Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Mythos by Stephen Fry

I grew up on myths and legends from around the world: Greek, Roman, Norse mythology, stories of Father Ananse, Baba Yaga and many others.  I have always had a weakness for a good story and anything myth and legend related still captures my attention. This being the case, this book was an easy choice for me.

I hadn’t been aware of Stephen Fry’s comments about Islam when I bought the book, or perhaps they had crossed my radar but been buried in amongst all the other criticism of Islam and Muslims that appears across various media.  I understand that his criticism is as an atheist in general and in favour of free speech, but it did feel as if Islam got singled out a little.  Perhaps the author in his anger at the way gay people are treated by some people of faith, forgot how vulnerable Muslims in a non-Muslim country, in what can feel like a hostile environment, can feel and sometimes be.

If I had been more aware of the authors comments, I probably would not have bought the book. That aside, I did enjoy it.  The book starts at the beginning with the early Greek creation myths and then works its way through the various stories to just before the great age of heroes.  The format of the book is a series of short stories telling us how the various characters in the cast of Greek mythology appeared. The stories are laced with dark humour, cynicism and alternative versions.  The author explains how the names in the myths are the foundation for modern words and how much we owe to Greek mythology for modern English.

The book could probably be easily compared to the recent Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, a book I had an absolute blast with, and which left me both shocked and looking for more. But where that book is more engrossed in the story telling, this one takes segues all over the place with asides and explanations.

A fun, interesting and entertaining read.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Vox by Christina Dalcher

I hadn’t come across this book or heard of it, despite it being a best seller, before seeing it in the book shop and deciding to give it a try.  It is from one of my favourite genres: dystopian sci-fi and the premise reminded me of one of my favourite books: The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Attwood.

Whereas The Handmaids Tale is set in an indeterminate future and feels frightening, but almost impossible in its portrayal of an extremely misogynistic future version of America (interestingly Attwood said that “when it first came out it was viewed as being far-fetched…However, when I wrote it I was making sure I wasn’t putting anything into it that human beings had not already done somewhere at some time”).  Vox is barely one presidential term beyond the current, real one, with a future that you could almost see happening.

Vox is set in an America where Trump has been succeeded by an evangelical Christian administration that decided women should be silent.  Women are fitted with counters on their wrist that count their words - a daily of quota of 100 words, with anything above leading to increasingly painful shocks that leave burn marks.  Jean is an expert linguistic who is forced to leave her job and teach her daughter to speak as little as possible, while her husband and sons get on with life, increasingly failing to see her frustration and accept, even enjoy the new status quo.  Jean struggles to see a way out until the Presidents brother suffers a stroke and the government seek her help in treating him.  Jean starts to see a way out and the beginnings of a resistance.

It’s almost impossible not to compare this book to The Handmaids Tale and I initially worried it would be a poor imitation.  But I was pleased to see that Dalcher’s novel followed its own path and took on a life of its own.  Whereas the future in Attwood’s book is extreme and horrifying, Vox has us believing that there are groups capable of doing these things in America right now and many that would quietly support them or tolerate them.

I was in two minds about the story until it diverted from being too similar to The Handmaids Tale, then the impossible situation and the feeling that it was too difficult and dangerous for anything to be done came to the fore.  The resolution was an absolute joy and worth reading the book for.

Monday, 1 April 2019

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I read the first of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, The Name of the Wind, last year for my office book club and after one of the staff in the bookshop heartily recommended it.  You can read my review here, I had a great time reading this book.  As soon as I finished it, I went looking for the second book in the trilogy, which is the one being reviewed here.

The first book follows the main character, Kvothe’s, tragic childhood, his struggle to get into wizarding university and his constant battle against poverty and his jealous enemies. This second book tells us the story of Kvothe as he learns magic, gets into a lot of trouble and then sets out into the world seeking his fortune.  Along the way we get to know Kvothe’s friends, fellow students, teachers and the girl he is in love with: Denna

The story is told by Kvothe as he looks back on his life. He freely admits that much of the legend that has grown around his life is a mixture of good luck, circumstance and some embellishment from him.  Alongside bringing back some of the characters from the first book and introducing some news one, the novel also further develops the fantasy world it is set in: the geography, the various races and their customs and the politics of the place. 

There are two additional stories that run throughout both novels.  The first is Kvothe’s hunt for the Chandrian, the mythical beings who slaughtered his parents in the first novel, both in his travels and in his research. The second is the tension in the books present day. As Kvothe tells his life’s story in the inn he now runs, people come and go with news of political unrest, war and demon attacks – something people barely even believe in.  You almost get the feeling that the three novels in the trilogy will just about bring you up to date and then the real story – the chaos that is looming, will really begin.

I did enjoy Kvothe’s escapades, but after about half way, I started to struggle.  At this point much of the book was about how Kvothe got his strength and fighting skills and took quite some time telling you about them. 

