Saturday, 8 October 2016

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Book cover of The Martian by Andy Weir
I don't know how to start this review.

I read a book! It has science and space ships and disproportionate responses to hardship! Let's talk about that.

Plot summary: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I bought this book as a result of a quick flick whilst standing in a charity shop (and also, it was £1.49 - that helps too). It looked like an interesting read; a bit sciencey but with what looked to be a lot of pop culture references thrown in to keep it light. I saw references to Poirot, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Bee-Gees... it looked quite fun. A bit quirky, maybe.

Nope. This book is very heavy with the science-shovelling. I'm sure it's correct science (actually, I'm not sure in the slightest but it bothers me not), however, it really does over-balance the story horrifically.

So we start out and Mark has essentially just been stranded on Mars with little equipment and enough food to last 400 or so 'sols' (an earth day plus an extra thirty minutes). Oh dear. So Mark has to re-jig the oxygenator, the filters, the... other stuff to support him longer than was originally intended, whilst attempting to contact Earth and also grow potatoes in a desolate, dust-ridden wasteland. Fine. But how he does this is told in excruciating detail that, to be honest, I just didn't understand.

I've tried to draft that sentence in a way that doesn't make me sound stupid, but it's the truth - I didn't understand. I don't know if it's because I admittedly didn't try very hard to understand, or I just didn't care... but either way, I still have no idea how Mark Watney stayed alive on Mars other than 'grew potatoes, created water and fixed stuff.'

Every twenty hours, I'll have 10 liters of CO2 thanks to the MAV fuel plant. I'll vent it into the Hab via the highly scientific method of detaching the tank from the MAV landing struts, bringing it into the Hab, then opening the valve until it's empty.
The oxygenator will turn it into oxygen in its own time.
Then I'll release hydrazine, very slowly, over the iridum catalyst, to turn it into N2 and H2. I'll direct the hydrogen to a small area and burn it.
As you can see, this plan provides me with plenty of opportunities to die in a fiery explosion.
I have a Masters in Biotechnology Law and a Graduate Certificate of Engineering and I still had to google a GCSE revision site to figure why the above = potential explosion.

The pop culture references that pulled me in aren't really present. Mark just rifles his colleagues' computers for music and TV shows to alleviate the boredom and makes a few quick comments about what he's found. I do like the tone of the book - Mark's voice is very dry as he mocks his situation and tries to thwart the many new and surprising ways in which Mars is trying to kill him.

On that note, there's just no emotion here. He never seems particularly bothered about the fact that he's stuck on Mars and he isn't all that fussed about the prospect of rescue either. No sense of terror, achievement, anxiety... nothing. I mean, this could be explained away by the fact that he's writing all this onto a computer log that he's aware might be published one day, but still. I found it very difficult to care about what happened to him as a result. How can I care when he doesn't!?

The way The Martian is structured works quite well. It's primarily Mark's log, as I said before, so it's told in the first person perspective. After about a quarter of the way through, we start to get the third person perspective of the individuals on the ground at NASA as they realised what's happened and try and put a plan together to save Mark. I actually liked their perspective more. It was more real, more emotional and a lot more interesting than a guy in a desert sarcastically lecturing me about potatoes. Honestly, if the entire book were that, I would have been happier. There were even a few 'gasp!' moments. I mean, I gasped. I assumed Mark just shrugged and raised an eyebrow.

Sigh. Alright then, it's time. This is the crux of it. This is the mean reason why I didn't like this book and you're all going to hate me. My boyfriend is going to wave his little black flag sadly, the way he always does when I'm being Unreasonably Cynical, and also Why Do You Hate The World, Hanna.

I just don't buy it. In this book, NASA (and the Chinese government and several other organisations around the world) spend tens of billions of dollars trying to rescue this one man and I would argue, logically and rationally, that that is not particularly proportionate. Planned launches that would have advanced science were delayed, the lives of other astronauts were risked, taxpayers' money was wasted... for one person. I'm not saying they should have left him to die and waved merrily from distant Earth, but come on. There has to be a point where you draw the line and back off a little. What would bringing him back achieve, other than a warm fuzzy feeling? Would it achieve as much as all that money, resources and manpower could have, otherwise? Would it!?*

The world united in desperation over Mark Watney; there was a 'Mark Watney Segment' daily on CNN... Really though? Fine, people would have been appalled to begin with, but this book takes place over several years. There is no way, no way, that one person's plight could sustain the public interest for that long. I know it's fictional, but it genuinely annoyed me how I was supposed to root for NASA to rescue Mark when, actually... well. Proportionality and all that. 

