Book Review | The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien… an unexpected journey

December 4th, 2021

| Published: 1937 by Allen & Unwin |
| Genre: High Fantasy/Childrens Classic |
| Themes: Adventure, Dragons, Elves, Hobbits & Dwarves |
| Length: 322 Pages |
| Source: Own |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Hi Readers, Welcome To Blogmas Day 4!

This was a recent reread of mind and I noticed a lot of my opinions had changed this time around, so I’m rewriting this review and I’m bumping it up from three to four stars!

Synopsis

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, introduces the reader to Middle Earth. A place where Goblins, Elves, Wizards Dwarves and, of course, Hobbits lived in abundance. In this we follow a Hobbit who is hired by a band of dwarves to travel with them to their home on the Misty Mountain, which has long been occupied by a hungry, gold loving dragon.

My Thoughts

Bilbo Baggins, a typical Hobbit who enjoys his homely comforts but secretly longs for an adventure, is such a lovable main character, and I absolutely fell in love with him. He’s very relatable and funny, and almost reminded me of an old English gentleman (maybe he’s based on Tolkien himself?) and his courage and loyalness makes him one of the best and most unlikely heroes in literary history.

This book is more aimed at children than it’s sequel Lord of the Rings; It’s more light hearted and can be a bit silly and quirky at times. But the writing and world-building was absolutely captivating. The descriptions of middle-earth were so detailed, it gives a brilliant picture of a whole world that he imagined and even the history of it.

I’m sure you would have watched or at least heard of the films by now, but I implore you to give this book a go. It’s such a worthwhile read, and it’s a great introduction into Middle Earth.

Would I Read Again? Yes! (and I have)
Would I Recommend? Absolutely!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

November 19th, 2021

| Released: December 1817 |
| Publisher: John Murray |
| Genre: Classic Romance |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 240 Pages |
| ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

Catherine Morland should know better. She’s the very ideal of a nice, normal girl. But Catherine is cursed with an overactive imagination. She is also obsessed with lurid Gothic novels, where terrible things happen to the heroine. Which gets her into all sorts of trouble…

When Catherine visits Bath and meets funny, sharp Henry Tilney, she’s instantly taken with him. But when she is invited to the Tilneys’ home, the sinister Northanger Abbey, fantasy starts to get in the way of reality. Will she learn to separate out the two?

My Thoughts

Northanger Abbey was possibly the first full length novel Jane Austen wrote, but the road to publication was not an easy one. The first time she sold this book, it was for £10 to a book seller who failed to publish it. Years later her brother bought the book back for the same sum and Jane presumedly made some alterations to the book for later publication, which she didn’t live to see.

Despite the struggle for this novel to be published, it’s still being read a talked about over 200 years later. It’s best known for it’s satirical take on the gothic literature, a genre so popular in Austen’s time, and the main character’s (whose likeness is supposed to be that of Jane herself) love for books and overactive imagination.

Northanger Abbey is one of the earliest published novels that Austen worked on which just shows how natural her quick wit and sharp tone developed into her writing. Whilst I think you can tell she was young when she first wrote this story, as the plot doesn’t feel quite as strong as her later novels, her irony is never more presant. Northanger Abbey shows her cheeky, humerous side with it’s mock take on gothic tropes and drama, and basically points out the obsurdity of those books when compared with real life.

The wind roared down the chimney, the rain beat in torrents against the windows and everything seemed to speak the awfulness of her situation.

Catherine is the youngest of all her protagonists. Being just seventeen, she’s still a teenager and has an obvious naivety and innocence which definitely shows her age. Her opposite, for example, is Anne from Janes final novel Persuasion. Anne, the oldest of Janes protagonists, is mature, self-aware and very observant. Catherine has ‘a mind as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is,’ and must overcome the rather awkward situations her poor judge of character and rash decisions put her in.

The side characters were as well built as Catherine. The beginning of this novel finds Catherine being thrust into high society wholly unprepared. There she meets Isabelle Thorpe, who quickly takes advantage of the young and ignorant Catherine by befriending and influencing her. The love interest Henry Tilney, whilst being a bit more plain than his Austen counterparts, has an endearing side with his shared love for Catherines books.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Henry Tilney

This might be the least well plotted of Austen’s novels and did lag a bit around the middle, but there’s still so much to love about Northanger Abbey and is well worth a read for anyone looking for a lighter take on the gothic genre.

Would I Read Again? Yes (already have, a few times now)
Would I Recommend? Yes

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz

October 12th, 2021

| Released: October 12th, 2021 |
| Publisher: Simon & Schuster |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Age: YA |
| Length: 544 Pages |
| Not Rating |

Synopsis

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

My Thoughts

*Beware! Spoilers for book one Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

I wouldn’t say this was one of my most anticipated books of the year. Despite it’s predecessor being one of my favourite books of all time, I did have my reservations when it was announced that this sequel was in the works. But I still felt excitement for it, and I did have faith Saenz could create another, beautiful story with these two beloved characters.

