REVIEW: Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle

I've been meaning to write this review for years. I just don't know how I'm supposed to coherently explain my love for Madness, Rack and Honey. I'm not convinced there is a way. I'll do my best.

About Madness, Rack and Honey

I first saw Madness, Rack and Honey on @herpickings Instagram account, which is one of my favourite places to go to get recommendations. I was drawn in by the simplicity of the cover, and some of the quotes sent my heart in a tizzy. I loaned it from my library as soon as possible, and slowly devoured it over the following months.

Once I was finished, I quickly logged on to book depository and ordered myself a copy.

Madness, Rack and Honey is a collection of lectures from poet Mary Ruefle. It covers topic such as, theme, fear, Emily Dickenson, the moon etc. and it almost reads like a derailed train of thought. Sometimes you can't quite figure out where Mary is going, but like all good things, it's mostly about the journey and not so much about the destination.

This will be a short review, because there's only so many ways I can tell you that I absolutely adored the crap out of this book.

The Things I Loved in Three Examples

I think it best to simply show you what I loved, rather than tell you.

Number 1

"I remember reading Rilke's Duino Elegies again and again and again, until I "got" them, until something burst over me like a flood, and I remember, once again, weeping and weeping with a book in my hands." - Mary Ruefle (Madness, Rack and Honey)

This is how I feel about Madness, Rack and Honey.

Number 2

"I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, “I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say”; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to." - Mary Ruefle (Madness, Rack and Honey)

My hands are in the air, I'm saying 'Preach it, sister.'

Number 3

"My idea for a class is you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why, and then you keep reading - it may take many different books - until they start smiling, too." - Mary Ruefle (Madness, Rack and Honey)

This sounds like everything thats good in the world.

And On The Flip Side

This is, by no means, a book for everyone. It's non-fiction. It's poetry lectures. If you're not a fan of books like Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, then Madness, Rack and Honey will not be your cup of tea. However, if you're a poetry fan and criticism nerd like me, you need this book in your life. Now.

Overall, My Favourite Thing

This is it. This book is my island book. The one book I'd pick if I had to read a single thing over and over for the rest of my life. It's like the whisperings of a kindred spirit. Though, perhaps a better word would be ramblings. There's no other feeling like reading an author who just gets you. It's like your heart is constantly overflowing, and you can't possibly read for very long at a time because you've so much emotion there's every chance your heart may just give up and stop.

Simply put, I loved Madness, Rack and Honey.

Star Rating

All the stars. All the stars in the infinite night sky. Absolutely everything. I give the entire universe, the whole galaxy to Madness, Rack and Honey.

On a scale of one to ten, I love it an eleven.

Thanks for reading!


 

Madness Rack and Honey Review -- The Riverside Library

Madness Rack and Honey -- The Riverside Library

REVIEW: Page Anchor – Is It Worth It?

Page Anchor Review-- The riverside Library-2

The one question I get most of all from my followers on Instagram is: 'Do you actually use your Page Anchor?' So, today I'm coming at you with my ling awaited Page Anchor review. I'm about to give you the brutally honest truth (which I can say because they totally unfollowed me on Instagram 😉🤣 )

Also, big shout out to my big sister for getting me my Page Anchor! Thanks a million.

Now, let's dive right into my Page Anchor review.

What is a Page Anchor?

A Page Anchor is a gorgeous looking bookish accessory designed to hold your book open while you read (or take photographs).

How Do You Use It?

The Page Anchor is simple to use. You slot the two pins between the pages of your novel, and slide the anchor down. When it's time to turn the page, you push the anchor up (not the whole way so it falls out), turn the page, and side it back down again. Does that get annoying? Sure, sometimes it does.

How Often Do I Use It?

I use my Page Anchor whenever I'm writing in my diary or reading a tightly bound book (i.e. my Knickerbocker Sherlock Holmes books). I generally don't reach for my Page Anchor for any ordinary book because I don't have an issue holding it open. I try to buy floppy books that will lie flat in my hand or on my bed, so I don't have to struggle to hold them.

Would I Recommend It?

Sure! As I mentioned above, the Page Anchor is a great accessory, so if you have the spare money and want one, definitely go for it! However, it's by no means a necessity for reading, nor does it elevate your status in the bookstagram community (as I've seen a few people theorise). It's simply a great way to hold your book open, and a very pretty accessory to have.

You can get your own Page Anchor here + see a video of how it works.