I didn't hate The Martian, but I was disappointed. It was too fact-heavy and too lacking in emotion, and had an irritating main character of whose rescue I was not particularly in favour. I might give the film a go, but it's unlikely I'll feel the need to read this again.

*No. It would not.

Read a more balanced review of The Martian at Girl Plus Book.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The Godfather book cover by Mario Puzo
Let me start out by saying that I actually didn't want to read this in the slightest little bit. It was offered to me by my secretary at work, who I actually really like, and my super brilliant social skills kicked in and I panicked and said 'Yes please!' That's right, I read it out of obligation. Do I have any regrets? No, I do not. The Godfather is, to my absolute surprise, actually very good. It's a classic for a reason.

Plot summary: Almost fifty years ago, a classic was born. A searing portrayal of the Mafia underworld, The Godfather introduced readers to the first family of American crime fiction, the Corleones, and their powerful legacy of tradition, blood, and honor. The seduction of power, the pitfalls of greed, and the allegiance to family—these are the themes that have resonated with millions of readers around the world and made The Godfather the definitive novel of the violent subculture that, steeped in intrigue and controversy, remains indelibly etched in our collective consciousness.

The only previous experience I had with The Godfather was when a boyfriend sat me down to watch the three hour movie... of which I promptly slept through at least two and a half hours. Ever since then I've used the movie as an example of one of those massively over-rated pop culture tripes, that everybody (especially men, in this case) feels compelled to say they like but nobody actually does. I couldn't follow who the characters were, there didn't seem to be much of a plot and, to be honest, I couldn't understand a damn word they were saying.

I haven't rewatched the film since reading the book, so I can't comment on it fairly. I barely remember it (sleeping through the majority of a film will do that to you) but I've read that it sticks very close to the book. With that in mind, it may just be that I find it easier to follow fiction in print than on the screen. There has to be a reason for it, because I ended up liking The Godfather book an awful lot more than I did the film.

It still took me twenty to thirty pages to work out who was who, but in a 600 page book that's hardly the end of the world. It seemed quite heavy going at this point - it was mostly explanatory prose with some dialogue thrown in - and I still wasn't sure if I was going to like it. There are a lot of characterS in The Godfather and it does take some time to get to know them all.

That's the thing about this book though. For all its reputation and controversy, there's not all that much action. There's some, obviously, and I'll get back to that later, but it's more about the Family ties, the atmosphere and the dialogue. For that to work, you do need to know a little of their background, so I can forgive it for being a little slow to start.

I'm not sure at which point I realised I was enjoying this book. It's quite slow-paced, but I was engrossed before I really knew it. I liked the tone of it, I think. It's very dark - whenever I think of it, I picture it hidden in the shadows somehow. There are some amazing twists and turns that I didn't see coming and made me literally gasp out loud.

It is brutal, in parts, but it's more that the decisions and plans made are brutal rather than the actual violence itself. It's a lengthy, notorious novel about the Mafia so obviously there is some violence but it's no more graphic than what you'd see in an everyday thriller (and less graphic than some).

However, The Godfather isN'T perfect. The thing that irritated me the most is Mario Puzo's apparent need to explain what a character means when they've finished speaking. As an example:

*Somebody speaks*
'What was important was that Barzini by speaking out was saying that...'

This happens a lot and it's profoundly irritating. I know what the inference was from his speach, I read the damn thing. I don't need to have a translator bobbing along next to me. God. It's otherwise written to a reasonable standard, which made this particular issue stand out all the more. 'What Kay Adams meant by this was...' ARRGGHHH.

