Monthly Motif Challenge

REVIEW: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung

A collection of short stories about A.J. Raffles, a cricketeer and gentleman thief, who doesn’t need to commit burglaries and steal money and jewels, but enjoys the rush of it, and his former schoolmate Harry “Bunny” Masters who he ropes into being his accomplice.

Written in the 1890’s, these stories are set in Victorian London and they’re a lot of fun. Raffles is a charming, loveable rogue, he likes to gamble and take risks. He’s a very cunning guy who can read people and is usually one step ahead of everyone else – especially, Bunny.

Bunny is the one downside to these stories. They’re told from his point of view I found him a bit wet as he kept flip flopping between enjoying his escapades with Raffles and then getting a conscience and panicking about what he’s involved with. Bunny is also not particularly trusting of Raffles when it comes to the crimes they’re planning to commit together. Part of that is because of a lack of communication between the two, Raffles rarely tells Bunny all his plans so Bunny then acts in a way that may put them both in danger, so you can see where Bunny’s frustrating is coming from.

Possibly because of the Victorian setting and how Raffles know London like the back of his hand, this collection reminded me of Sherlock Holmes – especially the films featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. There’s also the dynamics between the two main characters, there’s some similarities between how Holmes and Watson act and how Raffles and Bunny act, however Raffles definitely talks down to Bunny more than Holmes does with Watson.

All the stories are no more than 25 pages long so they’re fast-paced and get to the crimes themselves very quickly. The crimes are often clever and don’t go the way you’d expect. Naturally there’s some stories I enjoyed more than others and it took me some time to get used to the Victorian vernacular, but they were all engaging reads and I loved the adventurous and often over-the-top vibe these stories had. 4/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Japan: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The edition I listened to was translated by Phillip Gabriel.

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school, they were a solid group of people, three boys and two girls. By chance all their names, bar Tsukuru’s, contained a colour. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced they didn’t want to see or speak to him ever again – giving Tsukuru no explanation. For years Tsukuru floundered without the support of his friends, unable to make meaningful connections with anyone else. But then he meets Sara, who tells him its time for him to find out what happened sixteen years ago that made his friends shut him out.

This is a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years but after borrowing the audiobook (narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens) from my library, I’ve finally read it – audiobooks are a gift and I didn’t figure that out till 2018.

I found there to be a distance between Tsukuru and myself as the reader, I couldn’t connect to him and I didn’t really like him much either, and there’s a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, I feel the narrator might have been a factor, I wasn’t too keen on how his narration was quite monotone, so I’d sometimes find myself not really listening to what he was saying. I think the way it’s written as well was very matter-of-fact and there’s little room for emotion. And thirdly, I think maybe you’re supposed to feel that way about Tsukuru. The major point of his story is that he can’t form intimate connections with people and maybe that extends to the reader as well.

I’ve never noticed this in any book previously, so that’s either because I don’t tend to read adult fiction written by a man, or I was just unaware until social media pointed it out, but the way women’s bodies are described is just eyeroll-inducing. The way a woman’s neck, breasts and legs were described was just over the top and almost creepy at times, which was probably another reason I couldn’t take to Tsukuru. He seemed very much like the typical “nice guy” that wasn’t so much a nice guy.

The mystery of why Tsukuru’s friends shut him out and never attempted to reach out to him over the years is a sad one, though while Tsukuru gets an answer, it’s not a fully satisfying one. it is interesting to revisit his old friends, seeing how they and he have changed over the years, and how some friendships can survive the test of time and conflicts while others cannot.

Tsukuru builds railway stations and enjoys learning everything about them. The scenes where he’s sat in a station, people watching, were very enjoyable as not only are you given the facts and figures of Japanese railway stations and the people who pass through them, it feels like a snapshot at every day life for the average Japanese commuter.

This was the first book by Haruki Murakami I’ve read, but if Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is an indication of Murakami’s writing style and the type of characters his stories are about, I doubt I will be reading any more of his work. 1/5.

REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Senegal: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

Recently widowed Ramatoulaye, writes letters to her childhood friend Aissatou chronicling her life and her struggle for survival after her husband Modou decided to take a second, much younger wife.

So Long a Letter is a very short book. At 95 pages it’s a reasonably quick read, once you’ve learnt who’s who in Ramatoulaye’s life. She has a dozen children, and then there’s the friends and family of her husband’s second wife as well, there’s a lot of characters for such a short book.

So Long a Letter is all about women, their relationships and their struggles with living in a social environment where the attitudes and values that dominate, deny them little independence. What I thought was clever was that it would’ve been very easy for Ramatoulaye to hate her husband’s second wife, but instead she almost pities her and leaves the hatred and bittiness towards her husband. That’s not saying Ramatoulaye is best friends with the woman, she doesn’t like her but she can see that she’s just as much a victim of circumstance as Ramatoulaye is herself.

Ramatoulaye’s relationships with her daughters is lovely. She makes mistakes as a mother but she doesn’t try and shield them from the world and there’s some great moments between her and her daughter Daba. Daba is forceful and forward-thinking, and it was interesting to see her grow and get in a relationship of her own.

So Long a Letter was a bit weird to start with as while Ramatoulaye was chronicling her own life story in these letters, it involved “telling” Aissatou so of the events that happened in her own life. Obviously, it was so us as readers could get a better understanding of these two women and their history, but it felt weird that someone was recounting someone else’s major life events back to them.