Page Anchor Review 2 -- The Riverside Library

QUICK REVIEW: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora Risisng Review -- The Riverside Library

Aurora Rising is jam-packed with action from the get-go, and I can safely say I have never enjoyed dual perspectives like this before. I was excited when a new character’s POV came along, because I actually liked them all.

Though the novel was around 400 pages, I felt like I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked, but this being a series, I’m not overly concerned about that. I can get to know them later.

The plot and concepts are incredible, complex and interesting. I feel like the only element that brings them squarely into the YA domain is the dialogue and teenage love. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it did slight diminish my enjoyment of the novel. Having said that, this is a YA novel, so props to the authors for that.

REVIEW: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Review The Flatshare -- The Riverside Library

Of all the books I’ve come across in recent years, The Flatshare would have to have one of the most interesting premises. I was incredibly lucky to receive a review copy from Hachette Australia, and (this may just spoil the whole review for you) it was the complete highlight of my month.

The Flatshare follows Tiffy and Leon – two strangers who share a bed. How? While Leon works nights, Tiffy sleeps, and vice versa. It’s perfect – and they never have to meet. But what if that one person who you never meet, is actually someone you should? That’s the exact question The Flatshare asks.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that contemporaries are definitely a genre I try to stay away from, although, you’ll also know I like to challenge my reading tastes. It was that particular hobby and the unique premise of this book that inspired me to pick this one up. Once I did, trust me, there was no putting it down and I may have already read it twice.

What I liked

This book is sunshine. Complete and utter sunshine. There were so many things that I loved about the book, so I'll have to narrow it down to just a few for brevity's sake.

I adored both of our lead characters. Tiffy and Leon both had flaws but they weren’t painted in a negative light, in fact, I'd be more inclined to call them quirks instead of flaws. The Flatshare makes you love these characters even when Leon would be incredibly difficult to crack in real life, and Tiffy might be too much to handle. I felt like this book had some kind of gentle magic that made me love these two real, quirky, and flawed characters.

Another thing I appreciated for a heartwarming contemporary was that The Flatshare didn’t shy away from difficult subject matters. Seeing Tiffy’s journey throughout the book was not something I expected, but it honestly made the book so much more enjoyable for me. This was a classic case of something I never knew I needed until it was in my hands, going into my brain. It also added an element of unpredictability for me, possibly because I wasn't expecting the storyline, there were elements in there that really took me by surprise.

What I didn’t like

It feels so strange trying to talk about something I didn't like in a book where I genuinely enjoyed everything.

If I had to pick out one thing that might turn readers away, it would be that Leon’s POV writing took a little to get used to. Coming from a science background, I was kind of used to the succinct, to the point sentences. I also absolutely adored how the writing style subtly changed as the book went on and Leon found himself in a different place emotionally.

You know it's a truly special book when my 'What I Didn't Like' section turns into talking about more things I adored.

My favourite thing

Can I just say everything? I genuinely adore this book, and I think I may have said that enough now to get my point across. I even bought the eBook, so when I'm travelling I will always have a copy (read: ray of sunshine) with me. I can't urge you enough to go out and get yourself a copy, and also, please, take a leaf out of Tiffy's book, and go about life being unapologetically yourself.

Mikaela | The Riverside Library

Book details:

Title: The Flatshare
Author: Beth O'Leary
Australian Publisher: Hachette
Australian Publication Date: May 2019
RRP: AU$32.99

Blurb:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met...

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they're crazy, but it's the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy's at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly-imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven't met yet, they're about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window...

 


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The Flatshare -- The Riverside Library

REVIEW: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Review We Hunt the Flame 1 -- The Riverside Library

Somehow, We Hunt the Flame managed to fly right under my radar as I conducted my extensive research into my most anticipated reads of 2019. I ended up hearing about it a few months before release, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy from Pan Macmillan Australia in exchange for a review.
I’m a huge mood reader, and I’m not sure if I can blame my mood for this, or if the book starts too slowly for me, but We Hunt The Flame took quite a while for me to get into. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of slow-paced fantasy, after all, it took me a whopping three years to get past the first handful of chapters in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, once I was past the first third-or-so, I found the story a lot more intriguing.


Blurb

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.
War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.


