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Tania's Book Circus

I adore reading and have very wide and varied taste.  Some of my favorite genre's include historical fiction, memoirs, fantasy and non-fiction.  Some of my best-loved titles are Sandcastle girls, Poisonwood bible, Daughter of the forest, Knife of never letting go, The snow child, The glass castle and Wolf Hall.  I love Juliet Marillier, Jodi Picoult, Philippa Gregory, Deon Myer and Bill Bryson.  I read approximately 120 books a year, and I try to keep my reviews short and to the point, so you can spend less time reading them and more time reading the books you'll enjoy.  Happy reading!

A story of greatness

Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China - Pearl S. Buck
Good and evil mingled in her, but always in heroic dimensions.

3.5 stars. This is the story of Empress Tzu-hsi, who ruled the Manchu dynasty in China for 47 years. In 1852 she was selected as a concubine for the Emperor. She was extremely strong-willed and decided that she would become the Emperor's favourite. She did this by studying 5 hours every day, staying up to date with all gossip, studying all edicts, becoming very close with the Dowager mother and ,according to this novel, giving up her one true love. She captivated the very weak Emperor, and ensured that he loved no other liked her, and even allowed her to rule the country in his stead.

Tzu-hsi is one of the most complex characters I've ever come across. She could be gentle and kind, but also cruel and vain. She was always strong and majestic. Unfortunately her negative characteristics became more pronounced as she got older, causing me to become quite averse to her by the end of the book.

I always enjoy reading books about other cultures, and this books was especially fascinating, because of the time period and country. Reading about the Forbidden city (where the Emperor was the only male allowed at night. To stay in the city past twilight you had to be a woman or a eunuch.)and all the royal rituals was intriguing.

Although I realize the importance of the portrayal of the wars and resistances, I have to say it became a bit too longwinded. That said I will be reading The Good Earth by this Nobel prize winning author soon.

"You have chosen greatness," he said in her silence. "Therefore you must be great."
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/637765413

The first rule of swimming

The First Rule of Swimming - Courtney Angela Brkic
"In the beginning was the sea," she said, so that Luka's heart expanded, exactly as wind filled a white sail. "And the sea was God."

3.5 stars. I chose this book because of it's beautiful cover, and in this instance it's okay to judge the book by its cover.

There were many things I enjoyed about this book:
1. The authors description of the love you can feel for a physical place.
2. The description of the relationship between siblings, not only Jakandra and Magdalena, but also Luka and Vinka, and Marin and Ana.
3. The way the author shows you a characters actions and only later gives you their background, which enables you to interpret their actions differently.
4. The fact that none of the characters were perfect.
5. The vivid picture she paints of life on a small island of the coast of Croatia.

I will definitely read more by Courtney Angela Brkic.

The Story: A woman must leave her Croatian island home to search for her missing sister and confront the haunted history of her family.

*Netgalley copy
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/608535267

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Whistling Past the Graveyard - Susan Crandall
"My daddy says that when you do somethin' to distract you from your worstest fears, it's like whistlin' past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that's how we get by sometimes. But it's not weak, like hidin'... It's strong. It means you're able to go on."

I absolutely adored Starla, She is such a feisty, compassionate and hot-headed little girl. She is one of my best-loved characters ever. I thought her voice was very authentic. I know a few nine year olds, and they tend to alternate between being extremely naive and wise beyond their years.

The backdrop for Whistling past the graveyard is 1963 Mississippi, so obviously racial tension and segregation plays a big part in the story. The book allows us to step into the characters shoes and feel what it’s like to be invisible or hated because of the colour of your skin. But this is just the background for the real story. A story which made me nervous, happy and sad.

My initial criticism was that the characters were a bit too simplistic, in that they were either good or bad, but then I realized that I’m seeing them through the eyes of a child, and for kids everything is still very much black and white.

I highly recommend this coming of age story to anyone who enjoyed The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/585496753

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes


"He remembers doing it. He has no recollection of doing it. One of these things must be true."