I also thought that whilst Kvothe’s character was likeable, he was a bit ridiculous at times – a clever, but weedy teenager that had girls swooning over him at every turn.  I did like how often he got into trouble and how sometimes he just didn’t care.  Some have said that the female characters in the book: Denna, his friends, his dangerous money-lender even, are a little one dimensional, I think perhaps there is something in this.

The Kingkiller chronicles have a very keen fan base, they really sing the books praises and more than once I have heard them or read them saying that these are the best books they have ever read.  Much as I enjoy fantasy, I wouldn’t go that far for these books.  I would recommend people to try the first book and only read the second if they really loved the first one enough.  The third book has been long awaited and is yet to be released, once it is, I most likely will try it.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Thursday, 24 January 2019

My 2019 Reading List

I have never done this before, but I came across the idea in this post by the wonderful Shaunta Grimes: an annual reading list. My goals for 2019 include some books to read as does my 2019 100 things bucket list (although I haven’t got quite to 100 yet 😊).

I like the idea and It would be nice to check back at the end of the year and see how many I managed. 

Islamic Books
Read the Quran completely at least twice or more, including one reading during Ramadan.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir – This is considered to be one of the most comprehensive and complete commentaries on the Quran. I have this at home in ten volumes because my husband randomly turned up with it one day from a removal job.  Top of my list to read insh’Allah

Eight Islamic biographies – I have some at home including those of the four caliphs (RA), the great military strategist and companion of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) Khalid bin Walid and Salahuddin Ayyubi.  Hopefully the rest will be of women, including the Mothers of the Believers (RA).

Hayat-us-Sahabah (Lives of the Sahabah) by Muhammad Yusuf ibn Muhammad Ilyas Kandihlawi al-Dihlawi.  I have this in five volumes and have read bits in isolation.  I would like to read the whole series again.

Beheshti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) by Mawlānā Ashraf Ali Thanvi, this is a wide-ranging breakdown of various issues for women including law (fiqh).  I read this some twenty plus years ago and it stood me in good stead over the years in helping me understand how to practice my faith with confidence and take away a lot of the uncertainty around key areas like child birth, menstruation as they pertain to faith.  One I hope to read again this year for a refresh.

There are a few more Islamic books sitting on my bedside table that I have started reading at various points and not finished.  I hope to get through some of these.  Other than this I would like to learn more about the lives of the Mothers of the Believers (RA) and the female companions (RA) of the beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam).  I am intensely interested in the everyday lives and the ordinary details of their lives: what they wore, ate, looked like, how they ordered their days.

There are two areas of non-fiction that interest me: political/opinion and self-help.  For political, in particular those that touch on themes of race and Palestine interest me deeply. There are a few I have at home that I am trying to finish:

I have been a fan of self-help since my teens and have quite a few at home I still haven’t read.  I gave my book shelf a big clear out at the start of the year, so what is left are the ones that appeal:

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair is a book I have been eyeing up for weeks at the bookshop near my office.  I treated myself to it on book store points and look forward to indulging two of my loves together: books and colour.


Ever since I organised my bookshelf, changing from thematic ordering to colour blocking, lots of the books that have been hidden at the back have come to the front and are inspiring me.  I hope to make a dent in some of these stacks.  Little Lady has already read TheHate U Give (THUG below) and is encouraging me to try it.

I would love to read the third instalment of The King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, after really enjoying the first two in the series but I don’t think there is any news on a release date. Other than that, I plan to sneak in some really fun books with a cracking story line: the type you just can’t put down, perhaps Young Adult.

I had so much fun with my office book club last year, I am also hoping to read another ten to twelve books through that.  Hopefully this year they will be ones I enjoy, last years choices were hit and miss.

I think this book list is probably a bit ambitious for one year, and I am not too confident that I will get though all of it, but I intend to have fun and learn something trying.  I hope to spend less time on my phone and internet surfing and more time reading insh’Allah.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Browsing one lunch break from work at my local bookshop, I decided to ask one of the staff there for a recommendation. He pointed out a few books he liked but there was one he positively raved about.  He mentioned that The Name of the Wind was the best book he had ever read, he had read it eight time and had bought it in languages he couldn’t even read.  I internally laughed at his serious fan-girling over the book and decided to buy it.  A week or two later, my office book club met and discussed picking another book, I mentioned that The Name of the Wind had been recommended to me and we went with that (which was good because it saved me buying another book).

So you can imagine I had high hopes for this book.  The Name of the Wind is the first in a trilogy called the Kingkiller Chronicles. The story covers the first part of the life of Kvothe: bard, great warrior and magician, told by himself.  The story has a number of strands. The first of these is about Kvothe’s early life travelling with his family as part of a nomadic troupe.  We see his precociousness and introduction to magic and the tragedy that meets his family.  A second strand is about his will to survive in the world in harsh circumstances, another is about his introduction to the University where magic is taught and yet another about his quest to find out what happened to his family. A final element that runs through the book is how people feel unsafe and anxious in the present as stories of war and dangerous roads filter through to the little inn that Kvothe has retired to.