Things I Loved:

It’s obvious to any reader that the world in this book has been lovingly crafted, and almost as if every single word was painstakingly deliberated over before it made the final cut, which, oftentimes can be slightly too much, but surely served to add to the world’s richness in We Hunt the Flame. It’s always a joy to read something that’s evidently loved by the author, and Faizal’s unique talent of incorporating that into her work was a surprising delight that added to the story’s charm.
The rich, slow writing style in this novel reminds me of adult fantasy. In some ways, We Hunt the Flame would make a good transitional read, if you’re feeling near the end of your love affair with YA, and adult fiction is calling your name from the infinite TBR stacks.
Also – this novel has a quest, guys! You know, I am all for a quest novel. It’s hands down one of my favourite types of stories, and I admire anyone who can write one. Imagine, you have to somehow make the story of a person walking from one place to another actually interesting. It’s a feat. Truly. Simply the presence of a quest in the novel is a huge thumbs up for me and if the quest is in hopes of restoring magic? Sign me up! 

Things I Didn’t Love

As I mentioned above, We Hunt the Flame was extremely hard for me to get into. Again, whether this is purely because of my reading mood, or perhaps because of the book’s pacing, I’m undecided.
Having said that, the book was definitely on the slower side pacing wise, I felt as though the book wanted the plot to happen as much as I did, but something kept holding it off right up until that third of the way through when I really got sucked in.
I think the writing style could definitely be the cause of the story’s speed.
As I mentioned above, the writing style was really beautiful, but in some parts, I did find it too descriptive – to the point, I became disoriented, not entirely sure where the characters were or what was happening. This is possibly a personal quirk, my imagination sometimes likes to shut down when there’s too much description and the characters exist in a black void.
Finally, something I find increasingly common in recent releases is the inclusion of wildly popular tropes that I really dislike. One of my least favourite romance tropes is enemies to lovers – a hugely unpopular opinion, I know. If you’re a sucker for that type of thing, the romance in We Hunt the Flame will definitely be for you.

My final thoughts

If you’re a fan of YA Fantasy, We Hunt the Flame is definitely something you should pick up, and you’ll likely devour it. Unfortunately, We Hunt the Flame and I just didn’t connect in the way I thought we would, and the book really wasn’t for me. I have quite the inkling that I am in the absolute minority with this opinion (let’s be honest, this happens a solid 76% of the time), however, and I encourage you to pick up a copy and dive into this beautiful fantasy world.
Thanks so much to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy for review!
Mikaela | The Riverside Library


BOOK DETAILS


TITLE: We Hunt the Flame
AUTHOR: Hafsah Faizal
PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan/Farrar Straus Girox BYR
AUS PUBLICATION DATE: 14/05/2019
RRP: AU$18.99


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REVIEW: Enchantée by Gita Trelease | BLOG TOUR

Enchanted REview -- The Riverside Library

 

Welcome to my stop on the Enchantée blog tour! Enchantée was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019, and when I discovered it back in October of last year, I couldn’t stop telling everyone about this debut due for publication in Feb. I was extremely lucky to receive an advanced reader’s copy from Pan Macmillan Australia, and now I get to tell you everything I thought of this magical, fantastical, historical book. I’ve tried to keep it spoiler free, but as always, if you’re spoiler sensitive, proceed with caution.

Set both in the rich and opulent court of Versailles, and hunger ridden streets of Paris in 1789, Enchantée follows Camille as she is forced to risk everything to save her family. Just a little trigger warning: this book includes one scene of domestic violence and a lot of gambling.

Enchantee Blog Tour Banner

These Things I Loved:

My returning readers will know that I am obsessed with three things: magic, books and France (also cheese and a number of other things, but we’re not going to get into that). Enchantée combines all three of those obsessions and mixes it with an exploration of the costs of freedom, the importance of fighting for what you believe in, and characters who sometimes survive off little more than hope. Of course I was hyped for this, it sounds perfect to me.

Magic

The magic system in this book is so unique (I feel like I say that about every book that I review, but seeing as I only tend to review books I like and I really like books with unique magic systems, you’ll read this a lot). I’m not sure what I was expecting from the blurb, but I can say I wasn’t expecting what we got. The magic in this book isn’t an in-your-face style of magic, there’s no spellcasting or wand fights, it’s much subtler, yet it is intrinsically tied to the plot. Though I loved many things about the magic system, my favourite (by far) was the limitations that controlled it. In my eyes, a limited magic system is a good magic system. In Enchantée, magic cannot fix everything, in fact, instead of serving as a solution to problems, it merely acts to further complicate the situation. This increases the number of sacrifices that our protagonist, Camille, makes for her family and also adds to some of the themes that the book explores – but more on that later. First, Camille.