Wow, this was so different. I was expecting something similar to Zoo City, which was an urban fantasy. But I should have known to expect the unexpected from Lauren Beukes. The shining girls is a SF Thriller – who else would think about writing about a time-travelling serial killer? The closest I can come to comparing it with another book is 11/22/63. There are a few big differences. Obviously the main character is evil, and I’m talking cold-hearted, killing with a smile, type of evil. So much so that I would definitely say this is not for the squeamish. Some of the scenes left me quite unsettled. To be fair it is almost like none of this is his choice, The House (which is the time-travelling portal) called him, and governs all his actions. The two things that I enjoyed most about this book is that you get to know each victim, and as they all come from different era’s, this gives you quick but powerful insight into how people’s lives change over time, and what the main issues of that period was. Mostly though, I appreciated how Lauren played with time in this novel. It folds in on itself, and almost becomes a loop. This is the first time travelling book where the protagonist also did not know/remember what he did in the future, so everything becomes a bit mixed up.

The story: Chicago, 1931. A strange house gives serial-killer Harper the power to travel through time; to hunt and kill his "shining girls". They're bright young women full of spark - until he cuts it out of them, leaving clues from different times behind to taunt fate.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/529756543

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands, #1) - Moira Young

Blood Red Road (Dust Lands, #1) - Moira Young

3.5 stars. The only dystopian novels I really seem to enjoy are the ones where the future looks like the past. I absolutely adored The Knife of Never Letting Goand the rest of The Chaos Walking series. Blood Red Road was recommended to me based on this, and even though the story and the characters are not nearly as strong, I still had a great time reading it. Similar to The Chaos Walking series, the Dust Land series is also written in a dialect, which I always find entertaining. I realize this is not everyone's cup of tea though. The story was action-packed and the characters are amusing. If you enjoyed Through the Ever Nightyou will love this.

The story: When Saba's brother is stolen, red rage fills her soul. She races across the cruel dustlands to find him. Saba can trust no one. Even the boy who saves her life. She must silence her heart to survive

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/296923717

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel - Rachel Joyce

I think my expectations of this novel was just too high. Firstly, I had so many friends recommending this book, and secondly it was nominated for a Man Booker prize. I was so sure this was gonna be love at first read. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's very well written and I did enjoy the sweet story about Harold, a very sweet man, but it did not pack the punch of books such as Bring Up the Bodies and The Light Between Oceans. Definitely still worth the read though.

The story: When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/365032208

Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch: A Memoir - Chris van Wyk

Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch: A Memoir - Chris van Wyk

This was such a fun read. The authors first book,Shirley, Goodness & Mercy: A Childhood Memoir, felt like it was written by an adult looking back on his life as a coloured boy growing up in apartheid South Africa. One could definitely pick up on the anger and despair.Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch: A Memoir felt like it was written through the rose-tinted eyes of a child. And such a clever, charming child! I had a giggle on every page. I wish we had more South African memoirs like this one.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/352611105

Amity & Sorrow: A Novel - Peggy Riley

Amity & Sorrow: A Novel - Peggy Riley


"Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow. Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist."

This was a beautifully written debut novel about the ties that bind. It’s a story of God, sex and farming. Amaranth and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, flees from a religious sect, where she was the first of 50 wives to Zachariah, a self-proclaimed prophet. They end up in rural Oklahoma, where they live on a farmer's porch. Through flashbacks we also find out how Amaranth got involved in the sect, and how things slowly started falling apart, to the point where they find out that Sorrow is pregnant.

Although this is an easy read, it is quite a complex book. It focuses on so many different issues. For me the individual issues were the ones that really affected me. As a child it must be so difficult to condemn a way of living if this is the only life you've ever lived. What about if you were an oracle, very special and revered in your previous life, and now people expect you to be happy with being a normal teenager. And the thing is you can't even act like your normal, because you’re illiterate, and know nothing at all about the world. And worst of all your father, the mouthpiece of God, is suddenly seen as worse than evil. There is so much more to say, but I think the author says it best. I highly recommend this to everyone who enjoys a story that stays with you long after you’ve closed the book.

"Not everyone wants to be saved."
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/596020439

The girl you left behind - Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes


"I never knew real happiness until you."

3.5 stars. In a lot of ways this reminds me of The Storyteller. It's also a dual timeframe story with one playing of in WW1 and one in 2001. I thought the WW1 story with Sophie and Edouard was beautiful, and it touched my heart. Sophie is presented with an impossible decision and has to live with the consequences. What the author did so well in this book is to really put you in Sophie's shoes, so even if you don't agree with her decision, you're unable to judge. Although there was nothing wrong with Liv and Paul's story, it just wasn't as strong.

