"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Monday, 31 December 2012

A Year of Books: 2012

Hello everyone! Firstly I’d like to apologise for the lack of reviews over the last couple of months. I started an MA in October which has become increasingly intense, and Christmas preparations and family visits have kept me very busy, all of which has meant that I have had a lot less time for reading books and writing reviews than I’d like. Hopefully I’ll be able to step it up a little in the New Year!

Overall 2012 has been a brilliant year with regards to reading. I’ve read a lot of fantastic books with only a few duds, and I have tried to branch out a little and read stuff other than classics and horror, which has resulted in some amazing finds. Here are my top 5 reads of the year:

I think I loved this so much because it surprised me so much. It sounded quite dull and uneventful, and while it may lack in action Kitchen was so sad and at the same time uplifting and was a truly beautiful read.

Horns is another one that surprised me; not so much a horror novel as I was expecting but dark fantasy mingled with romance and a deep poignancy that I loved. It really is such a clever, brilliant novel.

I was amazed by how much this medieval fantasy series gripped me. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold was so exciting and gripping I could barely put it down, with characters dying regularly throughout, I felt almost afraid to turn the page through fear of what might happen next. I whizzed through all 7 books, despite their length. The series is not at an end, however, and after many unanswered questions at the end of A Dance with Dragons, I eagerly await Winds of Winter with great impatience!

This is a novel I had not even heard about until recently, and it’s not the kind of thing I would normally pick up. Geek Love is now one of my favourites, with evocative characters, a compelling and poignant story as well as raising numerous moral and ethical questions, I would recommend this to anybody.

And number 1...

This French classic is my favourite read of the year. This hefty tome (1,376 pages) was well worth the time I committed to reading it. The characters are the best asset the novel has - they are so compelling and richly drawn, and the story is memorable, poignant and moving. There are some rather large yawn-inducing digressions, but you get used to them, and wading through them to get to the meat of the story is more than worth it.

Those are my top 5, but I’ve read many other fantastic books this year - And Then There Were None, my childhood favourites Little Women and The Hobbit, In the Tall Grass, The Book Thief, Howl’s Moving Castle, Jamaica Inn and others were also brilliant. 

I am looking forward to filling 2013 with lots more fantastic reads, here are a few I am especially looking forward to and you can expect a review of them sometime next year:

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
I have been meaning to read this for years, and I think I’ll make the effort to in 2013. It is set in the early years of the Second World War on the quaint little island of Cephalonia, with, I believe, a romance between a resident Greek and the invading Italian officer.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
A talking cat and the devil! This Russian classic sounds so bizarre but I’m very intrigued. I’m confused about which translation to get though.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White / The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I really want to read both of these as I love all things medieval but I’m not sure I’ll have time for both as they are quite long. The Once and Future King is the tale of King Arthur starting with his childhood and the famous ‘The Sword in the Stone’ story. It is considered one of the ‘go-to’ novels on Arthurian legend. The Mists of Avalon is the same legend but follows the trajectory of Morgaine (aka Morgan le Fay), and focuses on the lives of the main women in Arthurian legend such Gwenhwyfar, Viviane, Morgause and Igraine, with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table featuring more as minor characters, giving the classic tale a feminist twist.

The Woman in White / The Moonstone both by Wilkie Collins
Again I can’t decide which I want to read more, these two murder-mystery style classics both sound fantastic, but chances are I won’t have time for both.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
Steampunk and vampires in the 19th Century. Hopefully reading something different by George will help to tide me over before Winds of Winter is published.

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto
After reading Kitchen in September I fell in love with Yoshimoto’s writing and I am now determined to read everything she has ever written; The Lake appeals to me the most.

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
I love Japanese literature and Out by Kirino was super, so I have high expectations for crime / horror novel Grotesque. I have both Murakami authors  on my 2013 to-read list too (1Q84, Underground and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki, and Almost Transparent Blue and Audition by Ryu) but I’m just looking forward to this one a lot more.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Joe Hill’s newest novel, due to be published in Spring 2013, is about vampires. Admittedly vampires are very tired, overused bad guys in literature nowadays, but since I loved Horns so much I can’t wait to read it, and the excerpt in In the Tall Grass was well written and intriguing.

These are the books I’m most excited about, but I have plenty more I’m looking forward to reading, such as some Stephen King, Clive Barker and Daphne du Maurier (I can’t decide between The Parasites and Frenchman’s Creek).

What were your favourite reads of 2012, and which books are you looking forward to reading in 2013?

Friday, 14 December 2012

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I,Claudius is an historical novel set in ancient Rome, written in the style of the memoirs of to-be emperor Claudius. Graves decided to write I,Claudius after the overlooked emperor allegedly came to him in a dream, imploring him to write an account of the ‘real’ Claudius. The novel covers the period from the rule of Augustus to the death of ‘mad’ Caligula and the subsequent accession of Claudius to the role of emperor; Graves’ sequel, Claudius the God, covers the reign of Claudius.

Graves brings ancient Rome alive. Through the eyes of poor old belittled and stammering “Clau - Clau - Claudius” we are made privy to the many debaucheries and scandals of the ancient Roman Imperial household. Moreover, Graves’ account is largely accurate - or at least adheres very much to the images promoted by the ancient source material - with falsities usually being gross exaggerations for the purposes of entertainment rather than pure fabrication.

Graves was classically educated and he really knew his stuff; the novel reads a lot like an history textbook, only much more exciting. Graves is very much concerned with giving a fairly detailed historical overview of the Julio-Claudian period, making I,Claudius a great place to start if you have an interest in Roman history.

Our narrator, Claudius, is typically remembered as a stammering, lame fool but he has a wonderful and very entertaining narrative voice that makes this historical novel anything but bland. Despite the largely negative memory Claudius has, Graves manages to write a sympathetic Claudius; he is clever, sensible and likeable. The other characters however are for the most part very unlikeable; Graves uses ancient sources extensively, so they tend to stick to the image the ancient authors have written. Augustus is under the thumb of his scheming and vile wife Livia - who is presented as having the true control of Rome - and Caligula is as mad as a hatter, who believes he has been reborn as a god and is famously known for appointing his horse as consul.

I, Claudius is definitely worth a read, but I’d say it’s essential if you have even a slight interest in Roman history. It is a little bit slow and heavy in some parts, but it is beautifully written, funny, educational, highly original and clever, with a host of horrible characters you just love to hate, and some amusing anecdotes from ancient authors. All aspects of which combine to make I,Claudius accessible and entertaining for the average reader as well as the history buffs, and a novel that I would recommend to almost anyone.

Rating: 8/10