Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

On the outside, Pagford is everything an English country town should be, but when Barry Fairbrother dies, and a seat becomes vacant on the parish council, what follows is a heavily contested election, one that has far reaching consequences for a great many people.  Pagford should be the perfect country town, but it is far from it.

I did in fact read this book last year but I have only just got around to reviewing it.  That is by no means a reflection on the book itself, but rather on my scatter-brain and poor time management :-)  And so to my review…

This isn’t the sort of book I usually read, but a few weeks after watching the TV adaptation last year, I found a copy by chance in a charity bookshop and decided to give it a go.

I found this book to be a challenging and yet compelling read, although I can’t put my finger on why.  Perhaps it has something to do with the way JK Rowling manages to portray such vivid characters?  I’m not sure.  What I do know is that I did not like a great many of them.  Perhaps they were just too real, too human, too vivid, and it is hard to read in such stark terms of some of the difficulties / frustrations / limitations some people face.

One character that stood out amongst the rest was of course, Krystal, but a number of the other younger characters also made an impression.

It is a dark story but one that is extremely well-written.  The social commentary of the book was very interesting, and reminded me in a way of Charles Dickens.  The gulf between the have’s and the have not’s is vast, and each and every character has their own problems; some of their own making, but more often than not they are the product of other people and their personal agendas (or that is how they are perceived).

I can’t imagine that this is a book that I will read again, and yet the stories of the characters tend to linger with you long after the book has been finished.  I can’t say that I enjoyed reading The Casual Vacancy, but I do wonder if that’s the point.  It’s supposed to make you think…

Short Story Review: Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe

Eleonora is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe, published in the 1840’s.

The narrator introduces us to his life in two parts: the first, when he lived in the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass and the second when he lived in the city.

In the first, he lived with his aunt and her daughter, Eleonora, in this rural paradise, where he describes a land of beauty, flowers, rivers and hills, and none save them three came to the valley.  There is only one that can surpass the beauty of the valley: Eleonora.

The narrator and Eleonora fall deeply in love, but very quickly she becomes ill, “…she had been made perfect in loveliness only to die”.  The only issue Eleonora has with death is that the narrator might leave the valley and give his love to some other woman, which of course, he swears he will not do.  He makes it clear that he will not marry another woman.

And yet, many years after the death of Eleonora, he leaves the valley, breaks his oath and marries another.  But does the breaking of this oath have any implications for the narrator and his future?

Eleonora discusses the issues of love after loss.  It’s a poignant but interesting story and the description, especially of the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass which serves to illustrate and reflect his feelings for Eleonora, is vivid.  When he speaks of love, the valley is a paradise, but when he becomes grief-stricken the valley is no longer what it is was.

My favourite quote from Eleonora, I featured in last year’s Quoting the Classics challenge:

Eleonora quote

Sammi Loves Books – Year In Review 2015 Part 2

In Part 1 I looked over the reading themes and challenges I set myself for the year.  In Part 2 I shall look over the books I read and reviewed in 2015…

2015 stats

The figures were less than I was expecting…

  • I read and reviewed 56 stories this year – which is less than 2014, whose total was 63 :-(
  • 35 of the reviews were for full-length novels
  • 21 of the reviews were for short stories

My Favourite Books of 2015

This is how my list of favourite reads of the year ended up:

  1. Shadows In Bronze (Lindsey Davis)
  2. The Silver Pigs (Lindsey Davis)
  3. A Morbid Taste for Bones (Ellis Peters)
  4. The Vanishing Witch (Karen Maitland)
  5. The Apothecary Rose (Candace Robb)
  6. Cocaine Blues (Kerry Greenwood)
  7. Except the Dying (Maureen Jennings)
  8. The Devil in the Marshalsea (Antonia Hodgson)
  9. Nefertiti (Michelle Moran)
  10. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) / The First Horseman (D.K.Wilson)

I must say that towards the end of the year it became harder and harder to add books to this list because I hated the idea of displacing other titles that were already there, and I do believe a number of them also deserve a mention:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Aberystwyth Mon Amor by Malcolm Pryce
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn
The Duchess and The Doll by Ellis Peters (Short Story)
Death of A Gossip by M.C.Beaton

