the fact that children are still finding themselves whereas adults are more sure footed in life, which is mirrored by their daemons settling on a single form. When the concept was first introduced, it threw up a hell lot of questions for me and to be fair, bar a couple, all my questions had been answered throughout the story in a simplistic manner.

Lyra wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist but I appreciated her skill, courage and determination. She could be described as manipulative and a liar in some ways, but there’s no denying that she was clever especially when in tight situations. It was heart warming to witness the growing bond between Lyra and Iorek. It was more difficult to get a sense of Pantalaimon but perhaps that was because he was a daemon. By the end, I was questioning all characters to some degree in terms of their morality.

The writing was exceptional and the story telling was beyond words. The plot at times was predictable but at other times completely unpredictable. Emotion had been woven in masterfully and some scenes were truly heart breaking.  The world building was just completely on another level.

“You cannot change who you are, only what you do.”

I felt that this is perhaps one of those rare books that worked as a children’s book as well as one to be enjoyed by adults. It had the elements in it that undoubtedly appealed to a younger audience as well as subtler deeper meanings and messages meant for an older audience.

At a first glance, this is a simple fantasy adventure, however this barely scratches the surface. Thought provoking questions are thrown up as the narrative explores science vs. religion and whether morally the means can justify the ends. Also, the story lightly touches upon the complexities of Christianity. But I expect this will be further delved in to later on in the series.

Overall, there was definitely something intriguing about this story so much so that needless to say, I will be carrying on with the series. Nevertheless, I’m also curious about the TV adaptation so may look in to that first.

Saz

P.S. My doctor told me I was going deaf. The news was hard for me to hear 🙂

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill

 

*Minor Spoilers*

When I first heard that there was going to be a new Poirot mystery, I was absolutely buzzing (and even that feels like a bit of an understatement). Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), it took a little while for me to even open the book. I spent a good couple of hours lightly tracing my fingers across the cover and was generally in awe at the sheer magnificence of it. Of course, upon opening it, my first instinct was to inhale that bookish smell – something that took another hour or so of my time.

The sheer delight that came with reading this book would be impossible to describe and therefore a pointless endeavour to be undertaken. Once again, Poirot was presented with a beautifully intricate mystery, which got more complicated as the story progressed. Details were meticulously thrown in, which lead to further confusion and frustration at what appeared to be an unsolvable case.

I loved how there were no coincidences within the story (after all the universe is rarely that lazy) despite the appearance of this being the case. How all these small details linked up was just incredible. But like always, what was amazing to say the least was how all the clues had already been given throughout – there were no hidden clues when Poirot revealed the events leading up to the murders and the culprits. The only thing left was to use order, method and the little grey cells to solve the mystery. As usual I tried my utmost hardest to try and solve the case alongside Catchpool and Poirot, so much so, that I even started to make my own lists of questions and facts that needed to be honed in on. I can proudly say that I made a couple of connections that Catchpool had missed, but that was about it.

Let’s be honest, the end scene where all is revealed is the highlight of any Poirot book and not gonna lie, but I reread that a couple of times after finishing the story in its entirely just because of the sheer epicness.

As always, the characters were depicted as being psychologically complex as were their relationships with each other. There are never any clear-cut characters, which made for a somewhat thought provoking read. Touches of humour had also been thrown in, which mellowed out some of the more serious aspects of the narrative. Whilst I did miss the presence of Hastings (curiously though not so much Japp), it cannot be denied that Catchpool filled Hastings’ role nicely – by no means perfectly, but near enough.

In a nutshell, this was a book that I wanted to quickly read to solve the mystery but at the same time, I wanted to savour it. Similar to all the Poirot books, it seemed that the last page came all too soon and I was left hugging the book before going on to reread some of the scenes.

Au Revoir.

