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The Reading Gypsy

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood – Review

5 STARS

There are some books that just leave you kind of numb and slightly reeling so that forming a coherent review is near impossible. This is one of those books.

It is less a work of fiction, more a warning. A warning to us all about the dangers of autocracy. I was surprised to find that this book was written over 30 years ago, as it really resonates with current events. The prophetic nature of the work is a little unnerving. There is a sense of foreboding that permeates the pages.

The story is that of Offred. She is a Handmaid whose only purpose is to breed. Her life is regimented, regulated and restricted. Freedom, something no one dares to even dream of. She lives in a completely repressive world. A world that is frighteningly similar to one we find ourselves in today.

I love the line “better never means better for everyone… it always means worse for some”. The best intentions to make a better world can very easily make a world even more feared and hated than the one they were trying to leave behind.

The previous world was one in which sex was easy, sexual violence against women on the rise, pornography prolific. We see the world of currency has gone completely digital – no cash – just a compucard with your credits on it – a cashless society. Fertility declines due to radiation exposures. And then the men in power decide to press the reset button. Create a better world, starting by changing some laws that women had previously fought so hard for. Laws that, not surprisingly, only really effect the women. The right to choose is removed with the abolition of abortion, the right of ownership for women removed and compucards frozen, the right to work removed. None of this sounds far-fetched. The world before is so similar to the world as it is now, and the world they create is eerily similar also. Some of this has already been law in our past (the right to work, vote, own property or bank accounts), some of it is law in some countries right now (the right to an education removed, the right to drive removed, laws in regards to modesty of dress), and some countries are currently trying to pass laws that sound a lot like the themes in this book.

It is natural for cultures to have peaks and troughs throughout history. One culture is hedonistic, a century later the culture is puritanical to the extreme. Instead of learning from history that extremes in either direction never work, we seem doomed to repeat the cycle ad infinitum.

No matter the laws and rules put in place people always find a way around them. In their world only men in positions of power are permitted to have a wife, sex outside of marriage forbidden, but the pleasure dens still manage to crop up somewhere (even though they are illegal too), and of course they are frequented by both the men being denied access elsewhere, and those who have wives and handmaids at home. Yet the existence of these pleasure dens was one of the reasons for the reset in the first place. Make something that is in demand illegal and it just gets driven underground instead.

This book is a brilliant work of totalitarian dystopia with current facts infringing on future fantasy. How easy it would be for this to come to pass in some form or another. How terrifying a prospect.

Completely compelling. The writing style is engaging and the pace is unhurried. My only complaint would be that we never find out Offred’s fate. Did she find Luke? Was she ever reunited with her daughter? Did she make it out? What was out there? I usually hate books that leave you with more questions than you started with, but I find that it fits well with the theme of this book. It makes it read almost more like a journal than a novel.

I’d love to find out more about the colonies and what life was like there. Was is vastly different to their little corner of the world? I’d also love to hear some of the backstory about how the world ended up as it did. We get glimpses throughout the novel, but i’d love a prequel type story too. I know we are never meant to judge a bok by its cover, but how gorgeous is this vintage classic edition i found!

I am eager to see what the recent TV adaptation has done with this story. Has anyone watched it yet? Does it do the book justice?

Out of Heart by Irfan Master

4 stars

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book from the publisher through a goodreads giveaway. My first impression was a bit of coverlove. I think the cover design is really eye-catching and appealing (although why a sun design instead of a heart?). The synopsis had me intrigued and I bumped it up my tbr list because I was really interested to see what the story was like.

I was not disappointed. It was thoroughly enjoyable and easy to devour. It is quite a short and easy read (I read it in one evening). The plot meanders along at a slow and steady pace.

The story is about Adam and his family. After suffering the loss of his grandfather, the recipient of his donated heart comes into their life quite unexpectedly. I loved that it seemed like it was the heart bringing William walking to that door. Each member of the family has their own quirk (mums inability to cry and truly grieve, Adams compulsive notetaking and scribbles, Farah’s muteness). I enjoyed that aspect. My only complaint is that, at times, the characters seemed a little one dimensional. I would have liked to have seen a little more depth and character development.