Books I read but have yet to get around to reviewing…

I read much quicker than I review, so there are always books that slip through my review-net.  There is no reason for it, only that there are not enough hours in the day.  That being said, the books will remain on my desk until I have reviewed them…no matter how long it takes…

So which books are still waiting to be reviewed:

  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
  • Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwall

The most popular reviews of the year were:

  1. The Sphinx Without A Secret by Oscar Wilde – Short Story Review
  2. The Black Veil by Charles Dickens – Short Story Review
  3. The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side by Agatha Christie – Book Review
  4. The Judges House by Bram Stoker – Short Story Review
  5. The Necklace by Guy du Maupassant – Short Story Review

Hope you all had a good 2015, and wishing you all a 2016 full of good books!

Sammi Loves Books – Year in Review 2015 Part 1

So, with my final reading challenge concluded on Christmas Day, I thought it would be apt to begin a look back over 2015 by reviewing the themes and challenges I set myself…

Quoting the Classics

This was supposedly a year-long challenge, the aim of which was to find 52 quotes from classic books that I really liked or found inspiring.  Posting every Monday was the plan, but it slipped.  I think I was all right until I hit the three month mark, where I fell behind and began posting the quotes to play catch-up.  I finally gave up in October after posting week 32, which was of course, late…

So, out of the 32 quotes I posted, here are my top five favourites:

(To see the full list, click here)

Wuthering Heights Quote

The Wind in the Willows

Dracula quote

Peter Pan quote

Eleonora quote

Shall I be setting myself such a challenge again?  I am not sure.  Certainly not for 2016.  This year has made me realise that I need to be smarter with the time I have available for this blog, and the most important thing is that I write book reviews.  Perhaps when I have more time on my hands…

Indie Only Month

I really enjoyed some of the books that I read for 2015’s Indie Only Month.  July is a time when I allow myself to only read Indie authors and review Indie books.  This year I posted seven reviews for this challenge, my favourites being:

Xoe: or Vampires and Werewolves and Demons, Oh My! by Sara C. Roethle

Lost Cause by JL Simpson

These were two great reads, one being a paranormal YA and the other being a modern murder mystery staring a woman sleuth.

(To see the complete list of titles that were read and reviewed during Indie Only Month 2015, click here)

Historical Fiction Month

Hot on the heels of Indie Only Month is a month completely dedicated to historical fiction.  This year, although I read all the books during August, a number of the reviews were not posted until September…

For this challenge I posted seven reviews, and I can honestly say I loved each and every one of those books, hence it would be difficult for me to name by favourites.  Five of the books were written by some of my favourite authors, Karen Maitland, Ellis Peters, Lindsey Davis and Candace Robb.  However, the other two books were written by authors I had not read full-length novels by before, Elizabeth Elgin and Edward Marston, and I was not disappointed.  The majority of these books found their way into my top ten reads of the year.

(To see the complete list of titles that were read and reviewed during Historical Fiction Month 2015, click here)

Festive Reads Fortnight

To end the year, I realised that I hadn’t read that much festive fiction and I decided to remedy that and I am really glad I did.  I think this challenge was a great way to end the year, and makes a great addition to my yearly read and review schedule.

In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I read five festive reads, ranging from historical fiction to modern romance to a Christmas classic.  Again I was introduced to authors I had never come across before, which is one of the reasons I love these reading challenges so.

My favourite festive read was definitely Home for Christmas by Melissa McClone as it just inspired such festive feelings as I read it.

(To see the complete list of titles that were read and reviewed during Festive Reads Fortnight 2015, click here)

And so, that brings to a conclusion my reading themes and challenges for another year, and I can’t wait for them to come around again. :-)

Book Review: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, or A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is a short story / novella by Charles Dickens published in the 1840’s.  It is the second of the five Christmas stories that he wrote, the most popular and well-known being the first, A Christmas Carol.