Saz

P.S. Why was the broom late for the meeting? It overswept 😉

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin): Amazon.co.uk: LaFevers, Robin: BooksSo after the previous read along with San failed spectacularly, she suggested that I pick the book this time round – something I was more than happy to do. After refusing a couple of options, we finally agreed on Grave Mercy. So without ado, our read along began in earnest. Alas, as fate would have it, San was just shy of a fifth of the book whilst I was turning the last page. Given how Basil had praised this book, I don’t think she was too impressed by San’s progress, much to my amusement.

Let’s face it, it was the nuns training to become assassins at the convent that reeled me in. It confused me at the start why time in the story was passing so quickly. As readers, we were barely given a glimpse of Ismae’s childhood, her escape to the convent and what her training at said convent had entailed. The details for all these were sparse and a little disappointing. To be honest, I was so looking forward to reading about her training. However, this was clearly not meant to be. So whilst the plot was quick at the beginning, it started to even out and at some points slow down completely when Ismae had been given her main mission.

“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?”

For the protagonist to be an assassin, there was a serious lack of assassinations and fight scenes throughout the book. Literally, only a handful had been thrown in, and even then, Ismae’s earlier missions where most of the fighting happened, had been brushed over. Interestingly enough, Ismae mirrored my own frustration; she was clearly dying to kill someone. It was such a shame as well given as well that she had all these wonderful methods up her sleeve (quite literally in the case of some) and yet she never got to use them.

The balance between political intrigue and romance was nicely done. The romance slowly built up and took its time to fully blossom. Although I was surprised that within their first meeting, Ismae found herself attracted to Duval, especially given her background and vows that she had made to herself. Not gonna lie but at times, I did roll my eyes when reading Ismae’s reaction to Duval touching her lightly for a second or two. But I had to keep reminding myself that badass or not, she was human as well.

One thing that I absolutely loved about Ismae was the fact that she dared to question things rather than taking everything at face value. More so, she was clever; she knew how to recognise and work loopholes to her advantage and despite being attracted to Duval, she went with her instincts of being suspicious, never divulging too much information.

“When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.”

The suspense kept me curious and although I had figured out who the traitor was, it was still enjoyable watching everything being played out.

Another thing that the book did well was to showcase males and females equally. Both genders had been treated equally – both had been portrayed in a fair light – a balanced number of males and females in stronger roles and also more dubious ones (if that makes sense?). This was refreshing and something that stood out a fair amount.

Normally, I don’t like open endings, but actually it worked perfectly with this book; it was nice how things had been wrapped up in the political sense but had been left semi open in regards to the romantic storyline.

Overall, the concept was amazing, however more action was definitely needed. At times, it did feel as if the romance was taking over and Ismae was literally doing nothing except spying on people in court. No regrets upon reading it, however it’s very doubtful that I will continue with the series.

Until next time,

Saz

The Flat Share

The Flatshare

*Minor Spoilers*

This was one of Basil’s recommendations. Initially like with most of Basil’s recommendations, I wasn’t going to read it. And yet predictably, curiosity got the better of me and one thing led to another…

To call this book a romantic comedy would quite frankly be a mistake. Yes it follows a romantic path with splashes of humour thrown in, but it’s so much more than the light heartedness often associated with rom coms. The story delved in to serious issues and these had been explored with empathy, grace and realism.

Both Tiffy and Leon were beautifully drawn out characters, their personalities mirrored by their different writing styles as part of the narrative as well as the notes they left each other. It was really nice to get a glimpse in to both their lives as well as seeing each other from the eyes of the other.

Another aspect in terms of characterisation that was brilliantly done was the ensemble that made up the secondary characters, especially Tiffy’s small circle of friends and Leon’s family. It was amazing to see how these characters came through and admittedly weren’t perfect but they were still loveable all the same. They made mistakes, yet owned them as their own. It was intriguing to see that Richie especially had such a big presence in Leon’s life, but as readers we only meet him right at the end.

“Remind myself that there is no saving of people —people can only save themselves. The best you can do is help when they’re ready.”