Camille

I am a sucker for any character willing to make sacrifices for their family, this means I am a complete sucker for Camille. She was, perhaps, my favourite character in this book, though I did really like Lazare. At some points, I wished Camille had better communication skills, but every character has their flaws. She more than made up for them with her selflessness, and her bravery. I also liked how her actions really brought up some interesting questions tied to the theme (again, more on that later).

History

Another thing that I really enjoyed in Enchantée was the history. Now, I’m no history buff, so I’m not going to claim to be an expert, (in fact, if I’m being honest, my French history knowledge is entirely from Les Misérables, the second book in the Outlander series and one crash course video I watched on YouTube when I was seventeen) but I did appreciate the historical component of this novel. Enchantée is actually the first YA historical novel I’ve ever read, and I found the world to be fully immersive. I loved the juxtaposition of the opulence of Versailles and the poverty in some parts of Paris. I enjoyed seeing the differences in class of 18thcentury France, especially when, in Paris, the different classes lived so close to one another.

I Wish There Was More of...

I wish there had been more of the villain in this novel. When the villain was present in the book, they were perfectly creepy, and I just wanted more of that. I understand that the presence of the villain was always there, that they were working their master plan the whole time and our protagonist wasn’t particularly involved in it, and I also understand how that even ties into the themes that the book explores – for, if Camille wasn’t so addicted to her life in Versailles, perhaps she would have noticed the villain’s master plan a little earlier, but I just wish the villain had more page time. I could have done with more creepiness (this is a very odd thing to wish for, I know).

My Favourite Thing

Enchantée was nearly exactly what I was expecting, but to my delight, there were themes that took me by surprise. Throughout the book, Camille struggles to leave the life she creates in glitzy Versailles and return to her reality. Gambling is a massive feature of the court, and this struggle that Camille goes through regarding when to leave Versailles really enforces that interesting topic. Whether intended or not, Enchantée really does bring up some interesting questions about gambling and addiction. Rather than jumping into the head of an established addict we see it in a much more subtle and relatable way through Camille and many other characters, including her brother and her friends. Though Enchantée is a YA historical fantasy, there are definitely deeper underlying messages in it, making it perfect for both those who want to be entertained, and those who want something a little more complex.

All in all, Enchantée was worth all of my excitement for it. I loved when the words on the page faded away and opened the doors to the streets of Paris, the top of the Notre Dame, the tempting tables of the Palais-Royal and the superficial perfection of Versailles. I definitely recommend picking up Enchantée and delving into this world. Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for gifting me with a copy of Enchantée for review.

 

AUS Cover

Enchantee Aus/UK cover -- The Riverside Library

US Cover

Enchantee US cover -- The Riverside Library


BOOK DETAILS

TITLE: Enchantée

AUTHOR: Gita Trelease

PUBLISHER: Pan Macmillan/Macmillan Children’s Books

AUS PUBLICATION DATE: 26/02/2019

RRP: AU$16.99

BLURB:

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians . . .

When smallpox kills her parents, seventeen-year-old Camille is left to provide for her frail sister and her volatile brother. In desperation, she survives by using the petty magic she learnt from her mother. But when her brother disappears Camille decides to pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Using dark magic Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and presents herself at the court of Versailles, where she soon finds herself swept up in a dizzying life of riches, finery and suitors. But Camille’s resentment of the rich is at odds with the allure of their glamour and excess, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one leading a double life . . .

Want to read more reviews on Enchantée by Gita Trelease? Check out these bloggers!

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ENCHANTÉE REVIEW -- The Riverside Library

Enchantee Review -- The Riverside Library

REVIEW: The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork

REVIEW_ The Enchanted Sonata -- The Riverside Library

I found The Enchanted Sonata when I was busy scrolling through NetGalley looking for my most anticipated reads of 2019 (I can be very impatient when it comes to books). As soon as I discovered it was a Nutcracker retelling, I had to request it. Kindly, the publisher sent me a digital copy, and by next morning, I was cuddled up in bed, completely immersed in the snowy, magical world.

What is it about?

The Enchanted Sonata is an intriguing retelling of the Nutcracker and the Pied Piper. It follows Clara as she is whisked into a magical world that she must save with the magic of music.

My Reading Experience

I think I owe The Enchanted Sonata all the credit for getting me into the Christmas mood this year. I’m usually somewhat of a Grinch who wants to love Christmas, but just can’t. I think that might be due to the lack of Christmas books in genres I love to read (hit me up if you have any Christmas book recs), but all that has changed this year thanks to this beautiful Nutcracker retelling. I managed to read this one in a few days, and it kept me interested the entire time. The Enchanted Sonata even got me into the most Northern Christmas mood I’ve ever been in, unfortunately now I really want a winter Christmas.