Secondly, the author's view towards women. I know, I know. 1960s Italian-American mobsters. I know. But it goes further than that. Minor spoilers, but only for the minorest of sub-plots:

Highlight to read.
Okay, so there's this woman who won't sleep with a particular Doctor for months. She eventually does, and then cries, and then the Doctor says, "Oh, it's because you have a giant vagina! Women have killed themselves because of that before. I'll pay someone to fix it and then I'll test out the results!" And then she says, "Oh, thank you for still being willing to have sex with me!" to which he replies "No, no. We'll have to have anal instead." So she cried and thanks him even more.

It gets worse. She goes for the surgery and they detail it explicitly. A whole page is dedicated to how to surgery is performed - 
'Kellner was working on the diaohragm sling, the T forceps held the vaginal flap, and exposing the ani muscle and the fasci which formed its sheath. His gauze-covered fingers were pushing aside loose connective tissue.'
A whole page. It's just weird and unnecessary. But seriously, WHY IS THIS HERE!?

I can deal with the whole 'women deserve to be beaten if they don't behave properly.' I don't like it and I certainly don't condone it, but it was somewhat to be expected in a book like this. The above section is unnecessary, crude and incredibly offensive. The whole thing (her reaction included) bothered me to such an extent that I had to put the book down for a day.

If I discount that scene, I did really enjoy The Godfather. There are a few other bits that didn't really make sense for them to be there at all and that scene bothers me a lot, but we're talking four pages out of a 600 page book. I loved the slow pace and the atmosphere of The Godfather. The twists take you completely by surprise because I felt as though I knew every character completely, and genuinely felt a little lurch in my stomach as I realised what was happening. I don't think I'll read the next book, The Sicilian, as it follows somebody completely different, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Godfather and I will be looking for my own copy soon.

Read Laura's review of The Godfather at Devouring Texts.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

UK book cover of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
It amuses me no end that the previous owner of this book has scrawled 'BORING' at the top of the first page. Seriously. I wouldn't say it's strictly true but I can see where they're coming from. It's not the easiest book in the world to plough through.

Plot summary: England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

Historical fiction seems to run one of two ways.

Option A: Philippa Gregory
These books get a lot of stick but I quite like them. They focus more on bringing characters to life and sustaining your interest more than any sort of historical accuracy. There's a lot of dialogue and not much prose. They're entertaining and a quick read, and you really care about the characters, but you probably shouldn't put much stock in anything you've 'learned.'

Option B: Hilary Mantel

These books are long and dense. There's not much dialogue and background information tends to be explained in prose. These can be more of a chore to pick up than the other kind and often expect you to have some prior knowledge, but you come away feeling likeyou at least know more about the time period than you did previously.

Why is there no middle ground? Why do I have to choose between entertaining and informative!? Because, whilst Wolf Hall certainly felt educational, I'm pretty sure I would have been more inclined to continue turning the pages of a Philippa Gregory book.

It's just so... dense. See, I love the Tudors. I have a fairly impressive related non-fiction book section on my shelves and I'm That Person who always talks over television documentaries. I got the third highest score in the country for A2 history. But even I thought Wolf Hall was unnecessarily long.

It follows Thomas Cromwell, who rapidly rises from Cardinal Wolsey's Secretary to Chief Minister of Henry VIII, primarily by bringing about the King's divorce of Katherine of Aragon. It discusses Cromwell's ascent to power in great detail and is therefore centered around Tudor politics for a large portion of the book. Not the interesting politics either - Henry and Anne Boleyn rarely actually pop-up - it's consists more of the behind-the-scenes squabbling with other politicians. There's a lot of prose and a lot of dialogue and I really struggled to be interested in some of it.

It assumes a fair amount of prior knowledge which I just didn't have, egocentric above paragraph notwithstanding. I struggled to keep all the politicians and ministers straight, especially as they have two or three different titles used interchangeably. I couldn't always figure out who worked for who, and which party supported each side, etc etc. I shudder to think how long this book would have been if she's actually explained herself properly.

The bits that I did like, I liked a lot. Henry's squabbles with Anne Boleyn, for example. But even then, I'm tempted to consider whether it's just the history that I like. I have always, and will always, take great pleasure in the fact that Anne was eventually executed. Justice be served and all that. Funny how I started to take an interest in this novel when Henry started flirting with Jane Seymour.