It was simply incredible to witness Tiffy’s transformation whilst she came to terms what had happened to her. The subtleties of abuse and gaslighting had been brilliantly highlighted. Such a sensitive topic had been handled with the utmost care and respect, which was amazing to say the least. Another thing that struck me was the ending – it wasn’t quite a ‘happily ever after’ sort of wrap up but had a more hopeful vibe to it which in turn was far more realistic.

As for Leon, his quiet sarcasm and kindness made me smile endlessly. But what made me smile the most was how Leon slowly started to open up to Tiffy as seen through his notes (more specifically the length of them).

Not gonna lie, I went through a whole host of different emotions whilst reading this book; indignation at Justin’s antics, anger at Mark’s ignorance, happiness at the exchanged notes and sadness at the trauma inflicted. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it was a rollercoaster of emotions. Just like Basil had previously said after she had finished reading it, at the end, I just wanted to hug the book and keep the characters close to me.

In a nutshell, ‘The Flat Share’ was a heartwarming read despite handling serious topics. The characterisation was pretty much perfect and honestly, it was one of those books that made me miss my tube stop, which says it all.

Until the next book,

Saz

P.S. When I was little, my parents fed me alphabet soup claiming that I liked it. But they were just… putting words in my mouth 🙂

 

 

The Guest List

As usual, San and I were both game for a read-along and the book was chosen mutually. Little did I know that I would rush on ahead, reading on my long commutes and eventually finish the entirety of the book, whilst meanwhile San would remain on the first chapter. Needless to say, San never did go back to it (much to her amusement). Here’s probably why.

The characters were very similar to the ones portrayed in ‘The Hunting Party‘ – mainly rich, privileged and in many respects unlikable with a couple of ‘outsiders’ that didn’t quite fit in the group for various reasons. To put it simply, it felt rather formulaic. I got the impression that Hannah was supposed to be likeable, however this was hardly the case. None of the other characters were appealing in the least.

In some ways it was nicely done how the characters were in one way or another linked to a central figure. Yet, at the same time it was a tad unbelievable that they all had some connection, most of which the central figure was unaware of. There was nothing particularly amazing about the characters and despite an attempt to make them complex, they somehow fell flat, feeling too wooden.

“In my experience, those who have the greatest respect for the rules also take the most enjoyment in breaking them.”

The plot itself was rather slow and tedious in many aspects. Obviously the chapters that focussed on the present weren’t going to reveal anything of use but were just added (I’m assuming) to be tantalising. And yet this wasn’t quite the effect. Rather I hurried past these as they provided no real value. Admittedly, there were a couple of twists thrown in here and there to keep things moving, but the pacing wasn’t quite right – they all came at the end, one after the other in quick succession. This made the ending seem hurried as well as anti-climatic.

As if this wasn’t  disappointing enough, what’s more was that the twists were a little on the predictable side. Granted, I didn’t see one of them but the rest were ‘meh’ (for want of a better word).

Despite all this, the remoteness of the island was brilliantly done and had very similar vibes to ‘And Then There Were None’. It emphasised the danger closing in and made for a more thrilling read.

So basically, none of the characters were particularly likeable, the whole story felt formulaic and the plot was tedious despite the setting having being nicely portrayed. It was an easy read but there was nothing particularly thrilling (yes, pun intended) about it. I am yet to figure out what all the initial hype was about.

Laters,

Saz

 

Seven Ancient Wonders

Seven Ancient Wonders By Matthew Reilly

Unsurprisingly this was another recommendation, based on the fact that I absolutely love ‘The Mummy’. I’d admit it, I was far too curious to resist and therefore, found myself curled up in bed at 3am excitedly turning the pages. There were many similarities between this book and The Mummy; however, it didn’t quite the impression that The Mummy had. But then again, that is a near enough impossible feat.

