Mathilda by Mary Shelley, a review

Mathilda by Mary Shelley is a short work that was suppressed from publication by her father and was only first published a century after her death.

Considering the content of this book, that certainly sheds a different light upon the possibly autobiographical nature of the book. However, the darkest aspects of this book are conjecture only (with William Godwin supressing the novella to avoid rumours), with the writing about the father’s grief at losing his wife and inability to care for his daughter being that which mimicked life.

I read this for the Mary-Shelley-A-Thon for the prompt of reading a book/poem by Shelley herself, and I’m glad that motivated me to pick up this interesting little read. I went into the book completely blind and was very surprised by the content (I recommend checking the trigger warnings for this one if you need to, they’ll be highlightable down below).

This book is very dark, following a young woman’s life without love and with much pain. She blames herself for the actions of her father and cannot reconcile to forgive herself, despite not being to blame whatsoever. Mathilda is in complete isolation for the majority of this book, left to be introspective alone.

Shelley depicts Mathilda’s mental deterioration with skill. You can see the character’s slow mental decline whilst attempting to tackle her thoughts and demons. Being isolated certainly causes these to develop much further than they would’ve in company and leads her down a very dark path.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 8, Atmosphere: 7, Writing: 8, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 7, and Enjoyment: 7 giving a score of 7.57 and a 4* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death of parent, incest, suicidal thoughts, suicide, grief, adult/minor relationship, mental illness, terminal illness, paedophilia.

This book is only a first draft, as she sent this draft to her father and he never released it back to her. Despite that it is well crafted and really shows Shelley’s talent. I can only imagine what this novella could have become if Shelley had been able to spend time on revisions.

Have you read Shelley’s most famous novel? Frankenstein. Or any of her other works? If so let me know your thoughts on her writing! I think I might need to pick up more from her in the future.

War and Peace, a review

This review can’t do this book justice. The book is too big. Too many topics are covered. But as you most likely already know, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a Russian classic centred around the invasion of Napoleon into Russia in 1812.

The title of this book is actually quite literal. With us following characters both in the warzone and on the front lines of this battle, as well as back home in the estates and the cities. The two parts were often quite separate, and overall we (give me a mo) preferred the peace sections over the war sections, pretty much every time.

The “we” is because I buddy read this with the wonderful Olivia-Savannah from Olivia’s Catastrophe through most of 2021. We started out reading one chapter each day on the 1st January, and thanks to us switching it up and reading two chapters on weekends we finished the book on the 28th September rather than the 31st December!

Reading this along with Olivia had a large role in my enjoyment of it. It adored discussing the book with her every day, with it often being the highlight of the day!

Now onto the actual book. There was some fantastic character development through this tome, with us following some from childhood into adulthood and some from adulthood into old age. Tolstoy managed to make these characters progressions feel real, it wasn’t idealised, nor was it over exaggerated. Instead it felt like a realistic evolution based on each individuals circumstances.

My two favourite characters were Pierre and Nat, pretty much from the start! I did also love Boris at the start, but liked him less as the book went on. And I didn’t like Andrew at the start, but definitely liked him more as the book progressed.

In fact me and Olivia frequently mentioned that with the peace chapters they often felt a bit like a British soap opera, like Coronation Street or EastEnders, in how dramatic the individual plotlines were! It was so entertaining!

However, the plot wasn’t as strong for me as the characters and there reactions were. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty going on. These characters lives were set around the very real events of 1812, which was in the recent past for Tolstoy as he wrote this in 1869, and lots of details in regards to the war and the response from those “back home” were included. It wasn’t as in depth as the characters though, and it didn’t feel as well rounded. I think Tolstoy may have been relying on a level of intimacy with the events that the Russians he was writing for would have, and that your modern day Western reader doesn’t posses. So I wont fault him for this, but it is something to be aware of going in.

On CAWPIILE I rated this book: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 7, Plot: 5, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 5. An overall score of 6.86 being a 3 star read.

For me the war chapters brought this book down from a possible 4 star rating. But the nail in the coffin was the epilogue. The epilogue (at least in the Maude translation) is split into two. One part looks ahead to the characters futures, the second is a philosophical discussion. To quickly and succinctly tackle part one? It ruined a lot of the character development for me. The development we saw through the whole tome isn’t present here with the characters reverting to previous iterations of themselves or evolving into something utterly unrealistic. I personally have just “forgotten” about this ending and leave it where it was at the end of the main text.