Things I Loved

As I mentioned before, aside from the cover, one of the key reasons I requested this book was because it is a Nutcracker retelling, and I love the Nutcracker. Thankfully, The Enchanted Sonata is very faithful to the story that I know, so it was well and truly a delight to read. Of course, it’s not just a rehashing of the story, the inclusion of a little Pied Piper retelling made the plot very intriguing. Though I did find it slightly predictable, I never found it boring, and I was always excited to continue on when I picked it up every night. 

Another thing I really loved about The Enchanted Sonata was the pacing in the beginning. I really appreciated that the book didn’t take too terribly long to get into. I personally hate books with slow beginnings, and for some strange reason, I thought this book would have a slow beginning, but it didn’t and I was absolutely delighted. The pacing was generally good throughout the whole book. Though there were a few moments that I thought it was slightly slow, it never slowed down enough for me to be dissatisfied with it, and as I mentioned before, I was constantly excited to continue on.

Things I Didn’t Love

For some reason, I feel like this book was super short, but I just looked on Goodreads and it’s listed as 375 pages long, so it’s by no means a short book, however, for the length, I felt like the characters were quite underdeveloped. I really wanted to learn more about them, and dig deeper into their psyches. I feel like I didn’t form a really tight connection with them, and I also wish the plot was just a little bit deeper and more complex. Having said that, I understand this is probably more of a light, happy read, and a deeper plot is probably not what the author was aiming for.

My Favourite Thing

All in all, The Enchanted Sonata is an enchanting read, and that’s what I enjoyed most. The world is immersive and magical, it’s like reading a Disney movie. I wish the book would open a magical portal and suck me in, just so I could roam the snowy streets, and maybe spend an inordinate amount of time at Polichinelle’s Candy Emporium. The Enchanted Sonata is everything I could have asked for at this time of year, and I’ll probably end up rereading it closer to Christmas. But for now? I think I’ll go and get myself some candy canes and dig out that Nutcracker candle I have tucked away in a box somewhere. 

Star Rating

I gave The Enchanted Sonata four out of five stars. 

If you have any Christmas book recommendations, please drop them in the comments below. Thank you!

Mikaela | The Riverside Library

Should You Read Outlander? Yes, yes you should – and here’s why.

You Need to Read Outlander -- The Riverside Library

If you’ve never heard of Outlander, then chances are you’ve been living under a more colossal rock than me, and that’s saying something – my friends call me Patrick Star. I discovered Outlander thanks to the TV show’s theme song. Weird, I know, but let me explain. I was twenty minutes deep into pointless Buzzfeed quizzes and articles when I stumbled across it. I paused my thousandth listen through of Hamilton: An American Musical to press play, and boy oh boy! Is that song something or what? I grew up listening to bagpipes likely more often than your average Sassenach (mainly because my family could never pull away from their Scottish roots), and the sound always comes with a heart-crushing wave of nostalgia. I knew in that moment, I had to watch the show – but then, to my delight, I discovered that they were books! I think I melted.

Plot

Outlander follows Claire, a WWII nurse transported back in time to 1746 Scotland, and documents her trying times as she tries to find her way back home (you can find the full blurb at the end of the review).

My Reading Experience

The Outlander series could in no way, ever be described as a quick, light read. As of 2018, the shortest of all eight books is the first, Outlander, coming in at a whopping 627 pages (standard paperback). It’s a wonder then, how I managed to read the first five in a matter of weeks. But I was hooked, and when I am that entranced in something, I devour it, without coming up for air. I was lucky that the novels were available in my library’s eBook collection because I definitely could not fit them in my suitcase.

What I Liked

As always, I’m going to pick out two of the top things I liked in Outlander, even though there were many, many more than that.

Main Characters

Right off the bat, I loved Claire’s voice. Though I found the opening to Outlander slightly slow, it was the way that Gabaldon wrote Claire that had me reading page after page after page. She’s smart, strong, and still traditionally feminine (that’s a rare combination in a book, for some reason, a lot of characters can’t seem to be strong and feminine). As a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), I loved reading the love and fascination that Claire has for science, her dedication to healing and to botany made me adore her even more. Though Claire definitely had her damsel in distress moments (more on that later), she didn’t sit around and wait for a man to walk in and change her life, she took charge, forged herself a career and did everything in her power to return home.