One aspect I especially liked was the fact that West’s team was diverse in terms of the nations they represented and their respective skill set. The bond depicted between them was nicely done, especially their individual relationship with Lily. In relation to this, it was amusing to see how Lily had nicknamed each member of the team. It added that pinch of humour and helped to soften the edges of tension. However, the characters could have been fleshed out more – their personalities seemed to blend in to one another, meaning there was no distinction of voices as such. It was difficult to see the characters as individuals.

There was a deep set feeling that this book should not be read for the literary prowess but rather for the escapism. The plot does an amazing job in providing fast paced action sequences. There was hardly any time to take a breath before being thrown in to the next part of the adventure, making it a thrilling read. I especially enjoyed the different settings and figuring out the clues alongside the team. The whole book read like an action film and would have been far better suited to the screen as opposed to the written word.

One thing that irked me was the overall character of Jack West – honestly it was as if he was invincible and at times I genuinely questioned if he actually needed his team except for Lily (for obvious reasons). Given that this is a series with Jack as the protagonist, it made me wonder if there would be any further character development.

Overall, this was more plot heavy rather than character based. It’s a great book for pure escapism. Yes at times, there had to be a suspension of disbelief, but it still made for an enjoyable read. No idea whether I’ll be continuing the series.

Until next time,

Saz

The Name of the Wind

I was actually rather surprised that I picked up ‘The Name of the Wind’, given how it was one of San’s recommendations. There have been several instances whereby our book recommendations have disappointed the other. A prime example is The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Whilst San absolutely loved the series, I couldn’t even get past the first couple of chapters. But books aside, there have been other countless times where I’ve been sceptical about her recommendations and have been proved wrong every single time – Pinocchio, Your Name and Erased – just to name a few on what is probably a long list.

There was something wonderfully hypnotic about Kvothe’s story. I literally wanted to burrito myself up in a blanket and drink in all the words without having to stop for the realities of life. The way the narrative weaved between the past and present was effortlessly done. It felt nice to take a breather from the past and return to the present every once in a while and get a glimpse of Bast’s, Chronicler’s and Kvothe’s reactions as the true events of the past were told.

To put it simply, there was something about Denna that irked me. I can’t explain what it was, but there was something there. And in all honesty because of this, my concentration would start in dwindle in chapters that she featured heavily in. Most of the time, I could understand where Denna was coming from given her past and why she was somewhat of a flight risk. However despite this understanding, I could not like Denna as I had previously hoped to. The whole romantic aspect of the story felt strange and forced in a way, leading to me being completely disinterested.

“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”

In complete contrast was Kvothe, who proved to be an interesting and likeable albeit slightly arrogant protagonist from the start. Although, Kvothe can be accused of not having any weaknesses as such given that he is (unrealistically) clever and uses his ability to think quickly on his feet to his uttermost advantage, his struggles were masterfully depicted throughout. As such, not everything goes perfectly all the time for him and a real sense of his difficulties can be felt.

The more secondary characters were also brilliantly depicted. Bast was a mysterious one as there are vague hints as to what he actually is. His relationship with Kvothe appeared to be more than what meets the eye. It would definitely be interesting to find out more about Bast. Even something as basic as his name – is it symbolic in a way or bear any relevance to the Egyptian goddess?

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Admittedly, the plot did not move at a pace that was expected; it was somewhat slower and rather than this book covering all of Kvothe’s history and revealing how he earned his titles as given in the synopsis, it was more of an introductory start to what I’m assuming is going to become some legendary saga. Having said that, it would be impossible to deny that his story was not captivating and all the adventures were meaningful and linked up, slowly revealing how Kvothe became Kote.

The world building was beyond incredible and the prose itself at times came across as lyrical. Some of the scenes had been portrayed in the most beautiful manner imaginable; I could feel myself present in the moment, taking in the scene unfolding before my eyes – whether that be when Kvothe was playing his lute or raising up to an unexpected challenge. These chapters demanded to be reread, with each reread being as magical as the first time.