Some of the side characters seemed superfluous. I would have preferred it stuck to the family unit and developed them more.

At its core, this book is about grief, healing, and the meaning of family. I like that it highlights that family does not always come to you in the conventional form. There were hints as to the faith of the characters, I think that it should have been either highlighted or just left out – as it was, it felt unimportant.

I loved the art aspect of the story and found that feature compelling – I’d love to glimpse inside that notebook. And the addition of the little heart facts between chapters was pretty cool.

Overall, an engaging and heart-warming tale.

June Wrap Up

How was your June? It is finally getting colder here and resembling winter at last. Colder days means more indoor reading time, Yay! This month i knocked 26 books of the tbr shelf, although a couple of those were photographic books and a handful of novellas so it probably isn’t that much in total pages read. But there were some pretty good reads in there this month. Here is a list of what i discovered in June:

Mix Tape One – Fut – Short story by my cousin, and soon to be published author, Si Braniff – 4 stars – left me wanting to know what happens next.

AA.jpg Almost Adulting by Arden Rose – 3 stars – humorous but didn’t totally engage me.

CTN Crave the Night by Lara Adrian – 4 stars – Midnight Breed book 12 – a great instalment – I loved finding out more about Nathan and the Atlantean twist was interesting.

ATCOTB.jpg At The Court of the Borgia by Johann Burchard – 3 stars – informative but a little dull at times.

IICLG If I Can’t Let Go by Beth Kery – 3 stars –not as captivating as pervious book series’ of hers but still enjoyable.

IICHY If I Can’t Have You by Beth Kery – 3 stars – another solid novella but I’m failing to really fall for the characters.

IITY.jpg If I Trust You by Beth Kery – 3 stars – this series is good but not great. I don’t like it as much as previous books I’ve read by this author.

IINY.jpg If I Need You by Beth Kery – 3 stars – enjoyable but not totally captivating.

Putt Putt with Uncle Bob by Si Braniff – 3 stars  – short story by my soon to be published cousin.

MKD The Marsh Kings Daughter by Karen Dionne – 4 stars – tense and suspenseful from the outset. A solid thriller

ASB A Subtle Breeze by Bailey Bradford – 3 stars -another solid m/m series from this author. Being novellas they kind of just start with the action, but there is enough backstory to flesh the characters out a little.

BH  The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs – 4 stars – A touching memoir with a light-hearted approach.

ALWD A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby – 4 stars – darkly humorous and good classic Hornby.

Odyssey The Odyssey by Homer – 5 stars – a reread of one of my favourite classic tomes.

WTDS When the Dead Speak by Bailey Bradford – 3 stars – Southern Spirits book 2 – a good solid instalment in this m/m paranormal series.

ATV All of the Voices by Bailey Bradford  – 3 stars – Southern Spirits book 3 – anther good instalment. I find with Bradford books they are always somewhere in the middle for me. Enjoyable and well plotted but not completely wowing me.

WUD Wait Until Dawn by Bailey Bradford – 3 stars – Southern Spirits book 4 – I enjoy the paranormal aspect in this series.

WPP World Press Photo 2017 – 5 stars – after seeing the exhibition I purchased a copy of the book. Some seriously moving images.

MAF.jpg Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison – 4 stars – an engrossing read although I found it hard to warm to any of the characters.

Aftermath Aftermath by Bailey Bradford – 3 stars – Southern Spirits book 5 – another solid instalment in this m/m series.

CK Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – 5 glorious stars – I adored being back in Ketterdam with the gang. Loved every word of it. Sad that this was a duology – I want more Kaz and Inej.

ALBB.jpg A Little Bit of Buddha by Chad Mercree – 4 stars – a good little intro to all things Buddha.