There’s no way I can write a review on Outlander and not mention Jamie Fraser. The thing that endlessly fascinates me about Jamie is the constant tension of beliefs he holds – on one hand, he’s a very forward-thinking, almost modern man, he takes Claire’s 1940’s quirks in stride and never forces an explanation from her, but on the other hand, he’s aware of the cultural expectations of him. He can’t ignore them, and there are some things though wrong to a modern audience, that sound quite fine to Jamie. That internal tension was one of my favourite aspects of his character – of course, he’s also got a few other things going for him. Y’know, just a few. He’s smart and kind, and loving, he’s devoted and funny, and I hear he’s quite a strapping lad. 

Humour and Heartbreak

Humour and heartbreak is my universal scale of a books goodness (yes, I’m aware that makes little sense, let’s roll with it). If it makes me laugh and breaks my heart then its done its job. Outlander succeeded in making me laugh, but more than that, it also succeeded in destroying my heart and leaving me a sobbing at 2 am when I should have been asleep. It also managed to evoke a plethora of other emotions I never knew a book other than Harry Potter could achieve. Outlander gets five out of five on the humour and heartbreak front.

What I Didn’t Like

Of course, I had to pick out a few things I didn’t like – after all, nothing is perfect. However close the Fraser’s might be.

Some Characters

This is nothing bad on the writing or the story, in fact, it’s more a good point than it is a bad point, because I don’t think I’ve hated fictional characters with more vehemence (maybe with the exception of Dolores Umbridge) than I hate both Jack Randall and Laoghaire McKenzie (and in later books, Stephen Bonnet). It’s a feat to write characters that well fleshed out and absolutely horrid to inspire hate (especially from me) but my word, my blood boils when those characters are in the books. I tossed up between putting these characters in the What I Liked part of this review, but ultimately, I really didn’t like them. 

Some of Claire’s Decision Making

As much as I loved Claire’s character and her wits, I have to say, she made some very questionable decisions. Some of which made me want to throw the book across the room and scream. There are some moments that have bad idea written all over them, and yet Claire is there in the middle of it. Claire is without a doubt, a strong heroine, but she is also a damsel in distress (granted that in some of the situations Claire finds herself in, anyone would probably need someone to come in and save them). 

Changing POV in later books

This is more a personal quirk than anything, I’m not a fan of multiple POVs, so I didn’t love that in later books. Having said that, I definitely enjoyed the addition of Jamie’s POV. I understand why all the additional POVs were introduced, but I still felt much more connected to Jamie and Claire than to any of the other narrators.  

My Favourite Thing

I usually struggle to find a favourite thing about a book, but despite Outlander containing so many elements that I absolutely adored, there was one that definitely stood out. You can probably tell from my review already, from the humour and heartbreak, to the vehement hate for some characters – Outlander is an incredibly immersive read. Just like the standing stones at Craig na Dun, Outlander sucks you in and plunges you right into the wilds of Scotland in the 1700s. It’s almost impossible to tear yourself from the world once it’s got its claws into you, and despite its incredible length, the book passes in what seems like the blink of an eye, because it acts as a time warp – you start it at 7pm one night and finish it three days later realising that you probably should eat, sleep and shower (okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration). I love Outlander dearly for this, I know that whenever I need to escape from my day-to-day reality, Jamie Fraser is waiting for me in Scotland, almost three-hundred years ago, and all I need to do is visit Craig na Dun open the book.

Star Rating

Outlander is a true binge-worthy series, and if you’re wondering whether you should take the plunge or not, my answer is yes. Definitely yes. Unsurprisingly, I gave Outlander 5 out of 5 stars.

Blurb: 

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

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REVIEW: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Review_ The Happiness Project -- The Riverside Library

One of my best friends’ favourite quotations is ‘Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.’ If being so open-minded was a leading cause of brains falling out, then I’m sure I lost mine in infancy. I’ve always been somewhat of a contradiction – I have a laid-back easy-going personality but I suffer from anxiety (you might think it impossible, but it’s true – I was easy going as a child, but the laid-back personality developed out of necessity to cope with the anxiety). Perhaps because of my oxymoron-ish relationship with anxiety for near-on a decade now, I’ve developed a fascination with what makes people happy. My ‘guilty pleasure’ book genre is what’s called stunt non-fiction – the author goes on a stunt and then writes a book about it – think Eat, Pray, Love or even Wild. The most recent book I read in the Stunt Non-Fiction genre was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

I’m not the kind of person who likes routines, but barely a chapter into this book, I developed a nightly routine including, and because of it. I make sure I stop using all digital devices at nine pm, I do half an hour of yoga, and then I read The Happiness Project for half an hour to an hour. It was easy to get through this book in a handful of days thanks to my new routine.