I'm not sure it's actually all that well written either. It follows Thomas Cromwell, as we've established, but I don't think the narrative refers to him once by name. It just says 'he did this, and he did that...' When three or four people are involved in a scene, it mays it very difficult to figure out exactly who's talking and several times I had to skip back a few paragraphs just to figure out what's going on.   

I think it would be fair to say that I liked this more than it appears from the above (one day I'm going to embroider that on a bloody pillow). There were parts of it that I did enjoy, I just struggled to pick it up once I'd put it down again and some it I outright skimmed. I'll probably buy the next book, Bring Up The Bodies, if I see it in a charity shop, but I admit that's partly because Anne Boleyn hasn't died yet...

Read Bex's thoughts about Wolf Hall at An Armchair by the Sea. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

UK book cover of Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
TIME TRAVEL. An organisation that investigates historical events by GOING TO VISIT THEM. Why did I not know this series existed!? I feel like you all seriously breached your duty of care by not informing me that these books existed. The Claim Form is in the post; expect a call from my lawyer. This is the best idea ever and I can't wait to read the rest of the Chronicles of St Mary's series.

Plot summary: Behind the seemingly innocuous fa├žade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake....

This has 'Hanna' written all over it. I discovered it, bought it and immediately sat immobile for an entire day and devoured it. It has its faults and some of them did irritate me (no surprises there), but I loved, loved this book.

It's a relatively simple idea - St Mary's Institute of Historical Research is partnered with a more traditional university, who are paid to investigate aspects of certain historical events. The University contacts St Mary's, and two historians toddle off to the Cretaceous Period, or the building of West Minster Abbey, or the Somme. They come back with the data and everybody wins. It's actually quite well thought out - the safety checks, briefings, contingency plans, etc.

There is actually a detailed over-arching plot, which impressed me. I expected Just One Damned Thing After Another to be a sort of set-up book for the series, just sorting out the Institute and how Max got her job, etc. I suspect this storyline is convoluted enough to last throughout the entire series (seven books at time of writing) and it surprised me that such an idea was implemented halfway through Book One.

It's very fast paced... actually too fast paced. I would have liked it to take its time a little more, I think. Events occur in quick succession with no time to properly deal with what happened, whether a personal problem or a trip back to the past. I need more detail! It makes it difficult to care about the characters when you're essectially just given a list of what they did, in chronological order. Take some time and explain. I mean, the point of the book is that these people jump back in time but the historical events are almost skimmed over. They jump there, see a dinosaur, and jump back. I picked this up for the time travel, so why skim over it? If there were only more detail involved and the characters only had a sense of wonder, these books would be perfect.  

Ironically, this book doesn't deal with the passage of time well. Max is a trainee, but suddenly she'd finished her training and then suddenly she'd been there five years and there were new trainees. It was a little confusing as there were no indications of the time that had passed. It leads back to the lack of detail explained above, I suppose. 

The book drags on just a little too long. Something happens that would have been a perfect place to the end the book, but then Max has a revelation and we go on to deal with that. It carries on past the natural ending for the book and the tone is immediately changed. It's just... odd. I can't help but think that it would have been a better idea for that to comprise Book Two, and then Book One could have been expanded with the detail and explanation that I so desperately crave!

I did absolutely love Just One Damned Thing After Another and I already wish that I owned the rest of the series, instead of just the second book, Symphony of Echoes. It was an effort not to just pick it up and plough ahead, but I decided to give myself a little breathing room. It's a great idea, authored by somebody who clearly loves history, it just needs a little more detail and to slow the pace down somewhat.

Visit Jodi Taylor's website here, or find her on Twitter.  

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

UK book cover of A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab
This is the book Charlotte bought me for my birthday, and that I subsequently bought her for her birthday, and that we have referred to as 'that magic book' ever since. The title just will not stick in our heads even though we've both obviously gone through the processes of purchasing, receiving, opening and picking up said book. Strange. Pretty cover though.

Plot summary: Kell is one of the last travellers - magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There's Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad King George III. Red London - where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London - where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London...