Something else that struck me was the concept of magic. This may be a minor detail but I loved it nevertheless. In this world, magic isn’t something you’re born with but rather something that you learn once the underpinning concepts have been mastered. The way ‘sympathy’ was explained was brilliant and more importantly it made perfect sense. In all fairness some of the other aspects such as ‘heart of the stone’ could have been described in more detail. The tuition fees system had also been cleverly designed and it was certainly different. I was glad that the whole tuition process had not been brushed over as it bought a sense of realism.

In a nutshell, this was an incredible fantasy book that swept me off my feet. Some minor hiccups sure, but other than that, it was amazingly written and there were a handful of beautifully described scenes that just made the whole book.

Speak soon,

Saz

P.S. Coming up with puns about the wind is a breeze 🙂

 

 

 

 

Alex Rider (TV Series, Season 1)

To be brutally honest, I had no intention of watching Alex Rider seriously or at all for that matter. Given how most books are ruined when adapted for the screen, I refused to risk it with a series that I had enjoyed reading whilst growing up. I mean I think Hunger Games is the only exception whereby I preferred the movies over the books. However, I was completely wrong in this instance. Once again, it was San who should be thanked for persuading me to give this a go and honestly, I have no regrets.

It was interesting that the series actually started with the second book (in terms of plot) but still managed to properly lay the groundwork from the first book in introducing the characters and setting up the secretive world of spies and crime.

In all fairness, the TV series does not deviate too much from the book’s main plot. Of course, some points had been skimmed over but these were mainly from the first book when providing background – e.g. Alex undergoing military training with Wolf and co. Another change made was Tom’s role; in the show Tom was depicted as having a bigger role compared to in the books. This was actually a nice deviation as it grounded the show and added something to the story.

The casting was brilliantly done. The actors and actresses were diverse and fitted in to their roles pretty perfectly. I was most impressed with Alex, Tom and Mrs Jones (despite Mrs Jones being colder towards Alex in the books). The only character that was a disappointment was Smithers. For such an iconic character, he was completely unrecognisable. Had he not said who he was, I would have never figured out it was him, whereas the others were far more obvious.

Plus, although this is normally a minor detail for me, I cannot help but mention it – the soundtrack was bang on point as was the cinematography. The creepiness of Point Blanc had been amazingly captured as had the eeriness of the plot. The end scene with Tom’s t-shirt made me chuckle and was definitely appreciated. It was amusing to see the show lightly poking fun at itself.

Another aspect that I truly liked was the humour. The writing was brilliant and yes, although there might have been some things that happen a little too conveniently for Alex, these can be easily overlooked.

The show does take a little while to find its footing and for the audience to fully grasp the link between the somewhat random scenes at the start. But the wait is so worth it. This is definitely a binge worthy show and this is coming from someone who knew what was going to happen. I cannot even begin to imagine my level of excitement and intrigue had I not been familiar with the books.

Basically, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. Yes the first episode may not have been the most exciting one, but it is so worth a watch. Cannot wait for the next season! I mean needless to say, I’ll be at the ready with some sweet and salty popcorn (which by the way is so so good. I mean I was always under the misconception that mixed popcorn just wasn’t the one. But turns out, that was just another thing I was mistaken about).

Saz

P.S. Got a new job at the guillotine factory. I’ll beheading there shortly.

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry By Rachel Joyce

This was a heart warming story about the immense power of faith and not being afraid to reconcile with the past no matter how painful it may seem. It was the type of book that’s actually quite difficult to explain properly.

“The least planned part of the journey, however, was the journey itself.”

Harold was the quintessential British man – he was slightly awkward in expressing his feelings, hated confrontation and was generally a difficult person to read. And although it was so easy to empathise with him throughout, at times he was frustrating – his silence and passive acceptance to things that should have been spoken about. Yet this just made Harold heartbreakingly human. There was just something about him that made it difficult not to care for him in a sense.