WWM.jpg Why We March by Artisan Press – 5 stars – a great photographic collection of the best of the women’s march 2017.

invaders The Invaders by John Flanagan – 5 stars – adventure on the high seas – I love all things Flanagan.

ois2 One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton – 5 stars – adorable, tender, heart-warming. Like a little vacation amongst the pages.

WE Wild Embrace by Nalini Singh – 5 stars – Psy-Changeling book 15.5 – a collection of shorts accompanying the psy changeling series.  Absolutely adore this series. I loved being back with my Dark river/Snow Dancer packmates and their Psy friends too. Plus more Dorian! I always love a good Dorian.

So now on to July… already… gosh life is disappearing fast. I am hoping to finally read My Cousin Rachel and Frost Like Night before starting on Gillian Andersons motivational book WE. What is on your July list?

Wishing you all a healthy and happy July wherever you are in the world.

 

 

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

5 Stars

Genre: YA Romance

If you want to take a little vacation from life, get a copy of One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. This book is like a little mini holiday. I got thoroughly caught up in the story and the magic of Rome.  The writing is so descriptive that you begin to feel as though you have experienced the sights and smells and sounds of Rome for yourself.

Take a quirky female lead and her equally cool sisters, throw in a family wedding, and your cousins swoon-worthy bestie, and top it off with a magical city and you have the perfect recipe for one fabulous summer read.

The pace was like a gentle stroll. No roller coasters, no cliff-hangers. Just a meander along the cobbled streets. While the story has a serious note, it is surprisingly sweet and carefree. It is essentially a tale of grief and healing.  Each girl is coming to terms with her loss in a different way, and the trip to Rome is helping them all heal and begin the slow process of moving forward. Luke is positively delicious, although I do question his potential as a partner considering his penchant for groping gorgeous girls in doorways (also that incident after the funeral – didn’t he have a girlfriend at the time?). The relationship between the 3 sisters was beautiful – I want sisters like them. I devoured this book and hope to see more from this author soon. A temperate and heartfelt tale that had me smiling and longing for a summer vacation.

Goodreads Synopsis:

It’s been a year since Milly, Elyse and Leonie’s dad died, and a year since their last trip to Rome. Summer’s here again, and once again they are heading with their mum to Italy – but what’s it going to be like going without Dad? Rome still holds its familiar charms – the sun is still as warm, the gelato as delicious, the people as welcoming. But nothing is quite as it once was …

With grief still raw for all of them, Milly is facing the additional awfulness of having to see Luke again – gorgeous, gorgeous Luke, who she had a fling with last year, and who she made a total fool of herself with – or so she thinks. What’s going to happen this time? What’s more, things between Milly, her sisters and their mum are rocky – Leonie is being tempestuous and unpredictable, Elyse is caught up with her new boyfriend, and Milly feels like she just doesn’t know how she fits in any more.

Over one Italian summer, can Milly find a way back to the life she once had?

May Wrap Up

Gosh May is gone already…. slow down please!

This month is a very short read list for me because i finally plucked up enough courage to tackle one big brutal beast of a book (A Little Life). It took me a lot longer than the average book to read so it is a brief wrap up this month.Here are the books i discovered in May.

TOBM The Tao of Bill Murray by Gavin Edwards – 3 stars – it was lighthearted and funny but not as hilarious as I was expecting.

SAA Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome-  5 stars – loved it. How did I never hear of this book series growing up? It is a wonderful adventure.

HUG The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – 4 stars – an important work.

CLiff Cliff by Bailey Bradford (Leopard Spots book 12) – 3 stars – it was a decent instalment but it didn’t totally captivate me.

GT Guilt Trip by Kasey Edwards – 4 stars – a competition win for me that I really enjoyed.

mer Updrift by Errin Stevens (The Mer Chronicles book 1) – 3 stars – It was okay. I found the female lead to be insipid and weak though.

VP1 Run With the Moon by Bailey Bradford (Valens Pack book 1) – 3 stars – an enjoyable MM novella.

