The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a review (Kingsbridge #1)

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a huge book, coming in at over 1000 pages in my paperback edition. I had been intimidated by this book for a fair few years (I’ve had it since 2018) and me and Kari decided that buddy reading this one was the way to go.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Well I am so glad that we did because wow I would not have finished this without Kari! Whilst I can see why others might find enjoyment in this book, it was very much not for me.

Don’t be mistaken before you start this book, it is about building a cathedral. The characters and any other plot/world event is just background to the main course of the book. It seems to be incredibly well researched, and I now know more about cathedral building in Western Europe in the 12th century than I ever thought I would (never complain about learning something new!). Whilst this is interesting, I hadn’t expected just how much depth Follett was going to go into. Not bad necessarily, just really unexpected.

There are also scenes of intense violence, both generic violence and against women specifically. I don’t use content warnings personally (although I always provide them) but me and Kari checked that each other were okay after a certain scene. Yeah. That bad. Additionally, the same as my thoughts on Fall of Giants, Follett does a bad job of writing women. He means well, but he doesn’t succeed in portraying these characters as realistic women.

The interweaving of historical events through this book was incredibly interesting, and I’m very curious what was altered for literatures sake and what is accurate to the time. I do think that this part of the book was done well but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to save the book with the rest of the issues.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 3, Atmosphere: 4, Writing: 2, Plot: 4, Intrigue: 4, Logic: 5, Enjoyment: 1, giving an average of 3.29 and a 2* rating.

Highlight here for content warnings: rape, sexual violence, sexual assault, murder, death of parent, animal death, bullying, misogyny, physical, domestic and emotional abuse, torture, adult/minor relationship, animal cruelty, body shaming, paedophilia, body horror, child abuse, suicidal thoughts, abandonment.

This book… Is one I’m glad is over. And it has definitely put me off from finishing the Centuries trilogy or anything else by Follett. He puts a lot of research and effort into his books, but I feel like they’re just not for me.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a review

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a historical fiction set during World War II, following POVs from both sides of the war. This is a book that had been on my owned tbr since 2016 so I was glad to be able to get to it thanks to the MiddleEarthAThon and the Mary-Shelley-A-Thon!

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

As mentioned there are 2 POVs in this book (as well as the occasional other POV to add context). The first is a young Parisian girl, Marie-Laure, who went blind at around 6 years old, her father made a detailed model of their area of Paris so that she would be able to learn her way around. The second point of view is from a young German boy, Werner, who is an orphan living in a rural coal town. Both end up being more involved in the second World War than they had expected, just trying to survive.

The character building throughout this novel, as both of our main characters grow from young children to young adults, is done so well. They are both growing up under awful circumstances which shape who they become, and it’s fascinating to see how their thoughts alter and change over time. Marie-Laure’s POV is crafted carefully, because she loses her sight early on her navigation of the world around her is done through her other senses. Doerr writes this so fantastically that you don’t even notice the lack of sight. Werner’s POV is a lot more naïve, he believes a lot of the traditional values that he was taught and seeing the world through this lens is incredibly interesting.

The core of the plot is one we all know, but the intricacies are done incredibly well. I was so invested in the personal lives of Marie-Laure and Werner and those they’re close to. I wanted to know how their lives were impacted by the war and this was done in a more unique manner than I’ve read before. I don’t want to ruin anything, so no spoilers here! But I do think this was done beautifully.

This book is also incredibly readable. The writing is engaging, with descriptive sentences packed into very short sections. Two pages is the average length for each section, and so you feel like you’re absolutely flying through the book despite its 500+ page length. I didn’t want to put this book down.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 10, Atmosphere: 10, Writing: 9, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 9 giving an average of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death, violence, war, genocide, rape, antisemitism, bullying, child death, gun violence, sexual violence and assault, torture, racism, religious bigotry, death of parent, murder, ableism, xenophobia, grief, body horror, cancer, child abuse, confinement, gore, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, terminal illness, psychosis.

If you couldn’t tell? I adored this book! It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read and I am so mad I left this on my shelves for SIX YEARS!! But now it lives on my 5 star shelf of fame 😍 Thanks MiddleEarthAThon and MaryShelleyAThon!

Have you read this book, or anything else by Anthony Doerr? I definitely want to grab Cloud Cuckoo Land now!

The Muse, a DNF review

The Muse by Jessie Burton is a historical fiction that was on my tbr since around 2016. Slightly ridiculous, so when I pulled this out of the tbr jar I knew I had to finally give it a shot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success and I ended up DNFing this 😢

Don’t get me wrong, this book has a fascinating concept. It is set in two time periods. The 30s and the 60s. In the 30s we’re following a young white woman who is an artist but her father doesn’t believe women can paint. In the 60s we’re following a young Black woman who has moved to the UK from Trinidad and is trying to earn a living in a racist society.

There were some racist slurs used within this book, and Burton also writes certain sections in Trinidadian Creole, I had been concerned about this being a racist portrayal. However, I found some positive reviews from own voices reviewers about this depiction being surprisingly accurate. Just something to consider as you read.