The story: France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. From the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie's portrait - painted by Edouard - a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, and Sophie's portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv's life upside down all over again

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/610822131

Dear Lucy - Julie Sarkissian

Dear Lucy: A Novel - Julie Sarkissian


"the dirt that was underneath the car chases behind. the dirt doesn't want to be left behind. it liked the feeling of something touching it from above. it doesn't want that feeling to leave. But just because you want a thing to be yours doesn't mean it stops being able to leave."

3.5 stars. Dear Lucy started a bit slow, and it took me two or three chapters to get used to Lucy's unique voice. But once I got into it, I thought the author did an amazing job of getting us inside the head of a mentally challenged grown up girl. Lucy is mostly a good girl, but every now and again, when things don't go her way or she does not understand what is happening in the world around her, she gets stuck. And for me these descriptions of what is happening in her brain while she gets stuck is the best part of the book. I thought this was done even better than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The story is not only about Lucy's voice though it looks at relationships gone wrong between mothers and daughters. Firstly we meet Lucy, whose mother has problems dealing with her special needs, and who abandons her. Secondly, we are introduced to Missus, who can't bear children, and who becomes obsessed with giving her husband a boy. Samantha has given up her baby for adoption, and now has to deal with the consequences. As you can gather this is not an easy story, but I thought it was done brilliantly. I can't wait to see what Julie Sarkissian will do next.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/585494072

The six wives of Henry VIII - Alison Weir

The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Alison Weir

I’ve read some Phillipa Gregory and Hillary Mantel titles about Henry VIII and was totally entranced. Which is weird because I’m Afrikaans, live in South Africa, and never even had history at school. The only problem with the historical fiction titles, is that they only deal with one or two wives at a time, so I could never get a complete picture. I also wasn’t sure how much of the stories I’ve read was fictionalized. So I decided to try a non-fiction, and I was very impressed by Alison Weir. Her research was extremely thorough, but the book never comes across as academic. I have a much better understanding of Henry and why he made the choices he did. I thought it would be a fun idea to share a fact about each wife instead of doing a review:

1. Catherine of Aragon – “The queen had conceived six, possibly eight times, yet all she had to show for it was one daughter.” Divorced
2. Anne Boleyn – “...thus effectively crowning her as queen regnant, as no other consort has been before or since.” Executed
3. Jane Seymour – “When Henry VIII died, he left instructions that he was to be buried with Jane.” Died
4. Anne of Cleves –“Her handling of a difficult and potentially dangerous situation shows that she was, perhaps, the wisest of Henry’s VIII’s wives.” Divorced
5. Catherine Howard – Henry married Catherine when he was 49 and she somewhere between the ages of 15 and 19. Executed
6. Catherine Parr – “She wrote and published two books.” Widowed

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/228982117

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There - Cathrynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There - Ana Juan, Catherynne M. Valente
"A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world."

Even though Fantasy is not my favorite genre, this is series is exquisite. One reason for this is that Cathrynne M. Valente is so original when inventing characters. In this book I loved Avogadra (a Monaciello), Belinda Cabbage (a Fairy Physickist), Maud (a Shadow) and Nod (a dream-eating Tapir) best. She breathes live into every object, even a market becomes a character in her world. Secondly she is a magician with words, I wanted to savour certain paragraphs and read them again and again. Here is an example:

"She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms-and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too-end up in their shadows."

my review of the first book in the series

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13538708-the-girl-who-fell-beneath-fairyland-and-led-the-revels-there

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"The world was silent when we died"

This was not an easy book to read. Once again I have to hang my head in shame and admit that I knew nothing about this part of history before reading Half of a Yellow Sun. What is tragic though is how similar the histories of many of the African countries are. I always say that I don't get scared by any fantasy or horror books about vampires or ghosts etc. The only books that really scare me are books about war, and especially wars in Africa. It always happens so quickly- yes, you can see some signs that trouble's brewing, and then in an instant we're talking massacre's and genocide. Living in South Africa this is all very real to me.

"At independence in 1960, Nigeria was a collection of fragments held in a fragile clasp"

I appreciated that the author showed us a picture of what happened before, during and after the fight for independence. I always wonder what happens after the war. How do people that killed each other the week before become neighbours and live in peace. For me this was a book about the things people do to each other, be it on a societal scale like war, or on an individual scale in relationships. The story reminded me a bit of The Diary of a Young Girl as it shows that live goes on, and that people still focus on the mundane daily activities, no matter what atrocities are currently happening around them.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing is elegant and captivating. So much so, that I've been unable to start another book after finishing this one.

The story: In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna's enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/372006239