PW The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash – 3 starts – an ARC I received from the publisher. It was okay but I have to admit these types of stories have never held much appeal to me.

IMBM.jpg Ill Met By Moonlight by Stanley W Moss – 3.5 stars – It was good. A little dry, but perhaps I was just not in the right mood for this type of read.

WTNC When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett – 5 stars – Brilliant. A great Australian tale. Definitely one of my go-to authors now.

ALL1 A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara – 5 sobbing stars – heartbreaking. Beautiful. Transformative. Masterpiece.

After finally finishing A Little Life i need to go quietly sob in a corner somewhere. I definitely have to find myself a light easy read to fill my head as i am sure Jude and Willem will be occupying space for quite some time. If you haven’t read this book yet go get it. I always find it strange that we find books that completely destroy us but then we tell everyone they must go out and read it. Do we want everyone else to suffer like we have? It is a work of genius though, so well worth the pain.

Did you discover any new and wonderful stories in May? Tell me about them.

 

 

A Litte Life by Hanya Yanagihara Review

5 STARS

READ THIS BOOK. It will destroy you, but read it anyway!

If I had to pick a single word to describe this book I’m not sure I could.  Heartbreaking…. Yes.   Astonishing…. Yes.   Devastating… Yes.  Brilliant, Complex, Disturbing, Extraordinary, Unforgettable, Profound, Moving, Touching, Heartfelt, Compelling, Agonising, Beautiful, Hypnotic, Revelatory, Perfection…. Yes. It is all those things. It is all of those things and something extra. Something indefinable and unnameable.

It is the story of four friends that venture to New York after college. But really it is the story of Jude St Francis. He is the centre of gravity. He is the pivot point that all the others branch out from. But at the same time, every other character in the book is more than a side character. They are more than a supporting cast.

I can’t go into detail about Jude without spoiling it for those yet to discover this revelatory work, so I will try to keep it simple… As the layers of Jude are peeled back to the marrow and we discover all that his life has been, each layer is another heartbreak, each betrayal another moment of disbelief and horror. To have a childhood so mired by abuses in so many guises…. To have one after another of negative and blindingly brutal encounters….. My soul wept for him.  It is as though every male was a representation of the most evil and base personalities possible. How can one person encounter so much vileness? How can there have been no kind men that did not seek to use or abuse? How can he have never encountered any women in this time? If anyone needed some nurturing and affection it was Jude. How can one survive so much? I wept for him, even knowing he is not real. I wept because out there in the world there are many Judes with a story like this that are real.

This book shows the complete depravity that this world can offer. But, while it is infused with a sense of hopelessness, it is also flooded with moments of hope and sheer tenacity. It is a story of friendship, but also a story of love. Albeit an unconventional kind of love. Part of me wonders whether Judes issues when it came to intimate encounters with the person he loved may have been different if he was able to be in control? If he was the one topping, if the act was solely in his charge, would he have responded differently? He was always the one being used, the one the act was being thrust upon, and even when consenting, he was still submitting to something being done TO him. To live a life never knowing pleasure seems so sad. Even in Judes happier moments there is a veil of sadness and a sense of loneliness.

I love that each character in the book is fully fleshed. To the point that by the end you feel as though you know them all. Like they are all part of your inner circle. Each one has their own layers of sorrow, and their own moments of joy.  Each has their own identity.  I personally struggled to warm to JB, and Malcom and Richard both seemed less interesting to me.

The relationship between each of the characters is complex, but the most multifaceted is that between Willem and Jude (for me at least). It is, at its heart, a beautiful love story. I just really want to go give Jude a hug or 100. And Willem is just completely lovable.

Harold is one of my favourite characters. I find the struggle that they all share in regards to Judes method of release substantial. It really makes you question what you would do in that situation. A physical pain can help alleviate and deflect an emotional one. When considering his past in full by the end, can you blame him? Would you consider it mental illness or just the coping mechanism of someone stronger than you thought human endurance could be?

