What-I-Read-Wednesday: The First Book of Calamity Leek

**

I won’t lie, I was disappointed with this book. I picked it up from the library on a whim after reading the blurb and seeing the review from Mark Haddon, whose books are normally a good read.

However, from the outset the writing style seemed clunky and this made the book very difficult to get into to because of the disjointed feel. Obviously this was a deliberate character choice from the author to help develop Calamity’s narration voice, but I just found it tough to understand and felt no real urge to carry on reading from the beginning.

It probably took me over a week to finish this book because I was not enjoying it nor was I excited to see what the ending was (I did end up skipping a few pages to find out the ending and it was very…open.) The plot was interesting enough, but the writing style coupled with the nonsensical inclusion of words Calamity uses to describe things was enough to put me off giving it more than two stars.

In my opinion, concepts such as ‘demonmales’ were never really explained, and Calamity’s perspective is extremely limited on giving us the ‘proper’ backstory which is probably why I felt frustrated for the entirety of my reading experience. I understand that this is just my own view, and other readers may have loved the quirky writing style and unfolding of the story, but I just found it irritating.

The characters themselves, especially the ‘sisters’ seemed flat and wooden cardboard cutouts that didn’t have the opportunity to develop. Calamity appears to have no interest in describing the ‘nieces’ as anything beyond a sentence, which annoyed me, especially considering they were her only company aside from ‘Aunty’ and ‘Mother’ for goodness knows how many years.

Read this book if you do not mind finishing the book not really knowing what happened throughout the entire thing.

– Rhan

Thoughts On Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Disclaimer: All judgement reserved until I have actually seen the play live. These are just my thoughts on the physical copy of the play. This is not a review. Spoilers obviously.

A lot of these have probably been mentioned before but it’s always nice to put your own take out there and to see if they change when I re-read it. I’ve split this into positives and negatives.

Positives:

  • Friendship/possible relationship between Scorpius and Albus – I thought this was such a sweet friendship that most definitely had the potential to turn into a relationship, as others had noticed too. I mean, Scorpius looking after Albus heartbroken? Not liking seeing Albus with a girl? More on this later.
  • Relationship between Dumbledore and Harry being explained more – I really liked and appreciated this aspect of the story, because I always felt as though Harry should be angry at Dumbledore. Dumbledore constantly ignored Harry’s questions and manipulated him many a time, not to mention leaving him in an abusive household (the Dursley’s) for all those years with full knowledge of the way they treated him. Their confrontation thus felt refreshing and was gave the play an extra star in my opinion.

Negatives:

  • Delphi – I’m sorry, but who even thought a girl like Delphi would be a good idea and why would Albus like her? She had no real character development, and Albus suddenly has a crush on her? That just felt forced to me. Also, Voldemort having a daughter at all? I genuinely cannot imagine Voldemort either wanting or needing to have a child considering he still had some horcruxes at the point of Delphi’s birth.
  • The major heteronormativity – Especially concerning Scorpius and Albus. Scorpius’s supposed crush on Rose fell completely flat and felt nonsensical to me, just as Albus’s crush on Delphi felt very much enforced, probably to overshadow the clear connection and strong feelings Albus and Scorpius have for each other.
  • Lack of positive female representation/severe undermining of female characters – Poor Rose, Ginny and Hermione. Rose was quite honestly jut a plot device as mentioned above, and her obvious dislike of Scorpius made no sense. Hermione and Ron may have disliked Draco, but surely they would not tell their daughter to essentially exclude his son purely because of his parentage? Ginny had little to no proper scenes or significant lines, which is really strange considering she’s always been a headstrong character. Also, that weird alternate reality where Hermione was a horribly mean professor, which is fine until I found out she was acting that way because she and Ron were not together. Hermione has never seemingly needed someone else to make her happy, so that part just felt like lazy writing to fit the plot, which brings me on to my next point.
  • No coherent plot – Things like Voldemort Day, the Trolley Lady ‘twist’ and the Blood Ball were silly but I went with the flow of it all in the hopes the plot would eventually come together. It didn’t. At the end of the play I felt unsatisfied and there was a lot of loose ends and plot holes that I picked up on just in my first read. As a large majority have pointed out, it did just read like a plethora of randomly picked bad fanfiction tropes.
  • Ron being reduced to comic relief as he generally was in the movies – Poor Ron. He was basically there for comic relief. His character had no real substance, and this annoyed me, because Ron is so much more than someone who tells ‘lame jokes’ for people to enjoy their ‘lameness’. Maybe once or twice he could be comedic, sure, but it felt as though that was honestly all he was there for in the entire play. There is already debate about whether Ron deserved Hermione etc, and this goofy caricature of his character only serves to emphasise that he does not.
  • Albus kissing his aunt – Maybe this is nitpicking, and I get this is probably quite funny on stage but it came across really weird to me – surely the writers could have thought of another way for ‘Ron’ to distract Hermione.
  • Harry saying he wished Albus weren’t his son – This was a crazy red flag for me. I understand it was in the heat of the moment and Harry is very hot-headed but in my opinion Harry would never ever say a thing like that because he knows how miserable it is when you’re unwanted and unloved and I’m pretty sure he would want his children to feel the opposite of that no matter how upset he was.

– Rhan

What-I-Read Wednesday: Wolf Hall + Bring Up The Bodies

I am a huge history fan, and so I knew I would simply have to review Mantel’s work when I finally got hold of the Wolf Hall series! SPOILERS.