Maureen was a more difficult character to fathom. At first glance, she appeared to be cold especially in her interactions with Harold. However, as the story progressed, it became clear that she was facing her own internal struggles. Her character development was brilliantly portrayed, as was her growing friendship with Rex. It was nice to have flashbacks of when her and Harold had first met and their tim together throughout their marriage.

“But maybe it’s what the world needs. A little less sense, and a little more faith.”

The small plot twist was recognisable and I soon guessed at what was being hinted at early on. Regardless it still had the power to gently pull at my heartstrings. The end scene between Harold and Maureen completely melted me; everything about it was completely perfect. From the middle onwards, the story went down a direction that was rather unexpected. Other characters were met along the way, which highlighted a handful of the worst traits imaginable in humanity, and it inspired waves of deeply rooted anger and disgust. So basically this story gave rise to a whole host of different emotions.

The idea of unshakable faith was truly inspiring in many respects. This was portrayed in more than one way, some more obvious than others. I loved how this was the core of the story and although it slightly deviated from this at one point, it soon found its way back.

Overall this took me by surprise. It was a simple read in terms of narrative but had depth to the story. It covered hard-hitting themes but was truly inspiring and heart warming.

Saz

 

 

 

 

Rivers of London

Image result for the rivers of london book cover

This should have been the perfect book – a blend of fantasy, supernatural and crime. And believe me, I very much so wanted to like it. Unfortunately, I had upped and ditched long before I had even turned the last page. Given that my curiosity almost always wins against my inclination to ditch, this says a lot. Even more surprising, was the fact that the opportunity cost had long gone by the time I had decided to stop reading.

My favourite aspect was the humour and the writing style. The style itself can be described as being casual. It felt as if Peter was having a conversation with the reader; just sitting down at a coffee shop, relaying his adventures.

Being a Londoner, the setting obviously appealed to me immensely. It felt good to know the streets that the events were happening on. Plus the small random titbits of history only added to the enjoyment of the story.

The different take on magic was intriguing and fresh. Using science to try and explain the mechanics of magic was definitely an interesting approach. However, for the most part of it, I found myself to be rather confused. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t an overly complicated explanation, but due to not having a working knowledge of basic physics and chemistry, I ended up pretty much befuddled, which was frustrating. However the problem lies with me and my lack of science knowledge. I will admit though, I loved how curious Peter was about magic; rather than just accepting it and learning it mindlessly, he studied it, experimented with it and tried to find a proper explanation, connecting the dots for himself.

What’s more was that the characters were so diverse. A range of different backgrounds had been represented with care which is sadly not as common as it should be in the literary world. As far as I could tell, general stereotypes had been for the most part avoided.

Given all this, you would think that I would have loved this story. However, now we come to what completely ruined the book.

The main issue I had was the fact that way too many magical creatures had been introduced in a short amount of time and rather randomly too. Suddenly there’s a mention of trolls, vampires and water spirits/gods. It was too clumsily done for my liking and made little sense. In relation to this, ideas were briefly said in passing but never fully explained (e.g. glamour). Again this made little sense to me as a reader and had I not heard of these concepts before, I would have been even more lost.

I hate to say it but the humour was problematic at times. There was an undercurrent of misogyny throughout the book and a sense of male wish fulfilment. It was downright irritating to keep reading Peter’s sexualised thoughts about the females around him. Quite frankly I was far from impressed and yes, a little offended. There was just no need.

The plot felt like it was all over the place and just felt messy, jumping from one thing to the next. You had the main mystery of the deaths that kept repeating themselves but at the same time the two warring parts of Thames. It kept switching around and no sense of a link was present. Having said that, it could be very well that at the end these two storylines joined up. But by that point my interest had long gone. As I’ve said before, normally I would carry on reading, just to find out whodunnit or at least spoiler myself just to satisfy my own curiosity. This never happened this time round. Take from that what you will.

Needless to say, I was dry much disappointed. On the surface, there’s so much right with this book but there were certain things that I just couldn’t get past in this instance.

Speak soon,

Saz