I guess I’m disappointed that my initial thoughts ended up being right. I never felt this story needed a sequel and when he announced there would be one, I felt it unneccessary, and there was nothing about Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World that convinced me otherwise.

Because of my undying love for the first book, maybe I am being more critical of this sequel than I would any other book. It picks up right where book one leaves off where Ari and Dante have just revealed their feelings for one another. We continue to see them in a relationship, and we see Ari coming to terms with his sexuality. He becomes very aware of the AIDS pandemic he sees on the news, and the fact that he and Dante will never marry.

I did appreciate that this book explored those issues so poignant to the 80’s gay community. I like that Ari’s relationship with his parents and himself continued to strengthen. Honestly, if it had dived deeper into this and explored these themes more, maybe I wouldn’t have left this book feeling it had wasted my time.

Unfortunately it went in directions that made me wish this book didn’t exist. I can’t say what direction that was, because that would be a spoiler, all I’ll say is I hate books that make me feel emotionally distraught. I’ve got enough sadness in my life, and I don’t need to seek that in my books.

This might seem harsh, but I am going to act like this book just doesn’t exist. I’ll continue to love book one, but book two just didn’t happen in my world…

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | Persuasion by Jane Austen

October 4th, 2021

| Published: 1817 |
| Genre: Classic |
| Themes: Romance, Class, Society |
| Length: 249 Pages |
| Source: Own |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

This book, true to its name, follows the theme of Persuasion. In the beginning of the book we’re introduced to the Eliot’s, an aristocratic family falling on hard times. They must economise and, following the advice of friends, plan to move to Bath.

Our protagonist Anne however is not a fan of the idea and decides to stay with her neighbour and friend. She wasn’t to know that this decision would reacquaint her with a man whom she was engaged to, until her family persuaded her to break it off due to his being ‘unworthy’

My Thoughts

Published posthumously six months after her death, Jane Austen would never know the praise this book would garner. From readers to scholars, this is widely regarded as her best, most maturely written work about the powers of persuasion and how it can effect young love.

Anne Elliot is older than Austen’s other protagonists which definitely makes the tone of this book stand out from the others. Anne’s maturity means she is a lot more sure of herself and aware of others. She’s observant and composed, not self-possessed like Emma or proud like Lizzy.

Her word had no weight – she was only Anne.

Persuasion

Her ex-betrothed, Captain Wentworth, is a character worthy of Mr Darcy praise. Again, he’s very different to Jane’s other love interests. Wentworth is a self-made man who cares little for title or aristocracy. He’s very likeable and I would’ve liked to have seen more of him on the page.

We also have the classically Austen comedic characters in the form of the other Elliots. Whilst Anne is sensible and self-aware, her family and too proud for their own good, and they think much to highly of themselves. I had a good time laughing at them!

This is the last novel Jane completed. It ended up being her shortest but, in my opinion, her most well written story. As in her other novels she brings a lot of attention to social status and made very clear her own opinion of it. She really puts a lot of herself in her writing…

It’s thought Austen wrote this after she played a part in persuading her niece to reject a marriage offer. Whether she felt guilty about this or whether she wanted to justify it I honestly can’t determine. Whilst it’s clear Anne Elliot’s family were wrong about Wentworth, Austen does attempt to defend them by saying that any questionable match should rightfully be questioned by the family.

I also think this could have been Austen’s way of giving them a happy ending. This book is all about second chances and the idea that, if two people are meant for each other, they’ll be together eventually. It’s almost a fairytale romance set in Georgian England.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”

Persuasion

This may not be her most famous work with a big Hollywood adaptation, but it’s still a must read for any Austen fan.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | The Waves by Virginia Woolf

September 23rd, 2021

| Released: 1931 |
| Publisher: Hogarth Press |
| Genre: Classic |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 167 Pages |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

Set on the coast of England against the vivid background of the sea, The Waves introduces six characters—three men and three women—who are grappling with the death of a beloved friend, Percival. Instead of describing their outward expressions of grief, Virginia Woolf draws her characters from the inside, revealing them through their thoughts and interior soliloquies. As their understanding of nature’s trials grows, the chorus of narrative voices blends together in miraculous harmony, remarking not only on the inevitable death of individuals but on the eternal connection of everyone.

My Thoughts

After reading Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, hearing people call this one Woolf’s most experimental novel was absurd to me. How could you get more unique, more ‘Woolf’, than Mrs Dalloway? But I didn’t even need to finish the first page of The Waves to realise that those people were completely right.