About The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project follows Rubin, a not particularly unhappy woman living in New York with her husband and two children she loves, a job she enjoys, and an all-round seemingly blissful life. You might wonder why she would undertake a year-long mission to make herself happier? The answer is simple, although we might be happy, we can always be happier. It’s the little things, yeah? Over the course of the year, Rubin makes a conscious effort to focus on the little things that are bringing negativity into her life and mind – from her tendency to snap, to her tendency to forget to be compassionate to strangers, grateful for what she has, and patient with everything.

Thoughts

The book is broken down into twelve sections, one for each month of the year, each with different goals for Rubin to achieve. I related to and enjoyed some more than others, which seems to always be the way when a book is divided into sections. 

If reading a book about how a generally happy person with a generally pleasant life achieves more happiness isn’t your thing, then I’d advise upon either not reading this book, or perhaps risking your brain falling out and opening up a little. To me, this book was far less about happiness, and far more about self-improvement. And we all have room to improve. Perhaps it fascinated me in part because Rubin and I are very different people. In fact, in most ways, we’re opposites. Yet, we value the same thing – happiness. To me, happiness is the point of life, happiness is why we do what we do. It’s our sole, underlying goal, even if we don’t know it. This is probably why I’m so fascinated by books on happiness.

What I enjoy most about The Happiness Project is what I enjoy most about nearly all books on happiness that I read – it made me remember that I must make happiness a priority. All too often, I think of happiness as a passive thing, when the wind is in the right place or the moon is in the right phase (or whatever) then I will be happy. But in effect, I’m actively wishing my life away for that someday. Books like The Happiness Project remind me that my someday could be every day if I make happiness a priority.

If all that comes out of my reading The Happiness Project is my nightly routine, then it’s achieved its job of making me reevaluate my happiness, and of making me happier. I sleep better, therefore I’m nicer. I do yoga, therefore I’m kinder. I make time to read, therefore I am less stressed that I don’t have time for anything (and spend plenty of said time-I-don’t-have thinking about all the things I need to do in that lack of time). Maybe it won’t last, even though a large portion of The Happiness Project was about setting resolutions vs setting goals (things to stick with, not things to simply achieve and move on from), but I have hope that it will.

Favourite Tidbits:

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Star Rating

For that simple act of making me reevaluate my priorities and my use of time, I gave The Happiness Project a full five out of five stars.

Let me know your favourite happiness book in the comments below.

Book Details

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

by Gretchen Rubin

Blurb: Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

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How to Write a Book Review

How to Write a Book Review-- The Riverside Library

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to write a review, but up until recently, I’ve found them very difficult to write. Reviews are something I used to spend hours on, to only delete it because I didn’t like what I’d written. My structure never felt right, they always felt too brief or too waffly, I could never seem to get the balance right. Until, one day I sat down to write one, and it just worked. Of course, I had to sit down and write out the formula I’d used so I could replicate it in the future, and now, thanks to this layout, I have a whole pile of reviews completed on my computer.

Don’t worry, I won’t keep it all to myself, that’s not why I have a blog!

This blog review formula is super easy to follow, and it only takes me about ten to twenty minutes to write out! So, lets get straight to it!

How did you come to read it?

Although not particularly important, telling your readers how you came to read the book is a great introduction. Sometimes, if you were supplied the book for review, you’ll need to tell your readers this, and let them know that it in no way impacts your thoughts on the work, so I think starting reviews off this way is good practice to get into.

Telling your readers where you found out about the book also gives a great indication as to how popular the book is, say you picked it up because you saw it on bookstagram all the time, the reader will know that it’s well known in the reading community, and that will appeal to a lot of readers. Conversely, if a reader doesn’t like reading what everyone else is reading, or doesn’t trust the online book community, then a book you picked up at your local library because you liked the sound of the blurb, might be more appealing to them.

What is it about?