I think this book might have suffered under the weight of my expectations somewhat. I was so excited to read it. It looked so... different, such a unique and brilliant concept. And it is, I suppose. I love the idea of the three universes, all of which possess a City of London  and that one tavern, situated in the exact same space geographically and with the same river flowing through the middle. However, they all have different rulers, different politics and (key point coming up) different levels of magic. It's genuinely brilliant.

The problem is that the actual content is not so unique. Whilst the overall concept is great, the story is peppered with really, really tired fantasy tropes. I'm not going to list them as I can't do so whilst avoiding spoilers, but I did roll my eyes a few times when a plot point popped up that also popped up in the last twelve fantasy novels I read. It's fine, and the plot points in question weren't out of place or silly, it's just that I expected more.

The prose is good; the book is actually written quite well, content aside. The narrative flows and the dialogue is unstilted. I haven't read anything else by Victoria Schwab, but she seems to have a talent for writing at least.

The world-building is good, but could have been better. The three Londons are such an interesting idea that I'd have loved more time spent on developing them before the plot kicked off. It was that very concept that made me want to buy the book in the first place but then we never really got the detail that could have made it really wonderful. A slightly longer book would have been worth it, I think. Tell me more about King George! And White London! 

Is the character of... Lila... (I paid so little attention to her that I had to go back and check her name) really necessary? I can't help but feel that the book would be genuinely improved without her. I was hooked on the idea of sole, lonely traveller flitting between worlds and the blurb doesn't refer to the generic, strong, defiant-of-gender-roles character that no fantasy novel can do without. I could get on board with her if she served a purpose, but she doesn't. She's not particularly annoying but her presence changes the tone of the book into something much more YA-ish.  I will say that I appreciate the lack of romance - it could have been shoved in so easily and I respect the author for leaving it alone.

I quite like the ending - it's more subtle than most and it doesn't comply with the generic fantasy formula. I also like that it's actually a standalone book, which makes a pleasant change. No cliffhangers, no unfinished threads and no sudden revelations. The series does continue in the next book, A Gathering of Shadows, but this book is complete in itself. I can't decide if I'm going to buy it or not. I'm really, profoundly non-bothered about reading the story, but then the covers are so nice and they would look so pretty all lined up on my bookshelf...

I guess my main complaint about A Darker Shade of Magic is that it wasn't what I wanted it to be and I know that's not really fair. I was expecting dark and twisted, and featuring more of King George III, who was named in the title, after all. Instead it's fairly generic fantasy that is already starting to slide out of my head. It's just that an excellent over-all idea wasn't really developed properly, and was slightly dragged down by tired fantasy plot points. I enjoyed reading it, but I'm not sure I'll feel the need to pick it up again.

Read a more positive review of A Darker Shade of Magic at Ivy Book Bindings. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Review: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie

Book cover of Curtain: Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie
It's rare that I bother to post a review of an Agatha Christie book. They're sort of like the Discworld books in that I like them all and they all have the same quirks. Plus, if I'm honest, they all tend to blend together. Curtain though... Curtain needs talking about because I just can't get it out of my head.

Plot summary: The crime-fighting careers of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings have come full circle - they are back once again in the rambling county house in which they solved their first murder together.

Both Poirot and Great Styles have seen better days - but despite being crippled with arthritis, there is nothing wrong with the great detective's 'little grey cells.' However, when Poirot brands one of the seemingly harmless guests a five-times murderer, some people have their doubts. But Poirot alone knows he must prevent a sixth murder before the curtain falls...

On the face of it, this is a fairly straighforward Agatha Christie novel. There's a big country house, a murder and lots of guests of varying genders, ages, professions and potential motives. The 'twist' with this one is that Poirot's knocking on a bit in years. He's confined to a wheelchair because of his arthritis so he has to use Captain Hastings as his eyes and ears... much to his evident (and fully justified) frustration. More on Captain Hopeless later.

Turning to the actual plot, this is possibly the cleverest Agatha Christie novel I have read, with the exception of perhaps And Then There Were None. It's certainly the cleverest in the Poirot series. I think what made it stand out for me was how sinister it is. It's very, very dark, much more so than any of the others. It's possibly why it's stuck in my head more than a  week later. I keep thinking about it and shuddering a little. 