I’ve never read anything like this. It’s format is so unique and ambitious, but Woolf pulls it off flawlessly. It almost reads like a play as it’s told through a chorus Soliloquies (think Hamlet, to be or not to be?) that have a perfect rhythm to them. We flow from one character to another, and it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever read.

I’ve used this word before to describe Woolf, but it’s a triumph. It’s more than just a good book, it’s an experience. It’s a must read. Savour it, take it in. I know this will be a book I return to many, many times because one read it not enough.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

September 15th, 2021

| Published: 1928 |
| Publisher: Hogarth Press |
| Genre: Classic |
| Length: 228 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost.

At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Constantinople, awakes to find that he is now a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.

My Thoughts

Orlando, inspired by and dedicated to her lover, Vita, feels like a love letter to writers and literature. While I have no authority on the matter, I believe it is one of the greatest triumphs in feminist literature. With two of her books to go, I definitely feel this one is my favourite.

Like most of her novels, it’s not the easiest or most straight forward book to follow. It takes you on a strange, borderline bizarre journey where much is left unexplained. But I just let it sweep me up and take me where it wanted me to go. And I loved it.

I honestly think this book is nothing short of genius, and I think only many, many rereads could possibly make me fully understand everything this book does. It’s so subtly done but so many themes are explored through Orlando. Gender roles, history, sex, time, nature and literature. I underlined countless of quotes surrounding these things and I know I would only find more on a reread.

Which is funny because this is actually my second read of Orlando. I first read it in February 2020, and it went completely over my head. I gave it two stars, citing it was too bizarre, too hard to follow. Honestly I left it feeling quite dumb. But I think I was trying too hard to understand it, and didn’t let myself just enjoy Virginia’s beautiful style.

This book wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for her love affair with Vita, and that makes me want to understand more about them and their relationship. So my next mission, once I’ve finished her novels, will be to read her biography. I’m excited!

Thanks for reading, 
Jess X

Book Review | The Travelling Cat Chronicals by Hiro Arokawa

August 2nd, 2021

| Released: 2012 |
| Publisher: Viking |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Themes: Japanese Lit |
| Length: 288 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

Nana the cat is on a road trip. He is not sure where he’s going or why, but it means that he gets to sit in the front seat of a silver van with his beloved owner, Satoru. Side by side, they cruise around Japan through the changing seasons, visiting Satoru’s old friends. 

My Thoughts

This book was so unexpected for me. I found it on the shelf in the library and think I remember hearing about it from someone on booktube, so I randomly decided to pick it up.

Part of this is told from the POV of Nana, a street cat who is adopted by a kindly man Satoru because he reminds him of a cat he had as a child. Normally I’m not a fan of animal POV’s but I adored the voice of Nana! So charming, so funny. I’ve never been a cat fan but this kind of made me love them.

I just felt it lost my attention a little bit around the middle. The whole premise is Satoru needs to find someone to take care of Nana, and so he visits his old friends and through them we learn about Satoru’s life, which I didn’t find completely compelling.

But this ended up touching me emotionally more than I think any book for a long while. I used to be such a crier for sad endings in books but I either grew out of that or I just haven’t read anything that’s got those emotions out of me for years. It turns out all it takes is an unbreakable bond between a human and an animal!

My favourite quote I can’t actually share with you because it’s a huge spoiler (but if you have read this book, it’s on the final page, I’m sure you can guess what it is) but this book had some beautiful writing and I really enjoyed myself with this one.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M Forster

July 31st, 2021

| Released: 1905 |
| Publisher: William Blackwood & Sons |
| Genre: Classic |
| Themes: Italy, Romance |
| Length: 148 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

When the young English widow Lilia Herriton takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a penniless Italian, her in-laws are far from amused. That the marriage should fail and poor Lilia die tragically are only to be expected. But that Lilia should have had a baby – and that the baby should be raised as an Italian! – are matters requiring immediate correction by Philip Herriton, his dour sister Harriet, and their well-meaning friend Miss Abbott.

My Thoughts

Last year, at the end of last Summer I read my first E.M Forster book Howard’s End and just adored it. So much so that I decided that this Summer, I would read all of his books. I’m not necessarily reading them in publication order (I don’t think) but I wanted to start with his ‘debut’ novel.

Funnily this is one I hadn’t actually heard of before becoming interested in Forster’s works. We’ve all heard of A Room with a View and Maurice, but this one had somehow escaped my notice. Because of that I was a little dubious about how much I would like it, but it absolutely charmed me!

For a debut novel, his writing is already so strong. I absolutely love his style which gives me confidence that no matter what his novels are about, I’ll always love it because his writing is that good.

I don’t know if it’s just because I had never heard of this before, but this was so unpredictable which is kind of rare with classic books. The plot just never went the way I expected.

It’s also a very short, quick read. Maybe just a little longer than a novella and could definitely be read in a single day. It’s well paced, although a lot of characters were introduced in the first chapter which was a bit head-spinning.