Unfortunately, despite the concept of the book being interesting it just didn’t spark with me and I kept really struggling to pick the book up. This was my first foray back into historical fiction (that wasn’t fantastical or a reread) after a long while, and unfortunately this doesn’t seem like the choice for me.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 7, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 6, Plot: 6, Intrigue: 6, Logic: 6, and Enjoyment: 3 giving a score of 5.71 and a 3* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: sexism, racism, racial slurs, sexual content.

This was definitely a big disappointment for me, partly because it had been sat on my tbr for so long! I’m still debating whether I’m going to return to this in the future or if the book is going to be rehomed. I’m leaning more towards rehoming the book, because I think it could find a lot of love!

Have you read The Muse, or anything else by Jessie Burton? What did you think of the read??

The Embroidered Book, a review

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield is a historical fantasy starting in the 1760s, following sisters Charlotte and Marie Antoinette. Both who become Queens and have a major impact on their respective new countries. But in this world, people can do magic, if they know the ingredients, and are willing to pay the price.

Historical fiction used to be very much my thing when I was younger, but in recent years I’ve moved away from it. Meaning that without this being the Goldsboro GSFF pick I probably wouldn’t have read it. And boy oh boy am I so glad that I was influenced to pick this up!!

This book is incredibly historically accurate. Every friendship, every enemy, every political move and alliance, can all be backed up by historians. Heartfield did an incredible job in the research for this book. This book made me so interested in these two women that I went to research them myself, thinking that surely there would be things that were missed and/or not factually accurate. In reality it just confirmed everything that had been shown in the book.

The only historical inaccuracy I could find in this book? The magic! (obvs) And I thought the magic was done so well and was a magic system I’d never come across before! Individuals have to sacrifice something important to them (specified for the spell) at each point of a five pointed star, to make the magic work. This can be a physical object, or they can write down a hope/dream/love and this will be taken from them and sacrificed. I thought it was done fantastically and was such an interesting aspect of the story.

On CAWPILE I rated this book: Characters: 10, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 10, and enjoyment: 10. Giving an average score of 9 and a 5* rating!

I won’t lie to you folks, I did struggle a little to get through this book at first. Purely because it’s just so big! (it’s around 700 pages and my copy is hardback) and when I first finished it, I thought it was a 4 star read. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and every time I mentioned it I started gushing! And for me? Well that’s easily the signs of a five star read!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death, violence, domestic abuse, misogyny, murder, arranged marriage, partner violence, child illness and death, miscarriage, endemic disease, racism, colonialism, imperialism, accusations of paedophilia, and mutilation of corpses.

Have you read The Embroidered Book, or would you consider reading it after this? I’m so so glad that I delved into this book and I’m very much here for more historical fantasies!

Three Sisters, Three Queens, a review

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is a historical fiction focusing on the lives of the Tudor Princesses/Queens who lived in Henry VIII’s shadow. Their lives were fascinating and incredibly harsh, being used as pawns in a mans world.

Unfortunately, this was my first DNF of the year. The concept of the book was absolutely captivating, but I really didn’t get on with Gregory’s writing style and her choices.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still so very interested in these women and their lives. I want to research all of them. And I really enjoyed learning the facts that were shown in the part of the book I read (I got 179 pages in). Gregory definitely does her research for these books and is building her story around these snippets of life we know about. These three women had such harsh lives. Living in poverty, going through miscarriage and stillbirths, and being controlled by the men around them as pawns.

But. Gregory’s choice in bringing them to life was… really not captivating for me. Margaret is just represented as a whiney child, and this made sense at the point in her life we started at. As she was a child. But where I gave up she was older than me and still responding in such a childish manner to each and every event. I can’t imagine this really being how someone from this time, who would’ve had to “grow up” much faster than we do today, really reacting in this manner.

Additionally, this book is only from one POV. We learn a bit about Mary and Katherine, but we only see Margaret’s point of view. That is really not what I’d expected from a book with this title. And I think it’s such a pity, I would’ve enjoyed the book a lot more with those additional viewpoints.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 3, Atmosphere: 5, Writing: 5, Plot: 7, Intrigue: 4, Logic: 5, Enjoyment: 2 which gives an average of 4.43 and a 2.5* rating.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: murder, death of a loved one, miscarriage, war, relations between an adult and a minor.

The killing blow for this book, for me, was when my other half could tell I was fed up and didn’t want to read it. I’ll push through a lot of books, more than I really should. So if he can tell that I don’t want to be there? Yeah, it’s time to give it up. Have you read anything from Gregory? Did you enjoy it? Was this an awful book to start with? Let me know!

Fall of Giants, a review

IT IS FINALLY DONE!!! This huge book took me 1139 days to read, starting in January of 2019 and not finishing until February of 2022!! Now I did take at least a year long break in the middle, but still. That’s a bit of a ridiculous amount of time for me to get through Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.

This is a historical fiction that starts not long before the First World War broke out. We follow a large number of POVs from various locations, Wales, London, Germany, France, Russia, and the US. Not exactly all over the world (and a penny chew to whoever guesses first the race of every one of these characters) but from some varying viewpoints non-the-less.