So Long a Letter was like a quick snapshot into the lives of women in Western African society in the late 1970’s. It was nice being a part of Ramatoulaye’s life for a while, see both her struggles and her strength, but it wasn’t really an engaging or memorable book.

Books of 2018

Here are all the books I’ve read this year. This year, to make things interesting, I’ve signed up for a few challenges; these are Beat the Backlist, A to Z Reading and Monthly Motifs and you can find out more about the challenges here. I will also continue to make my way through my Read the World Challenge this year and once again I’ve set my goal to read 50 books and to review at least half of what I read. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter or Goodreads.

Without further ado, here’s what I’m reading in 2018! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link that goes to my review.

January:
Artemis – Andy Weir
City of Clowns – Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado
So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ
Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish – Richard Flanagan
A Certain Woman – Hala El Badry
Flame in the Mist – Renée Ahdieh

February:
And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
Zorro – Isabel Allende
Heidi – Johanna Spyri

March:
All Day at the Movies – Fiona Kidman
– The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
Reading the Ceiling – Dayo Forster
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
The Hotel Tito – Ivana Bodrožić
– Animal Farm – George Orwell
– The Life and Loves of a He Devil – Graham Norton

April:
The Devils’ Dance – Hamid Ismailov
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung
– The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness
The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed

Currently reading:
– Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness

Books Read: 21/52
Books Reviewed: 17/26

Book titles in italics are just suggestions for now as to what I might read for the challenge – it’s not set it stone.
The A to Z Reading Challenge is to read a book beginning with each letter of the alphabet during the year.
A – Artemis – Andy Weir
B – Brilliance – Marcus Sakey
C – City of Clowns – Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado
D – The Devils’ Dance – Hamid Ismailov
E – Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
F – Flame in the Mist – Renée Ahdieh
G – Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish – Richard Flanagan
H – The Hotel Tito – Ivana Bodrožić
I – I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
J – ???
K – Kartography – Kamila Shamsie
L – Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley
M – The Murders in the Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe
N – The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed
O – ???
P – The Power – Naomi Alderman
Q – ???
R – Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung
S – Secret Son – Laila Lalami
T – The Time in Between – Nancy Tucker
U – Uprooted – Naomi Novak
V – Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash – Eka Kurniawan
W – Who Runs the World? – Virginia Bergin
X – ???
Y – ???
Z – Zorro – Isabel Allende

Book titles in italics are just suggestions for now as to what I might read for the challenge – it’s not set it stone.
The Monthly Motif Challenge is to read a book that fits a set theme each month of 2018.

JANUARY – Diversify Your Reading
Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own.
So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ

FEBRUARY – One Word
Read a book with a one-word title.
Zorro – Isabel Allende

MARCH – Travel the World
Read a book set in a different country than your own, written by an author from another country than your own, or a book in which the characters travel.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

APRIL – Read Locally
Read a book set in, or a main character from, your country, state, town, village
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung

MAY- Book to Screen
Read a book that’s been made into a movie or a TV show.
???

JUNE- Crack the Case
Mysteries, True Crime, Who Dunnit’s.
???

JULY – Vacation Reads
Read a book you think is a perfect vacation read and tell us why.
???

AUGUST- Award Winners
Read a book that has won a literary award, or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community.
???

SEPTEMBER- Don’t Turn Out The Light
Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal creeptastic, horror novels.
???

OCTOBER- New or Old
Choose a new release from 2018 or a book known as a classic.
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

NOVEMBER- Family
Books where family dynamics play a big role in the story
???

DECEMBER- Wrapping It Up
Winter or holiday themed books or books with snow, ice, etc in the title or books set in winter OR read a book with a theme from any of the months in this challenge
???

Reading Challenges in 2018

It’s that time of year again where I start finding some interesting challenges and I decide to sign up for a bunch of them. To save space I’m going to put all the challenges I maybe somewhat foolishly sign up for here.

Over on Twitter I saw the hashtag #BeatTheBacklist doing the rounds and after checking it out I knew I had to sign up for the challenge.

Beat The Backlist is hosted by Novel Knight and the challenge is to read books during 2018 that were published before 2018 – thus not letting us forget about the potentially awesome books that are sitting on our shelves just because a shiny new release has come out.

My target is to read 30 books published before 2018 – a target I should meet as I the majority of my reading is “older books” and my physical TBR is close to 100 hundred books so I’ll have plenty to choose from.

There’s Instagram challenges as well as the chance to win points for your team (I’m a Novel Knight!) if you post reviews of your Backlist Books on your blog/Goodreads as well as on retail websites like Amazon.

Another challenge I’m signing up for is the A to Z Reading Challenge hosted by Ginger Mom Reads. The aim is to read books that start with every letter of the alphabet during 2018. Words like “The”, “A” and “An” don’t count as a title, instead it’s the following word that counts towards a letter, and you don’t have to read books in alphabetical order.

Having a quick look at my physical TBR, I have books for every letter but Q, X and Y at the moment, so this challenge is doable. Plus, you have one “Freebie” you can use for a letter that you can’t find a book for. So for example, if I couldn’t find a book I wanted to read that began with X, I could choose any other book beginning with any letter and put it as my X read. A Freebie can only be used once so I better make it count.

The final challenge I’m signing up for (at the moment anyway) is the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo. This challenge is to read a book that fits the assigned motif or theme for each month. I like how each theme is pretty broad so there’s a lot of choice when it comes to deciding what books to read while still making it a challenge.