The ending is... unexpected. I ran round asking everybody I knew, 'Does Poirot die?'  before I even dared to pick it up. The answer is almost irrelevant -  it's so much more than that. I also liked that this book, the last of the series, takes place at the same manor house that features in the first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It's a perfect end to the 84 novels, stories and plays featuring the little Belgian detective. 

I'm not sure this book would have the same impact if you didn't have a few of the previous novels under your belt so that you really understand Poirot's character. It is quite depressing that that he's is old and poorly but I felt better when I realised his mental faculties were completely unimpaired, and that he retained his inherent cheerfulness (and lack of faith in Captain Hastings).

Speaking of. I've ranted about Captain Hastings on several occasions before, but he really takes the cake with this one. Look. You have been a sidekick to this detective for three decades, during which time Poirot has never once, NOT ONCE, been wrong. This means that you could probably stop from questioning his sanity, experience and sense every single time he implies he might have reached a conclusion. His age is immaterial. SHUT UP.

It's just that he seems even sulkier in Curtain. His best friend is stuck in a wheelchair, has suffered multiple heart attacks and can't run around solving the murder he desperately wants to... and you're going to sit there and give him the cold shoulder because he won't tell you who he suspects in case they murder you next. How unreasonable. I haaaate you.

Curain is genuinely amazing. I'm not sure I'll read it again in a hurry, partly because I don't think it would have the same impact if you already knew what was coming, but also because I'm not quite ready to be this traumatised again in the near future.
Read my review of Death on the Nile, my favourite Hercule Poirot novel.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Hanna Gets Lots of Nice Books For Her Birthday v. 2016

This year really has taken the cake for 'lots of nice birthday books' though. I just can't believe how lucky I've been and how much I'm dying to read any one of them.

The top two books are from Laura, bless her heart. The tiny little blue book on top is The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat by Professor Dame Sally Davies, who is the Chief Medical Officer for England. I recently read Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good by James Davies, which refers to medication and its effects on quite a large scale, so I'm really excited to read another opinion.

The book underneath that I can never remember the name of, and I keep referring to it as That Book With Those Tampons On The Cover. Occasionally I make a rough guess as to the title but invariably get the day wrong. Anyway, this is The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton and those tampons are actually, apparently, sticks of dynamite. I admit that makes slightly more sense but in my defence, everybody I spoke to KNEW WHICH BOOK I MEANT, SO THERE.

The blue book in the middle of the pile is Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis, bought for me by the lovely Katie. Another medical-ish non-fiction. I think I'm going through a bit of a phase at the moment!

Charlotte also outdid herself this year and sent The Darker Shade of Magic, The Super Mutant Magic Academy and Invasion of the Tearling. I think The Darker Shade of Magic might be the first one I read out of this pile, even though it has some seriously tough competition. I think I first found out about it from Charlotte's wishlist anyway, so it's probably a fitting beginning.

The Super Mutant Magic Academy is a graphic novel that's been on my wishlist for ages. It's somewhat like X-Men, but much younger and full of high-school drama and boyfriends... and also tentacles. I'm also excited about Invasion of the Tearling. Somehow Charlotte knew I liked the first in the series (even though I didn't get round to reviewing it - stalker lady!) and now I have the second book to jump right into it!

Ellie though... Oh Ellie.

Ellie bought me a copy of Jane Austen: Cover to Cover, which is essentially a beautiful hardback of lots of the different Jane Austen covers that have been around over the last two centuries. There are sections on foreign language translations, Austen for younger readers, etc. as well as just the simple but beautiful covers we all know and love.

If you've ever set sight on this blog before, you know that I collect different editions of Pride and Prejudice - 74 at last count. This is essentially a beautiful looking catalogue for me. Whilst I already possess more than I thought I would, there are several earmarked (not literally, obviously!) to actively search for.

These are two of my favourite editions and they're both in the book! The Pulp Classic on the left Charlotte bought for me from WH Smiths after getting all excited and the one on the right (I know it's Persuasion, but I do have the Pride and Prejudice) is so pretty and was only the second edition I bought, before I even started collecting.

I'm getting so excited looking through this to see which I have and which I still need to collect. Is this the world's most Hanna book or what?

  Have you read any of these books? Which books are you hoping to get for your birthday?

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