Towards the end you are thrown one big curveball. I spent most of the book emotionally preparing myself to say goodbye to one particular character only to lose an entirely different character before the final act (actually more than one, but to be honest the other didn’t throw me nearly as much). It left me wanting to go and quietly sob in a corner somewhere. I don’t know if I felt worse for the person we lost or the one left behind. I think both moved me greatly. The anguish pours off the pages. I love the moment with Harold and Julia where Jude realises he is being treated like a child and he is acting like one and, for the first time, he is actually being  allowed to be the child he never could be. I found that profoundly moving. And I am so happy with his decision regarding Loehmann. I was so angry at Jude for most of the book for not making even the slightest effort in that direction, so to see some sense of resolution there was good – better  late than never Jude, but how I wished it helped. I still feel a deep sadness for Jude.

Even though it is Harrowing, even though it is soul-bruising, it is a book that must be read. This is a book that seeps into the pores of your soul a little at a time so that you don’t notice it until it is in every cell of you. It is a heartrending and astonishingly beautiful work of genius. Transformative. A masterpiece.

April Wrap Up

How was your April? I hope you had a good one. I had a big scary milestone birthday that half my family forgot so mine didn’t go so well. But… the books of April did not let me down.

I managed 20 books this month (a good portion were novellas though). The standouts for me were: Six of Crows, 13 Reasons Why, and Traitor to the Throne. Although, i also have to mention the wonderful ARC I received of the book To Become A Whale due out in June. Well worth checking out. Below is the wrap up of all the wonderful tales I discovered in April.

TTTT.jpg Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton – Rebel of the Sands Book 2 – 5 Stars – I actually preferred this sequel to the first book. It had more depth and action. I love Jin, and his brothers are all complex and interesting characters. Looking forward to the next instalment.

WBM You are Wonderfully and Beautifully Made by Lola Brooks – 3 stars – it was a competition win for me. A cute kids story, but I am not a fan of the religious element.

gilbert.jpg Gilbert by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 5 – 3 stars – A solid instalment in the m/m shapeshifter series.

FTW.jpg From the Wreck by Jane Rawson – 3 stars – Another competition win – it was a compelling read but I failed to connect to any of the characters, and the alien aspect was not my kind of story.

esa Esau by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 6 – 3 stars – I liked the characters in this instalment and it continues the story well.

BAWlge To Become a Whale by Ben Hobson – 5 stars – I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. Absolutely loved it.  Destined to become an Australian modern classic.

sullivan Sullivan by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 7 – 2 stars – it was okay, but not nearly as interesting as previous instalments – plus I really don’t like Sullivan’s mate at all.

MITHC.jpg The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick – 4 stars – my modern classic selection for April. It was very different to what I was expecting, but well written and plotted.

wesley Wesley by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 8 – 3 stars – I like seeing more of the shaman, and the characters were more compelling.

13Rw13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – 5 stars – absolutely loved it. Captivating from start to finish. But i do think it needs to be released with a new cover as i walked past this one a hundred times before picking it up after a recommendation. It needs a more engaging cover.

nisch.jpg Nischal by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 9 – 2 stars – it was okay, but it felt disjointed at the start as it has nothing to do with the packs from previous instalments in the series, and it didn’t seem to fit into that world at all until the end.

SOC Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – 5 stars – a completely compelling world that you cannot help but get swept up in. Looking forward to seeing more Kaz and Inej soon.

The Song of the Wolf by Nalini Singh – 5 stars – a great short story complementing the Psy Changeling Series. Featuring Hawke. Can be found in her April newsletter.

ILHL The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – 4 stars – a fascinating medical biography.

justice Justice by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots Book 10 – 3 stars – a solid instalment, but i did feel like it finished just as it was really getting interesting between them. Feels unfinished.

SL The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami – 5 stars – a strange little book. Devourable.