Toby Veck, called Trotty due to the strange way he walks, is a hard-working, honest but poor man, who has a deep obsession with the bells in the church tower, the porch of which is where he waits for work as a ticket porter.  The strange thing about Trotty is that when the bells chime, it’s as if he hears them ringing out messages.  He lives with his daughter, Meg, who is planning on marrying her sweetheart on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, Toby hears the tolling of the bells, and thinking they are calling to him, he goes to the church, where he finds the door to the bell tower unlocked and open.  Climbing the stairs, when he reaches the bells, he is greeted with the vision of a multitude of goblins dancing.  But what message does the spirits of the bells have for Toby this particular New Year’s Eve?

As you make your way through The Crimes, it would be hard to miss the strong social and moral theme that is the backbone of the story.  This is no surprise as Dickens is well-known for depicting the plight of the poor and downtrodden of Victorian Britain.  One of the main things to strike me as I read the story was the terrible and cruel personality of the rich characters, the worst part being that they actually believed that they were kind and generous, compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate to them.

There are also a number of strange character names, which, when I read Dickens, I must say I look out for and make a note of :-)  My favourite strange-sounding name in this story would have to be Mrs Chickenstalker.

The story is a fairly gloomy one, one that brought tears to my eyes at one point, but it clearly brings home the message of how hard life was for the poor of Victorian towns and cities.  And yet, the message in the story might be one of hope or overcoming the despair of the circumstances you find yourself in.  Still, it is quite a dark, gloomy read.

In my opinion, if you enjoy the classics, this is a great story to read over the Christmas and New Year period but if you are looking for a more light-hearted festive read, you probably won’t enjoy this so much.

Short Story Review: Mister Mottley Cooks His Goose by Ellen Seltz

Mister Mottley Cooks His Goose is the first of the Mister Mottley cases by Ellen Seltz.

Edmund Mottley has had a spot of bother at university, and so his father has decided to send him to a friend’s house for the Christmas period where he is to interview for a job.  He isn’t much enamoured with the idea but off he goes, to find that there is much more going on in the house than he could have imagined.

There is a full house when Edmund arrives; the young schoolboy, Tommy (and his imaginary dog), his tutor, his step-mother’s journalist friend as well as a Russian professor.  Tommy quickly confides in Edmund…he thinks there is something going on in the house, and he thinks he knows who the culprit is and has been keeping a watchful eye on them.  Edmund, naturally, believes this to be Tommy’s childish fantasy, but soon he realises that it might not be the case…

Told through both narrative and letters, this short story is typical of those set between the wars, in style, plot and language, making it a thoroughly entertaining Christmas read.  Edmund is an interesting character and I liked the way he befriended the lonely Tommy.  The other characters, as well as the storyline itself, was engaging, and contained enough depth to ensure that I read it in one sitting.

This was a charming period read, and I will be definitely reading the second short story in this series, Mister Mottley and the Key of D.

I downloaded a copy of this short story for free from Smashwords.

Short Story Review: Snowed Inn by Danielle Lee Zwissler

It’s Christmas Eve, and Lacy Johnson has spent the last three days driving home.  However, making an unfamiliar turn, her car skids on the road and her tyre ends up in a ditch.  She has no idea where she is exactly, and can’t get a phone signal.

Luckily, Grayson Snow is driving past and offers her a lift.  Asking where she is going, she sees a sign at the side of the road for the Snowed Inn.  Already feeling terribly stupid, she says she has a booking for the inn, not realising that it is a family-run establishment – run by Grayson’s family and he knows there are no bookings for that night.

When they arrive at the inn, Grayson’s mother thinks that Lacy is in fact Grayson’s girlfriend, there to stay for Christmas.  What follows is a light-hearted Christmas tale full of banter…but will it lead to romance?

The plot of this short story is very fast, perhaps too much so for my personal preference.  Lacy Johnson is a very quirky main character; she is strong, independent, says what she thinks but with a caring side.  Grayson is a gentleman but cannot help but tease Lacy when the opportunity arises.  The banter between Lacy and Grayson is consistent, and the setting as well as the storyline is perfectly festive.

This is a short, sweet, fast-paced Christmas read with an endearing ending.

I downloaded a copy of this short story for free from Smashwords.