This book made me think of a cross between Harry Potter and the Poison Study series.  Kvothe is great fun as a protagonist – intelligent, kid, flawed, angry, mischievous and always finding himself in some trouble despite his best efforts to avoid it.  The story is mostly light-hearted, but often touches on more serious issues: The prejudice that Kvothe’s family and clan face as travelers, the trauma of losing his family, the extreme poverty and violence he faces once alone, the way poverty and desperation follow him to the university, even the vulnerability of women in a male world.

I am always interested in the way fantasy writers construct their worlds – from the maps at the front of the book, to the cities, clans and customs that make up a world.  Some writers get it right (Tolkien) and others leave you feeling not quite convinced. In this case, the across the span of the book I started to get a sense of he physical place and nations or groups that inhabit Kvothe’s world, but with gaps, for instance some elements of this world feel medieval and others more modern.  The puzzle didn’t fully fit together seamlessly, perhaps the next two books will rectify this. 

There has been some criticism about the female characters in the book lacking depth and realism.  I found female characters apart from Kvothe’s mother pretty much non-existent until he gets to the university. Once there, the other female students are bright and capable, mainly positive characters, although I agree they do lack depth a bit.  Oh, and they all seem to fancy the scrawny, teenage Kvothe quite a bit – I suppose that’s the authors prerogative though, to make the protagonist desirable.

I had so much fun reading this book, Kvothe is great fun and very down to earth, his story is fascinating, fast-paced and humorous. I liked how the narrative sets his admission that he sometimes exaggerated his greatness, started rumours about himself and his skill as a bard against the epic tale he tells, so that you often wonder how accurate some of the story is.

An enjoyable, interesting and absorbing read, I went to buy the second book after reading this and also a little side story to keep me occupied until the last in the trilogy is published.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Alice by Christina Henry

In a mental asylum there lives a young woman committed by her family.  The screams of the inmates echo around her and her daily life is by turns brutal and monotonous. Her name is Alice and she is not sure why she is there, except for various flashbacks: of someone assaulting her, of her stabbing someone, of someone menacing with long rabbit ears.  When the asylum catches fire, Alice has the chance of escape and finding out what happened to her and how she got there.

Alice is a curious take on the Alice in Wonderland story: dark, disturbing and strange.  The world created in this book is split into the New City where Alices family lives and the Old City where she runs to find answers.  The New City is prosperous, comfortable, orderly and no one asks too many questions about the world. The Old City is full of crime and brutality and no woman is safe.  Every neighbourhood of the Old City is ruled by gangs and thugs will grab any girl or woman they can to sell to the highest bidder. There is no law, no government and no help or justice.

The book features all the famous characters from the Lewis Carroll's famous original story: the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Walrus and the Caterpillar, but not in a guise that will be familiar to anyone.  The characters are cruel and unredeemable in their nastiness, murdering and pimping their way through the book.

Alice’s character is both terrified of the situation she finds herself in and fuelled by the anger that erupts from her at witnessing the brutality that is visited on women and girls in the Old City. She grows in strength and courage throughout the book as she makes her way through the Old City, facing her tormentors and recovering her memories. One interesting element of the story is the idea of suppressed magic, with magicians being a thing of the past but magic surviving in strange places and in people.

Although the author spends some time revealing the back stories of the main characters as we move through the story, I would have loved to have found out how the Old City and New City came about and what the history of the banished magicians was in relation to the cities’ creation.  One of my favourite elements about fantasy and alternative worlds is the effort the author puts into their world-building and the detail and believability of this.  The dual world in Alice is believable but remains mysterious to the end of the book. 

Alice ends on an adventure as much as it brings another to a close.  I enjoyed the book and would probably read the next instalment. An entertaining, fast-paced if unchallenging read.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Zak and His Little Lies by J Samia Mair

Zak has been warned by his parents not to tell lies.  Any more fibs and he won’t be allowed to go to the park.  When faced with difficult situations, what will he do.  The book follows throughout his day as he finds himself at various junctions faced with a choice – tell the truth about a situation and face the consequences or lie and avoid getting into trouble.

On telling a lie he finds himself getting caught out, making his situation worse or backfiring and causing even bigger problems for him.  Eventually his sister gets the blame for his mischief and he has to decide whether he wants to own up or let her get into trouble.

The illustrations are simple and in muted colours with the focus on expressive faces.
The family portrayed in the book are a lovely, wholesome family with positive role models in the parents.  Zak is mischievous and at times very silly, he reminded me a little of my younger son.  My three and five-year-olds enjoyed having this book read to them, my 11 year old son whizzed through it himself, curious to see what it was about.

The book focuses on some beautiful hadith and ayah from the Quran about truthfulness including: “Nothing in the earth and in the heavens is hidden from Allah” (Quran 3:5), I liked that all of the Quran and hadith mentioned are summarised at the end of the book with sources.

An entertaining read, I hope that children pick up the message about truthfulness woven throughout the story.