1001.jpg 1001 Books to Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall – 4 stars – it is a good reference book but i feel like it’s impossible to release one of these books without everyone who reads it disagreeing on some books and adamant that others should have been included. I was no exception.

sabin.jpg Sabin by Bailey Bradford – Leopard Spots book 11 – 3 stars – an action packed instalment. My only complaint is that after the kidnapping it is basically all over with in a couple of paragraphs. It feels like that should have had more drama and taken longer to resolve.

slg.jpg Strange Little Girls by Various Authors – 3 stars – A solid collection of strange little stories.

mbm Marked by Midnight by Lara Adrian – Midnight Breed book 11.5 – 4 stars – a great action packed instalment in one of my favourite vampire romance series.Could have had more heat to it though.

YB You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – 4 stars – a fun and light motivational book.

 

Do you have some great books lined up for May? I am starting a book called The Tao of Bill Murray. I also hope to read at least one classic fiction and one non-fiction along with my usual novellas and a few fantasy thrown in. Maybe i’ll even be brave enough to start A Little Life that has been taunting me from the shelf all year!

Wishing you all a great month of reading ahead. May May bring you many adventures (both fictional and actual).

 

 

1001 books you must read before you die by Peter Boxall – review

Layout: 5 stars Content: 4 stars

Does anyone else think that these books are just impossible to agree with? I feel as though no one could flip through one of these types of books without having very strong opinions that some shouldn’t be included on the list, and some that are missing definitely should be on it.

In my mind, books are like art – subjective. Everyone takes something different away from a story. One person can think it’s the best thing they have ever read, the next can loathe every word.

While the 1001 books featured in this collection are probably all great books (I’ve only read 175 of them so I can’t be sure), I feel disappointed that some of my favourites didn’t make the list, and some that I disliked are included.

Why does every Jane Austen novel make the list but not a single work by Shakespeare? Lots of Virginia Woolf but no Dante.  I Robot and 2001 make the list representing sci-fi, but Dune or the Wizard of Earthsea don’t. Greats like Slaughterhouse Five, Ender Game, The Divine Comedy, The Power of One, Le Grand Meaulnes, A Moveable Feast, just to name a few – all missing. There are some of Coelho’s works, but not his most transcendent book – The Alchemist. Some Greene but not The End of the Affair. Some Murakami. but again not his most brilliant  –  Norwegian Wood? The edition I have was published in 2009 so some of my recent favourites would definitely not be there – but how did Harry Potter not get a mention – a global sensation loved by millions is not on the list. Is it not highbrow enough? Do only those considered erudite make the cut?

It is impossible to make a list that people won’t argue over and demand additions to. But there are many on the list that in my view pale in comparison to others that were left out. I adore this cover edition over any other released though. I have some serious reading to do to knock off the remainder of this 1001 collection.

Are there any books that you feel should always be included in a must read list?

 

To Become a Whale by Ben Hobson

Title: To Become a Whale

Author: Ben Hobson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Release Date: June 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

I was lucky enough to be gifted an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher.

13 year old Sams mother has died. His father, who was previously away for long stretches and prone to spells of taciturnity, decides to take his son out to the whaling station he works at and toughen him up. Make a man out of the boy. Both are dealing with the loss of Sams mother. Both are trying to traverse this difficult melding of father and son.

It is partly a story about the process of grief, partly a father and son bonding tale, partly a coming of age narrative. Blended all together this is a dramatic literary debut that is set to be an Australian classic.

The story is set in the 60’s near Noosa and Moreton Bay in Queensland. It feels entirely authentic. The struggle for sweet gentle Sam to make himself feel part of the world of men in all its brutality feels genuine. I was unsure as to the boys motivation when he set out on his own, but it resonates well within the broader story. I was worried where it was going there for a while right near the end, but I have to admit I was very happy with the conclusion.

I loved the complex dynamics between the characters. I would like to have known more about the relationship with the grandparents. But overall the story had a realness to it that had me swept up in the tale until the end. A fantastic debut and a great piece of Australian literature.

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