Now onto epilogue two. This is basically the entire reason Tolstoy wrote this book. He originally wrote an essay on his thoughts on Napoleon and the war, but no one wanted to publish it. So in order to get his thoughts out he instead wrote this entire massive book. That’s also part of why I didn’t like the war sections, they were often filled with the same thing as this second epilogue: philosophical discussions on the war from Tolstoy’s point of view. What he thinks of Napoleon (he really doesn’t like him and boy does he make that clear) as well as the Russian’s tactics and how they won the war. He just goes on and on, repeating the same point with different words about the philosophy of history. And these chapters (because of course the epilogue is more that a chapter long each) feel like Tolstoy is beating you over the head with a philosophical hammer. It absolutely ruins the rest of the book.

I understand many people are completionists. I am too. But if you can bare to not read the epilogue, or to just skim read it, I really recommend doing that. You’ll have a much more positive view of the book overall!

I’m still very glad I read this classic though. There are so many interesting discussion to be had, I adored the chats that me and Olivia had each day, and it’s a chunky classic that’s off of my shelves! I really do think that it’s a good book and for the experience it was worth the long read. Just beware the epilogues!

Frankenstein – a review

The wonderful Caitlyn from Mad Cheshire Rabbit gifted me this book earlier on this year. Purely to force me to read it because she knew I wouldn’t until I had a physical copy in my hands! 😂 This book, as many know, follows a man named Frankenstein who aims to create life artificially and succeeds. In pop culture this is shown as a big, green, monster who he eventually manages to bring to life. And then who causes destruction. But how accurate is this?

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Not at bloody all is the answer. When I heard this being described as gothic and with the pop culture references (although to be fair I’ve never seen an “adaptation”) I was expecting the crux of this to be the creation of the monster itself and the immediate struggle afterwards. I found a much different novel instead. The creation of the creature actually happens much earlier on in the book. It’s not the crux point at all.

This was a really big surprise for me, but we then got to discuss the concepts of life. Of exclusion and of treating fellow man the way we would wish to be treated. There are discussions of life and death, and so many unique and interesting topics! I wasn’t expecting philosophy!

But what I really had not been expecting? Was to love this book. I was reading this purely because it’s Caitlyn’s favourite. That was the only reason. But I adored this. It was such a lovely read. I adored all of the topics which Shelley brought up within the text as well as the main plot of the book itself. It’s a wonderful book and I can totally understand why it has lasted the decades (and centuries!) after its publication.

One point I would like to make is that I found the ending of the book very predictable, despite it feeling like it was supposed to be a twist. However, most likely this is because the book was published in EIGHTEEN EIGHTEEN and so at the time this probably was a twist!!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: attempted murder, child death, death, depression, islamophobia, murder, parental abandonment, xenophobia

For my CAWPILE ratings I gave:

Characters: 9

Atmosphere: 8

Writing: 6

Plot: 7

Intrigue: 8

Logic: 5

Enjoyment: 7

For an overall rating of 7.14 which comes out at a 4*! I’m so glad that Caitlyn gave me the push needed to pick this one up and I might have to read more from Shelley in the future!

Samuel Nowak – a review

Samuel Nowak, by Caitlyn J Bolton, is a historical fiction which follows one young man as he immigrates from Russia to England. He has a hard childhood, with rocky relationships. He does however have a wonderful friend with whom he goes to university and then they both go on to start families of their own. This is in the early 20th Century however, and a weak man must learn to live through hard times, and a Great War. How will he survive?

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I’m going to tell you straight off that I’m biased in this review. Caitlyn is the wonderful woman behind Mad Cheshire Rabbit and one of my best bookish friends. So yeah, just a wee bit of bias here! However, I’ve done my very best to be subjective in how I rated this book. So fingers crossed this is still a decent review, but I thought I should let you know upfront.

Now onto the review of the book itself. I liked it! I will say, to start with a negative, that from the synopsis I had been expecting the book to take place more within the setting of the Great War itself, rather than leading up to the event. And I also wasn’t expecting as much discussion and philosophising. I have read more classics since reading this, however. Which is a genre that Caitlyn loves and I hadn’t been overly exposed to, and this really does fall in line with those. I think the book that I could closest match it to in emotive feeling would be Frankenstein. It has the same layout of discussing family, discussing the wrongs that were carried out with the best of intentions but which hurt people, and being focused around, but not on, a large event.