Wolf Hall:

**** – At first, I was going to put this book down. I found it started rather slowly. However, after the first one hundred or so pages, I found it picked up and began to gain its momentum. Mantel is obviously a talented writer and her characterisations are fleshed out and interesting while not straying far from traditional historical interpretations. She remains obviously  respectful of her subject while embellishing the most captivating parts of the period she is writing about: 1520/30s Tudor England under Henry VIII. It is a long read, but a mainly engaging one (although I admit I did skip a few pages – sorry Hilary!) and I do recommend it. It is extremely interesting in its own right, and different in its own right from other historical novels I have read such as Phillipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. 

Bring Up The Bodies:

**** – Having continued onto the sequel almost immediately after finishing the first, I was well aware of the cast of characters Mantel skilfully weaves through her novel. However, I do have to admit that even I had had not read the first novel, I would probably have picked up and understood who the characters were and their function – Mantel is very good at introducing characters pretty subtly. The book is shorter than its predecessor, and I say it is better for that, more succinct. The description of Anne’s death was striking, and I found Mantel’s description of how Anne believed her ladies should be around her even though the reader was well aware many had essentially signed her death warrant by giving evidence to Cromwell particularly touching. Mantel managed to make sure Anne, Cromwell, and in fact, all of her characters remained human to the reader – no easy feat for historical figures.

In short, I definitely recommend both of these books if you are a fan of historical fiction without the chunky cliches and wooden writing so many seem to unfortunately employ.

– Rhan

What-I-Read Wednesday: Rebecca

While I was suffering many, many train delays upon my trip to Oxford last Sunday, I managed to start and finish the entirety of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier during this time! Therefore, I thought I would do a review for this weeks ‘What I’m Reading Wednesday’!

*** – I gave this book three stars because, for the most part, it was engaging. I wasn’t sure about the writing style at the beginning but it certainly kept me hooked about midway through the book and became a real page-turner, just as my train should have been racing towards Oxford.

A major thing that annoyed me about the book was never finding out the narrator’s first name, because I am a person who loves to know details about a character, especially when they’re the narrator! However, I understand that Du Maurier probably left the narrator nameless in order to add to the sense of mystery and confusion as events unfold at Manderly.

As for Manderly itself, I thought the mystery of Rebecca was definitely a gripping tale, although the narrator’s constant reference to her youth and her general ‘wet-blanketness’ for want of a better term did begin to annoy me, even before she got to Manderly. Although, of course, this could be down to the narrator’s anxiety, which I did find myself sympathising with, particularly when the narrator was faced with the bitter and twisted Mrs. Danvers.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and I am glad I read it. If it were not for the non-existent backbone of the narrator, the (in my opinion) rather slow beginning and perhaps underdeveloped characters, I would have probably given it a higher rating.

– Rhan

What-I-Read Wednesday: Deathless

Warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW.

**** – This book was astonishing. I loved it so much. It was truly intoxicating. I don’t even know if I’ve had enough time to reflect upon it as I only finished it last night, but I’m in a bit of a hurry as I’m leaving for Falmouth for a mini break in less than an hour! However, I know it will stay with me for a very, very long time.

I read this book full of suspense and amazement on almost every page. As soon as I finished it, I began research on the Koschei myth and, of course, Marya. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a person who adores anything set in Russia, so when I heard that this book existed, I was straight on Amazon to order it.

The concept was invigorating, and Valente made it wholly original by intertwining it with Russian history, thus interweaving history and myth – which works brilliantly! Marya was a breath of fresh air as a character; torn between wanting to remain partly innocent (as seen by her desperate attempt to communicate with the Yelena’s/Vasilisa’s in the factory) and her gradual transformation into a hardened soul (as seen when she kidnaps Ivan and attempts to treat him in much the same way Koschei first treated her).

I loved the use of repeating phrases, especially in the scenes where Marys reunites with her sisters. I thought it really added another layer to the text. The gradual parallels between Koschei and Marya were, in my opinion, also quite touching. And of course, the ending was a rather unexpected and saddening one – at least it was to me. The whole text was infused with magic, beautifully written, and I would highly recommend it to everyone, especially those who love myth and history as much as I do.

– Rhan

What-I-Read Wednesday: The Goldfinch

This is a bit of a cheat post, because I actually finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch around two days ago. I am aware that I am incredibly late to the Goldfinch review party as it has been out since 2013. I debated over whether to review it, and in the end decided it was rather a momentous book to have read and then not spoken about! So, here goes!

**** – I did not know whether to give this book three or four stars, but settled for four. After all, it is, as expected, an extremely well-written novel. However, one of my major problems was the overall flow. I read the first four hundred pages or so within a couple of days, but then struggled through the next few hundred for the next week, and then raced through the last two hundred or so in a day and a half! I don’t know whether that was due to my mood, but I have to note that, in my opinion, unlike The Secret History, this is not a novel you can wolf down, but rather one to read more slowly to savour its message and its prose.

I also felt that Pippa was pretty underdeveloped as a character, even allowing for the limited characterisation due to the novel being told in its entirety from Theo’s point of view.  You would think someone who is an infatuated as Theo would know more about Pippa personality-wise, but maybe that was part of Tartt’s point and Theo’s love was supposed to be painted as more of an obsession than actual love. Either way, characters like Kitsey, Pippa and even Hobie felt obnoxiously sidelined in several parts of the book. Overall though, The Goldfinch is definitely worth reading, no matter how late to the party you may be!

Favourite Quote: ‘More than anything I was relieved that in my unfamiliar babbling-and-wanting-to-talk state I’d stopped myself from blurting the thing on the edge of my tongue, the thing I’d never said, even though it was something we both knew well enough without me saying it out loud to him in the street – which was, of course,  I love you.’

Favourite Character: My initial instinct for this was Boris, but I don’t know if he’s such much of a favourite character rather than the one I kept hoping would make a reappearance.

– Rhan