If there is one thing that my higher education in science taught me, it’s to be succinct. The point of a review is not to tell the reader what happened in the book (that’s what the blurb, and the book itself is for), but rather to express your opinions on the book so to let the reader know if it’s something they’ll like to pick up or not. Where a lot of people go wrong with reviews is that they spend most of their time talking about the book’s plot. This section of the review should not be the longest section. It should be one of the shorter ones. Try to explain the book in one or two sentences. For example I would describe Fangirl as follows “Cath is a freshman is university, and also the writer of a fairly famous fan fiction. Fangirl follows her as she navigates her first year, her first love, and a bunch of old fears.” My two sentence summary is by no means world-class literature, (in fact, it gives a new definition to the word ‘basic’) but it doesn’t have to be worthy of the Man Booker. Instead, it needs to get your point across. The two-sentence summary above tells you that the story is about a girl named Cath, it’s set at university, it focuses on writing/a writer. The second sentence hints at conflicts to do with her studies, her love life, and her past life without going into depth mentioning people like Levi, or that guy Nick or even her estranged mother.

As reviewers, it’s not our job to make people want to read the book by telling them what the book is about – that’s the publisher and authors jobs. As reviewers, it’s our job to influence people to read, or not read the book with our opinions and reactions and out of control emotions.

What was your reading experience like?

This is often more telling than anything else. Did you read the book in one sitting? Did you stay up until 2am just to finish to because you couldn’t put it down? Or did you read it on and off for a few months because it couldn’t quite hold your attention as much as others have before?

I read Obsidio in one sitting, I finished it at 1:30am and I gave it five stars, whereas I read Around the World in Eighty Days over a few months, and gave it two stars. I find that I tend to devour the books I love, whereas the books I’m not excessively keen on take me longer to complete. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, I savour some books I love, and so they can take me half a year to complete (predominantly non-fiction), and even books I love take me a long time to read when I have a hectic schedule. Use this section to tell everyone what your reading experience was like (and why), and chat about how that reflects on the book.

What did you like about the characters/plot/themes/writing style/world building etc.

If you’re just writing a quick review, it’s fine to pick and discuss one of these, or if you’re going for a more in-depth review, feel free to discuss them all. Characters, plot, themes, writing style, world building and other elements of the novel are a great thing to discuss. Tell us what made you connect to the character, what about the plot kept you turning the pages, what themes resonated with you, how the writing style read to you, if the world building made you want to pack your bags and move there.

What are the book’s flaws?

I like putting this part of my review in the middle, because I generally try to stay positive with my reviews. You may notice I’m not one to frequently give books the 1 or 2 star ratings (there are a few exceptions), and that’s purely a personal preference. A lot of reviewers find a sense of relief in giving negative reviews, but because I like talking about the books I love I’d rather not review books I didn’t love. That being said, every book has it’s flaws, because nothing is perfect, and we should always discuss them. By putting this in the middle, I like that the review doesn’t end on a low note as it would if I put it at the end, and doesn’t begin on a low note either, as it would if I put it in the very beginning. To me, chatting about these things in the middle is a way of acknowledging the parts of the book I didn’t like so much, while not letting it define the book as a whole, or take away from it’s great qualities.

What was your favourite thing?

This is super important, because we all love loving things, right? Talk about the thing you loved most of all. Like for my Obsidio review I talked about AIDAN, for my Fangirl review I talked about the story’s pacing. This is the part where you can write in sentences that are so impassioned they don’t really make much sense, but the lack of coherency is a better indication of your love than any proper sentences could be. Throw grammar out the window. Don’t even bother about properly capitalising things. Write in all caps IF YOU REALLY FEEL LIKE GETTING A POINT ACROSS.

What is your star rating?

Everyone calculates their star rating a different way. I go between rating books on how it feels and finding an average of stars from characters, plot, writing style, world building, and overall enjoyment. This is one of the many reasons that reviews are more important than star ratings – at least with a review an opinion is explained and in a way, justified, but a star rating is just a star rating, it doesn’t really tell you anything at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing to include to wrap up your review, and to summarize everything, but star ratings aren’t the most fabulous thing on their own. You may be thinking, “But Mikaela! Star ratings are all you’ve got on your instagram and goodreads!” Yep, that’s true, and it’s because star ratings are easy and I like to spend the majority of my time walking along the path of life that requires the least amount of effort.

And Finally

Now that I’ve given you the technical details of how I write my book reviews, it’s time to give you the one piece of advice that I think is the most important, and it’s one I only came to the realisation of a while back. It’s you. Make sure you include your unique writing voice in the piece. Remember, if you’re blogging, your writing is supposed to be informal, you don’t need to write like you’re submitting an application for the most prestigious university in the world – write like you’re chatting to a friend about this book that they absolutely hands down must read like right this second. Or the opposite. Whatever tickles your fancy.

Hey! Thanks for reading, I’d love it if you dropped me a comment to tell me what you thought of this article, or even just say Hi!

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