If you enjoy reading classics I really do recommend picking up Samuel Nowak, genuinely. I know I’m biased but I really do think that this is a great first book from Caitlyn and I can’t wait to read more books that she writes!

For my CAWPILE ratings I gave:

  • characters: 7
  • atmosphere: 5
  • writing: 6
  • plot: 7
  • intrigue: 7
  • logic: 6
  • enjoyment: 6

For an overall 6.29 which is a 3*. To be quite honest, this was me trying not to be too biased. I would much rather rate it 4*s, but I’m worried that if I rate it too highly people will think I just like it cause I like Caitlyn!

Please do give this book a go, barely anyone has read it and I need more people to give their opinions on the book!!!

Highlight for trigger warnings: child abuse, alcohol abuse, war, war trauma, physical injuries, miscarriage, mental illness

If you have read this please let me know what you thought!

War and Peace Mini Review – Book 2

We’ve finished another chapter!! This is up a wee bit late in comparison to when the events happened, but on the 10th February me and Olivia officially finished Book 2 of War and Peace! This was a shorter chapter than the last, only coming in at 70 pages compared to the previous books 85. But that 15 pages? Wow, it felt like it was so much shorter!! How odd!

So far me and Olivia are having pretty similar views on the book, in that we both didn’t enjoy this war focus chapter as much as we enjoyed the peace based one. Whilst the focus on individuals works when we’re learning about society politics during peace times, with it allowing the reader to see the nuances between different points of view and political strategies, during war it just lost me. Often the individual we’re following has no clue what is happening on a wider scale, different parties on the same side are bad at communicating with one another and being in the middle of a battle is just disorientating. Whilst all of these reasons are why I didn’t enjoy these chapters as much as the last book, I do have to say that they show, in my opinion, a really well grasped concept of war during these times. The reason I’m confused and don’t know what is going on is because the individual’s we’re following would have been and it seems to be an accurate representation of war. I did also like that when some big positive news is reported to those as the very top of command, with the rider believing he is of great import, it’s a bit of a reality check when he realises that on a grand scale their win at their battle means little to the campaign and that even when we do get to comprehend what is going on with the troops we’re following that doesn’t mean we understand anything about the larger battle taking place.

Continuing from that, what I did also find very interesting in this chapter was the soldier’s viewpoints on war throughout. Prior to being in any battles they all seem very eager to get into the fighting, wanting to prove themselves for the glory of Russia and believing it to be quite poetic. When they’re in the battle, however, for many of them that goes completely out of the window as the realities of war sink in. I also enjoyed how each character has a different point of view on war after their battle is over. Some seem to have genuinely enjoyed themselves, this is mostly the upperclassmen who were on horseback and commanding people around. Whereas those on the ground seem to fall into either re-glorifying war after the battle has ended in a manner which seems very much like a PTSD reaction, burying reality deep down in order to carry on, or they’re coming face to face with its realities and wishing that they were back home where they were safe and scared with how the war is going to continue.

From this book my favourite three characters were Rostov, Tushin, and Andrew. Andrew is Prince Andrew, one of those we met in book 1 who has moved to the battlefield. Whilst in Russian high society he seemed reserved, uncomfortable and like he just wants to sink into the background, here on the battlefield he seems vibrant and full of life. The world of commanding battles seems to do him good and he is strong, thoughtful and much happier with his life. Rostov is a general foot soldier we follow. To compare to the peaceful chapters, he’s the war chapters Pierre. We love him! We don’t know him as well as a person, because we’ve only seen him as a soldier, but he also seems like a good man, peaceful and caring, and one we’re looking forward to following in future chapters. Lastly there’s Tushin. Staff Captain Tushin leads a group of men within the Russian army (no I don’t know the proper term and no I’m not going to look it up. We were calling him Mr T in our messages just be glad I checked his name!). He seems to really care for his men and was solidly holding ground without any of the help that should’ve been provided to him. In fact he made the French believe the majority of the Russian forces were with him and his guns! (they were most certainly not).

Overall, on reflection I quite enjoyed this war book, but during the reading itself it wasn’t as enjoyable as the peace book that came before. Next up we’re returning to Moscow and to Pierre and I’m very excited! After the developments at the end of book 1 his life is going to be quite dramatically changed and I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles all of this!