“And I do believe that Italy really purifies and ennobles all who visit her. She is the school as well as the playground of the world.”

Reading this in the sun was just perfect and I’m so glad I waited till Summer to read his works. His beautiful passages about the Italian life and landscape just transported me there. I’ll be reading A Room With A View next and I’m so ready to fall in love!

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Blog Tour | You And Me On Vacation by Emily Henry

July 15th, 2021

| Released: July 8th, 2021 |
| Publisher: Penguin |
| Genre: Contemporary |
| Themes: Romance |
| Age: Adult |
| Length: 361 Pages |
| Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

Two best friends. Ten summer trips. One last chance to fall in love.

Poppy and Alex. Alex and Poppy. They have nothing in common. She’s a wild child; he wears khakis. She has insatiable wanderlust; he prefers to stay home with a book. And somehow, ever since a fateful car share home from college many years ago, they are the very best of friends. For most of the year they live far apart—she’s in New York City, and he’s in their small hometown—but every summer, for a decade, they have taken one glorious week of vacation together.

Until two years ago, when they ruined everything. They haven’t spoken since.

Poppy has everything she should want, but she’s stuck in a rut. When someone asks when she was last truly happy, she knows, without a doubt, it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. And so, she decides to convince her best friend to take one more vacation together—lay everything on the table, make it all right. Miraculously, he agrees.

Now she has a week to fix everything. If only she can get around the one big truth that has always stood quietly in the middle of their seemingly perfect relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

My Thoughts

Emily Henry is the author of one of my favourite books of 2020, Beach Read, and I was so excited to see she was coming out with another Summer smash!

Her second novel is kind of a take on the classic Rom-Com When Harry Met Sally and follows the same theme of unlikely friends turned lovers. It has suh a fun and believable romance. I loved the two characters, they had great chemistry and you really rooted for them both indivually and as a couple. They’re also complete opposites, which made their scenes together even more juicy and entertaining.

As with her debut, I just loved Emily Henry’s writing. The more I read from her, the more she becomes a firm favourite. It was sharp and quick-whitted, and there was some seriously laugh out loud banter between the two friends which I always like to see.

You and Me on Vacation has everything I could possibly ask for in a pool side read. It’s addictive, light and fast. And if you’re still hesitant to go travelling anywhere thanks to the virus which shall not be named, then allow Henry to sweep you around the world on these friend’s adventures.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X

Book Review | Love and Fury by Samantha Silva (New Release)

June 16th, 2021

| Released: June 17th, 2021 |
| Publisher: Alison & Busby |
| Genre: Historical Fiction |
| Length: 312 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| Source: Sent to by publisher in exchange for an honest review |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

Synopsis

August, 1797. Midwife Parthenia Blenkinsop has delivered countless babies, but nothing prepares her for the experience that unfolds when she arrives at Mary Wollstonecraft’s door. Over the eleven harrowing days that follow, as Mrs. Blenkinsop fights for the survival of both mother and newborn, Wollstonecraft recounts the life she dared to live amidst the impossible constraints and prejudices of the late 18th century, rejecting the tyranny of men and marriage, risking everything to demand equality for herself and all women.

She weaves her riveting tale to give her fragile daughter a reason to live, even as her own strength wanes. Wollstonecraft’s urgent story of loss and triumph forms the heartbreakingly brief intersection between the lives of a mother and daughter who will change the arc of history and thought.

My Thoughts

My favourite type of historical fiction is ones based on real people and that’s exactly what Samantha Silva does in Love and Fury. I enjoyed Silva’s debut novel Dickens and His Carol, so I was excited to see she was coming out with another book retelling the life of a writer. Mary Wollstonecrafts best known work is The Vindication of the Rights of Women, but she’s also well known for being Mary Shelley’s mother.

This book about her life was ironically inspired by her death. Mary died just 11 days after giving birth to her daughter Mary, and this book is what Silva believes she would have liked to have told her daughter in those precious few days they had together. It’s a heartbreaking, but engrossing tale.

It is a rather straight-forward biographical retelling. There wasn’t anything super special about the writing, but it did introduce to such an interesting figure. Before reading this, my knowledge on Mary Wollstonecraft was zero. I almost read A Vindication of the Rights of Women before reading Love and Fury, but I’m so glad I didn’t now as this gives a little insight into what would have inspired her to write it, and I think that will be helpful when I do finally get to it…

“Not knowing what else to do, I did put pen to paper, pouring out my anger and resentment, railing against the injustice of women like me, like Fanny and my sisters, unable to make our way in the world.”

Love & Fury

…Which will be very soon, because I’m now obsessed with this woman! What an interesting, tragic life she led and what a fierce character she was to behold. I can see why Silva was inspired to write a novel about her and I can’t wait to see what this author does in the future.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X