It was really interesting to learn a little more about WWI in this way, it’s clearly a well researched book by Follett and it was genuinely interesting. This historical accuracy throughout this really saved the day for me, for the war itself, as well as events around it.

Something that I can’t avoid, however, is just how strong the male gaze was in this book. I’ve not read a book that was so clearly written by a man in a long while and it was difficult to adjust to this. There was actually some interesting and nuanced discussions around women gaining the vote, so it’s not that the writing itself was sexist. But every sex scene and interaction between men and women was just so clearly written for the male gaze and so obviously didn’t have any influence from any women.

In CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 6, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 6, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 7, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 7, which gives a score of 6.86 and a rating of 3.5*.

It’s not the highest rating, I know, but I do still want to continue with this series. Book 2 is based around WWII and book 3 around the Cold War. I think I could learn quite a bit from both of these and fingers crossed the representation of the female characters will be better.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: alcohol, death, family rejection, misogyny, murder, sexual content, sexual assault, rape, war.

The Giver of Stars, a review

My absolutely wonderful best friend Georgia gifted me The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes for my birthday in 2020… I think? Or was it 2019? What is time? (check out her art Instagram here 😍) and I finally got around to it! She picked me it up because of its gorgeous cover (she knows me so well) and to be honest, I was a little nervous about it because it’s not my usual genre.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes | Waterstones
The Give of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Turns out I really need to start trusting her more with books she recommends because I loved it!!

This is a historical fiction which follows a young English woman who marries an American tycoon and moves to the US to his small town. She immediately feels trapped in this world where they expect her to be a certain type of woman and behave in a certain type of way. She also feels lonely. But one day they’re requesting for people to ride horses around the county and deliver library books, and despite her new husbands protests, she signs up. And her life is forever changed.

This was such a heartfelt book! I teared up at the end!

I did have a few issues here and there with some representation, but I think it was done with good intentions and so it only pulls the book down slightly.

On CAWPILE I rated this:

Characters: 9

Atmosphere: 9

Writing: 8

Plot: 7

Intrigue: 8

Logic: 9

Enjoyment: 9

Giving a grand total of 8.43 which is a 4* rating!

Overall this is a really lovely historical fiction that I enjoyed reading and I’m glad Georgia picked it up for me because I don’t think I would’ve read it otherwise!

Have you read this? Or any of Moyes other works? Let me know what you thought of them!!

Sticking to One Genre?

How often do you read outside of your main genre?

When I was younger, I was deeeep in the fantasy genre, with frequent forays into historical fiction. Then my reading stopped for a little while (thanks school) and when I came back I found booktube, and suddenly I was reading a bit of everything. But as time has gone one (and it has taken me a while, can’t lie) I find myself settling back into my old routine of childhood. Reading mainly fantasy books, with spattering’s of non-fiction, historical, and the occasional older contemporary. I don’t tend to like to read about modern day, which is an interesting thing to ponder, but let’s not psychoanalyse my choices right now.

I used to think, when I started back up reading again, that it was good I was reading every genre. But I was reading quite a lot of books that I gave low ratings too, and it could lead to me struggling to pick up my next book because I wasn’t looking forward to it. Whereas now, when I’m niche-ing down again, well my motivation is almost always there (watch me go into a reading slump straight after this).

I’m not saying either way is better. Whichever you enjoy the most. But I think it’s interesting that for me personally, going back to how I chose to read as a child has been a positive thing for me. I do occasionally dip my toes into other waters. But most of the time I’m happy on good ship Abi.

What about you?

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?

53184958. sy475

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!

Mid July Check In!

We’re halfway through the month now, and hopefully halfway through our tbr piles! But let’s be honest… that ain’t the case! So lets see what I’ve managed to read so far.

First up was Lady Susan by Jane Austen, a collection of letters which chronicle Lady Susan’s intent to settle herself down in life and rid herself of her daughter whilst landing a high placement. She’s not a very likeable woman. I enjoyed these, although I felt the ending was rather rushed.

Next was my few short stories from Armageddon Outta Here by Derek Landy which I’m reading the short stories in chronological order. So that I don’t spoil anyone I won’t go into details, but as always these were really fun.

Then we have The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis which I forgot to put on my July tbr to fulfil the prompt for the Buzzwordathon “Last”. This is a reread for me, but it also brought quite a few things to light. I hadn’t read these since childhood so there were definitely issues with racism, sexism, and the portrayal of religion.

I’m making my way through Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and should finish this before the end of the month if all goes to plan! I’m making my way slowly through this so that I don’t freak myself out by trying to read all 700 pages at once.

And lastly is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, as always me and Olivia are making our way through the book. There have been some time jumps in these later chapters which I have found interesting, as well as the way that Tolstoy chooses to portray events.

Left on my tbr pile are:

Death Bringer by Derek Landy, Checkmate by Malorie Blackman, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan, Pompeii by Mary Beard, Prodigy by Marie Lu, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and The End of the World by Derek Landy.

That is a BIG tbr left for the second half of the month. I should be fine for the Skulduggery and for Persuasion as it’s split into a few chapters a day. I’m not sure about the rest though so wish me luck!!

How much do you have left on your tbr so far this month?